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Earth from Above: 101 Stunning Images from Orbit

Luxurious Lights

The city of Dubai at night.

(Image credit: ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center, NASA)

This city does night lights with an extra amount of flare. Any guesses where it is?



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

Ireland from space.

(Image credit: NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center. )

Are you wearing green this St. Patrick's Day? Ireland sure is. A moderate temperature and plenty of rainfall keep the Emerald Isle emerald. Warm ocean currents help make Ireland more temperate than other spots at the same latitude. With all this warm, moist air, fog and clouds are common — making this clear green view, captured by NASA's Aqua satellite in October 2010, a special sight to behold.

Silver Steam

The volcanic island of Tinakula in the South Pacific.

(Image credit: NASA images by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon (Earth Observatory), using EO-1 ALI data)

Water and land seem swapped in this satellite photo taken over the South Pacific. The steaming volcanic island of Tinakula appears in dark, almost liquid, green. The surrounding water takes on a milky, solid look because of the reflection of sunlight on the ocean.

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

Sediment from the Fraser river in Vancouver, Canada.

(Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory image created by Robert Simmon and Jesse Allen, using Landsat data provided by the United States Geological Survey.)

Sediment-rich water spills from the mouth of the Fraser River into the Strait of Georgia by the city of Vancouver, British Columbia. The Fraser starts its journey as a fast-moving stream in the Rocky Mountains, picking up sediment on its journey toward the coast. By the time the river hits Vancouver, it slows and spreads, eventually emptying into the sea through braided channels, visible in this photograph taken by the Landsat 5 satellite.

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.

Perpetual Ocean

Ocean or Van Gogh painting? This NASA image titled "Perpetual Ocean" shows ocean surface currents around the world during the period from June 2005 through Decmeber 2007. To see these currents in motion, <a href=" http://www.livescience.com/19662-animati

(Image credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio)

Ocean or Van Gogh painting? This NASA image titled "Perpetual Ocean" shows ocean surface currents around the world during the period from June 2005 through Decmeber 2007. To see these currents in motion, watch the video .

Layers of Light

Sunrise, the aurora and city lights appear over Earth from the International Space Station

(Image credit: NASA)

This March, the Expedition 30 crew aboard the International Space Station got treated to quite the light show from Earth. Two hundred and forty miles (386 kilometers) below the orbiting station are the lights of Ireland and the Northern Kingdom, with sunrise encroaching over the edge of the planet in the background. Along the rest of the horizon, a green and purple aurora shimmers. The aurora is caused by charged particles from space colliding with atoms in the high atmosphere.

An Icy Green Mystery

Algae in ice off the coast of Antarctica.

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

The strange green swirls seen off the Princess Astrid Coast of East Antarctica triggered something of a scientific mystery. First photographed in late February by NASA's Terra satellite, the swirls stymied scientists trying to identify them.

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.

Siberian Swirls

Ice floes off the coast of Kamchatka, Russia.

(Image credit: Astronaut photo by by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center.)

Brrr… Circular eddies off the coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia draw ice floes into deceptively delicate spiral patterns. In fact, the ice chunks that make up these swirls are meters across, making this area of the sea very dangerous to navigate.

A Protective Network

Dots represent buoys in the Pacific, some designed to warn against tsunamis.

(Image credit: NOAA)

Colored dots in the Pacific represent the locations of hundreds of buoys deployed to give researchers a sense of what goes on in our vast oceans. These buoys measure everything from chemical levels to ocean temperatures. Different colored dots represent different networks of buoys designed for different purposes. Red dots are part of DART, the Deep Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis project. Buoys like these are designed as part of tsunami early warning systems, systems that have expanded widely since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than 230,000 people. As the wave propagates through the ocean, the buoys send data back to shore to help predict where and how bad the tsunami is likely to be.

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

An astronaut photograph of Shanghai at night.

(Image credit: ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center)

Do you recognize this sprawling metropolis? Here's a hint: World's most populous 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.