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Our Planet: 8 Stunning Views of Earth from Space

Our Planet: 8 Stunning Views of Earth from Space

Swirling clouds, deep blue oceans and textured land- and icescapes are among the many faces of our planet revealed in NASA’s new photo-essay book: Earth. This collection of 69 images captured by satellites tells a story of a 4.5-billion-year-old planet where there is always something new to see. Earth is a beautiful, awe-inspiring place, and it is the only world most of us will ever know. It is your planet. It is NASA’s mission. The book is available now in hardcover and ebook, and online with interactive features.

Here are eight of those breathtaking images for your viewing pleasure. 

Channel Country, Australia

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These wide floodplains in Queensland, Australia are unique on the planet. Scientists think they are caused by the extreme variation in water and sediment discharges from the rivers. In many years there is no rainfall at all, and the rivers are effectively non-existent. In years of modest rainfall, the main channels will carry some water, sometimes spilling over into narrow water holes known as billabongs.

Every few decades, the floodplain carries extremely high discharges of water. For instance, tropical storms to the north can lead to great water flows that inundate the entire width of the floodplain. On such occasions, the floodplain appears as series of brown and green water surfaces with only tree tops indicating the location of the islands. Such is the case in this image taken from the International Space Station in September 2016.

Grounded in the Caspian, Kazakhstan

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A wide variety of ice forms in the Caspian Sea, which stretches from Kazakhstan to Iran. Just offshore, a well-developed expanse of consolidated ice appears bright white. Farther offshore, a gray-white field of chunky, hummocked ice has detached and is slowly drifting around a polynya, an area of open water surrounded by sea ice. That darker patch is actually growing young, thin ice and nilas, a term that designates sea ice crust up to 10 centimeters (4 inches) in thickness.

The close-up shows nilas and a white, diamond-shaped piece of ice. It might look like this chunk is on the move, cutting a path through thinner ice. But it’s more likely that the “diamond” was stuck to the sea bottom and the wind pushed ice around it.

Tsauchab River Bed, Namibia

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The Tsauchab River is a famous landmark for the people of Namibia and tourists. Yet few people have ever seen the river flowing with water. In December 2009, an astronaut on the International Space Station caught this glimpse of the Tsauchab River bed jutting into the sea of red dunes. It ends in a series of light-colored, silty mud holes on the dry lake floor.

Like several other rivers around the Namib Desert, the Tsauchab brings sediment down from the hinterland toward the coastal lowland. This sediment is then blown from the river beds, and over tens of millions of years it has accumulated as the red dunes of the Namib Sand Sea.

Taranaki and Egmont, New Zealand

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The circular pattern of New Zealand’s Egmont National Park stands out from space as a human fingerprint on the landscape. The park protects the forested and snow-capped slopes around Mount Taranaki (Mount Egmont to British settlers). It was established in 1900, when officials drew a radius of 10 kilometers around the volcanic peak. The colors differentiate the protected forest (dark green) from once-forested pasturelands (light- and brown-green).

Named by the native Maori people, Taranaki stands 2,518 meters (8,260 feet) tall, and it is one of the world’s most symmetric volcanoes. It first became active about 135,000 years ago. By dating lava flows, geologists have figured out that small eruptions occur roughly every 90 years and major eruptions every 500 years. Landsat 8 acquired this image of Taranaki and the park in July 2014.

Storms Stir Up Sediment in Bermuda

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In October 2014, the eye of Hurricane Gonzalo passed right over Bermuda. In the process, the potent storm stirred up the sediments in the shallow bays and lagoons around the island, spreading a huge mass of sediment across the North Atlantic Ocean. This Landsat 8 image shows the area after Gonzalo passed through.

The suspended sediments were likely a combination of beach sand and carbonate sediments from around the shallows and reefs. Coral reefs can produce large amounts of calcium carbonate, which stays on the reef flats (where there are coralline algae that also produce carbonate) and builds up over time to form islands.

Framing an Iceberg in the South Atlantic Ocean

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In June 2016, the Suomi NPP satellite captured this image of various cloud formations in the South Atlantic Ocean. Note how low stratus clouds framed a hole over iceberg A-56 as it drifted across the sea.

The exact reason for the hole in the clouds is somewhat of a mystery. It could have formed by chance, although imagery from the days before and after this date suggest something else was at work. It could be that the relatively unobstructed path of the clouds over the ocean surface was interrupted by thermal instability created by the iceberg. In other words, if an obstacle is big enough, it can divert the low-level atmospheric flow of air around it, a phenomenon often caused by islands.

Lofted Over Land in Madagascar

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Along the muddy Mania River, midday clouds form over the forested land but not the water. In the tropical rainforests of Madagascar, there is ample moisture for cloud formation. Sunlight heats the land all day, warming that moist air and causing it to rise high into the atmosphere until it cools and condenses into water droplets. Clouds generally form where air is ascending (over land in this case), but not where it is descending (over the river). Landsat 8 acquired this image in January 2015.

A Lava Lamp Look at the Atlantic Ocean 

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Stretching from tropical Florida to the doorstep of Europe, the Gulf Stream carries a lot of heat, salt, and history. This river of water is an important part of the global ocean conveyor belt, moving water and heat from the Equator toward the far North Atlantic. It is one of the strongest currents on Earth and one of the most studied. Its discovery is often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, though sailors likely knew about the current long before they had a name for it.

This image shows a small portion of the Gulf Stream off of South Carolina as it appeared in infrared data collected by the Landsat 8 satellite in April 2013. Colors represent the energy—heat—being emitted by the water, with cooler temperatures in purple and the warmest water being nearly white. Note how the Gulf Stream is not a uniform band but instead has finer streams and pockets of warmer and colder water.

These images are just a few from our new book called Earth. Explore the other 61 images here.

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