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Astronaut beams down amazing views from space

Chris Hadfield via Google+

Australian wildfire: Look closely, you can see the flames from orbit ...



Astronaut Chris Hadfield is making a name for himself as the International Space Station's first Canadian commander, the "Singing Spaceman" and Star Trek skipper William Shatner's Twitter buddy — but he's also one heck of a photographer.

Since his arrival at the station on Dec. 21, Hadfield has posted more than 100 pictures to Twitter and Google+, most of them showing amazing views of Earth below. Between his official duties and his unofficial Earth-watching sessions, how does he find time to sleep?

"Yes, I should sleep more on station," he told one follower, "but the view from the window is like a perpetual magnet, too wondrous to ignore."


The space station's six residents all take turns behind the lens, but some astronauts take the job way more seriously than others: Notable shooters from past orbital stints include NASA's Scott KellyDouglas WheelockRon Garan and Don Pettit, as well as Japan's Soichi Noguchi and Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers. Hadfield is sure to take his place among them.

His favorite hangout is the seven-windowed Cupola observation deck, which provides an unparalleled view of Earth. His favorite camera? "We use primarily Nikon F2s and F3s, with a variety of lenses," he said on Twitter. "We even take them out on spacewalks, into the hard vacuum."

To get those awesome pictures of Earth landscapes, he brings out the Big Lens. "The big lens is Nikkor 600 mm, used with a 2-fold converter = 1200 mm," he tweeted. "Available for just US$10,300."

When you consider that the space station's crew is delivering pictures that no one on Earth can, that seems like a small price to pay. Check out a few of the recent masterpieces from outer space:

Chris Hadfield via Twitter

Chris Hadfield photographing Earth from the International Space Station's Cupola, using the big lens. http://pic.twitter.com/kL9iQdAN

Chris Hadfield via Twitter

Australia: The dryness creates colors and textures that make the Outback immediately recognizable from space. http://pic.twitter.com/0D4lvgJt

Chris Hadfield via Twitter

It's hard to believe the colours of the Bahamas from space. http://pic.twitter.com/0DhYXmel

Chris Hadfield via Twitter

Humans need straight lines, nature doesn't. Indecisive river and orderly farmers, central Asia. http://pic.twitter.com/BIL8Syqw

Chris Hadfield via Twitter

Seattle, WA: Look carefully, you can see Pike Place Market. http://pic.twitter.com/0OFm0iO0

Chris Hadfield via Twitter

Glacier tongues in the Himalayas. http://pic.twitter.com/A9xe7AfG

Correction for 8 p.m. ET Jan. 8: The original headline for this item called Hadfield the space station's skipper, but it's a little too early to call him that. NASA astronaut Kevin Ford is currently the station commander, and Hadfield is a flight engineer. Hadfield will take on the title of commander when Ford heads back down to Earth in March.

Update for 1 p.m. ET Jan. 9: I've added a link to Hadfield's Google+ page as well as a couple of fresh images, showing the Australian wildfires and a Central Asian landscape.


Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as NBCNews.com's other stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.