Here It Is: The 'Most Significant' Photo Recently Taken From Space

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Astronaut Chris Hadfield is, in addition to everything else, a photographer. This is his favorite image.

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Chris Hadfield captures images of Earth from the cupola of the International Space Station. (NASA)

Chris Hadfield -- scientist, songsmith, poet, tweeter, Shatner buddy, mustache-rocker, International Space Station denizen, Canadian -- is quickly proving himself to be one of the savviest astronauts this side of Earth. While the Expedition 34 flight engineer is remarkable in the way that all astronauts are remarkable, he has made a name for himself, in particular, through his copious use of the communications technologies available to him on the ISS and beyond it. He tweets several times a day to his more than 160,000 Twitter followers. He regularly stars in YouTube videos. He recently produced the first song ever to be recorded outside of Earth.

But Chris Hadfield, explorer/engineer/evangelist, is perhaps best known for his photographs. To follow his Twitter feed is to be treated, pretty much every day, to spellbinding images of Earth, taken from beyond its borders: the Australian outback, glacier tongues in the Himalayas, an island off the coast of Indonesia ("an island made for running laps"), a thunderstorm from above. The photos are mesmerizing and revealing and beautiful -- each one an extremely high-tech work of art -- and they are the result of obvious love on the part of the guy who took them. "The favorite pastime of astronauts is to be able to look out the window and look at the Earth from above," Hadfield said in a press conference this afternoon. That's in large part because the space station itself is "such a wonderful place to better understand our planet." And new communications technologies have allowed Hadfield's other-worldly artistry to take on a new immediacy. With Twitter, he said, "I can directly, as I see beautiful things, send those images to the ground."

Hadfield has taken hundreds of photos from the ISS during his nearly three weeks on the station. But what, so far, has been his favorite? What, a reporter asked him today, has been the most significant? 

"I love the beautiful pictures of the world," Hadfield replied, "but for me, the one that was most significant was looking at the noctilucent clouds. These are clouds that you can barely see from the surface of the Earth. They're the highest clouds that exist -- tiny ice particles way up in the mesosphere. And yet from orbit, as the sun rises, the light bounces off of those clouds, directly into our eyes -- and we can see a part of the Earth's atmosphere that's basically invisible to people on the surface. To me, that's both beautiful -- because of the colors and textures and ripples of it -- but it's also really significant. It's a way to understand the changes in our atmosphere, and a way to understand exactly how our atmosphere interacts with the universe beyond."

Here is Hadfield's image of those icy clouds -- the most significant photo he has so far taken from space: 

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Chris Hadfield/NASA

"The ability to take pictures up here -- it fulfills all sorts of different purposes and needs," Hadfield said of his extracurricular work on the space station. "And we are so lucky to be able to be the ones holding the cameras." 

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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