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Image: Satellite image of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill
NASA via Space.com
NASA's Terra satellite captured an image of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill May 17 at 12:40 p.m. ET.The oil slick appears as a dull gray on the water's surface and stretches south from the Mississippi Delta with what looks like a tail.
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updated 5/18/2010 7:55:32 PM ET 2010-05-18T23:55:32

The dramatic flood of oil in the Gulf of Mexico is an alarming sight from space, cosmonauts and astronauts on the International Space Station said Tuesday.

The huge oil slick off the Louisiana began April 20 when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig operated by British Petroleum exploded and later sank. The devastating oil flow has caused untold damage to the environment and wildlife, and it is still leaking.

It is a heartbreaking sight from space, station astronauts said.

"Just 30 minutes ago we passed over the Mexican Gulf and we took a lot of pictures of this oil spot," space station commander Oleg Kotov, a Russian cosmonaut, told reporters on Earth via a video link.

"It looks very scary," Kotov said. "It's not good. I really feel ... not good about that."

Also visible from their vantage point on the station is ash from the massive ongoing eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

"Yes, we can see ash above the Europe, especially in the evening hours," Kotov said. "We cannot see the volcano itself. Many ecological problems we can observe and monitor from this space station. It's very useful for this perspective."

NASA astronaut Piers Sellers, a trained ecologist currently at the station as part of the visiting space shuttle Atlantis' crew, said the oil slick is an unshakeable example of humanity's effect on its home planet.

"These things aren't good," he said of the oil slick. "When you fly around the planet you get to see the thumbprint of man all over the place."

While mostly that thumbprint is positive, such as sustainable cities and cultivation of the land for agriculture, there are also signs of the damage humanity has done to Earth. Nonetheless, he said, the sight of the globe gave him hope.

"We're optimistic, I think, that people will eventually learn to look after the planet," Sellers said.

Sellers and the five other astronauts on Atlantis' STS-132 mission — the orbiter's final planned spaceflight — arrived at the space station on Sunday. They plan to stay about a week to deliver a new Russian research module and spare hardware to the orbiting laboratory.

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