We love our national parks. That’s why we write about them so often. But, this might not be the best time to visit them. From mask rules, to crowded paths, to extreme heat, you may be steering clear. We understand that! But if you still want to see them, one astronaut can help.
NASA’s Megan McArthur has taught herself how to ID the national parks from 250 miles above the Earth. She is taking photos of them while on the International Space Station to give us incredible views. Talk about a fantastic vista!
“I first noticed Zion just because my eyes were drawn to the incredible pattern that that area makes from 250 miles up,” she said on a live interview with NASA TV from the ISS. “I took all the pictures and then tried to figure out what it was and realized, ‘Oh, my God, that’s Zion from space,’ and it was absolutely amazing.”
She said that it’s easy to identify the Grand Canyon and some other massive parks. But, for smaller parks, she had to spot the cities close to them and work backward. As well as the difficulty of spotting them, taking the photos is complicated and takes a knack. The ISS moves from New York to California in 10 minutes and orbits the whole world in an hour and a half. She has to take her photos fast.
She said that looking down at the parks reminds her of her past visits. And, that when you visit the parks you often look up, interested in astronomy. “I used to go to Yosemite all the time with my parents growing up… I went to Grand Canyon with my college roommates — it most certainly brings all those memories back… One of the memories I have is a trip to the Canyon lands with my fellow astronauts and cosmonauts… We go on those trips to be explorers on land; everyone who explores the outdoors are just like explorers of space. We all have that in common — we’re explorers.”
The national park service’s website lists the best places to stargaze. The site mentions that you can stargaze from your own yard. And that’s true, but it can be difficult if you live near a lot of light pollution. That’s why so many folks head to the national parks away from cities and towns where you can see the Milky Way clearly. Ms. McArthur is about as far away from a city as you can possibly be!
The national park service shared some of the photos on their Instagram, and they are stunning. Crater Lake is gorgeous, and Yellowstone is so different from space!
“It’s a compelling and engaging hobby,” Ms. McArthur said. “I love thinking about the parks and hopefully planning some more trips for the future when I get home.”
We’re delighted she isn’t done taking photos. We relish seeing these new views of the park!