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These smartphone photos of Earth from space by China's Shenzhou 12 astronauts are just gorgeous

The Bohai Sea at night, taken by Shenzhou 12 astronaut Tang Hongbo.
The Bohai Sea at night, taken by Shenzhou 12 astronaut Tang Hongbo. (Image credit: CMSA)

China's Shenzhou 12 astronauts have been back on Earth for nearly a month, but we just got a look at some of the gorgeous photos they captured in orbit — with smartphones.

A first series of stunning images were posted by China's human spaceflight agency, CMSA, toward the end of the three-person mission, which was the first crewed visit to China's Tianhe space station module.

A newly released set taken by Shenzhou 12 astronauts Liu Boming and Tang Hongo shows nighttime views of China and surrounding areas, including the northeastern cities of Shenyang and Changchun, the Bohai Sea, Hangzhou Bay and Taiwan. 

Related: China's Shenzhou 12 astronauts land after 3-month trip to new station

A shot of the northeastern Chinese cities of Shenyang and Changchun, taken by Shenzhou 12 astronaut Liu Boming. (Image credit: CMSA)

One of the images also captures a curve of light above Earth, a phenomenon created by light passing through sodium atoms in the atmosphere around 50 miles to 65 miles (80 to 105 kilometers) up. 

Another set of images published by China Central Television (CCTV) revealed that the astronauts had been taking the shots through a window on Tianhe using their smartphones, with Tang half-lying on his bed to capture one photo with his phone.

The bay of the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, captured by Tang Hongbo. (Image credit: CMSA)

Chinese netizens noted in footage from Tianhe in June that the astronauts had with them various Chinese-made devices, including a Huawei P30 mobile phone.

Shenzhou 12 launched in June and returned to Earth on Sept. 17. The three astronauts, led by commander Nie Haisheng, carried out a range of experiments and conducted two spacewalks during their stay aboard Tianhe.

A view of Taiwan and the Chinese mainland by Tang Hongbo. (Image credit: CMSA)

China is currently preparing to send the next crew of three astronauts, this time most likely including a woman, to Tianhe later this month. 

The three will launch on a Long March 2F rocket from Jiuquan in the Gobi Desert and will spend around six months aboard Tianhe, more than double that of Shenzhou 12, which is China's longest-duration human spaceflight mission. The Tianhe 3 cargo spacecraft arrived to deliver supplies to the orbital outpost for the mission on Sept. 20.

Whether they use their phones or dedicated photography equipment, expect more impressive vistas from China's new space station.

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Andrew Jones covers China's space industry for SpaceNews. He is based in Helsinki, Finland.