Stunning astronaut photo taken from space station captures Tokyo lights at night


December 23, 2020

Fairy lights emanate from the Imperial Palace in the center of the city and follow the highway system outwards.

Months before the world turned to Tokyo for the 2020 Summer Olympics, an astronaut on the International Space Station captured this image of the Japanese megalopolis. The photograph offers a distinctive high-resolution view of the city’s structure thanks to its night-time light.

Many cities are oriented around a center. In most modern cities, it is a bright city center. In Tokyo, it is the Imperial Palace. Fairy lights emanate from the palace and follow Tokyo’s main highway system outward. The brightest dots indicate clusters of tall buildings in multiple city centers. Major sporting venues, like the Olympic Stadium and racetracks, also leave subtle traces on Tokyo’s nighttime landscape.

In a city so well lit, the dark areas stand out as much as the bright ones. As Tokyo’s population exceeds 40 million, the city is reaching the geographic limits of outward growth. Naturally bounded by Tokyo Bay to the east and the mountains to the west, the darker areas further from the city center are often referred to as parks. Tokyo’s park system is vast, covering 36% of the prefecture’s total area.

The other negative space in the photo is Tokyo Bay and the major rivers (Sumida, Tama, and Edo) that flow through the city and flow into the bay. The only interruption to the darkness of the bay is the small bright spots caused by ships traveling to and from Tokyo’s busy docks. The sharp and angular nature of the quays contrasts with the serpentine rivers and highlights their human origin.

Photograph of astronaut ISS064-E-15098 was acquired on December 23, 2020, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a focal length of 400 millimeters and is provided by the crew’s Earth observation facility of the ISS and the Earth Sciences and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by an Expedition 64 crew member. The image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station program is supporting the laboratory as part of the ISS National Laboratory to help astronauts take photos of Earth that will be of greatest value to scientists and the public, and to render those images available free on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at ">Nasa/ JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by Alex Stoken, Jacobs, JETS contract at NASA-JSC.

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