Science First Look

What NASA's latest stunning video tells us

A NASA astronaut Jeff Williams released a five-minute video of aerial Earth views, hoping to bring viewers an appreciation for the planet's exceptional features.

Sunsets, vast, open waters, and sweeping cloud formations are some of the many features that make Earth a wonder. From space, those Earthly wonders become even more breathtaking.

NASA Astronaut Jeff Williams doesn’t remember exactly where he was looking the first time he saw Earth while on the Atlantis space shuttle in 2000, but he remembers how beautiful the view was.

“What struck me was just the overall beauty of the planet, and specifically with the blues of the oceans and the whites of the cloud formations," Mr. Williams recalled in the new video. "I put a high priority on photography and video [taken] out the window of the Earth," he added. "You see things at a different scale, and I think you can grow in your appreciation of what the Earth has to offer to support our livelihood, to support civilizations."

Now, Earthbound viewers can catch a glimpse of that spectacular view, in a video taken during his latest expedition. Using an ultra-high-definition camera, Williams recorded the video some 250 miles above the planet from the International Space Station (ISS).

The camera captures forests, islands, oceans, and fields of agriculture, shifting over various cloud formations that make each sunset and sunrise unique. In different areas, the different histories and cultures associated with different agriculture patterns become clear, and the variety of life on earth comes through, he said.

Williams, who holds the American record for days spent in space at 534, marked his fourth expedition to space with Expedition 48 on the International Space Station, returning to Earth last September. He’s taken numerous photos from space before, including a series showcasing national parks across America as well as sunrise over the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic, capturing swirling clouds and the early light as it reflects across the water.

But photographs of Earth’s surface do more than provide majestic images to swoon over – they can shift our perspectives. When the crew aboard Apollo 8 set out as the first humans to enter space in 1968, they captured an iconic photo of Earth. That image has since been credited with starting the environmental movement, urging people to appreciate the singular beauty in our own planet, and even ushering in the celebration of Earth Day, which began two years after that first space mission.

"We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth,” astronaut Bill Anders said in a NASA release.

William hopes that his photos can have a similar influence on viewers, allowing them to better understand and appreciate the complexities and beauty of the unparalleled planet.

“When you finish and you’re back on the earth, the memories diminish quickly,” Williams said. “So, to capture the memories, to be able to bring back the experience to others and viewing this planet, now we can see it in a global scale and maybe grow in an appreciation of those things that are unique to earth.”