Nicaragua from Above
Fire Seen From Space
Ashes to Ashes
Where in the World?
A Disaster in Red and Silver
Storms down south
Enormous Ash Plume
— Stephanie Pappas
— Stephanie Pappas
Bad News Comes in Threes
Typhoon Saomai would hit the Philippines, Taiwan and the east coast of China, causing $2.5 billion in damage and almost 500 deaths. According to the World Meteorological Organization, Saomai was a 100-year storm and the most powerful typhoon ever to make landfall over mainland China.
— Stephanie Pappas
An Astronaut's View of Atlantis' Descent
The greenish glow hovering over the planet is airglow, which occurs when molecules in the high atmosphere release energy at night that they absorbed from sunlight during the day.
— Stephanie Pappas
An Astronaut's View of Awe-Inspiring Irene
Hurricane Irene Slices Through Islands
Where in the World?
If you guessed that you were looking at northwestern Europe, congratulations. London is the large bright spot in the lower left-hand corner; across the dark English Channel is Paris, near the center of the photograph. Brussels is the large dark orange area to the left of Paris, and smaller, brighter Amsterdam sits to Paris' left. Rounding out the spacebound tour of European cities is Milan, which is visible as a line of lights alongside the dark Alps in the upper right corner of the photo.
Hurricane Over Lake Michigan?
Actually, this storm is what's known as a mid-latitude cyclone. These tempests are responsible for most of the nasty, stormy weather in the continental U.S., according to NASA. They're formed when a warm front from the south clashes with a cold front from the north. Bands of cold and warm air wrap around a center of low pressure, and the rising air in that low-pressure zone triggers the development of clouds and precipitation.
NASA's Aqua satellite captured this storm snapshot over Lake Michigan on Sept. 26.
Lights in the Night
If you guessed that you were looking at the United States, pat yourself on the back. And if you guessed the Midwest, congratulations! This is a view from the International Space Station taken in September 2011. The Northern Lights hover over Canada, while the largest bright spot near the center of the photo is Chicago (You can see Lake Michigan as a big dark spot bordering the city). The spidery-looking city below and to the right of Chicago is St. Louis. Way to the left of St. Louis is a small clump of lights: That's Des Moines, with Minneapolis-St. Paul above and to the left of it. The large blur of lights in the lower left-hand corner of the photo is Omaha, Nebraska.
The astronaut who snapped this photo also captured a weather event. Look above St. Louis and the dark, winding spot that is the little-populated Appalachian Mountains. You'll see a bright, almost bluish dot. That dot is almost certainly lightning from a storm on the East Coast.
It's Lonely Out In Space
Sunset from Space
On the horizon, layers of Earth's atmosphere appear in colors ranging from bright white to deep blue.
River of Gold, In Blue
At the Top of the World
It's the roof of the world: Mount Everest and its surrounding peaks. A NASA astronaut snapped this picture from the International Space Station in January 2011, revealing the scale of the glaciers surrounding the world's highest peak. The tip-top of Everest is out of sight in this picture, located just off the bottom edge, but the northern summit approach to the mountain starts along the East Rongbuk Glacier in the top right of the photograph. The knife-edge pass in the center of the photograph is the North Col, where climbers ascend toward progressively higher camps along the way to the peak. Everest's summit is 29,029 feet (8,848 meters) above sea level.
The pattern is of atmospheric gravity waves playing on the surface of the ocean. Atmospheric gravity waves form when buoyancy pushes air up, and gravity pulls it back down. As the air descends in to the low point of the atmospheric wave, it touches the ocean surface, causing rough waters, visible here as long, dark vertical lines. The brighter regions show the crests of the atmospheric waves, because there, the water is calm and reflective.
