Astronauts' stunning photos from the International Space Station show Earth's triumphs and tragedies in 2022

  • Astronauts on the International Space Station share stunning images of Earth from 250 miles up.

  • From sunsets and moonrises to spewing volcanos and breathtaking deserts, life in space is gorgeous.

  • The best astronaut photos of 2022 reveal surreal beauty alongside extreme weather and war.

Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) have a unique view from 250 miles above Earth. They can see both beauty and destruction on the planet below.

astronaut samantha cristoforetti looks through space station cupola window at ocean and clouds below
European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti looks at the Earth through the cupola, the ISS's "window to the world," while orbiting above the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Peru, on October 1, 2022.NASA

"It's difficult to explain because the emotions are absolutely overwhelming. It is an incredible scene of color, of clouds, and land," NASA astronaut Nicole Mann told the Associated Press in October.

view from space shows brown rivers emptying into blue ocean across green landscape
Maludam National Park in East Malaysia is composed of low-lying forests and several rivers that empty into the South China Sea, on June 7, 2022.NASA

"It's difficult not to stay in the cupola all day," she added.

The ISS careens around the planet, completing an orbit every 90 minutes.

space station window view shows long time lapse earth streaking below
This long-duration photograph shows the Earth 259 miles below a soaring ISS, on September 19, 2022.NASA

That means astronauts see 16 sunrises and sunsets every day.

sunrise orange sky peeks above cloud tops
An orbital sunrise begins to illuminate the cloud tops above the Pacific Ocean south of the Hawaiian island chain, on September 15, 2022.NASA

Orbital sunrises are stunning. The colors spill across the horizon, cutting through the darkness of nighttime Earth and the blackness of space above.

sun rising pierces blackness of space against the dark curvature of the earth with thin blue line of daytime atmosphere on the horizon
The sun's rays begin to illuminate the atmosphere as the ISS flies into an orbital sunrise 261 miles above Texas, on July 16, 2022.NASA

Astronauts also get to see the moon rising and setting above the curvature of the Earth.

moon sets below earth horizon against blackness of space
As the moon sets below Earth's horizon, the atmosphere refracts, or bends its light, making it appear flatter in this photograph taken from the ISS above the Himalayas near Kathmandu, Nepal, on June 15, 2022.NASA

Looking down at Earth, astronauts can see even more colors in the mind-bending diversity of our planet's landscapes.

brown craggy rock surrounds red orange sand dunes
A portion of the Sahara Desert in Algeria, with sand dunes, rocky platforms, and sandstone plateaus, on February 7, 2022.NASA

Prominent natural features, like this circular rocky uplift in the Sahara desert, often catch astronauts' eyes.

concentric circles landscape feature in red brown desert
The Richat Structure, also known as the "Eye of the Sahara," an eroded geological dome in Mauritania, on August 21, 2022.NASA

Another circular structure, in icy and rocky Quebec, comes from a meteor impact during the Triassic period.

icy rock landscape
The icy terrain surrounding the Manicouagan Reservoir, a lake formed by a prehistoric meteorite impact in far eastern Canada, on February 13, 2022.NASA

It's visible from pretty far away.

earth below with circle in the middle of green landscape
The Manicouagan Crater in Quebec, Canada, figures prominently in the center of this photograph from the ISS, on April 3, 2022.Matthias Maurer/ESA/NASA

Some landscapes appear abstract, like Minnesota's famous lakes at night, which resemble shattered glass or water spilled across a dark table.

lakes in the dark reflecting light aerial view
The moon's glint beams off lakes on the US-Canada border, between the state of Minnesota and the province of Ontario, on August 14, 2022.NASA

Others are simpler, such as Italy and Sicily stretching across the sea, like Michelangelo's fresco of Adam and God reaching for each other's fingertips.

view from space sicily and italy land masses reach for each other across the ocean
The southern tip of the boot of Italy, left, and the island of Sicily, on June 2, 2022. Mount Etna, lower right, Europe's tallest active volcano on the coast of Sicily, is visible, billowing with activity.NASA

Did you catch the volcano in that last picture? Here's a closer look. Mount Etna is Europe's tallest active volcano.

