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Top Photographs of Earth from Space

At Air Charter Service we’re used to flying high, but not quite this high. Through a private jet charter our clients regularly experience the majesty of viewing our beautiful planet from a lofty vantage, thousands of feet above the congested streets.

There’s something special about air travel which, no matter how many times you’ve experienced it, doesn’t diminish with regularity. For a few hours it can feel as though you exist in your own bubble, in which time is frozen and everything is comfort and quiet, while down below the hive of activity continues.

Space takes this feeling one step further and with all the recent news regarding the LightSail, New Horizons and commercial space flights it’s clear that astrophysicists have managed to capture our imaginations once more. With this in mind, Air Charter Service determined to get in contact with some of the leading researchers and scientific bodies in the UK to ask them what images they found most inspiring, and to tell us why.

Courtesy of Gemma Lavender of All about Space

This breath-taking image of planet Earth was taken during the Apollo 8 mission, which was the first manned mission to orbit the Moon. The photograph, shot by former NASA astronaut, William Anders on Christmas Eve in 1968, is famously known as Earthrise. The Apollo astronauts were so stunned to see our home rising over the Moon’s surface that the mission commander Frank Borman quickly snapped a black-and-white photograph of the scene.

Anders took the first colour shot of Earth from Moon orbit, where Antarctica can be seen at the ten o’clock position and the equator runs westward toward the top right-hand corner. The boundary between night and day, known as the terminator, can be seen be crossing the African continent.


Earthrise, which has been declared as “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken” by the late nature photographer Galen Rowell, was taken using a modified Hasselblad camera loaded with a custom 70mm film developed by technology company Kodak.

Courtesy of Karen Rogers of Satellite Applications Catapult

The Satellite Applications Catapult was established May 2013 as an independent innovation and technology company. It was created to foster growth across the economy through the exploitation of space, and to inspire others to innovate using satellite technologies and support the development of new products and services.

Philae is a washing machine sized space probe which was launched back in 2004 and was designed to intercept a comet, land on its surface and analyse its surface composition. Although it touched down recently it went dormant after rebounding off the comet and ultimately landing in a shady area, which didn’t provide enough sunlight to its solar panels. When it finally came out of hibernation seven months later it “spoke” to mission command.


This image was taken shortly before Philae’s wake-up signal was received. It is believed that Philae can be seen resting on the comet towards the top right in this image.


With the growing interest in space technologies, UK astronaut Tim Peake’s impending visit to the International Space Station and recent excitement of the Philae lander rendezvousing on a moving comet, space is now recognised as one of the UK’s ‘eight great technologies’, providing UK industries with new applications and services.

Courtesy of Siân Cleaver of WISE

Siân Cleaver is a member of the WISE Young Women’s Board, and also a Mission Systems Engineer for Airbus Defence and Space in the UK. She is currently working in the Future Programmes Team, helping to design and develop new space missions. They work primarily with the European Space Agency and also the UK Space Agency.

Zambezi River, Zambia
Zambezi River, Zambia

This beautiful image of the Zambezi River, in Zambia, has been produced by layering different-coloured radar images taken in March, September and December of 2011. The combination of three individually-coloured images reveals the change in the floodplain through the seasons.

Each Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) image was taken by Europe’s Envisat satellite which was in operation for 10 years, until 2012. A SAR image is produced by coherently adding the complex echo signals received from sending a radar beam down to the ground for a given period of time. As the satellite moves with respect to the Earth, this has the effect of simulating a much larger antenna with a size equal to the ground distance covered by the satellite, hence the term “synthetic aperture”. The resulting images are of a much higher spatial resolution than those produced by conventional radar techniques.

The UK space industry is growing rapidly, and many of Europe’s satellites, including Earth Observation satellites, have substantial involvement from UK companies. Airbus Defence and Space, based in Stevenage and Portsmouth in the UK, is the prime contractor for ESA’s Sentinel-5 Precursor satellite which will monitor atmospheric chemistry, and also ADM-Aeolus which will observe the winds in the atmosphere. Missions like these will provide us with invaluable data that will help us to understand our Earth, predict changes in our environment and enable us to interact harmoniously with our planet in the future.

A growing industry requires a growing workforce so widening the talent pool for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) -related careers has become a priority for the UK. The WISE Campaign (Women Into Science and Engineering) is committed to growing the STEM workforce by encouraging more girls and women into STEM-related careers.

Courtesy of Chris Bramley of Sky at Night Magazine

“In this image, taken using a Nikon DSLR camera from the International Space Station (ISS), the spacewalking astronaut is dwarfed by the immense size of the solar arrays and support structures surrounding him.

International Space Station
International Space Station

Mission specialist Steve Bowen is carrying out routine maintenance, lubricating the joints and bearings that allow the yellow solar panels to rotate and follow the Sun, a job that took him and another astronaut almost seven hours to complete. Although at first glance it appears that it's just Bowen's grip on a handrail which is keeping him from spinning away from the orbital outpost, he is in fact firmly secured to the space station using a safety tether and has joystick-controlled jet thrusters in his backpack that he can call on should the tether snap.

Beyond the engineered complexity of the metal framework lies the natural simplicity of planet Earth, our atmosphere glowing bright white in this side-on angle as sunlight reveals its remarkable thinness. In December this year, UK astronaut Tim Peake is scheduled to launch on a six-month mission to the ISS. There he will continue the important research done on board into the effects of microgravity and how humans can better exist in the hostile environment of space. He'll probably have to grease a few bearings too.”

Chris Bramley, Editor, BBC Sky at Night Magazine.

And there we have it, some true inspiration for all of us who marvel at the beauty of our blue, green home from up above. You may not be able to hire a private jet which takes you out into space (yet) but that doesn’t mean that we can’t share in the hope and majesty that these beautiful images stir up in the human imagination. If this has only wet your appetite for more then check out NASA’s collection of stunning visuals over here.

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