Last update: October 17th, 2019 at 9:00 am
Astronauts need oblique views and low sun angles to get a strong sense three dimensions when they take photographs from the International Space Station. This photo was taken with the most powerful lens presently on board. The low afternoon sun emphasizes the conical shape of Japan’s most famous Mount Fuji volcano. Other details enhance the sense of topography in the image, including numerous gullies in the flanks, as well as shadows cast in the summit- and side crater (Hoei).
Another astronaut view of the opposite side of the cone also provides a sense of topography. That photo was taken from the Space Shuttle Columbia five days before its failed reentry from orbit.
From orbit, even the highest mountains can look flat if the astronaut looks straight down and if the sun is high—a strange sensation for humans who know mountains from a ground-level standpoint. Click here for a slightly less detailed image of Mount Fuji, taken with an 800 millimeter lens when the sun was at a higher angle.
Mount Fuji is one of Japan’s most striking symbols, and tourism in the area is highly developed. The switchbacks of a climbing toll road can be seen clearly on the upper center margin of the image. As a satisfyingly symmetrical peak, Fuji is extensively photographed. As the highest peak in Japan (3776 meters or 12,389 feet), it is visible from great distances with a brilliant snow cap for many months of the year. Mount Fuji has great cultural importance in Japan as a hallowed mountain in the Shinto religion. Pilgrims have climbed the mountain as a devotional practice for centuries, and many shrines dot the landscape around the volcano, and are even located within the summit crater. For this reason, Mount Fuji is now a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site.
Astronaut photograph ISS046-E-35820 was acquired on February 8, 2016, with a Nikon D4 digital camera using an 1150 millimeter lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 46 crew. The image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by M. Justin Wilkinson, Texas State U., Jacobs Contract at NASA-JSC.