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Enjoy these amazing space images by NASA’s oldest active astronaut

At 67, Don Pettit is NASA’s oldest active astronaut. During three trips to the International Space Station (ISS) — in 2002, 2008, and 2011 — Pettit earned a reputation as a highly skilled photographer who created extraordinary images of the ISS, Earth, and beyond.

Pettit, who describes himself as “an engineer by schooling, a scientist by profession, and an explorer by heart,” continues to share his amazing pictures on Twitter and Instagram, wowing his many followers on the social media platforms.

Check out this one, for example, captured during ISS Expedition 30, a six-month mission that began in December 2011. Shared on Twitter on Sunday, the image features star trails over Earth.

Another of my favorite star trails. These typically are 15-30 stacked shorter exposures yielding a total exposure of 20-30 minutes. The darkest part of orbital night lasts about 30 minutes, so that is the longest effective time exposure I can make.
Taken during Expedition-30.

— Don Pettit (@astro_Pettit) January 15, 2023

Another remarkable effort, shared just a few days ago, shows mangrove forests off the coast of India. “Sunlit, specular solar reflections from the surface of water, give an intense spot of light that not only differentiates where water is and isn’t, but also can show surface ripples caused by surface flow,” Pettit says in a comment accompanying the image.

Sunlit, specular solar reflections from the surface of water, give an intense spot of light that not only differentiates where water is and isn’t, but also can show surface ripples caused by surface flow. Here shown are mangrove forests off the coast of India.

— Don Pettit (@astro_Pettit) January 11, 2023

In another stunning example of his photo skills, this capture shows a sunset from within the space station’s Cupola, a seven-window module from where many visiting ISS astronauts take their Earth images.

Sunset on orbit taken from the @Space_Station Cupola window: it takes 7 ½ seconds for the disk of the sun to slip below the horizon. It goes from bright daytime lighting to dark night lighting in about twice this time, and as such there is no extended twilight on orbit.

— Don Pettit (@astro_Pettit) January 8, 2023

Here’s another beauty, this time showing an erupting volcano (in near infrared) in Argentina’s south Patagonia region. Taken by Pettit during his most recent ISS mission, the magenta regions show healthy forests, while the gray areas indicate where the eruption destroyed the surroundings.

Erupting volcano in near infrared and visible imagery (in comments), south Patagonia region, #Argentina. The magenta regions show healthy forests, the gray areas show where the eruption has decimated the surroundings. Taken from @Space_Station on my previous mission.

— Don Pettit (@astro_Pettit) December 13, 2022

Pettit says that cities at night are one of his favorite sights to capture. The one below shows Spain and Portugal, with the bright lights of Madrid and Lisbon, among many other urban areas, clearly visible.

Nighttime photo of Iberia from the @Space_Station, taken in 2012. Cities at night make great #astrophotography for @nasaastronauts, and are among my favorite phenomena to capture. Over time, you can see the adoption of LED and its impact on light pollution.

— Don Pettit (@astro_Pettit) December 4, 2022

And here’s another stunner from the Cupola. The long exposure causes city lights some 250 miles below to appear as trails.

Fish-eye lens long-exposure view of the Earth from the Cupola, aboard the @iss. Below, city lights flow as orange streaks, and faint star trails that show the Earth's rotation are visible in the lower left. #astrophotography can find exciting ways to combine both science and art!

— Don Pettit (@astro_Pettit) September 11, 2022

And finally, here we see Pettit in action, switching rapidly between an infrared camera and a normal-visible camera using a small rig that he built. Here, the NASA astronaut is shooting through a window on the Russian service module rather than from the Cupola.

My dual Ir/vis camera system in action. Near-simo photos taken by "floating" the camera. Audio is actual in the Russian Service module.

— Don Pettit (@astro_Pettit) December 18, 2022

Be sure to check out Pettit’s Twitter account or Instagram feed for more examples of his work.

Another astronaut to have made an impact with his photography is Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency. During two ISS missions — the most recent one in 2021 — Pesquet managed to capture many beautiful images of Earth, though as he once explained, getting those shots required much preparation.

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