As John Glenn prepared to become the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962, he stopped at a drugstore to pick up a few last-minute things, including a 35mm camera — because he might want to take a few photos while in space. Since then, of course, astronauts, satellites and unmanned spacecraft have taken millions of images of the Earth from space. Many of these images can be found on NASA’s fascinating Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth site. Here are a few interesting images we’ve discovered recently that show the Earth or its features in a unique light. Most are from the past couple of years, but there’s one relatively unknown classic from the Apollo era.
Timing is everything in photos. Here, the International Space Station was passing over the Aleutian Islands when a plume of ash erupted from Cleveland Island. An astronaut aboard the ISS even contacted a ground observatory to report the plume.
9. City of Canals
Venice is known as the “Floating City” and the “City of Canals,” and this image shows why. European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet shared this photo on Twitter on Feb. 14, 2017, with the message, “Venice, city of gondoliers and the lovers they carry along the canals. Happy Valentine’s Day!”
8. Martian’s View
NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter provided the images for this view of the Earth and Moon from Mars orbit. Two different images from November 2016 were taken and optimized to enhance details of the two bodies. They appear closer together than you would expect because the images were taken when the Moon was almost directly behind the Earth as seen from Mars.
7. Moment in the Sun
It might seem that getting a good image of mountains from space would be easy, given their size. But as the NASA site points out, when the sun is high overhead, even the highest mountains can look like flat spots. Here, the afternoon sun provides a 3D shadowing for Japan’s famous Mount Fuji.
6. Crescent Earth
Apollo 17 astronauts photographed this crescent Earth rising above the lunar surface. The photo has been overshadowed, pardon the pun, by another great image from Apollo 17, the iconic “Blue Marble” photo seen in countless textbooks.
5. Lakefront Property
Lake Powell, on the border between Arizona and Utah, is one of the largest manmade lakes in the U.S. Most of its 2,000 miles of shoreline are visible in this photo. South is at the top left of the image.
4. Northern Exposure
Astronauts regularly enjoy a great view of the Northern and Southern lights (aurora borealis and aurora australis) as they orbit the planet. NASA’s Terry Virts caught this great photo of the Northern Lights and the nighttime lights of Ireland, the UK and Scandinavia.
3. Desert Oasis
The city of Dubai shimmers at night. According to the aforementioned NASA Gateway site, Dubai “is a favorite subject of astronaut photography largely due to the unique island developments situated directly offshore in the Persian Gulf.” As best we can determine from looking at a map of the city, that brilliant white spot at center-right in the image is the 160-story Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.
2. Golden Shadows
The Golden Gate Bridge casts a surreal shadow that’s clearly visible even from around 240 miles in altitude. Thanks to Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi for taking this fine photo and tweeting it out a few years ago.
1. Earthrise Redux
This spectacular photo is reminiscent of the famous Earthrise photo taken by Apollo 8 astronauts. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) captured the above image in 2015 during an orbit of the Moon. In the foreground is the Compton crater on the Moon’s far side.