Our home planet is a wondrous place, and its amazing features often yield stunning photos. OurAmazingPlanet has featured many of these images throughout the year, and we've gone through our archives to pick out the ones we think are the best.
Click through our gallery to see auroras, tiny chameleons and mind-boggling cloud formations.
Just four days into the year, the Suomi NPP satellite sent back a breathtaking "Blue Marble" image of the Earth from its perch in orbit. The image was compiled from shots taken on multiple passes of the planet Jan. 4. This newest Blue Marble image is one of many iconic portraits of the planet, including the iconic one taken by the crew of Apollo 17 in 1972 and views taken by retreating space probes such as Voyagers 1 and 2.
This sight in the sky may look otherworldly, but it's a terrestrial phenomenon known as a lenticular cloud that was caught by professional photographer Richard H. Hahn during sunset on Jan. 5. Lenticular clouds form when waves of moist, fast-moving air are pushed upward by winds and ascend over high mountains. At the higher altitudes, the water vapor in the air condenses. When the air moves over the mountaintop and descends to uniformly humid conditions, lenticular clouds form. They can look like one large, lens-shaped cloud, or several waves of moist air can result in lenticular clouds that resemble pancakes stacked atop each other, like the ones in this photo.
Researchers got quite a surprise when one of the most elusive creatures on Earth, the snow leopard, was caught by motion-sensing cameras in a remote part of Tajikistan and then stole one of the cameras! The photos taken by the cameras showed that the culprits were two young cubs. Other photos showed researchers that at least five snow leopards dwell in the region, as well as other rare creatures found in the area.
Totally tubular! This photo of what is known as a "roll cloud" was taken from a ship near Brazil on Feb. 6. Roll clouds sometimes form along with thunderstorms as the cold, sinking air of a downdraft causes warm moist air at the surface to rise. The moisture in that warm air condenses out as the air cools to form a cloud as winds from the storm "roll" the cloud parallel to the horizon.
Yes, that's an actual, real chameleon perched on a human finger. The chameleon (Brookesia micra) was found on the biologically rich island of Madagascar and is the tiniest chameleon ever discovered. Adults grow to about 1 inch (30 millimeters) in length from nose to the tip of their tail.
This window the starry heavens was photographed in Utah's Canyonlands National Park by astrophotographer Tunc Tezel on May 23. The image looks through a mysterious, manmade feature in the park called the False Kiva. Visible in the night sky are the planet Jupiter and the band of the Milky Way.
Thousands of skywatchers peered up into the skies on May 20 to catch an annular lunar eclipse that was visible from Asia to the western United States. At the same time, NASA's Terra satellite was looking down at the Earth and took a spectacular image of the moon's shadow over the Pacific Ocean. Annular eclipses occur when the moon is at a point in its orbit that is too far from Earth to completely block the sun's disk. The result is a ringlike, or annulus, effect.
Shark researchers caught and tagged this whopper of a bull shark with a satellite tag to learn more about where the shark swims in an effort to conserve it and other species. The female shark tipped the scales at about 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms), the largest that Neil Hammerschlag, the researcher pulling the shark up in the photo, has ever caught, he said. Like other shark species, bull sharks are threatened by the shark fin trade, which cuts off shark fins to use in delicacies like shark fin soup.
There are so many amazing features in this NASA satellite photo, taken on June 20, that it's hard to know where to begin. What looks like a double rainbow streaking down the middle of the image is actually an optical phenomenon called a glory that is created by waves of light being scattered by water droplets in the atmosphere. The swirls to the right of the glories are so-called von Karman vortices, caused by the Pacific island of Guadalupe disrupting the southern flow of clouds, like the wake of a ship.
While New Yorkers on the ground were busying scurrying through the streets with umbrellas in hand, former NFL player Dhani Jones was 10,000 feet in the air on his Delta flight and snapped a picture of a rain shaft, a term meteorologists use to refer to a heavy downpour coming from a single thunderstorm. One weather station in Queens measuring 2.83 inches (7 centimeters) of rain from storms that rolled through on July 18.
These bright green auroras dancing the sky brought a dose of cheer to the bleak, perpetually dark Antarctic winter. Below the stunning scene in the sky are the lonely lights of Concordia Station, situated in the middle of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. The photo was snapped on July 18, during the austral winter.
Another stunning sight in the sky brought a little light to the United States' Amundsen-Scott Station at the South Pole. When this photo was taken in early May, the large, bright supermoon was visible above the station. The supermoon occurs when the full moon stage coincides with the moon's perigee, or closest monthly pass of the Earth. The bright of the moon gave researchers wintering over a little does of light.
Most images of auroras come from the ground looking up, but the Suomi NPP satellite caught this spectacular image of an aurora from its aerie looking down on the planet. The auroras were generated by a powerful solar flare, known as a coronal mass ejection, hit Earth's magnetic field on Oct. 8. The image shows the aurora dancing over the night lights of Canada's Quebec and Ontario provinces.
A giant fissure was discovered cracking across Antarctica's Pine Island Glacier. A NASA satellite image taken on Sept. 14 showed that the crack was widening. Ultimately, the crack should extend across the glacier and spawn a new iceberg.
Carlos Ayala snapped this image of waves crashing ashore near the Verrazano Bridge in Brooklyn during Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 29. Sandy's waves broke records, with a 32.5-foot (9.9 meters) detected southeast of Breezy Point, NY, and a 31-foot-high (9.4 m) wave recorded at a buoy located 30 nautical miles (55 km) south of Islip, Long Island.
Bookending our look back at the year comes another entry from the Suomi NPP satellite. The satellite's team recently released a set of images they are calling the "Black Marble," because they are shots of the Earth taken at night. The images were taken in April and October and span the globe, showing city lights at night, the nocturnal glow produced by Earth's atmosphere (called air glow), and even lights from ships at sea.
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