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Image of the Day: February 2014

Image of the Day Archive

A recent photograph shows El Capitan glowing gold in the sunlight at Yosemite National Park.

(Image credit: National Park Service)

For older Image of the Day pictures, please visit the Image of the Day archives.

Above: Yosemite National Park is rich with stunning views, but one of the best might occur when evening sunlight strikes the top of El Capitan.

El Capitán ("the captain" or "the chief") was taken to be a loose Spanish translation of the local Native American name for the cliff, variously transcribed as "To-to-kon oo-lah" or "To-tock-ah-noo-lah."

Electric Earth

Lightning from Lake Powell, Utah

(Image credit: David Rankin |

Lightning electrifies the evening sky over Utah, as an intense storm charges across southern Utah and northern Arizona. Photographer David Rankin captured this incredible scene from the southern end of Lake Powell, Utah, just after sunset on Sept. 14, 2013.

The immense bolt of lightning lit up a developing cumulonimbus cloud and its accompanying column of rain. The storm also created an eerie purple glow in the evening sky. In the bottom right of the picture, the Navajo Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant, can be seen, according to Rankin. [Related: Stunning Images of Lightning]

Seal of Approval

Gray Seal Pup at the National Zoo

(Image credit: Christina Castiglione, Smithsonian's National Zoo)

This adorable female gray seal pup was born last month, on Jan. 21, at the Smithsonian's National Zoo. Shortly after her birth, Zoo keepers noticed the newborn pup was not gaining weight while nursing from her mother, so veterinarians have been hand-feeding the baby seal.

"In the first days of this pup's life we did not see her gain as much weight as we would have expected," Ed Bronikowski, senior curator at the National Zoo, said in a statement. "It is still a tenuous time, but the pup's weight is now heading in the right direction. We celebrate every pound that she gains."

Last week, animal keepers announced the pup now weighs 44 pounds, which is up from her birth weight of about 35 pounds. In the wild, gray seals typically nurse from their mothers for about 15 to 21 days, and gain a significant amount of weight in the process. [Related Gallery: Seals of the World]

California Clouds

Lenticular Clouds Over Mono Lake, Calif.

(Image credit: John Kupersmith)

These strange-looking clouds are known as lenticular clouds, and the formations are characterized by their smooth oval or round shapes. Photographer John Kupersmith captured these lenticular clouds over Mono Lake, Calif., on Nov. 7, 2013.

Lenticular clouds form when waves of moist, fast-moving air are pushed upward over high mountains by strong winds. At this higher altitude, water droplets in the moist air cool and expand, and the water vapor condenses. As the air passes over the mountaintop and descends to more uniformly humid conditions, pancake-type lenticular clouds form.

Kupersmith used a Sony DSC-RX100M2 camera to capture this tranquil scene over Mono Lake. The lenticular clouds in the picture were created by strong westerly winds coming over the Sierra Nevada range, Kupersmith explained. [Related Gallery: Curious Clouds]

Another Day in Paradise

Hawaiian Islands

(Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory)

It's wintertime, but you wouldn’t know so from looking at this satellite image of the Hawaiian Islands. An astronaut aboard the International Space Station captured this cloud-free view of Hawaii on Jan. 18, 2014. The island's rich ecological diversity — from imposing mountains to lush rainforests to black sand beaches — are clearly visible from orbit. [Related: Scenic Photos of the Top Beaches]

Snow Cute: Red Fox Hunkers Down in Alaska

Red fox hunkers in the snow in Alaska

(Image credit: Bob Dreeszen - USFWS )

Snow is a great insulator. So is fur — something this red fox certainly must appreciate!

The fox was photographed in the Alaska Peninsula and Becharof National Wildlife Refuges, which were established to conserve fish and wildlife populations and habitats in their natural diversity, including brown bears, the Alaska Peninsula caribou herds, moose, sea otters and other marine mammals, salmon, shore birds and other migratory birds, and raptors, including bald eagles and peregrine falcons.

The fox in the above photo might have been stalking prey, or it might have been building a cache of excess food, which foxes are known to bury under snow for later consumption. Red foxes are adapted to snow, and are stronger than many other foxes that compete for the same prey.

