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Earth from Above: 101 Stunning Images from Orbit

Our Shiny Planet

Apollo 11 Earth photograph

(Image credit: NASA)

Sunlight reflects off a cloud-shrouded ocean in this photograph snapped by Apollo 11 astronauts on July 16, 1969. Four days later, crew members Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong would take the first steps on the moon.

Up In the Air

Global aerosol map

(Image credit: William Putman, NASA/Goddard)


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?

Rift in the Pine Island Glacier, Antarctica

(Image credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center )

A massive crack in the ice may herald an enormous rift in the ice of the Pine Island Glacier in western Antarctica. Satellite images suggest that the glacier is poised to calve off an iceberg or icebergs that size of New York City. Sea ice has kept the unstable region locked in, but as this Oct. 26, 2012 Landsat 7 image reveals, the spring melt has cleared the sea in front of the glacier's calving face.

American Night

The city lights of the United States at night.

(Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Robert Simmon, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data provided courtesy of Chris Elvidge (NOAA National Geophysical Data Center). Suomi NPP is the result of a partnership between NASA, NOAA, and the Department of Defense.)

The city lights of the United States are seen in sharper relief than ever before in this 2012 image taken by the Suomi NPP satellite. This satellite's equipment is so sensitive, it can detect the light of a single ship at sea, according to a NASA spokesperson. Studying human-created light can help researchers do everything from modeling carbon dioxide emissions to monitoring fishing activity or recording loss of animal habitat.

Low-Level Eruption

Russian volcano eruption

(Image credit: NASA)

Gases billow from the snow-surrounded maw of Russia's Plosky Tolbachik volcano on the remote Kamchatka peninsula. NASA's Aqua/MODIS satellite captured this bird's-eye view on Dec. 7, 2012.

Mystery Lights in Western Australia

Black Marble western australian fires

(Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory/NOAA NGDC)

NASA and NOAA recently released a series of images from the Suomi NPP satellite showing Earth at night, lit by city lights. So why is nearly uninhabited western Australia so bright?

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

Snow in the Taklimakan Desert

(Image credit: NASA/Aqua)

In one of the world's largest and hottest sandy deserts, snow muffles that landscape. This is the Taklimakan Desert of western China, where a storm blew through Dec. 26 and left a layer of snow still visible from space on Jan. 2, 2013. NASA's Aqua satellite captured this bird's-eye view of the snowy desert.

Mountains All in a Row

The Central Appalachian mountains from space

(Image credit: ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center. Expedition 33 Crew)

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.

Cloud Cover

Clouds over the Pacific

(Image credit: NASA)

Clouds like whipped cream cover the northwest Pacific Ocean in this photo snapped from the International Space Station on Jan. 4, 2013. In a pattern typical of this area, the low clouds carry cool air over warmer ocean waters, according to NASA.

Dangerous Air

Air pollution over China

(Image credit: NASA)

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