Only two sets of people can fly around the entire world in one night. One is rumored to reside at the North Pole; the others live on the International Space Station (ISS). And for all of them, the night-lit view of the planet is simply extraordinary.
While orbiting over the Gulf of Mexico on November 24, 2011, Expedition 30 astronauts captured this digital photograph of Florida, Georgia, and the Southeastern U.S. coast. The region is very popular with tourists escaping cold northern winters or visiting retired family members who settle in the warmer climate.
The image is part of a time series taken between 07:30 and 07:59 Universal Time (2:30 to 2:59 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time), as the ISS passed from the tropical Pacific Ocean to the Canadian Maritimes. (A link to the movie is just below the image above.) The series starts when the ISS was near the equator; then passes over Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and the Yucatan Peninsula; across the Gulf of Mexico (with Cuba on the right); over the Sunshine State; and up the U.S. East Coast over the North Atlantic Ocean. The video ends with ISS just east of Newfoundland. A collection of similar time-lapse ISS flight paths can be viewed by visiting the Crew Earth Observations Videos page.
If you happened to be flying a reindeer-harnessed sleigh through the sky on December 24th and 25th, the view might look pretty similar to what the ISS crew witnessed. You can follow such a holiday flight by visiting the NORAD tracking page, where satellites, fighter jets, and radar stations provide airborne reconnaissance for the jolly sleigh-rider in the red suit—who has special clearance one night per year.