Astronauts in the Expedition 29 crew of the International Space Station (ISS) acquired this amazing image of crepuscular rays seen above India on October 18, 2011.
In this image, which was taken above India, the rays appear as dark straight lines running parallel from side to side. The sun was setting to the west (image left) on the Indian subcontinent, and cumulonimbus cloud towers provided the shadowing obstructions. The rays are being projected onto a layer of haze below the clouds.
This image from space was acquired on October 18, 2011, with a Nikon D2Xs digital camera using a 110 mm lens. NASA says the image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast. Lens artifacts were removed.
Have you seen crepuscular rays from the ground? They are those amazing sunrays that sometimes fan out from a sunset or sunrise – or even from a single cloud when the sun shines from behind it.
From Earth, crepuscular rays do not look parallel. Instead, they appear to radiate outwards from the source of light. But this “fan-like” effect is an illusion, caused by the effects of distance and perspective. Crepuscular rays are actually parallel as the image from space shows.
Crepuscular means like twilight or dim. That’s a clue that this effect is normally seen before sunrise or just after sunset, when the sky is somewhat dark. The shadowed areas bounding the rays are typically formed by clouds or mountain tops that block the path of sunlight or moonlight. However, obstructions alone are not sufficient to create crepuscular rays. The light also must be scattered by airborne dust, aerosols, water droplets, or molecules of air, providing a visible contrast between shadowed and illuminated parts of the sky.
Bottom line: Astronauts in the International Space Station’s Expedition 29 crew acquired an amazing image of crepuscular rays seen above India on October 18, 2011.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.