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Astronaut reveals source of ‘intriguing’ bright light on Earth

Peering out from the International Space Station 250 miles above Earth recently, European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti spotted an “intriguing” bright light in the middle of a desert.

The bright light of a solar power station as seen from space.
NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti

Sharing several photos of the strange sight, the Italian space traveler noted how unusual it is to see a bright spot like this in the daytime.

After conducting some research, she was able to confirm that the light was coming from a tower at a solar thermal power plant in Israel’s Negev desert.

“Intriguing sight! A bright dot in the Negev desert,” Cristoforetti tweeted to her one million followers. “So unusual to see human-made lights in day passes! It’s a concentrated solar power plant, one of the technologies to get renewable energy from the Sun. With one of the world’s tallest solar power towers!”

Intriguing sight! A bright dot in the Negev desert…so unusual to see human-made lights in day passes! It’s a concentrated solar power plant, one of the technologies to get renewable energy from the Sun. With one of the world’s tallest solar power towers! #MissionMinerva

— Samantha Cristoforetti (@AstroSamantha) August 25, 2022

The Ashalim Solar Thermal Power Station spotted by the ISS astronaut comprises more than 50,000 computer-controlled heliostats, or mirrors, with a 250-meter-high solar power tower at its center.

The mirrors track the sun, reflecting its light onto a boiler at the top of the tower that produces steam to power a turbine. The plant reportedly produces enough energy to power around 70,000 households.

Below is a closer image of the plant as seen on Google Maps:

A solar thermal power station in Israel, as seen from space.

And here’s a picture of the tower captured from the ground:

 Ashalim Solar Thermal Power Station.
Iskra Piotr/Creative Commons

During their downtime, ISS astronauts like to head to the station’s seven-window Cupola module to take in the amazing panoramic views of Earth and beyond. Some, like Cristoforetti, like to grab one of the station’s Nikon DSLR cameras to capture some of the extraordinary scenery.

Recent space station inhabitant Thomas Pesquet was particularly handy with the camera, and went to great lengths to give himself the best chance of grabbing some top shots during his stay.

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