PARIS — Suspended 250 miles above Earth on Tuesday evening, Thomas Pesquet looked down on Europe. Through a little window he saw a dark blue continent, sparkling with golden stars and the aurora borealis in the background. He could pick out most of the cities by their lights.
“In the front #Berlin & in the back Belgium clearly distinguishes itself as usual,” he posted on Twitter along with a photo, which was shot above northeast Poland and looking at Warsaw and beyond to Western Europe.
Alone among the sea of star-shaped cities, one country glowed as a whole: Belgium. Paris may be the City of Light, but France as a whole, compared to its northern neighbor, seems to have been cast into darkness.
Belgium has a dense road network with near-total streetlight coverage. In contrast to neighboring countries, it keeps most of its streetlights on at night, even those along small country roads. About 2.2 million bulbs illuminate Belgium’s roads, and with 186 bulbs per square mile, the country is the unrivaled leader in Western Europe.
Mr. Pesquet, a French astronaut with the European Space Agency, is on a six-month mission aboard the International Space Station. The low-orbit station can often be seen with the naked eye from Earth. Inside, he runs a weightless research laboratory and carries out scientific experiments for hundreds of researchers. Mr. Pesquet, 39, is accompanied by four other astronauts — two Americans and two Russians — and is set to return to Earth on June 2.
“He works 10 hours a day and then does sports exercises,” said Jean Coisne, a European Space Agency spokesman.