A Picture From Space?
Date Added: Mar. 12, 2003
The tragic loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia and its seven crew members on February 1, 2003, prompted a good number of chain letters. Some had and ounce of truth to them, while others, like this one are assumed true because we want them to be true, as they provide a possible 'silver lining' to tragedy.
This photograph was taken by the crew on board the Columbia during its last mission.
This photograph was taken via satellite, on a cloudless day. The picture is of Europe and Africa when the sun is setting. Half of the picture is in night. The bright dots you see are the cities lights.
The top part of Africa is the Sahara Desert. Note that the lights are already on in Holland, Paris, and Barcelona, and that's it's still daylight in London, Lisbon, and Madrid.
The sun is still shining on the Straight of Gibraltar. The Mediterranean Sea is already in darkness. In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean you can see the Azores Islands; below them to the right are the Madeira Islands; a bit below are the Canary Islands; and further south, close to the farthest western point of Africa, are the Cape Verde Islands.
Note that the Sahara is huge and can be seen clearly both during daytime and nighttime.
To the left, on top, is Greenland, totally frozen.
In case you were wondering how this photo could possibly have been taken "by the crew on board the Columbia" and "via satellite," you're right to be skeptical. In truth, it's technically neither.
The photograph included in this mailing predates the Columbia shuttle disaster by quite some time. As we found with the World Trade Center attacks of 2001, even the most nondescript of chain letters seems somewhat more "special" when associated with tragedy. Fortunately, this one appears to be a hopeful misattribution and not an intentionally misleading hoax like another chain, supposedly including a series of photographs of the Columbia's destruction.
The image above is not a "photograph" in the literal sense. According to NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day web site, it is a computer construct drawn from a variety of sources.
"No single spacecraft or astronaut took this picture. It is a digital composite of archived images taken by several Earth-orbiting satellites and ocean-faring ships... Specifically, the daytime land images were taken by the MODIS instrument on NASA's Terra satellite, while the nighttime images were taken by the DMSP satellites. This image is different from what an astronaut would see for reasons including a complete lack of clouds and an unrealistic exaggeration of lights and contrasts."
It is a stunning image and the descriptive text accompanying it is at least geographically correct. But it's not a real photo, nor is it a beam of hope from a tragic mission. Break this chain.
References: Snopes.com, Astronomy Picture of the Day, March 23, 2003