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Earth from Above: 101 Stunning Images from Orbit

Sparkling Sea

Icebergs near Greenland

(Image credit: NASA image courtesy Jet Propulsion Laboratory Photojournal)

Icebergs dot the water like a sprinkling of glitter in Baffin Bay, Greenland. These bergs likely broke off from two nearby glaciers, Nunatakavsaup Sermia and Igdlugdlip Sermia, according to NASA's Earth Observatory.

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.

Amazing Aurora

Southern Lights from space

(Image credit: NASA/JSC )

From the International Space Station, the aurora seems to set the Earth alight with green fire. This photo, snapped by the Expedition 32 crew aboard the ISS on July 15, 2012, offers a stunning view of the aurora australis, or southern lights. (That's Canadarm2, a robot arm extending off the station, in the foreground.) The southern lights, and their cousin the northern lights, occur when particles from the sun hit atmospheric gases, exciting the gas molecules and creating the gorgeous, twisting colors that can be seen at high and low latitudes.

The Twisty Mississippi

The Mississippi river seen from space.

(Image credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/USGS)

Colored in brilliant blue, the Mississippi River meanders along the border of Arkansas and Mississippi, surrounded by blocky fields, towns and pastures. This image was one of the five to win a public contest for the top images from NASA's Landsat satellites. Read about the other winners at OurAmazingPlanet.com.

Mirrors to the Sun

The Great Lakes with reflected sunglint.

(Image credit: ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center; Expedition 31 Crew.)

Sunglint turns the Great Lakes into golden mirrors in this image taken from the International Space Station while it was orbiting southeast of Nova Scotia, Canada. Lake Huron, to the right, and Lake Ontario, toward the front of the image, appear mirror-like because of sunlight reflecting off of their surfaces. Lake Erie is on the left side of the photo, and the row of snake-like lines just left of Lake Ontario are New York's Finger Lakes. Earth's atmosphere is visible as a bright blue line separating the planet from the blackness of space.

The Lights of London

City lights of the U.K and France

(Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, using VIIRS Day Night Band and MODIS Blue Marble data.)

The lights of cities, towns and villages make the shapes of Great Britain and France apparent from space even at night. This image from March 27, 2012, was taken by the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite. London, the host city of the 2012 summer Olympics, is visible as a sprawling mass of lights on the southern end of England, and Paris can be seen across the English Channel in France.

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."

Night Fires

Forest fires in Siberia

(Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, using VIIRS Day Night Band data.)

Rings of flame burn through eastern Siberia in this satellite image taken on August 3. Scientists have long been able to snap photos of smoke from wildfires from Earth's orbit, but this image comes from a new, extra-sensitive instrument on the Suomi National Polar-Orbiting satellite called the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite. This instrument can detect very low levels of light, making it possible to capture pictures of forest fires burning at night.

A Long Journey

Dust from the Sahara over Hispaniola

(Image credit: ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center; Expedition 32 crew )

It's clear skies for Cuba but not for Hispaniola or the Turks and Caicos Islands in this image taken by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station in July 2012. A fine film of dust is visible over the islands; this dust, it turns out, has blown all the way from the Sahara Desert in Africa, a journey of at least 4,970 miles (8,000 km). Windswept Sahara dust has been linked to human allergies, algae blooms, and coral diseases, and it may even help fertilize the Amazonian rainforests.

Colorful Down Under

Mineral map of Australia

(Image credit: CSIRO)

The first mineral map of Australia gives the continent a shot of color using satellite data. This map shows surface rock and soil minerals across all of Oz, providing a new way for geoscientists to hunt for mineral deposits.

Historic Hurricane

Hurricane Andrew hits Florida in 1992

(Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory image, using GOES-7 data from the GOES project. Image originally prepared by Fritz Hasler, Marit Jentoft-Nilsen, Hal Pierce, Kannappan Palaniappan, and Michael Manyin.)

Twenty years ago today (Aug. 24, 2012), Hurricane Andrew slammed into the Florida coast as a Category 5 storm, destroying even the weather instruments meant to measure its strength. This image shows Andrew's progression from Aug. 23, 1992 (right) to Aug. 24 (middle) to Aug. 25 (left).

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

Arctic Sea ice in Sept 2010

(Image credit: NASA)

Arctic sea ice caps the North Pole in this Aqua satellite image captured Sept. 3, 2010. Ice like this is in short supply lately, having just reached record low levels as of Sunday, Aug. 26. On that date, the sea ice extent shrank to 1.58 million square miles (4.10 million square kilometers), shattering the previous record of 1.61 million square miles (4.17 million square km), set in 2007.

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.