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Tournament Earth: The Earthly Eight

Tournament Earth: The Earthly Eight

To celebrate Earth Observatory’s 20th anniversary and the
50th anniversary of Earth Day, we asked readers to pick our all-time best image.
We have already completed two rounds of voting, which led to two rounds of
stunning upsets. As we head into round 3, only two of the top eight seeds (#1s
and #2s) remain. It is time now to cast your votes
for the best of the Earthly 8. Voting ends on April 13 at 9 a.m. U.S. Eastern
Time.

The nominees are separated into four groups: Past Winners,
Home Planet, Land & Ice, and Sea & Sky. Check out the contenders still
in the game:

Past Winners: Ocean Sand, Bahamas (#5 seed) vs. A View from
Saturn (#2 seed)

image

Though the above image may resemble a new age painting
straight out of an art gallery in Venice Beach, California, it is in fact a satellite
image of the sands and seaweed in the Bahamas. The image was taken by the
Enhanced Thematic Mapper plus (ETM+) instrument aboard the Landsat 7 satellite.
Tides and ocean currents in the Bahamas sculpted the sand and seaweed beds into
these multicolored, fluted patterns in much the same way that winds sculpted
the vast sand dunes in the Sahara Desert.

image

This beautiful image of Saturn and its rings looks more like
an artist’s creation than a real image, but in fact, the image is a composite
(layered image) made from 165 images taken by the wide-angle camera on the
Cassini spacecraft over nearly three hours on September 15, 2006. Scientists
created the color in the image by digitally compositing ultraviolet, infrared,
and clear-filter images and then adjusting the final image to resemble natural
color. (A clear filter is one that allows in all the wavelengths of light the
sensor is capable of detecting.) This image is a closeup view of the upper left
quadrant of the rings, through which Earth is visible in the far, far distance.
The full image can be seen here.

Home Planet: Twin Marbles (#1 seed) vs. Fire in the Sky and
on the Ground (#7 seed)

image

A day’s clouds. The shape and texture of the land. The
living ocean. City lights as a beacon of human presence across the globe. This
amazingly beautiful view of
Earth from space is a fusion of science and art, a showcase for the
remote-sensing technology that makes such views possible, and a testament to
the passion and creativity of the scientists who devote their careers to understanding
how land, ocean, and atmosphere—even life itself—interact to generate Earth’s
unique (as far as we know!) life-sustaining environment.

image

Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) used a
digital camera to capture several hundred photographs of the aurora
australis,
 or “southern lights,” while passing over the Indian Ocean
on September 17, 2011. If you click on this movie, you
can see the flowing ribbons and rays below as the ISS passed from south of
Madagascar to just north of Australia between 17:22 and 17:45 Universal Time.
Solar panels and other sections of the ISS fill some of the upper right side of
the photograph.

Auroras are a spectacular sign that our planet is
electrically and magnetically connected to the Sun. These light shows are
provoked by energy from the Sun and fueled by electrically charged particles
trapped in Earth’s magnetic field, or magnetosphere. In this case, the space
around Earth was stirred up by an explosion of hot, ionized gas from the Sun—a
coronal mass ejection—that left the Sun on September 14, 2011.

Ice and Land: Sand Dunes (#8 seed) vs. Retreat of Columbia
Glacier (#6 seed)

image

Mountains of sand, some as tall as 300 meters (1000 feet),
reach from the floor of Africa’s Namib Desert toward the sky. Driven by wind,
these dunes march across the desert, bordered to the west by the Atlantic Ocean
and in other directions by solid, rocky land.

The abrupt transition from sand to land is visible in this
image, acquired on November 13, 2019, by the Operational Land Imager (OLI)
on Landsat 8. They show the northern extent of the Namib Sand Sea—a field of
sand dunes spanning more than 3 million hectares (more than 10,000 square
miles) within the Namib-Naukluft Park, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage
site in 2013. Sand appears red, painted by a layer of iron oxide.

image
image

Scientists have long studied Alaska’s fast-moving Columbia
Glacier, a tidewater glacier that descends through the Chugach Mountains into
Prince William Sound. Yet the river of ice continues to deliver new surprises.

The image
series begins in July 1986 (bottom image) with a false-color image
captured by the Thematic Mapper ™ sensor on the Landsat 5 satellite. The
false-color image from July 2014 (top image), acquired by the Operational
Land Imager on the Landsat 8 satellite, shows the extent of retreat after 28
years. Use the image comparison tool to better see the details.

Sea and Sky: Atafu Atoll, Tokelau (#8 seed) vs. Raikoke
Erupts (#6 seed)

image

At roughly eight kilometers wide, Atafu Atoll is the
smallest of three atolls and one island (Nukunonu and Fakaofo Atolls to the
southeast and Swains Island to the south are not shown) comprising the Tokelau
Islands group located in the southern Pacific Ocean. The primary settlement on
Atafu is a village located at the northwestern corner of the atoll. The typical
ring shape of the atoll is the result of coral reefs building up around a
former volcanic island.

image

Unlike some of its perpetually active neighbors on the
Kamchatka Peninsula, Raikoke Volcano on the Kuril Islands rarely erupts. The
small, oval-shaped island most recently exploded in 1924 and in 1778.

The dormant period ended around 4:00 a.m. local time on June
22, 2019, when a vast plume of ash and volcanic gases shot up from its 700-meter-wide
crater. Several satellites—as well as astronauts on the International Space
Station—observed as a thick plume rose and then streamed east as it was pulled
into the circulation of a storm in the North Pacific.

On the morning of June 22, astronauts shot this
photograph of the volcanic plume rising in a narrow column and then
spreading out in a part of the plume known as the umbrella region. That is the
area where the density of the plume and the surrounding air equalize and the
plume stops rising. The ring of clouds at the base of the column appears to be
water vapor.

See all of the images and vote now HERE. 

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