A cosmonaut aboard the International Space Station focused a camera on the Russian city of Orenburg, located near the border with Kazakhstan. Orenburg lies at the southern tip of the Ural Mountains, which geographers regard as the divide between Europe and Asia. Because of this location, Orenburg became a railroad transportation hub.
Taken in the depth of winter, this photograph shows the city under complete snow cover. Snow typically persists well into mid-March, when even the daily high temperatures remain below freezing. A power station at the northern end of the city produces a long cloud of steam that trails to the east and casts a large, elongated shadow.
The snow helps highlight the radial or star pattern of major roads that spread out from the old city center near the Ural River. The powerful magnification of the 1000-millimeter camera lens allows major buildings to be discerned, such as the cathedral and railway station near the city center. Large apartment blocks are accentuated by the long shadows that the buildings cast across the snow.
Areas that appear dark are mostly forests where tall trees obscure the snow below. The largest forested areas lie on the floodplains along the two major rivers in the region, the Ural and Sakmara. Major parks and cemeteries with thicker tree cover also appear as if they are snow-free.
One of the classic forested shelterbelts of the Russian plains is visible at the top. These rows of trees and shrubs are designed to reduce wind speed, both to protect crops and, after harvest, to slow soil erosion. A space station crew member shot a closer view of Russian shelterbelts in 2017.
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