- Astronaut Thomas Pesquet just ended six months on the International Space Station as part of SpaceX's Crew-2 mission for NASA.
- Pesquet snapped jaw-dropping photos while he orbited Earth, capturing auroras, colorful crops, red salt lakes, and bumpy clouds.
- He also shot signs of climate change: raging hurricanes, clouds of wildfire smoke, and glaciers melting into wide rivers.
He was part of SpaceX's second full crew to the space station — a mission called Crew-2.
—Thomas Pesquet (@Thom_astro) November 6, 2021
His crewmates were NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide.
The Crew-2 astronauts boarded SpaceX's Crew Dragon spaceship and undocked from the ISS on November 7.
Pesquet served as ISS commander for the last month of his spaceflight.
The next day, they plummeted to a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico.
Pesquet was "basically the designated professional photographer of this mission," SpaceX engineer Kate Tice said on a livestream, as the Crew Dragon backed away from the ISS.
During his time in space, Pesquet took more than 245,000 photos from about 250 miles above the Earth.
"I think there's too many pictures," Pesquet said in a NASA Q&A on Monday.
On one of Pesquet's last days in space, the ISS flew above a highly active, multicolored aurora borealis, triggered by a huge burst of particles from the sun.
"We flew right above the center of the ring, rapid waves and pulses all over," Pesquet wrote when he shared the photo. Some of the aurora's spikes reach higher than the space station, he added.
"We've been treated with some unbelievable auroras," Pesquet said during the Q&A. "It's sad, because the pictures just don't do them justice."
Pesquet said he saw about 15 to 20 instances of the aurora during the mission.
Auroras are just one example of stunning views Pesquet and his crewmates enjoyed as they orbited Earth.
Among Pesquet's favorite subjects is what he calls "crop art" — the colorful geometry of agricultural fields.
Agricultural areas can make beautiful patterns. While it's hard to pin down exact locations from space, Pesquet said these farms in the desert are somewhere on the African continent.
"I like how something artistic sometimes comes out of a very practical purpose," Pesquet wrote when he shared this photo on social media.
"Circles, squares, (salt) mines and irrigation are not meant to be pretty from up close, but they dazzle us from above and at a giant scale," he added.
In some places, like Bolivia, pretty patterns — and the crops growing within them — are due to the clearing of tropical forests.
But natural landscapes make colorful patterns, too.
Australia has particularly dramatic natural formations, like these salt lakes.
Since the space station orbits Earth every 90 minutes, astronauts see 16 sunrises and sunsets per day. But not all the sights are beautiful.
"We see the pollution of rivers, atmospheric pollution, things like that," Pesquet told French President Emmanuel Macron on November 4.
He spoke with Macron on a video call from the ISS, as world leaders met during the UN climate conference in Scotland. Negotiators' goal in Scotland should be to speed up humanity's response to the climate crisis, Macron responded, according to The Associated Press.
"What really shocked me on this mission were extreme weather or climate phenomena," Pesquet told Macron.
"We saw entire regions burning from the space station, in Canada, in California," he said, adding, "the fragility of Earth is a shock."
"Year after year, we also know we are beating records for fires, for storms, for floods. And that is very, very visible. I very clearly saw the difference compared to my mission four or five years ago," Pesquet told Macron.
Pesquet also saw comforting sights, like his birthplace of Normandy, France.
Many of his photos feature France's landscapes.
"We are in public service. We have a responsibility to do things for the people and inform people of what we're doing," Pesquet said during the Q&A on Monday.
"I think there's a responsibility also to share this point of view because you see the fragility of the Earth," he said, adding, "When you see the Earth from space, it's very finite, limited resources."