Last update: October 17th, 2019 at 9:00 am
Orbiting over the west coast of the United States, an astronaut took this photograph using the longest lens available (1150 mm) on the International Space Station (ISS). The camera, lens, and teleconverter weigh 6.24 kilograms (13.4 pounds) on the ground, but they weigh nothing in the weightless environment aboard the ISS, allowing freer handling by the astronaut.
The image shows angular gashes in the snow-covered landscape of northeastern Wyoming. The astronaut’s eye was drawn to the open-cast pits of several coal mines that operate out of the small town of Gillette, which appears on the lower right. The coal lies at very shallow depth, making it economical to mine. The steep walls of the overlying rocks cast strong shadows in this snowy scene. Wind distributes coal dust so that the pits appear much darker, especially the largest pit in the view (upper left). For scale, the longer arm of the Gillette airport measures 1.43 kilometers (0.9 miles).
The Powder River Basin, situated between the Bighorn Mountains and the Black Hills, is a major source of low-sulfur coal, helping to make Wyoming one of the largest coal producers in the United States. The county where Gillette is situated has the highest average income in the state of Wyoming, although employment in the energy industry has started to decline slightly in the past few years.