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Spring On Earth: Our Favourite Photos From Space

From the moment a child first recognizes his or her reflection, their sense of self awareness is forever changed. So too was humanity’s when we got our first look at the planet from space. It was a life-changing event on a species-wide scale — our microcosm suddenly became extremely macro and we were able to finally see ourselves against the grander backdrop of the universe.

[READ: The Overview Effect: The Staggering Awe Of Seeing Earth From Space.]

Last Friday May 10th marked the anniversary of the first colour pictures taken of Earth from space. Captured by the Apollo 10 crew, it marked the first time we were able to bring back images of our blue marble, in full colour.

Apollo 10 was a lunar mission, but wound up being a trip to that changed our perspective on ourselves and our world. What these images brought home was the idea that humanity (and all other Earthlings) were part of something infinitely larger than just our planet. Since then, the Earth images haven’t ceased coming, and the iconic Blue Marble image later captured by Apollo 11 still gets an update from NASA every now and then.

But there’s far more than just the Blue Marble at hand, with the most recent case-in-point being the efforts of Canadian commander, Chris Hadfield. Hadfield has left a bit of a legacy in terms of his public showcasing of Earth imagery from space, in addition to his general space ambassadorship (with his last Space Station message being a cover of David Bowie’s famed Space Oddity).

But back to the Earth pics. Here are some of our favourites from the past couple months:

Earth’s Vital Signs

OK, so this massive image wasn’t entirely captured in spring of 2013, but it was released within the past couple of months, and it sure does look like spring down there!

This ‘Earth’s Vital Signs’ image is based on observations from NASA’s Terra satellite, with gaps filled in with data from weather satellites and NASA’s latest Blue Marble image. Since Feb. 24, 2000, Terra has been capturing data for use in climate change science.

Great Sandy Desert, Australia

The linear sand dunes of the Great Sandy Desert are about 25 meters high, pretty regularly spaced, and are aligned to the prevailing winds. According to the NASA site, the dune striations are located about 0.5-1km apart from each other, and those dark spots are where vegetation still remains.

The rather painterly image was snapped by a Space Station astronaut on March 25, 2013, with a Nikon D3S digital camera.

Dust Plumes From Libya Credit: NASA / Jeff Schmaltz

This giant dust plume began hundreds of kilometres inland, and in late March 2013, the resulting dust storm blew across Libya and into the Mediterranean Sea. The thick, 100-km plume spans out into the sea just southwest of Benghazi. The image itself retains its original colour and was captured March 30th from NASA’s Terra satellite.

From NASA:
Dust storms count among the most frequent natural hazards in Libya. A relatively mild Mediterranean climate predominates along the coast, but vast sand seas sprawl over the interior landscape. Those sand seas provide plentiful material for dust storms, and hot, dry, dusty winds can last up to four days in the spring and fall. In this country where water is so scarce, development projects pull water from aquifers to be used for irrigation.

New York City at Night

New York at night is a beautiful sight to behold — both from the streets and from the skies. But night scenes from space are always particularly striking, and this one gives us a great sense of how densely packed NYC is.

A Space Station astronaut from the Expedition 35 crew captured this gem on March 23, 2013. A little orientation from NASA: “Manhattan runs horizontally through the frame from left to the midpoint. Central Park is just a little to the left of frame centre.”

Phoenix, Arizona at Night

Here’s another great night scene, taken March 16th. This image of Phoenix AZ’s metropolitan area follows a regular grid of streets and blocks, which is a bit more pronounced than in the photo of NYC above. Both images show a defined grid system of streets, but the New York area clearly has more natural features (an ocean and a river to name a couple) that force the streets to divert from a forced grid pattern.

From NASA:
Fuelled by the adoption of widespread personal automobile use during the 20th century, the Phoenix metro area today includes 25 other municipalities (many of them largely suburban and residential) linked by a network of surface streets and freeways. While much of the land area highlighted in this image is urbanized, there are several noticeably dark areas. The Phoenix Mountains are largely public parks and recreational land. To the west, agricultural fields provide a sharp contrast to the lit streets of residential developments. The Salt River channel appears as a dark ribbon within the urban grid.< The Colorado Plateau[/caption]

What we see here is the Colorado Plateau, the meandering Colorado River, and the San Juan River — note its confluence with the Colorado River to the left of the photo. The image was captured by an ISS astronaut  facing south (so north is at the bottom of this image).

From NASA:
Sunglint—sunlight reflected off a water surface back towards the observer—provides a silvery, mirror-like sheen to some areas of the water surfaces. The geologic uplift of the Colorado Plateau led to rapid downcutting of rivers into the flat sedimentary bedrock, leaving spectacular erosional landforms. One such feature, The Rincon, preserves evidence of a former meander bend of the Colorado River.

It doesn’t end here, as we’ll be starting a monthly blog/review of some of our favourite images from space. If you have any favourites (preferably recent ones) always feel free to send them our way!

[All images credited to NASA.]

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