Here’s a wonderful time-lapse video made of photos taken from orbit as the International Space Station passed over Switzerland, western Europe and eventually Saudi Arabia on the night of December 22, 2011. A portion of the Station can be seen along the right side, reflecting the lights of the major cities passing 240 miles below.
Flashes of lightning briefly illuminate scattered storm clouds, and the thin shell of our atmosphere is capped by airglow — a greenish light cast by ions charged by UV radiation.
This photos were taken by Expedition 30 astronauts, compiled at Johnson Space Center and uploaded to The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth.
Especially impressive are the stars visible in the background… this should answer any questions as to whether or not astronauts can see stars from space!
(The visibility of stars in photos from space is entirely dependent on the ambient sunlight and how the camera is set to expose the scene. In these instances, passing above the night side of the planet and shielded from the Sun, cameras are set for maximum sensitivity and so stars can register on the sensor. In daylight the camera is set differently, so as not to overexpose a brightly-lit Earth. This makes capturing much dimmer background stars impossible.)
The video was rotated (by me) 90º clockwise to give, one: a larger view on screen, and two: an entirely different sense of passing “around” the planet. North is up, and so it portrays more of a globe feeling, in my opinion. But, however you look at it, the view is simply incredible!
Video courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center. See the original video and more at The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth.