Earth As Art: NASA Project Highlights The Stunning Images Taken By Earth-Observing Satellites

The earth's beauty is shown to its fullest in these stunning images of the planet, both abstract and surreal, taken by satellites orbiting in space.

The landscapes it captures are varied and vibrant, giving incredible aerial views of glaciers, clouds, deserts, mountains, sand dunes, lakes, volcanoes, and rainforests.

They form part of a series by NASA called Earth As Art which includes images taken by the Terra, Landsat 5, Landsat 7, Landsat 8, Earth Observing-1 (EO-1), and Aqua satellites. The satellites are managed by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey.

You can see the Earth as Art book online here. Below is some text taken from the foreword written by NASA earth scientist Lawrence Friedl

In 1960, the United States put its first Earth-observing environmental satellite into orbit around the planet. Over the decades, these satellites have provided invaluable information, and the vantage point of space has provided new perspectives on Earth. This book celebrates Earth's aesthetic beauty in the patterns, shapes, colors, and textures of the land, oceans, ice, and atmosphere. Earth-observing environmental satellites can measure outside the visible range of light, so these images show more than what is visible to the naked eye. The beauty of Earth is clear, and the artistry ranges from the surreal to the sublime. Truly, by escaping Earth’s gravity we discovered its attraction.

Below are some images from the collections.

Image taken 1/22/2001 Akpatok Island lies in Ungava Bay in northern Quebec, Canada. Accessible only by air, Akpatok Island rises out of the water as sheer cliffs that soar 500 to 800 feet (150 to 243 m) above the sea surface. The island is an important sanctuary for cliff-nesting seabirds. Numerous ice floes around the island attract walrus and whales, making Akpatok a traditional hunting ground for native Inuit people.

Alluvial Fan, China Image taken 5/2/2002 by ASTER A vast alluvial fan blossoms across the desolate landscape between the Kunlun and Altun mountain ranges that form the southern border of the Taklimakan Desert in China's XinJiang Province.

West Fjords Image taken 6/6/2000 The West Fjords are a series of peninsulas in northwestern Iceland. They represent less than one-eighth the country's land area, but their jagged perimeter accounts for more than half of Iceland's total coastline.

In the style of Van Gogh's painting "Starry Night," massive congregations of greenish phytoplankton swirl in the dark water around Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea. Phytoplankton are microscopic marine plants that form the first link in nearly all ocean food chains. Population explosions, or blooms, of phytoplankton, like the one shown here, occur when deep currents bring nutrients up to sunlit surface waters, fueling the growth and reproduction of these tiny plants.

The Yukon River Delta, one of the world's largest, looks like a sinewy organ in a 2002 picture. The river begins in the Canadian province of British Columbia and crosses through the Yukon Territory and Alaska before emptying into the Being Sea.

Where the Volga River flows into the Caspian Sea, it creates an extensive delta. The Volga Delta is comprised of more than 500 channels, and sustains the most productive fishing grounds in Eurasia.

Namib-Naukluft National Park is an ecological preserve in Namibia's vast Namib Desert. Coastal winds create the tallest sand dunes in the world here, with some dunes reaching 980 feet (300 meters) in height.

Named after the ancient Mayan Province of Kimpech, the state of Campeche comprises much of the western half of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Rivers in southern Campeche drain into the immense Terminos Lagoon, the entrance to which is protected by a long barrier island, Isla Del Carmen.

Lake Carnegie Image taken 5/19/1999 Ephemeral Lake Carnegie, in Western Australia, fills with water only during periods of significant rainfall. In dry years, it is reduced to a muddy marsh.

This image highlights features that look like pale yellow paint streaks. The streaks are actually ridges of windblown sand that make up Erg Iguidi, an area of ever-shifting sand dunes extending from Algeria into Mauritania in northwestern Africa.


Known as the Land of Terror, the Tanezrouft Basin in Algeria is one of the most desolate parts of the Sahara Desert. Sand dunes, which appear in yellow, streak down the left side of the image, and sandstone formations carved by relentless wind erosion make concentric loops, much like the grain seen in a piece of wood.


This enhanced image of Western Australia resembles a mixture of crayons that melted in the sun. The yellow sand dunes of the Great Sandy Desert cover the upper right portion of the image. Red splotches indicate burned areas from grass and forest fires, and the colors in the rest of the image depict different types of surface geology.


Mount Taranaki, a nearly perfect circle of forest delineates the boundary of Egmont National Park in New Zealand. Snow-capped Mount Taranaki marks the centre of the park, which is surrounded by green farmland.


Can you see the eye, nose, and mouth in this satellite image of Morocco? The face captured in this 'Earth selfie' appears to be quietly watching over the waters off its coast. The city of Agadir is underneath the chin, and the irrigated farms of the Souss Valley appear in red.


The biologically complex conditions of mangroves are shown in dark green along the fingers of the Ord River in Australia. Yellow, orange, and blue represent the flow patterns of sediment and nutrients in this estuary. The bright spot at the lower left is an area of mudflats, which is home to saltwater crocodiles.


The ice surrounding the northern Canadian Spicer Islands, shown in red, resembles a cell, complete with ribosomes, mitochondria, and a nucleus. Even though it was captured shortly after the first day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, the islands are locked in ice.


The Slessor Glacier in Antarctica flows between the Parry Point on the top left of the image and the Shackleton Range on the lower right. The purple highlights are exposed ice. Strong winds blow away the snow cover and expose lines that indicate the glacier flow direction. Rock outcrops next to the glacier also exhibit some of this bare ice.


Lake Manicouagan, Canada, is one of the Earth's largest and oldest known impact craters. The crater is 40 miles wide (65km) and is estimated to be around 214 million years old. The lake and island are clearly seen from space and are sometimes called the Eye of Quebec.

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