Several of the oldest cities of northwestern Europe are highlighted in this astronaut photograph taken from the International Space Station (ISS) at 00:25:26 Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). While the landscape is dotted with numerous clusters of lights from individual urban areas, the metropolitan areas of London (United Kingdom), Paris (France), Brussels (Belgium) and Amsterdam (Netherlands) stand out due to their large light "footprints". The metropolitan area of Milan, Italy is also visible at image lower left. While each of these cities is, or has been, the capital of a kingdom, republic, or empire--Paris and London have been all three--Brussels is also the capital city of the European Union.
This astronaut photograph was taken with a short camera lens, providing the large field of view recorded in the image. To give a sense of scale, the centers of the London and Paris metropolitan areas are approximately 340 kilometers distant from each other. The image is also oblique, or taken looking outwards at an angle from the ISS; this tends to foreshorten the image, making the distance between Paris and Milan (~640 kilometers) appear less than that of Paris to London.
In contrast to the land surface defined by the city lights, the English Channel at image right presents a uniform dark appearance. Similarly, the Alps (image bottom center) to the north of Milan are also largely devoid of lights. While much of the atmosphere was clear at the time the image was taken, the lights of the Brussels metropolitan area are dimmed by thin cloud cover.