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Sunset Over Europe and Africa From Columbia Hoax

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Message claims that an attached image depicting Europe and Africa from space when the sun is setting is a photograph taken on the last mission of doomed space shuttle Columbia.

False Information

Brief Analysis

The image is not a photograph taken from on board the space shuttle Columbia. In fact, it is a composite image created from a number of different photographs taken from several sources.



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Subject: FW: ........... Superb


Sunset - Europe and Africa from space

The photograph attached was taken by the crew on board the Columbia during its last mission, 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 Dublin , London , Lisbon , and Madrid.

The sun is still shining on the Strait 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 day time and night time.

To the left, on top, is Greenland , totally frozen.

Detailed Analysis

The text that accompanies this striking image claims that it is a photograph taken by crew aboard the space shuttle Columbia before the shuttle disintegrated during re-entry in February 2003, killing all on board. The message claims that the image shows Europe and Africa as the sun is setting with part of the Earth in daylight and the rest in darkness punctuated with the lights from large cities in the region.

The image does depict parts of Europe and Africa divided by day and night. However, it was not taken by crew on board Columbia. Nor, strictly speaking, can the image be considered a photograph. In fact, it is a composite image created from a number of different photographs taken from several sources. The image was featured on NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) in March 2003. The caption of the APOD image notes:
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. Similar images can be digitally stitched together for any Earth location by John Walker's Earth and Moon Viewer website. 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. The image has become both an internet wave in that it continues to circulate as an attachment to digital correspondence, and a modern urban legend.
Thus, although the image is certainly beautiful, it should not be considered a realistic representation of how a spacefarer would see the Earth. Nor can it be considered of historical significance since none of the photographs used in the composite image were taken from Columbia.

Last updated: April 19, 2015
First published: 5th August 2008
By Brett M. Christensen
About Hoax-Slayer

APOD: A Digital Sunset Over Europe and Africa
Wikipedia: Space Shuttle Columbia disaster

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