Skip to main content

Earth from Above: 101 Stunning Images from Orbit

Nicaragua from Above

As the shuttle and the space station began their post-undocking relative separation, Expedition 23 flight engineer Soichi Noguchi photographed the underside of the shuttle over the south end of Isla de Providencia, about 150 miles off the coast of Nicarag

(Image credit: NASA)

As the shuttle and the space station began their post-undocking relative separation, Expedition 23 flight engineer Soichi Noguchi photographed the underside of the shuttle over the south end of Isla de Providencia, about 150 miles off the coast of Nicaragua. Undocking of the two spacecraft occurred on April 17, 2010, ending the shuttle's 10-day stay. The visit included three spacewalks and delivery of more than seven tons of equipment and supplies to the station.

Fire Seen From Space

Texas fires

(Image credit: NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz)

Wildfires in southern Texas and Louisiana are visible from space in this March 1 image, captured by the the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. The fires seen here are in wooded areas, so they produce copious amounts of visible smoke. A much larger series of grassfires that have burned more than 130,000 acres and destroyed at least 78 homes across the Texas panhandle produce very little smoke in comparison. Despite their destruction, those grassfires are almost invisible on satellite images, according to NASA

Ashes to Ashes

Volcano ash, Russia

(Image credit: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team)

A NASA satellite captures an ash plume and ash on snow on Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula. Last week on March 15, three local volancos (Shiveluch, Karymsky and Kizimen) were all spewing ash.

Where in the World?


(Image credit: ESA)

Did you guess it? This radar image, captured by the European Space Agency earth observation spacecraft Envisat, shows the Republic of Guinea-Bissau. Located in Western Africa, Guinea-Bissau is bordered by Guinea and Senegal. The nation's capital, Bissau, is visible as a whitish area on the second estuary up from the bottom of the picture.

Planet Ice


(Image credit: ESA/AOES Medialab)

The European Space Agency's CryoSat satellite orbits an icy Earth. The satellite monitors changes in the thickness of marine ice floating in the polar oceans and variations in the thickness of the vast ice sheets that overlay Greenland and Antarctica.

A Disaster in Red and Silver

BP Oil Spill, Mississippi

(Image credit: Jesse Allen/NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team)

One year ago today, on April 20, 2010, an explosion rocked the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, marking the beginning of a three-month long oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The spill turned the Mississippi delta into an oily canvas, as seen in this May 24, 2010 image from the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) instrument on NASA's Terra spacecraft. Vegetation looks red, while the reflective oil appears silver.

Storms down south

tornadoes in dixie alley

(Image credit: NASA Environmental Visualization Laboratory)

An infrared satellite image of the severe storm system that has been hammering what scientists call Dixie Alley. Image captured on April 26.

Final Voyage

Endeavour ISS

(Image credit: NASA)

The Space Shuttle Endeavour is docked with the International Space Station one last time in this May 28, 2011 photograph. Below, city lights brighten the night side of Earth. The STS-134 astronauts left the station the next day on May 29, and they are scheduled to land in Florida on Wednesday, June 1.

Enormous Ash Plume


(Image credit: NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC.)

Chile's Puyehue-Cordon Volcano Complex sends a plume of ash streaming 497 miles (800 kilometers) east in this June 13 satellite photo. The volcano has been erupting since June 4, evidenced here by the pale coating of ash on the ground. These ash deposits could be a danger in the weeks and months to come, as winter rains can turn instable volcanic ash into deadly mudflows called lahars.

— Stephanie Pappas

Fire-Scarred Arizona

Wallow Fire

(Image credit: NASA/USGS)

A Landsat 5 satellite image reveals the damage caused by Arizona's Wallow wildfire. Bright orange flames and blue smoke can be seen along the fire-damaged area's edges. As of Friday, June 17, the fire had burned 495,016 acres, according to Firefighters had the enormous wildfire 33 percent contained, but were expecting high winds that would make keeping the fire under control difficult.

— Stephanie Pappas

Bad News Comes in Threes

Pacific Typhoons

(Image credit: Jeff Schmaltz, NASA)

In August 2006, a NASA satellite captured this image of three angry sisters in the western Pacific Ocean. This trio of storms formed within three days of each other. The youngest storm, Typhoon Bopha (top) is barely organized into a tropical storm, with no eye and only the most basic round shape. Tropical Storm Maria (bottom right) is a day older and has formed a central eye and a spiral shape. The most powerful of the triplets, Typhoon Saomai (bottom left) is fully formed and roaring with winds around 85 miles per hour (140 kilometers per hour).

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

Stephanie Pappas
Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science. She covers the world of human and animal behavior, as well as paleontology and other science topics. Stephanie has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She has ducked under a glacier in Switzerland and poked hot lava with a stick in Hawaii. Stephanie hails from East Tennessee, the global center for salamander diversity. Follow Stephanie on Google+.