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Earth from Space

Anatahan Island

IMAGE: Ash plume from Anatahan Island volcano

High-resolution image (708 Kb)

It is sleep-time on the International Space Station, and Astronaut Ed Lu is supposed to be asleep. He is looking out the window and admiring the Pacific Ocean below. Suddenly he realizes something is strange -- a huge yellowish-brown plume is sweeping across hundreds of miles of ocean. A major volcanic eruption is in progress. He grabs a camera and shoots.

Anatahan Island is located 129 kilometers (80 miles) north of Saipan and is part of the Northern Mariana Island chain. This small island, 10 kilometers long by 3 kilometers wide (6 miles long by 2 miles wide), has been uninhabited since 1990 when residents were evacuated because of a strong earthquake. On May 10, a vigorous eruption that sent high-level ash over a wide area. About 12 hours later, at 7:19 p.m. CDT (May 11 at 0019 GMT), the crew of the International Space Station observed and photographed this ash plume, describing it as huge. By May 15, a state of emergency had been declared in the Northern Mariana Islands as the eruption appeared to be intensifying.

Space station crewmembers receive a daily list of photographic targets that include areas of scientific interest and dynamic events. In this case, though, the crew observed the eruption before news had spread to the international media or to the networks that track volcanic events worldwide. Lu checked with Mission Control to find out if it really was a volcano and precisely where the eruption was occurring.

Astronaut photograph ISS007-E-5366 was provided by the Earth Sciences and Image Analysis Laboratory at Johnson Space Center. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA-JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth.

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Curator: Kim Dismukes
Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty

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Updated: 05/20/2003