Italy, the Moon, and a passing moment on the ISS

Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano on the International Space Station posts some beautiful pictures and a wonderful description of seeing his country at night from space:

Moon-rise-1024x679[1]The edge of the Moon is seen through high altitude noctilucent clouds.

Parmitano writes vividly about his view from the Cupola:

Using my torch, I enter Cupola and slowly, deliberately, I open each window, one after the other. Even though there are just a matter of minutes left before we fly over Italy, we are still above central Africa, where a raging monsoon stretches to fill my entire field of vision, from one horizon to the other, for hundreds of kilometres. In the darkness of the orbital night, lightning flashes an unreal light on one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever seen. The blue light streaks across my view, flaring from dozens of storm cells. With a frantic, syncopated rhythm worthy of the greatest percussionists, the white clouds lit up by the lightning momentarily rip open the black African night, made darker by the absence of street lighting. There is a violence to it that I can almost feel from up here, 400 kilometres above the highest clouds. The lack of thunder lends a surreal air to the storms, and the silence is deafening.


Looking towards the north, I see the Balearic Islands fully lit, and I consciously refrain from looking east straight away: I want to savour these moments. Beneath me, through Cupola’s central window, I see Tunis, Hammamet and then Sfax, and I realise there’s not much time left. Through the window right in front of me, lit up like village streets in Carnival, I see one of the most overwhelming sights I’ve ever seen as an astronaut: an unmistakable shape, completely cloudless, the boot of Italy lies perfectly outlined by lights that run continuously from the tip of Calabria to the Ligurian coast, tracing its profile like a brand-new constellation in the nocturnal depths of the Mediterranean Sea. Sardinia and Corsica, not as bright as the rest, move slowly across the scene, and on the north-eastern horizon, a violent storm seems to ravage central Europe, from Austria to Germany. From up here, Naples and Rome proudly dominate the scene, radiating a splendour above all other cities. But Bologna, Florence, Milan, Turin – they are all visible, thousands of kilometres away. Vesuvius forms a dark circle in a land utterly saturated by light.


It’s late, and tomorrow will be a long day. With those lights still filling my eyes, I slowly close the seven windows and cross the Station to return to my sleeping pod. Not even dreams could replace the beautiful reality that revolves, oblivious, beneath us.