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Antarctic Angle: Earth Image of the Week December 16, 2011
Astronaut photo of Antarctic Peninsula and nearby islands.
The South Shetland Islands and the nearby Antarctic Peninsula can be seen in this astronaut photo.
It’s difficult for astronauts orbiting aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to get a clear view of Antarctica or the Arctic.

Clouds and the dim illumination from the sun at such high latitudes are major obstacles.

But the biggest challenge is that the angle the platform’s orbit takes it between only 52 degrees north latitude and 52 degrees south.

While most photographs from the ISS appear to be looking nearly straight down at objects below, Antarctica can only be viewed at an oblique angle when conditions are just right.

Such was the case on October 4, 2011, when an astronaut captured the photograph to the right.

The Antarctic Peninsula and its nearby South Shetland Islands were approximately 1,100 miles to the southwest of the astronaut’s camera when the photo was snapped high above a point just off the coast of South America.

This long viewing distance, combined with the highly oblique angle, accentuates the shadowing of the ground and provides a sense of the topography similar to what you get when looking out an airplane window.

It also causes objects to appear closer to each other than they actually are. For example, the distance between Livingston and Deception Islands is approximately 12 miles.

While the bulk of Antarctica sits around the South Pole, the narrow Antarctic Peninsula extends like a finger toward the tip of South America.

The northernmost part of the Peninsula is known as Graham Land, a small portion of which is visible at the top left in the astronaut photo.

Off the coast of Graham Land to the north-northwest, two of the South Shetland Islands are visible — Livingston Island and Deception Island. Both are volcanic in origin. Volcanic activity has been observed at Deception Island since 1800, with the last verified eruption occurring in 1970.

Full story and image: NASA