Photos of the night sky, of the distant planets, stars, galaxies, and nebulae are things that continually fascinate and inspire awe in everyone who looks at them. The beauty and majesty of the universe at large is something that speaks very deeply to everyone. That’s why the Hubble telescope has part of its time dedicated to doing nothing but taking awe-inspiring photographs. No research (well, not as a primary objective), just truly awesome photos of our neighbors in the universe. It’s also why, when the Hubble telescope experienced problems early on, people all over the US and all over the world were ready to pitch in if needed to keep the mission going. And, even after all these years, funding for things like Hubble, Cassini, Spritzer, and the Webb telescopes and satellites are issues that the public gets very passionate about. These machines act as our eyes and gaze out across the cosmos in a way that many of us which we could do ourselves.
This is also why astrophotography is such a popular and growing hobby. It’s also why things like eclipses, transits, the supermoon, and comets often make headlines whenever they are scheduled to appear. Back during the last annular eclipse, it was difficult to find a place that wasn’t talking about it. We’re fascinated with the sky and with space.
But there is another aspect to astrophotography that we often forget about. We get so caught up in looking up and away that we rarely take the time to look down upon our own planet and its strangely beautiful, haunting atmospheric dance. Yes, we all know about the auroras. Few of us have ever gotten the chance to see them but we know about them. We have all seen the moon go through its different stages and many of us have seen comets, meteors, and even mistaken planets for stars. However, only a very privileged few get to gaze down upon the Earth and see our world from above the sky. The closest most of us will ever come to it is looking out of the windows of an airplane and even that is far closer to having our feet upon terra firma than it is to floating in orbit.
From above the sky, astronauts and scientists aboard the ISS can look down and see the bend of the Earth. They watch as the planet seems to move impossibly fast under them. They get to see the auroras from a perspective that few will ever share. They can watch as the clouds form, dance, dwindle, and disappear. Storm fronts are just blurs of white wisps punctuated by flashing lights to their eyes.
— da Bird