Monday, February 28, 2011

Cities from the Sky, Part Two

This post is the second in a series on cities as seen from above. If you missed part one, click here.

Cities at night are as wondrous as they are mysterious. With the setting of the sun, cities transform into entirely different entities. Just think about the varied experiences of walking down a street while the sun is shining and then again after dark. But how does this experience change if these cities are seen from above? And I'm not talking about just aerial photography this time.

In the following video, astronaut Don Pettit takes us on an orbital tour around the world of cities at night. He explains the challenges of capturing such clear images from space, as the International Space Station travels around the globe at over 17,000 miles per hour. Try going that fast and capturing a high-resolution, blur-free image from your point and shoot. It's not going to happen. But Pettit and his colleagues on the ISS assembled a sophisticated mechanism that cancels out orbital motion and produces the clear, striking images you see here:

Pettit's admiration of human settlement patters comes through in his commentary. His most insightful observation is that "Cities at night are caught in a triangle between culture, geography, and technology." These elements influence everything from a city's color and brightness to its geometry. Just as cities shape our actions, experiences, and quality of life, so too do we influence the forms our cities take. In part one of this series, I made the point that cities from the sky are works of art, and Pettit shares this sentiment: "We do not construct our cities by how they might look from space. Cities at night may very well be one of the most beautiful, unintentional consequences of humanity."

This next video will bring us down to earth, quite literally. Shot from the nose of a commercial airplane, we are escorted to the tarmac during its final descent into LAX. As the sun sets and the plane travels closer and closer to its destination, we get a unique look at the City of Angels. Enjoy:

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