Seen from space, cities look incredibly detailed at night, when streetlights and buildings glow brightly enough that it’s possible for astronauts to clearly see individual streets. Photos taken from the International Space Station inspired London-based animator Marc Khachfe to spend hours creating this artwork in homage.
"I was blown away by the images taken by the astronauts and wanted to print a map of London at night for my wall, but I found the images too blurry and too small to print," Khachfe says. "So I went online, found the Open Street Map data, and played around until I got the result I wanted."
After downloading the raw road data, Khachfe adds light layers digitally, while looking at the original photos as a reference. It’s not easy—a single map can take as much as three nights of work after Khachfe gets home from his day job.
"Some cities keep defying me," he says. "I have done New York about seven times and I’m not happy with the result, so I’m trying again."
He plans to release prints of New York, Los Angeles, Beijing, and Moscow next. "I’m planning to do all of the major cities, and all the whole countries," he says. "It’s crazy, I know."
The original photographs were innovations in themselves—for years, astronauts were amazed by views of Earth at night, but couldn’t manage to get a clear shot; since the planet is moving past at 4.4 miles per second, it’s hard to take a non-shaky photo even in the daytime. But while living on the Space Station, astronaut Daniel Pettit managed to hack together an orbital tracking system from spare parts, so crisp photos were finally possible.
Pettit shares Khachfe's amazement with the view. As he writes on the NASA website:
After living in space for a while, one can quickly tell what part of the world one is over simply from the patterns of city lights. While considered a form of light pollution and a display that can and should be minimized, their orbital appearance is spectacular. Cities at night may very well be one of the most beautiful unintentional consequences of civilization.
Khachfe's prints are available on Etsy.