Japan at Night Astronaut Photo

November 6, 2017

The contrast of the bright lights against the dark landscape makes this a favorite astronaut photo.

This photograph, taken by astronaut Randy “Komrade” Bresnik from the International Space Station (ISS), shows nighttime lights over Japan on November 6, 2017. The lights are concentrated around three of the country’s major cities: Tokyo (top cluster), Nagoya (middle), and Osaka (bottom).

The Greater Tokyo area, which is home to more than 30 million people, is the most populous metropolitan area in the world. However, Tokyo has a smaller energy consumption per capita compared to other megacities such as New York City. Primary energy consumption across the country has decreased over the past decade due to better energy efficiency and conservation and changes in economic growth. Renewable energy sources, such as solar power, are rapidly replacing fossil fuels as the country aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent between 2013 and 2030. Overall, Japan was the fifth-largest energy consumer in the world in 2019.

Researchers have used nighttime imagery of lights to better understand human activity. The images can reveal population changes, urban development, energy use, economic activities, and changes in types of lighting.

The contrast of the bright lights against the dark landscape is also beautiful. The photo above is one of Bresnik’s favorites. He shot it during ISS Expedition 52/53, his second excursion on the station.

While astronauts receive training (see video above) on how to shoot photos from the space station, Bresnik’s first photography lessons occurred long before he was selected to be an astronaut. From a young age, Bresnik learned to develop photographs in a dark room with his grandfather, who was a photographer for Amelia Earhart. His father was also a photographer, and Bresnik embraced photography and made a camera and lenses one of his first purchases when he got a job and had his own money. While living and working on the ISS, Bresnik shot several photographs of places on Earth that he could match with pictures he took of the locations on the ground. He promoted those pairs with #OneWorldManyViews on social media.

Learn more about astronaut photography in the Picturing Earth video series: part 1 Astronaut Photography in Focus; part 2 Window on the World; and part 3 Behind the Scenes.

Astronaut photograph ISS053-E-209380 was acquired on November 6, 2017, with a Nikon D4 digital camera using a 24 millimeter lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 53 crew. The image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth.