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Space station observatory gazes at Earth

The six windows of the International Space Station's cupola observation deck provide stunning panoramic views of Earth

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Cupola image

The International Space Station (ISS) opened its cupola observation deck in February, providing breathtaking views of the Earth.

The six windows of the cupola are fitted with shields to protect them from space debris. The observation deck provides 360° views of the station, enabling the crew to direct operations outside the space station.

Astronauts removed insulating blankets on the cupola from the space shuttle Endeavour on 17 February.

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Europe at night image

In November, the ISS celebrated 10 years in service. It has been continuously inhabited by humans since November 2000. More than 200 orbiting explorers have visited the space complex, 15 nations have contributed to the missions, and more than 600 experiments have been carried out on board.

The view above, taken on 28 October, shows Italy and the Mediterranean Sea at night. Parts of a docked Russian spacecraft are visible in the foreground.

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Aurora Australis image

This image captures the Aurora Australis, the southern twin of the Aurora Borealis.

The picture was taken when the ISS was located over the southern Indian Ocean.

Auroras are caused by photons hitting the Earth's atmosphere. The aurora above was most likely caused by a coronal mass ejection from the sun on 24 May.

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Italy at night image

This night shot, which gives the impression of fiery alien world, is in fact the Mediterranean coast of France and Italy.

The luminous spots are the metropolitan areas of Turin, Lyon and Marseille.

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Astronaut in cupola image

Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, commander of ISS Expedition 23, is pictured in a window of the cupola on 9 May.

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International Space Station image

This image captures a sunrise from space, amid the solar arrays and capsules of the ISS. The photo was taken on 18 February — the day after the cupola opened — while the space shuttle Endeavour was still docked.

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