view from space mount etna volcano with steam billowing out
Mount Etna, on the coast of Italy's island of Sicily, is pictured billowing with activity as the ISS passes over Bulgaria, on June 2, 2022.NASA

Preserved areas often feature unique natural landscapes. This national park in Australia features a river cutting through red earth and filling a series of lakes.

red landscape with muddy brown lakes and thin blue river
Australia's Kinchega National Park, with the Darling River and several lakes on its eastern edge, on August 31, 2022.NASA

Some of the best sights come at night.

circular city lit up at night view from space
Curitiba, a city of nearly 2 million people in Brazil, lit up at night on July 4, 2022.NASA

At night, astronauts can catch a stunning view of the Milky Way stretching above them. In this photo, a lightning bolt flashes on Earth below.

earth with bright spot lightning strike with starry milky way purple and black above and solar panels of space station in foreground
This time-lapse of the Milky Way galaxy also captured a lightning strike on Earth so bright that it lit up the space station's solar panels.NASA/Kjell Lindgren

Astronauts also enjoy regular, stunning shows of the aurora dancing across the north and south poles.

green and red aurora lights stream across earth horizon against black space
A brilliant aurora streams across Earth's horizon above the Indian Ocean northeast of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands, on August 17, 2022.NASA

But 2022 wasn't all pretty sunsets and stunning landscapes. Astronauts on the ISS said they could see war unfolding in Ukraine, though they didn't post photos of it.

satellite image of Europe shows night lights with dark patch in ukraine
Satellite imagery of night lights across Europe on February 27, 2022, shows a darkened Ukraine after Russia's invasion.NASA Worldview

"At the beginning of the war, the whole country went dark at night," German astronaut Matthias Maurer said in May, adding, "People actually only recognized Kyiv."

side by side satellite images of kyiv show the city going dark after russian invasion
Kyiv, Ukraine, as seen by satellite in January 2022, left, and March 2022, right.NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens/Black Marble data courtesy of Ranjay Shrestha/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

That's what he told German broadcaster ARD's "Morgenmagazin" program, according to a translation in Newsweek.

"Then you could also see the impacts in the first days of the war. In Kyiv, you could see lightning at night," as well as the "rockets that hit," he added, according to Newsweek.

Extreme weather battered the world — like Hurricane Ian, which the ISS flew above as it approached Florida.

hurricane swirling over planet
Hurricane Ian, just south of Cuba, builds strength in warm waters, on September 26, 2022.NASA

The ISS often gets a unique view into the eye of a storm. The station also flew over Hurricane Fiona just days after it took out Puerto Rico's power.

space station module above hurricane on earth below
The ISS flies over the eye of Hurricane Fiona in the Atlantic Ocean, north of Puerto Rico, on September 20, 2022.NASA

Astronauts can also see long-term damage humans have caused. This lake is overrun with red algae because dams and agriculture have drawn so much water from it, and drought has further depleted it.

butterfly shaped red and yellow lake in brown rocky landscape
Lake Urmia in northwest Iran, once one of the biggest saltwater lakes in the world, on July 30, 2022.NASA

Astronauts don't spend all day looking out the window, though. They're busy working on experiments and maintenance...

astronaut in spacesuit on spacewalk above earth
Astronaut Matthias Maurer of ESA is pictured on the ISS's truss structure during a spacewalk, on March 23, 2022.NASA

... welcoming new spaceships full of astronauts or cargo to the ISS...

crew dragon spaceship flying in black space with moon in background
The SpaceX Dragon Endurance ship approaches the ISS with the waxing gibbous moon in the background, on October 6, 2022.NASA/Kjell Lindgren

... saying goodbye to other spaceships...

shooting bolt of light through space
The ISS Progress 79 resupply ship leaves a plasma trail as it reenters Earth's atmosphere for a fiery, but safe demise above the Pacific Ocean, on June 1, 2022.NASA

... or simply having fun...

astronaut looks at floating bubble of water on international space station
NASA astronaut Frank Rubio observes the behavior of a free-flying water bubble inside the ISS Kibo laboratory module, on October 1, 2022.NASA

... but they still take time to appreciate the view from 250 miles up.

red desert sands with distant mountains against deep blue ocean
The Namib Desert on Namibia's Atlantic coast, on July 14, 2022.NASA

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