Earth Images - Surface Features

Steven Dutch, Professor Emeritus, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay

Literally millions of pictures of the earth have been taken from space. This page merely offers a sample of a few of the most interesting.

New York on 9/11 from space Satellite view of New York on 9-11
New York on 9/11 from space Satellite view of New York on 9-11. A later image showing a more diffuse smoke plume.
Aurora from Space Aurora as seen from space
ultraviolet viewof earth Ultraviolet view of earth. Auroras emit ultraviolet as well as visible light. Under normal conditions, charged particles are funneled to the polar regions by earth's magnetic field, creating a more or less permanent auroral oval.
The Space Shuttle has returned spectacular views of volcanic eruptions. This eruption is Kliuchevskaya, on Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula.
This is a Space Shuttle view of Mount Etna, in Sicily.
No city on earth is in such imminent danger from volcanoes as Naples. Vesuvius is the large cone at right center with Naples to its left. Pompeii is just below and right of Vesuvius. The upper (north) shore of the bay is pocked by craters of the Campi Flegrei volcanic area. The long peninsula at bottom is the scenic Sorrento Peninsula. Note that Vesuvius is enclosed by a ring, called Monte Somma. Most geologists now believe that Monte Somma is the stump of the former Vesuvius that collapsed in 79 A.D.
After Mount Saint Helens collapsed in 1980, geologists became newly aware of how widespread volcanic collapses are. This view shows huge blocks in a gigantic landslide that resulted from the collapse of a volcano in southern Bolivia. The volcano is Tata Sabaya

This is the collapsed caldera of Santorini (Thera) in the Aegean Sea off Greece. The volcano collapsed in a great eruption in 1650 B.C. that helped cause the collapse of the Minoan civilization. Distant effects of the eruption may have been observed as some of the Plagues of Egypt in the Biblical book of Exodus.

Later activity has built some small volcanic islands in the center of the volcano. A cruise ship sank in the caldera after hitting a submerged rock in May, 2007.

This is a composite view of Greece. Santorini is the ring-shaped island due north of the center of Crete and right (due east) of the southern tip of Greece.

This is a huge caldera in northern New Mexico called the Jemez or Valles Caldera. It resulted from the collapse of a magma chamber about 1.1 million years ago. The city of Los Alamos is just east of the caldera.

Remote sensing uses a blend of visible light and infrared. Since it uses wavelengths invisible to the eye, the images are false color. Each wavelength is coded by an arbitrary color. False color images usually make vegetation red for better visual detection of faint features.

Spy satellite picture Ever wonder what spy satellites can see? For a long time this was one of the only published images from a spy satellite. It shows a Russian (then Soviet) aircraft carrier under construction. Although everyone agrees the leak did no harm to national security, the person who leaked the photos went to jail. Because there's a reason things are stamped "Classified," meaning you don't decide on your own to publish them.
Spy satellite picture President Clinton declassified millions of obsolete spy satellite photos. This is a 1967 view of the Pentagon. The photos were taken on film, the canisters dropped over the Pacific and snagged in flight by the Air Force. Historians are widely agreed that spy satellites helped keep the Cold War contained. It took thirteen attempts before the system first worked. This is rocket science.
Spy satellite picture When the U.S. attacked alleged terrorist facilities in retaliation for the bombings of embassies in Africa in 1998, this was one of the satellite photos displayed in the briefing. A high tension tower is visible at lower left; on larger images the wires are visible. Nowadays spy satellites return digital images. A spy satellite in low earth orbit can see details about the size of your hand. They can't read license plates or fingerprints.
The Finger Lakes of central New York are former river valleys deepened and dammed by glaciers. A dusting of mountain snow accents them. Rochester is on the bay at far left, Syracuse in the upper right near the small stubby lake. Ithaca and Cornell University are at the bottom of the second longest lake at bottom center.
A volcanic island and fringing reef in the South Pacific.
The Grand Canyon. Snow covers the Kaibab Plateau north of (above) the canyon and the Coconino Plateau to the south. In this view it is obvious the river was there first and the canyon was cut as the crust rose beneath it.
Image mosaic showing the Greenland ice cap, low clouds, and sea ice.
At the opposite climatic extreme, the Hawaiian Islands.
Looking northwest over the Himalayas from India toward Tibet. Mount Everest is about a quarter of the way up from the bottom, in the center.
A closer view of the same region. Everest is just a bit left of center, below and to the right is Makalu. The two valleys leading to Everest are the principal access for climbers and tourists. The valley on the right cutting through the mountains is the Arun River, more than 20,000 feet below the summits and arguably the deepest valley on Earth.
Mount Everest A Space Shuttle view looking straight down on Mount Everest at dead center.
Looking down on an ice cap and glaciers, Iceland.
Probably no waterway in the world has been as contentious as this one, separating Europe (left) from Asia (right). This is the Bosporus, now spanned by two bridges. The Black Sea is to the north and a small inland sea, the Sea of  Maramara, is on the south. Istanbul occupies the wedge shaped peninsula on the lower left (southwest) end of the strait. Across the narrow estuary, the Golden Horn, was the commercial district of Galata, with Uskudar on the Asian shore. Now Istanbul has expanded into a vast megalopolis, the pinkish area either side of the southern half of the strait.
Kuwait just after the end of the 1991 Gulf War. Each dark streak is a smoke plume from a burning oil well. Kuwait city is at the top. The upper cluster of wells is called Maqwa, the lower is Burgan. Both are tapping the same geological structure, a gentle upwarp in the rocks.
A winter view of the Great Lakes, showing lake effect snow forming over open water and falling on the land downwind.
Night view of Los Angeles.
Space Shuttle view of New York and Long Island.

Most people guess this is a picture of stars. Actually it's a night view of North America. The Gulf of Mexico is at lower right and the Pacific Ocean is on the left. San Francisco is in the far upper left corner and Lake Michigan is visible at upper right.

Funny thing about weather - it goes on at night, too, so weather satellites need night imaging capability as well.

Above are two views of Mono Lake, California and the eastern front of the Sierra Nevada. At left is Owens Valley, with Owens lake, now almost perpetually dry as a result of water diversion to Los Angeles, just below center at right. The Owens Valley is a gigantic graben over 3 km (10,000 feet) deep.
Sea floor from space If I hadn't seen this, I wouldn't have believed it. A map of the sea floor from space. Masses on the sea floor deform the sea surface by their gravitational effects, and radar can detect the small variations in elevation.
Impact craters are rare on Earth because they are destroyed by erosion or buried. The Manicouagan Crater in Quebec is 72 km (45 miles) in diameter and 214 million years old. The original topographic crater is long gone and all that is left is a circular fracture below the crater floor and a vast sheet of melt rock in the interior of the crater.
Los Angeles is at lower right, and the white wedge of the Mojave Desert is bounded below by the San Andreas Fault and above and left by the Garlock Fault.
There's a wonderful, benign, and completely wrong idea that you can't see borders from space. Borders are easily visible from space precisely because of their artificiality. This view shows San Diego, with the border as a prominent diagonal straight line in the lower right.
The San Francisco Bay Area is a great place despite its faults. The San Andreas slices diagonally out to sea just below San Francisco. The Golden Gate is at left center with San Francisco just below it. The urbanized strip of the East Bay meets the less developed hills along the Hayward Fault, and the Calaveras Fault extends from top center to the lower right corner.

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Created 6 April 1999, Last Update 6 April 1999