To honor the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and he 20th anniversary of NASA’s Earth Observatory, the agency asked the public to pick our all-time best image on Earth. After five a five-round tournament and more than 56,000 votes, the readers chose Ocean Sand, Bahamas as their favorite.
We’ve posted 16 of the other top entrants. You can see the complete tournament results at Earth Observatory.
Ocean Sand, Bahamas (2001)
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.
Raikoke Erupts (2019)
An unexpected series of blasts from a remote volcano in the Kuril Islands sent ash and volcanic gases streaming high over the North Pacific Ocean.
“What a spectacular image. It reminds me of the classic Sarychev Peak astronaut photograph of an eruption in the Kuriles from about ten years ago,” said Simon Carn, a volcanologist at Michigan Tech. “The ring of white puffy clouds at the base of the column might be a sign of ambient air being drawn into the column and the condensation of water vapor. Or it could be a rising plume from interaction between magma and seawater because Raikoke is a small island and flows likely entered the water.”
Where the Dunes End (2019)
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 these images, 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.
Twin Blue Marbles (2007)
This view of Earth from space is a fusion of science and art, drawing on data from multiple satellite missions and the talents of NASA scientists and graphic artists. The twin images are a composite of multiple images taken between 1994 and 2004.
Fire in the Sky and on the Ground (2011)
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.
Retreat of the Columbia Glacier (2014)
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.
Preliminary results show that both the West Branch and the East Branch (which feeds into the Main Branch) are now moving between 5 and 10 meters (16 and 33 feet) per day. That’s slow for Columbia, but fast compared to other glaciers.
View of Earth from Saturn (2006)
Seen from a billion kilometers away, through the ice and dust particles of Saturn’s rings, Earth appears as a tiny, bright dot. 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.
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The Dark Side and the Bright Side (2015)
A NASA camera aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) has captured a unique view of the Moon as it passed between the spacecraft and Earth. A series of test images shows the fully illuminated “dark side” of the Moon that is not visible from Earth.
The images were taken over the course of five hours on July 16, 2015.
A Voyager Far From Home (1977)
The image of a crescent-shaped Earth and Moon was captured on September 18, 1977, when Voyager was a mere 11.66 million kilometers (7.25 million miles) from Earth and directly above Mount Everest (on the night side of the planet at 25 degrees north latitude).
On September 5, 1977, NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard a Titan-Centaur rocket. Thirty-five years later, the planetary probe is now an interstellar traveler, having traveled farther from Earth than any manmade object in history.
Roiling Flows on Holuhraun Lava Field (2014)
On September 6, 2014, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 captured this view of the ongoing eruption in Iceland.
Ice and the plume of steam and sulfur dioxide appear cyan and bright blue, while liquid water is navy blue. Bare or rocky ground around the Holuhraun lava field appears in shades of green or brown in this band combination. Fresh lava is bright orange and red.
Antarctica Melts Under Its Hottest Days on Record (2020)
On February 6, 2020, weather stations recorded the hottest temperature on record for Antarctica. Thermometers at the Esperanza Base on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula reached 18.3°C (64.9°F)—around the same temperature as Los Angeles that day. The warm spell caused widespread melting on nearby glaciers.
Atafu Atoll, Tokelau (2009)
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.
Making Waves in the Andaman Sea (2020)
The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 captured these images of the Andaman Sea on November 29, 2019. The reflection of the Sun on the ocean—sunglint—helps make the internal waves visible. The colors also have been slightly enhanced. The detailed swirls, fronts, and patterns are all quite real, but certain shades and tones in the data have been separated and filtered to make water features more visible.
Just Another Day on Aerosol Earth (2018)
During one day in August, tropical cyclones, dust storms, and fires spread tiny particles throughout the atmosphere.
The Electric Eye of Cyclone Bansi (2015)
Bansi formed in the southwestern Indian Ocean on January 11, 2015. By the time this photo was taken on the following day, Bansi had achieved tropical cyclone strength, with sustained maximum winds over 185 kilometers (115 miles) per hour. The cyclone would reach category 4 strength before becoming a weak extra-tropical system on January 19.
Awesome, Frightening Views of Hurricane Florence (2018)
Satellites and astronauts observed the potent storm as it headed for landfall in the southeastern United States.