The war in Gaza as seen from space: Astronaut shares wrenching photo


German astronaut Alexander Gerst would like you get a fresh perspective on the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip — one from 250 miles up, to be exact.

Gerst, deployed on the International Space Station, took a startling nighttime picture from his perch in orbit of the fighting. Against the blackness of the Mediterranean Sea and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, there are bursts of yellow and white.

“My saddest photo yet,” Gerst tweeted Wednesday. “From #ISS we can actually see explosions and rockets flying over #Gaza & #Israel.” (He repeated the sentiment in German, and posted it on his Facebook page as well.)


The photo has been retweeted more than 40,000 times and has elicited an emotional response from viewers. Among them:

“Looks like a nightmare from a sci-fi movie. Will humans ever learn?”


“Stay up there, it’s safer there than this wicked earth.”

Although many commenters used the photo as an excuse to point fingers at either Israel or the militant group Hamas, that wasn’t what Gerst had in mind when he shared it with the world.

“As astronauts we have a unique view of our planet looking down from 400 km above,” he wrote Friday in a blog post on the European Space Agency’s website. “Some things that on Earth we see in the news every day and thus almost tend to accept as a ‘given,’ appear very different from our perspective. We do not see any borders from space. We just see a unique planet with a thin, fragile atmosphere, suspended in a vast and hostile darkness. From up here it is crystal clear that on Earth we are one humanity, we eventually all share the same fate.”

Though the photo is static, Gerst wrote that what drew him to the space station’s Cupola module with his camera was a sight “that I had never seen before. There were streaks of light going forth and back over a dark Earth, occasionally lit up by orange fireballs. … Even though the photo itself does not contain any explosions, I could see them occur several times.”

He wrote that it was only after he had taken the pictures that he realized what he had seen: the war in Gaza that has been going on for 18 days and has killed more than 840 Palestinians and at least 32 Israelis. The realization hit him hard.

“What came to my mind at the time of this photo was, if we ever will be visited by another species from somewhere in the universe, how would we explain to them what they might see as the very first thing when they look at our planet? How would we explain to them the way we humans treat not only each other but also our fragile blue planet, the only home we have? I do not have an answer for that.”

For news about space, science and medicine, follow me on Twitter @LATkarenkaplan and “like” Los Angeles Times Science & Health on Facebook.