Mount Fuji, Japan

Astronauts need to take advantage of oblique views and low sun angles to capture a strong sense of three dimensions in the photographs they take from the International Space Station. This detailed image was taken by an astronaut using the most powerful lens presently on board. The low afternoon sun emphasizes the conical shape of Japan's most famous volcano. Other details enhance the sense of topography in the image--numerous gullies in the flanks and shadows cast in the summit crater and especially in the side crater (Hoei Crater, image lower center margin). Another view of the opposite side of the cone (STS107-E-5689) likewise provides a sense of topography; it was taken from the Space Shuttle Columbia 5 days before its failed reentry from orbit.

Flying in space can make even the highest mountains can look flat, if the astronaut looks straight down and if the sun is high--a strange sensation for humans who know mountains from a ground-level standpoint. A slightly less detailed image of the volcano, taken with an 800 mm lens, was taken at a higher sun angle gives less of a 3D sense.

Mount Fuji is one of Japan's most striking symbols and tourism in the area is highly developed. The switchbacks of a climbing toll road can be seen clearly on the upper center margin of the image. As a satisfyingly symmetrical peak Fuji is extensively photographed, being visible from great distances (it is the highest peak in Japan at 3776 m, 12,389 feet) with a brilliant snow cap for many months of the year. Mount Fuji has great cultural importance in Japan. It is a hallowed mountain in the Shinto religion. Pilgrims have climbed the mountain as a devotional practice for centuries. Many shrines dot the landscape around the volcano, and are even located within the summit crater. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site.

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