5 Man-Made Things You Can See from Space (Plus One You Really Can’t)

Nicole Stott, via Universe Today

Which of mankind’s marvels can we actually spot from the final frontier? This question calls for a little perspective. Space is big. Sure, you might be able to gaze at the Amazon River while hovering a few hundred miles above sea level. But from the moon, you could barely even make out the continents! And our whole planet looks like nothing more than a dinky blue splotch from Mars’ surface. Still, astronauts traveling in Low Earth Orbit or on board the International Space Station can see quite a bit using nothing but their naked eyes.

1. The Great Pyramids at Giza

Some squinting may be required to spy Egypt’s greatest monuments in this picture snapped by astronaut Nicole Stott. If you’re really lost, look for a pair of triangular shadows near the center…

2. Bridges

Chris Hadfield, via Huffington Post

Long bridges crossing over straits stick out like a sore thumb. However, identifying them can be a pain. Last year, astronaut Chris Hadfield caught a glimpse of what he thought was the Golden Gate, but may have really been a less-glamorous bay area counterpart.

3. Lonely Desert Roads

Chris Hadfield, via Universe Today

As Hadfield explains, desert highways look like “straight human [lines] drawn onto incredibly rough terrain," making them rather noticeable.

4. Cities at Night


Space-bound explorers have taken hundreds of nocturnal photos over various urban centers. Here’s a helpful interactive gallery. Go look up a metro area near you.

5. The Greenhouses of Almería

Wikimedia Commons

A sprawling sea of plastic greenhouses covers over 64,000 acres in southeastern Spain. Tons of fruits and veggies (tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, etc.) are produced here, generating $1.5 billon in revenue every year. 

Kinda, Sorta, Not Really Visible: The Great Wall of China

NASA, via Universe Today 

Let’s get a few things straight. Can you see this ancient marvel while walking on the moon, as many claim? No way. Again, people really can’t see much of any detail Earth-wise from up there. On a similar note, it’s also effectively out of sight for the International Space Station’s crewmembers.

Another persistent rumor holds that China’s Great Wall is the only man-made structure that’s visible from space. As we’ve seen, this is nonsense. This demonstrably-false idea dates back to at least the 1930s, long before manned space missions started taking off!

Yet, one vitally important question remains: Where does space start anyway? By most international standards (even though a certain Air Force disagrees), the boundary between Earth’s jurisdiction and outer space rests approximately 62 miles above sea level.

From this height, the Great Wall is technically visible, at least according to astronauts Eugene Cernan and Ed Lu. However, it’s not exactly conspicuous. Even under the best solar and weather conditions, this landmark is virtually indistinguishable from neighboring rivers and mountains. Therefore, most space-travelers miss the Wall entirely.

In fact, one person who definitely didn’t see it was China’s first astronaut, Yang Liwei. “The scenery was very beautiful,” Liwei said after returning to Earth in 2003. “But I didn’t see the Great Wall.”

A Year in Space Changed How Astronaut Scott Kelly's Genes Behaved

After spending 342 consecutive days onboard the International Space Station from 2015 to 2016, astronaut Scott Kelly now holds the record for longest single space mission by an American. But his "One-Year" study with NASA was about more than breaking records: Its purpose was to show how prolonged time in orbit would effect Kelly's genetic makeup compared to that of his identical twin brother on Earth. Now, following recent evaluations of the two men, it appears that Scott Kelly's gene expression was significantly altered by his time in space, reports.

NASA announced the most recent findings from its Twins Study ahead of a more comprehensive paper combining the work of multiple teams of researchers that is slated for later in 2018. Like his brother Scott, Mark is also an astronaut, making the pair the only twin astronauts in history. So when NASA was looking for a way to study the long-term effects of space life, the siblings were a perfect fit.

As Scott was sending tweets and blowing bubbles on the ISS, Mark stayed on Earth to serve as the control. Biological samples taken from both subjects before, during, and after the space flight showed some dramatic differences. According to an investigation conducted by Susan Bailey of Colorado State University, Scott's telomeres, the protective "cap" at the ends of chromosomes that shorten as we age, got longer in space. The telomeres began shrinking back to preflight levels, however, a few days after Scott's return to Earth. Scott was subjected to regular exercise and a restricted diet aboard the ISS, so the new lifestyle may explain the sudden telomere boost.

Other genetic differences stuck around even months after landing. "Although 93 percent of genes' expression returned to normal post-flight, a subset of several hundred 'space genes' were still disrupted after return to Earth," acccording to a NASA press release. About 7 percent of Scott's genes may show longer-term changes, included the genes associated with DNA repair, immune health, bone formation, hypoxia (an oxygen deficiency in the tissues) and hypercapnia (excessive carbon dioxide in the bloodstream).

A long list of factors, like radiation, caloric restriction, and zero gravity, may have contributed to the results. NASA plans to use these findings to develop countermeasures against these effects, which will be essential if the agency plans to send humans to Mars, a journey that could take three times as long as Scott Kelly's ISS mission.


Editor's note: We updated the headline and one line of this story to more accurately reflect the research findings. We apologize for the error. 

The Northern Lights May Be Visible Over Parts of America Tonight

The Northern Lights are rarely visible in the continental U.S., but Americans living in the Upper Midwest and New England occasionally catch a glimpse. Tonight, March 14, may mark one such occasion, according to Thrillist.

Thanks to a mild geomagnetic storm on March 14 and 15, the aurora borealis could be visible as far south as Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Maine, the National Space Weather Prediction Center (SPWC) reports. The storm has been rated as a G1 geomagnetic storm, the weakest rating on a scale from G1 to G5, meaning it probably won’t disrupt power grids or satellites.

If you don’t live within the U.S.’s higher latitudes, you’ll have to be content with watching videos of the spectacular phenomenon.

If you do live along the country’s northern tier near the Canadian border, you can check the SPWC’s 30-minute aurora forecast to get a better sense of where the Northern Lights might appear in the sky in the near future.

[h/t Thrillist]


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