Space Station Explorers Launches “Mystery Images from Space” Activity

BY: Julia Sable
Date Added: December 01st, 2016

This week, Space Station Explorers is launching “Mystery Images from Space,” an online activity that will feature a new photograph of Earth each week. Earth photography, for both work and play, is part of daily life on the International Space Station. Astronauts photograph locations on Earth that scientists request and snap pictures of Earth’s beauty as it unfolds below for their own enjoyment. No matter your age or level of education, if you like looking at awe-inspiring photos and asking questions about our fascinating planet, you’ll enjoy the Mystery Images.

Cameras on the International Space Station Taking Photos of Earth

There are a lot of cameras in the Cupola! Some are handheld by astronauts and some are anchored with articulating arms. Usually their lenses are pointing out the window toward Earth, but some of them are turned inward. Credit: NASA

Each week’s image presents two challenges: (1) try to figure out the location and (2) carefully study the image to learn more about Earth. The website provides clues for solving the mysteries through built-in tools such as maps and nighttime image overlays.

The first Mystery Image from Space features a familiar and densely populated landform. Close inspection will spark some interesting questions about the image. This landform is mostly surrounded by water. How has that affected its role in history? There are more clouds over the land than over the water. Why? This region has active volcanoes. How have they shaped the land in the past and how are they affecting the land and the people living there right now?

Studying each week’s Mystery Image can reveal surprising details of Earth science, history, and geography, leading to new insights into our changing planet and our impact on it. It also offers a global perspective from an orbiting astronaut’s point of view. Through the windows of the Station’s cupola, astronauts don’t see any political boundaries on Earth, making it clear that all humans occupy one unique, delicate planet floating in space.

Those who want to explore more photos taken by ISS astronauts can find a huge archive that is updated daily at

“Mystery Images from Space” was developed by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) in collaboration with TERC (an educational non-profit), Myriad (a software development company), and NASA.

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