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Fishing boats seen from space look like a galaxy on Earth

An intriguing photo taken from the International Space Station finds fishing boats far below looking a lot like a cluster of stars.

Fishing boats seen from space
Fishing boats sparkle when seen from far above. ESA/NASA

We are in a golden age for space photos, full of stunning Hubble images of faraway galaxies and glowing views of sun glinting off hydrocarbon seas on Saturn's moon Titan.

You might mistake a new photo captured by European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti for being another in a series of views out into the wide universe. Taken from the International Space Station and featured today, Tuesday, the image shows an elongated cluster of bright lights, spread out across a black background. Though they look like stars, the lights are from fishing boats seen against a dark sea.

The space station was about 250 miles above the Earth's surface when Cristoforetti looked down and the boats caught her eye. Fishermen use the lights to attract a variety of fish species. A layer of cloud cover lends a hazy edge to the lights.

Lights from fishing boats have attracted attention in the past. A satellite image from 2013 showed mysterious lights, far from any town, off the coast of Argentina. NASA soon identified it as an image of boats attracting a particular species of squid by using bright lights.

Cristoforetti's picture shows how looking down on Earth can sometimes be just as fascinating as peering out deep into space.