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Earth from Above: 101 Stunning Images from Orbit

Storm and Sparkles

Hurricane Isaac at night

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

Hurricane Isaac approaches the Gulf Coast as the city lights of the Southeast shine in this satellite image taken just after midnight on Aug. 28. The storm made landfall twice in Louisiana overnight. As of 9 a.m. local time this morning (Aug.29), winds were blowing 75 miles per hour and the storm's center was 40 miles (64 km) southwest of New Orleans.

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

Cuba from space

(Image credit: ESA)

Jewel-like shallow waters hug the shores of Cuba in this image taken from the Envisat satellite in 2011. In order to get a cloudless view of the Caribbean island, researchers stitched together three snapshots. The Florida Keys are visible as a bright band northwest of Cuba, while the southeast tip of the island is darkened by the Sierra Maestra mountain range.

Awesome Weather Phenomenon

Cumulonimbus cloud over Africa

(Image credit: NASA)

Unidentified flying object or weather event? It's the latter, of course — this flat-as-a-pancake cloud over Africa is what's called a cumulonimbus cloud, which means "column rain" in Latin. These clouds can form on their own or along cold fronts, bringing with them heavy rain, wind, lightning and even tornadoes.

Jewel in the Desert

Kuwait City at night from space

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

Glittering against the darkness of the Persian Gulf, Kuwait City shines in this astronaut photograph taken from the International Space Station. Far to the lower right of the picture, a cluster of blue-white lights mark the suburb of Al Ahmadi. The Seventh Ring Road snakes through the desert below the city; just below the center of the photograph, also set slightly outside the built-up area, the brightly-lit international airport shines a fiery orange.

Clouds over the Rainforest

Clouds over the Amazon rainforest.

(Image credit: NASA)

Clouds rest like snow over the Amazon in Brazil in this image taken by NASA's Aqua satellite. (Red dots are dropped pixels.) The Amazon Rainforest covers 1.7 billion acres (7 million square kilometers), 60 percent of which is within Brazil. For more amazing Amazon images, visit our rainforest biodiversity gallery.

A Meeting of Landscapes

Oregon's rain shadow

(Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, using Landsat data from the USGS Global Visualization Viewer. )

Vegetation collides with desert in Oregon in this satellite image that shows the stark climate divide caused by the Cascade Range's rain shadow.

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.

Explosive Potential

Shiveluch volcano erupts

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

Trouble in Kamchatka? NASA's Aqua satellite captured this image of the erupting Shiveluch volcano on Oct. 6, 2012, showing an ash plume stretching 55 miles (90 km) over land before being blown out to sea.

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

Auroras over Canada and the U.S.

(Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, using VIIRS Day-Night Band data from the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP))

Undulating high over Quebec and Ontario, the northern lights outshine city lights on Oct. 8, 2012. The strong aurora borealis resulted from a sun storm three days earlier that sent solar particles on a collision course with Earth's atmosphere. The interaction excites oxygen and nitrogen molecules 60 to 250 miles (100 to 400 kilometers) up, releasing photons, or light particles.

Chilling Out in the Arctic

Sea ice off Greenland

(Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Jeff Schmaltz/MODIS Land Rapid Response Team)

Ocean and sea ice mingle in this image taken from above eastern Greenland on Oct. 16, 2012. The melting of Greenland's ice sheet broke a 30-year record this year.

Stripe of Sun

Sunset from space

(Image credit: NASA/JSC)

The sun sets over the Indian Ocean in brilliant color in this 2010 photograph taken by an astronaut on the International Space Station. The troposphere, the section of the atmosphere extending from Earth's surface to between 3 and 12 miles up (6 to 20 kilometers), is lit in bright orange and streaked with clouds. Above the troposphere, the stratosphere appears in pinkish white, and then the atmosphere fades through blue before hitting the blackness of space. At the ISS orbit speed of more than 17,000 miles per hour (28,000 kph), sunsets last mere seconds — but astronauts get to see 16 a day.