Shadow of a Shuttle
If you guessed Houston, home to NASA's Johnson Space Center and the training ground of astronauts, congratulations! In this photo taken by an Expedition 22 crew member in 2010, roughly 62 miles (100 kilometers) of the Houston metropolitan area are visible east to west. Houston is rotated from the view normally seen on maps, with Galveston Bay, southeast of the city, in the upper right of the photograph. Freeways radiate from the central downtown area, while suburban and residential urban land appears reddish-brown and gray-green, indicated lower light density and heavier tree cover. Along the Houston Ship Channel, petroleum refineries glow with dense golden-yellow light.
Astronauts Get Distorted View of Antarctica
While the bulk of the continent of Antarctica sits over the South Pole, the narrow Antarctic Peninsula extends like a finger towards the tip of South America. The northernmost part of the Peninsula is known as Graham Land, a small portion of which (located at approximately 64 degrees South latitude) is visible at the top left in this astronaut photograph.
Off the coast of Graham Land to the north-northwest, two of the South Shetland Islands—Livingston Island and Deception Island—are visible. Both have volcanic origins, and active volcanism at Deception Island has been recorded since 1800. (The last verified eruptive activity occurred in 1970.) Closer to the coastline of Graham Land, Brabant Island (not part of the South Shetlands) also includes numerous outcrops of volcanic rock, attesting to the complex tectonic history of the region.
Blowin' In the Wind
Where the Trees Are
This inventory of woody biomass is important, because trees are one of the largest reservoirs for carbon on Earth &mash; they store carbon released by both natural and man-made processes. Understanding how much carbon trees store now is important for understanding how much they'll store in the future, and whether factors like where the trees are matter. Fine-scale maps like this one help with that effort, said Woods Hole researcher Josef Kellndorfer in a statement.
"We have to know how much we have, and where, in order to conduct sound management and harvesting," he said.
Capsized Costa Concordia
VIIRS is now snapping preliminary images, but when engineers get it calibrated for full operation, the satellite will measure everything from ocean temperatures to clouds to the location of fires.
A New Island Is Born
The plume in the photo, captured by NASA's Earth Observing-1 satellite, is likely a mix of volcanic ash and water vapor. The new island is part of the Zubair Group, a line of islands arising from a shield volcano under the Red Sea. In this area, the Red Sea Rift, the African and Arabian tectonic plates are slowly pulling apart, and new ocean crust regularly forms.
The Earth-observing satellite Envisat captured this image of the algal bloom on Dec. 2, 2011. Satellites with ocean color sensors can even tell the species of the plankton from space, by analyzing the shade of the algae's chlorophyll pigment.
Blue Marble 2.0
A View from the Top
If you pegged this scene in western Europe, congratulations! Lights from Belgium and the Netherlands are visible in the bottom center of the image, with the British Isles partially obscured by the ISS solar array panels at left. The other piece of visible ISS hardware is Canadarm2, a remote manipulator for the space station.
Icy Streets Above
Earth's Beautiful Backside: Blue Marble 2.0
Blue Marble 2.0, on the other hand, is a satellite creation. The Suomi NPP satellite orbits 512 miles (824 km) over Earth. On our imaginary basketball, the satellite would rotate only five-eighths of an inch (1.5 cm) away. NASA scientists stitch together images taken from multiple passes by Suomi, creating a zoomed-out image of Earth as it would appear from 7,918 miles (12,743 km) away.
Glacier's Loose Tooth
This satellite image, though, is of the western edge of the ice sheet's "loose tooth," a giant iceberg that has been gradually pulling away from the main sheet for decades. (The glacier doesn't actually cut off abruptly in two straight lines on either side — that is simply the border of the satellite's photograph.) If and when the loose tooth comes out, it's likely to be impressive: The last Amery ice calving event released an ice island 140 kilometers
First Views of Earth from Above
"I have the Cape [Cape Canaveral] in sight down there," Glenn told mission controllers. "It looks real fine from up here."
The answer, as aficionados of artificial islands may have guessed, is Dubai. This Middle Eastern metro is a playground for the wealthy, as suggested by the man-made, palm-tree-shaped archipelago in the upper left of the photo. A development company started building "Palm Jumeirah," as it's called, in 2001. Today, it's home to hotels, villas and resorts.
