50 spectacular images of Earth from space
Our fascination with space and the worlds beyond our own comes from a deep-seated human desire to better understand our place in the universe. From satellite launches and manned missions to stepping on the moon and planning a visit to mars, our obsession with space exploration seems to only grow. As modern science expands and evolves, so too does its investigation of the cosmos—including thousands of satellites that are now orbiting the Earth.
Russia launched the first satellite, Sputnik, in 1957. The U.S. quickly followed with its own launch of Explorer 1 in 1958. Since then, NASA has had more than 200 successful, manned spacecraft launches and sent out more than 1,000 unmanned satellites.
While expeditions to strange new worlds sound exciting, one of the most important aspects of space exploration is that it allows scientists to study our own planet. Images of the Earth captured by satellites not only help scientists map things like population density, but they also showcase the effects of climate change, natural disasters, and major weather fronts. Utilizing the data from satellite images also provides a wide range of information about the Earth, from measuring plant growth to chemical deviations in the atmosphere.
The first satellite images were captured back in 1947 when scientist John T. Mengel conducted experiments by launching rockets into orbit and placing cameras on them. Today’s satellite images are significantly more complex, and while they might look like simple photographs, they are actually the result of combining measurements of various light wavelengths.
Ahead of Space Day May 1, Stacker has curated a gallery of some of the most intriguing and interesting images of Earth from space. Sourced from NASA’s various exploration programs via NASA’s image library, these satellite images, captured from millions of miles away, show an up-close and personal view of our ever-changing planet.
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This image of Hurricane Edouard was taken in 2014, during NASA’s 41st expedition to the International Space Station. Starting as a tropical storm in September 2014, Edouard intensified into a major hurricane that created dangerous ocean currents and swells along the East Coast. Edouard never touched down on land, but the cyclonic image as shown from space showcases the immense power of storms of this level.
Taken in January 2018 by NASA’s Operational Land Imager (OLI), this image depicts one of Bangladesh’s major rivers, the Padma River. Constant erosion causes the river to change and grow at alarming rates, and scientists have tracked this erosion for years in an attempt to determine a pattern.
City lights of Africa, Europe, and the Middle East
A phenomenal view of Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, this composite image was collected via data from the Suomi NPP satellite and mapped over existing imagery of the Earth. The satellite has infrared imaging that allows it to detect light and filter out lights from other sources, focusing only on city lights, which can help in mapping major population areas.
The dark side of the moon
This 2015 animation still shows the moon crossing the Earth. The camera aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite caught the dark side of the moon, a part that is never visible from Earth, in this perfect moment. While the photo looks close enough to touch, the satellite that took this photo is actually orbiting 1 million miles away.
Captured by NASA’s Operational Land Imager, this image of Yakutat Glacier in Alaska highlights the stunning beauty of glacier ice as seen from space. Unfortunately, pictures of the glacier also show just how much climate change has caused it to shrink. Scientists predict the Yakutat Glacier could be gone altogether by 2070 if climate warming continues at its current pace.
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Plankton bloom in the Sea of Marmara
The Sea of Marmara, which sits between the Black and Aegean Seas, is unusual in that it consists of freshwater at the surface with saltier water at deeper levels. The freshwater encourages the growth of phytoplankton, a floating plant-like organism, which creates an interesting, swirled design from a distance. This image of that plankton bloom was taken by the Operational Land Imager on NASA’s Landsat 8 satellite in 2015.
This image of Alaska’s Malaspina Glacier, the largest piedmont glacier in North America, was taken by the Operational Land Imager on NASA’s Landsat 8 satellite in 2014. The image clearly shows the moraines on the ice, which are seen as brown lines across the surface. Moraines are formed when glaciers surge or move quickly forward over a period of years, a phenomenon that is common for glaciers in this part of Alaska.
Lake Eyre Basin
Covering one-sixth of the country, Australia’s Lake Eyre Basin is one of the largest internally draining river systems in the world. While the basin itself is often dry, heavy rains can mean sudden vegetation growth. Captured by Landsat 8’s Operational Land Imager in April 2018, the light green on the image represents the vegetation and shows it taking over the areas where water has receded.
Hurricane Matthew developed from a tropical storm just off the coast of Africa, building into a Category 5 hurricane and wreaking havoc in the Caribbean, Bahamas, Cuba, Haiti, and portions of the United States. This 2016 image from NASA’s Terra satellite shows Hurricane Matthew at Category 3, but the storm’s power and intensity are still quite visible.
Yarlung Tsangpo River
Captured from NASA’s Terra satellite in 2002, the Yarlung Tsangpo River is often referred to as the “Everest of Rivers” because of its frequent extreme conditions. The Yarlung Tsangpo River also has the highest elevation of any major river in the world.
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