How do foxes know where to hunker down in the snow? A 2008-2010 study of 84 red foxes found that successful hunting under snow appeared to involve an alignment of the fox with the Earth's magnetic field.

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Rainbow Mist

Iridescent Clouds Over Bangalore, India

(Image credit: Raqqasah Shruti Chakravarti)

This tranquil view of a gleaming, rainbow-colored sky over Bangalore, India, was captured by amateur photographer Raqqasah Shruti Chakravarti just before sunset on Oct. 26, 2013. These colorful formations, known as iridescent clouds, occur when sunlight hits water droplets in the atmosphere.

This relatively rare atmospheric phenomenon is caused by clouds of water droplets that are nearly uniform in size, according to NASA. The clouds diffract, or bend, light, separating it into different wavelengths, or colors. [Related: Weirdo Weather – 7 Rare Weather Events]

Happy Anniversary, Landsat 8!

Landsat 8 Map of the United States

(Image credit: Earth Observatory)

The Landsat 8 satellite launched into orbit on Feb. 11, 2013, and mission scientists are celebrating the earth-watching observatory's one-year anniversary this week.

This map was one of Landsat 8's first views of the United States, and researchers created the image using observations taken by the satellite's Operational Land Imager in August 2013, according to NASA. Landsat 8 collects data in 115-mile-wide (185 kilometers) swaths, which is why the map looks like it was created from a bunch of strips.

The satellite's orbit follows a predetermined track, and it takes 233 passes and 16 days for the observatory to cover all the land on Earth. This means every land surface on the planet has the potential to be imaged once every 16 days, according to NASA officials. [Related Gallery: 101 Stunning Images from Orbit]

Brilliant Bubbles

Colorful Cocoa

(Image credit: Hans-Jürgen Heyen)

If you're starting to feel the wintertime blues, perhaps this neat shot of a cup of hot cocoa will brighten your day. Amateur photographer Hans-Jürgen Heyen snapped this photo of colorful bubbles in his cocoa on a spring day in Meerbusch, Germany.

Heven noticed the shimmery bubbles while enjoying the midday sun in his garden on April 28, 2013. The thin film over the surface of the bubbles diffracts or bends sunlight, causing the iridescent colors to appear. [Related: Photos of Amazing Rainbows]

Happy Valentine's Day!

Valentine's Day at the Georgia Aquarium

(Image credit: Addison Hill/Georgia Aquarium)

Love is in the air at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta! To celebrate Valentine's Day, animal keepers spoiled the aquarium's beluga whales, bottlenose dolphins, sea otters and Asian small-clawed otters with heart-shaped goodies.

Some of the sweet treats included red, heart-shaped Jello molds for the beluga whales, heart-shaped ice sculpture displays consisting of clams, scallops and krill for the sea otters, and special Valentine's Day gift boxes full of tasty clams for the Asian small-clawed otters, according to officials from the Georgia Aquarium.

These so-called enrichment gifts provide stimulating activity for the animals and are an important part of the aquarium's animal care, they added. [Related: How Do I Love Thee? Experts Count 8 Ways]

Cute Camouflage: Eastern Screech Owl of Shenandoah

Eastern Screech Owl

(Image credit: National Park Service)

This adorable little owl blends in perfectly with its wooded habitat. If not for the one open eye, this Eastern Screech Owl would disappear into the trees.

Eastern Screech Owls (Megascops asio) are the smallest resident birds of prey in Shenandoah National Park, weighing only about 5-8 ounces (140 to 230 grams). That’s about the size of a couple of candy bars. These birds are active all winter, leaving their cozy tree-cavity nests at night in search of food. In winter, there is usually an abundance of mice and shrews, but other popular dinners — frogs, salamanders, small snakes, lizards, moths, caterpillars and other insects — are hiding out until spring. Wiley Screech Owls in Shenandoah have been observed on frosty autumn mornings walking around farm fields, picking off inert grasshoppers like grapes.

Just 75 miles (120 kilometers) from the bustle of Washington, D.C., Shenandoah National Park is a popular place for urbanites to escape. Cascading waterfalls, spectacular vistas and quiet wooded hollows await adventurous hikers or leisurely family picnickers. The park encompasses 200,000 acres of protected lands.

Look closely and you just might see an Eastern Screech Owl staring back at you.

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