The artificial island isn't the only manmade wonder visible in this photo. The fiery blot of light in the center-right of the picture is the Burj Khalifa tower, which rises 2,717 feet (828 meters), making it the world's tallest building.
The Emerald Isle Shows Its Colors
Satellite observations of Tinakula suggest that the island erupts occasionally, but remote as it is, eyewitnesses are rare, according to NASA's Earth Observatory. Here, a plume of gas and perhaps ash rises lazily above the island.
Follow the River
The Fraser carries approximately 20 million metric tons of sediment toward the Pacific each year, with some of that plume visible in bright blue here.
Layers of Light
An Icy Green Mystery
The obvious identification for any ocean-based greenery is a phytoplankton, or algae bloom. But Stanford marine biologist Kevin Arrigo told NASA Earth Observatory that he wasn't so sure. Instead, he said, the pattern looked like algae clinging to ice, not floating in the sea. Other scientists said that marine algae blooms in the area were perfectly plausible.
The satellite image wasn't offering further clues, so scientists at the Australian Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Center decided to take a look the old-fashioned way. They redirected the ship Aurora Australis from its mission in order to get samples of the mysterious greenery — a small side trip for the vessel. The crew took samples that have yet to be analyzed, but their eyewitness accounts reveal that the sea in the region was covered in algae-encrusted pancake ice, itself floating in greenish-brown water.
A Protective Network
Most DART buoys are deployed along the "Ring of Fire," the seismically active plate boundaries that run up the west coast of North and South America and down the east side of Asia. Wednesday (April 11), the buoys were tested as an 8.6-magnitude earthquake shook Indonesia and triggered a tsunami warning.
Bright Lights in the Big City
Made your guesses? If you said Shanghai, congratulations! The city is on the lefthand side of the image, sitting along the Yangtze River and the eastern coast of China. As of 2010, 23 million people lived in Shanghai, including unregistered residents. The once-separate town of Suzhou can be seen on the right, increasingly linked to Shanghai by roads and residences.
With its 2,543 foot (775 meter) volcanic summit, Île aux Cochonsis a lonely place. Despite the name, it's not pigs that make their home here, but seabirds: The island is home to the world's largest King Penguin colony.
Our Colorful Planet
Brilliant Color Flows From Glacier
The Columbia Glacier descends from an ice field 10,000 feet (3,050 meters) above sea level, down the flanks of the Chugach Mountains, and into a narrow inlet that leads into Prince William Sound in southeastern Alaska. It is one of the most rapidly changing glaciers in the world.
This false-color image, captured by the Thematic Mapper (TM) instrument on Landsat 5, shows the glacier and the surrounding landscape on May 30, 2011. Snow and ice appears bright cyan, vegetation is green, clouds are white or light orange, and the open ocean is dark blue. Exposed bedrock is brown, while rocky debris on the glacier’s surface is gray.
A Hole in the Sky
Where There's Smoke
The White Marble
Not so this image, hereby dubbed "The White Marble." Using images from the Suomi NPP satellite, NASA put together this image of Earth from the top down. The icy Arctic appears amidst swirls of clouds, with Europe, Asia and northern Africa visible toward Earth's midsection.
That's Space-y! Red Sprites & Lightning Flashes
Red sprites are difficult to observe because they last for just a few milliseconds and occur above thunderstorms, so they are usually blocked from view on the ground by the very clouds that produce them. They send pulses of electrical energy up toward the edge of space (the electrically charged layer known as the ionosphere) instead of down to Earth’s surface. They are rich with radio noise, and can sometimes occur in clusters.
For decades, pilots reported seeing ephemeral flashes above storms, but it was not until the 1990s that scientists were able to verify the existence of these electrical discharges. A sprite was first photographed by accident from an airplane in 1989, and observers on the space shuttle captured several more images with low-light cameras in 1990 and in subsequent missions. Viewers on the ground can occasionally photograph sprites by looking out on a thunderstorm in the distance (often looking out from high mountainsides over storms in lower plains.)
