Light unto the nations? ‘Bright dot in the Negev’ dazzles astronauts in space

The tower in question is nicknamed “The Eye of Sauron” from the wildly popular Lord of the Rings fantasy series due to its powerful glow.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A power installation in Israel’s desert is such a bright spot on earth that even in daylight in can be seen from outer space.

“Intriguing sight! A bright dot in the Negev desert… so unusual to see human-made lights in day passes,” astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti tweeted Thursday from the International Space Station.

She immediately explained that “It’s a concentrated solar power plant, one of the technologies to get renewable energy from the Sun. With one of the world’s tallest solar power towers!”

Looking at the wide-lens pictures Cristoforetti posted, the point of light is so tiny it may have still been missed by viewers, even alone as it is in a landscape of beiges, whites and even blues. The European Space Agency astronaut helpfully circled the spot and took a closer shot in which the dot was clearly visible – though still miniscule.

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This dot from so high up is in fact a 240-meter-tall tower that is part of Israel’s first concentrated solar power station in the town of Ashalim in southern Israel.

More than 50,000 solar arrays called heliostats concentrated over three square kilometers aim sunlight to a steam boiler on top of the tower, which then generates high-temperature steam. The steam is piped to a turbine to produce over 300 million kilowatts hours of clean electricity annually to Israel’s national grid, according to company owner Megalim’s website.

It is the reflection of the light from the collector atop the tower that produces the powerful glow that Cristoforetti and her colleagues can see, nicknamed “The Eye of Sauron” from the wildly popular Lord of the Rings fantasy series.

Negev residents have complained about the light, although it isn’t dangerous.

For Cristoforetti, this is her second stint at the space station. During her first stay, from November 2014 to May 2015, the set the record (since broken) for a woman in space.

The space station crew has to work somewhat quickly to take pictures of specific places on earth, as day and night pass quickly up in orbit, with 16 sunrises and sunsets each day.