Breathtaking View of the Bahamas From Space

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
July 19 2014 7:30 AM

Cruisin’ Over the Bahamas

I just got back from travel, and now I'm deep into planning my panels for San Diego Comic-Con next week, so at the moment I'm enjoying a slow, broiling panic.

But I couldn't pass up the chance to post this breathtaking picture of the ocean around the Bahamas taken by an astronaut on the International Space Station as it sailed over on July 15, 2014:*

Bahamas
The Bahamas and environs, froooooom spaaaaaaace. Click to archipelagenate.

Photo by NASA

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Yegads. You very much want to embiggen that.

The bright lights to the upper left outline Florida (the long glow is from Miami), and you can trace cities up the East Coast of the U.S. Cuba dominates the lower left (cut off a bit by an ISS solar panel), but the teal and turquoise waters are what draw the eye. The islands right in the middle are the Bahamas, and the bright glow smack dab in the middle of the picture, is (I believe) Nassau—remind me not to go stargazing there! The lights must wash out the sky. But that's probably not why people go to Nassau in the first place.

Speaking of the sky, note the green arc of light over the Earth's limb. This is called airglow, and it due to the slow release of energy from sunlight the upper atmosphere stores during the day. It's actually a fascinating physical process that I've described before. In that link I also talk about the brownish-yellow glow beneath it: That's from glowing sodium in the air, and the source of that sodium may be meteors that have previously burned up in our atmosphere!

Amazing. There's no such thing as just a pretty picture taken from space—there is always a lot more going on than you might think. And just like any artwork, knowing the story behind the beauty makes it that much more wonderful.

*Correction, July 19, 2014: I had originally identified the area photographed as the Caribbean Sea (taking my cue from the original NASA page about the photo), but the Caribbean is actually south of Cuba; what's pictured is the Atlantic Ocean.

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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