This image was taken in 2005 by an instrument on NASA's Terra satellite. Greenland's small icebergs can be tough to detect, making them hazardous for ships. The iceberg that sunk the Titanic would have originated here in Baffin Bay.
The Twisty Mississippi
Mirrors to the Sun
The Lights of London
Images like this one are useful for more than just their sparkly beauty, said Chris Elvidge, the leader of the Earth Observation Group at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Geophysical Data Center.
"Nighttime lights are the least ambiguous remote sensing observation indicating the presence and magnitude of human activities and the density of development," Elvidge said in a statement. "We can actually look at cities and tell you how much energy is emanating from them."
A Long Journey
Colorful Down Under
Andrew's winds were clocked at 177 miles per hour (285 km) at least — instruments failed before recording maximum winds. The storm caused $26.5 billion in damage, second only to Hurricane Katrina in inflation-adjusted cost.
On Top of the World
This dramatic ice loss is caused by long-term warming mixed with a windy storm that brought heat to the central Arctic Ocean and melted the already weak ice.
Storm and Sparkles
The Suomi NPP satellite, which orbits Earth 14 times a day, captured this image with its Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS).
Jewel of the Caribbean
Awesome Weather Phenomenon
Jewel in the Desert
Clouds over the Rainforest
A Meeting of Landscapes
A rain shadow is a phenomenon caused by moist air blowing in from the Pacific Ocean to the west. The air sweeps up the Cascades, losing pressure as it gains elevation. As a result, it cools and is unable to hold as much water. The moisture falls on the mountains as rain or snow, contributing to the lush greenery of the mountain range.
On the other side of the mountains, though, the air drops again, pressurizes, and warms up. As a result, little rain falls on the eastern side of the mountains, resulting in the desert landscape seen here in enhanced color.
In this image captured by the Landsat 5 satellite in 2011, you can also see Mount Hood's glacial summit as a spot of bright blue.
Shiveluch is an active volcano, still showing scars (seen here in beige) of a large 1964 eruption that collapsed its south side. Fortunately, Shiveluch sits in a remote area, making eruptions little threat to human life.
Auroras Over America
Chilling Out in the Arctic
Stripe of Sun
Our Shiny Planet
Up In the Air
Dust, smoke and other particles swirl in the air in this global look at aerosols, or fine particles in the atmosphere. Dust is seen in red, while ocean cyclones pick up sea salt (blue). Smoke from fires is seen in green. White tendrils represent sulfate particles, which come from both volcanoes and human fossil fuel emissions.
This image comes courtesy of NASA's Discover supercomputer at the Center for Climate Simulation at Goddard Space Flight Center. [The 10 Best Digital Cameras]
Ready to Crack?
Mystery Lights in Western Australia
It's not a lost civilization or a quirk in the data. As it turns out, wildfires were burning in western Australia in April and October 2012 when the satellite collected these images. The fires got incorporated into the composite picture created by NASA and NOAA, freezing the fires in time. Other uninhabited areas on the so-called "Black Marble" images show lights from ships, oil drilling and mining operations.
Snow in the Desert
Mountains All in a Row
A long tine of valleys and ridges snakes northeast in this International Space Station view of the central Appalachian mountains. The linear topography here formed when Laurasia (a supercontinent made up of what is now North America and Europe) bumped into Gondwanaland (Africa, India, South America, Australia and Antarctica), ruffling up the land into a high mountain chain, according to NASA's Earth Observatory.
That was between 540 and 300 million years ago. Since then, time has taken its toll, eroding the Alp-high Appalachians into the rolling, forested mountains seen today. Human habitation is also visible in this photograph; Washington, D.C. appears as a diamond-shaped speck on the Potomac in the lower right-hand corner of the image.
That's a Big Blizzard!
Down By the Bay
The refinery covers 5 square miles (13 square kilometers) near the mouth of the San Jacinto River (it stands out in beige here and continues on the south shore of the river).