19 Jun 2012

Our planet from space

Having written about heavy rain, flooding and gales for what seems an eternity, a brief respite from the unsettled weather has finally given me the chance to put together a blog that doesn’t bring news of doom and gloom.

A few months ago I wrote a blog that showcased the stunning images that are captured by the satellites orbiting our planet. It proved to be popular, so I thought I would take another look at some more recent images that are equally stunning.

The first picture was taken on the 18 June and shows plumes of smoke from 198 wildfires burning across central Russia. The fires have charred an area that covers 8330 hectares (32 square miles).

Russian authorities say that many of the fires started when people lost control of agricultural fires and campfires, but some are thought to have been caused by lightning strikes.

The second picture also comes from Russia, but this time from further eastwards where the Kuril island chain extends from the Kamchatka peninsula to Japan.

Taken by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station, it shows the Alaid volcano, which is the highest volcano in the island chain at a height of 2339 metres above sea level.

Notice that the sea to the left of the volcano has a silver-grey appearance. This is not because the water contains sediment, but because the water is flat calm.

As a result sunlight reflects off the sea’s surface and is scattered back into space and known as sunglint. The sea to the right of the volcano has a more typical appearance as the water here isn’t so calm.

The third picture shows a dust storm that struck south eastern Iraq on 4 June. As the wind picked up, dust was lifted into the sky and carried with the wind across the Gulf.

Kuwait was hit particularly badly by the dust storm with reports of visibility less than 500 metres for a time.

This fourth picture is probably my favourite of this selection. It was taken on 5 June off the coast of Tasmania. It shows a huge doughnut-like hole in an area of stratocumulus clouds over the sea.

The hole in the cloud sheet was caused by an area of high pressure which causes air to sink and as a result tends to stop clouds forming which requires rising air.

Towards the edge of the hole in the cloud, there is a gradual increase in cloud cover as the amount of sinking air decreases around the periphery of the high pressure.

Finally, a picture not of our planet but of something that has a huge impact upon it – the sun.

On the 5-6 June the transit of Venus occurred whereby the planet passed in front of the sun, resulting in a dark spot appearing.

This once in a lifetime event was captured by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station.

There are more stunning images on the NASA Earth Observatory website and if you have any questions about them, feel free to get in touch on Twitter – @liamdutton

All images courtesy of the NASA Earth Observatory

Tweets by @liamdutton