Astronauts peering out from the International Space Station (ISS) are treated to an endless number of breathtaking views of Earth 250 miles below.
While most features are easily identifiable as cities, coastlines, or mountains, others appear other-worldly and somewhat mysterious.
Current ISS crew member Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency clearly has a keen eye for remarkable Earth images, regularly sharing his efforts on his Twitter account. His latest post, shared on Tuesday, definitely falls into the “mysterious” category. The three images show what Pesquet himself playfully describes as “peas in the desert, a Pacman invasion, or Earth’s record collection.”
But do you know what the extraordinary feature really is?
Des champs agricoles dans le désert : on dirait une collection de vinyles géants… ou alors c’est une invasion de Pacman ? 😨
A sight we see often while flying over 🌍: peas in the desert, a Pacman invasion, or Earth's record collection? #CropArt #MissionAlpha pic.twitter.com/N6rNWcqJa5
— Thomas Pesquet (@Thom_astro) August 31, 2021
Pesquet leaves a clue in the tweet’s hashtags: #cropart. That’s right, the photos show circular crop fields that use what is known as “center-pivot irrigation.”
As the name suggests, center-pivot irrigation uses a sprinkler system that rotates around a central point, which over time creates the circular effect that you see here. Before, the sprinkler turned using water power but electric motors are more widely used these days.
The system has been in use for decades, with a farmer in Strasburg, Colorado, believed to have invented the efficient system.
Looking at the scenery in Pesquet’s pictures, it seems likely that these ones are located in Saudi Arabia, though if you check out somewhere like Kansas using Google Earth, you’ll also see plenty of the circular fields dotting the state there, too.
NASA’s Shane Kimbrough, who’s also aboard the ISS, is another astronaut with a keen eye for photography. One of his most striking images, posted earlier this year, captures a beautifully baffling scene that looks more like Mars than Earth.
ISS astronauts capture most of their shots from the the Cupola observatory module that features seven windows for awesome views of Earth and beyond. They can choose from a range of professional DSLR camera bodies and lenses,with most of the kit made by Nikon.