By Stacy Palen
The image above was taken from the International Space Station by NASA astronaut Christina Hammock Koch and could form the basis for a nice final exam question.
1) In this image, what is the phase of the Moon? How do you know?
The moon here is a Waning Crescent. The image was taken looking East, into the sunrise, so north is to the left in this image. Therefore, the Moon is “leading” the Sun across the sky and illuminated on the eastern half. This means it is in the Waning phases.
2) If you had only this image to go by, with no caption, how would you know that it was an image of Earth?
The planet shown has a solid surface and a shallow but significant atmosphere. Earth is the only terrestrial planet that fits these criteria.
Other potential answers:
- It could not be Venus or Mercury because neither planet has a moon.
- Mars’ atmosphere is too thin to refract blue light in this way.
- There appears, possibly, to be a hint of colors other than red on the surface.
3) Based only upon the image, would you think this planet might be a good place to look for life? What other information could you gather from this viewpoint that would make you more certain of your conclusion?
This planet may be a good place to look for life. The solid surface and the presence of an atmosphere would make me want to investigate further. I would especially want to get a closer look at the surface, or get a spectrum of the atmosphere in order to be totally sure.