NASA Earth Observatory has been cataloging images of our planet since 1999, bringing us coverage of all the cool and weird geology Earth has to offer. The Observatory publishes images taken by different satellites or by astronauts aboard the International Space Station depicting Earth’s geography, environment, and geology. You can see ice sheets melting, wildfires burning, clouds floating, waves churning, as well as humans impacting the planet. While NASA’s Earth Observatory has a ton of photos, it features one special image every day from its archives, and here’s our roundup of some of the coolest photos they featured in May.
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An International Space Station astronaut took this photo of Chachani Volcano in August 2021 using the onboard digital camera as the station offered an aerial view of Peru’s Andes Mountains. The photo was shared as Image of the Day on May 1, and is incredibly high-quality shot of the shadows draped between the mountain crevices and snowcaps, which makes for a dramatic depiction of this volcano. The volcano was formed when the Nazca Plate subducted underneath the South American Plate, and released hot fluids that melted the rock above it. This melted rock migrated towards the surface where it formed magma chambers and, eventually, resulted in a volcanic eruption.
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A massive dust storm blew across the Middle East and Mediterranean Sea in April, and this image of it was taken with the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer on NASA’s Aqua satellite on April 24, and shared as Image of the Day on May 2. For reference, Cyprus is located at the top of the photograph, while the Nile River delta in Egypt can be seen in the bottom left. CNN reported that another dust storm last week saw hospitals in the Middle East overrun with people suffering from breathing complications, and that these storms may get more common as droughts intensify under climate change.
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The town of Celestún in Yucatán, Mexico appears here in a photo taken using the International Space Station’s digital camera on October 30, 2021 and shared as Earth Observatory Image of the Day on May 8. Ría Celestún appears here in dark blue, and this landscape is a karst landscape, where the bedrock is made up of rock types that are easily dissolvable by water, such as limestone. Located at the bottom of this photo are circular features called “cenotes,” which are sinkholes created by the dissolving of limestone bedrock.
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Tropical Cyclone Asani (top) and Tropical Cyclone Karim (bottom) were traveling together through the Indian Ocean on May 8 when the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite on the NOAA-20 satellite took this photo. This was Image of the Day on May 10, and India can be seen through the cloud cover in the top left. The cyclones are spinning in opposite direction because of the Coriolis Effect: Asani is located north of the equator, where storms rotate counterclockwise while Karim is located south of the equator, where storms rotate clockwise.
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Wildfires are currently burning in New Mexico, and these smoke plumes from the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire were captured on May 10 (and shared on May 14 as Image of the Day) by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer on the NASA Aqua satellite. The Hermits Peak Fire began on April 6 and the Calf Canyon Fire began on April 19. The two fires merged together on April 24, and the subsequent Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire is the largest fire in the state’s history. An update from New Mexico Fire Information revealed that the fire is 50% contained as of May 31.
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That streak of green at the bottom of this image is not a sea monster, but a plume of superheated water from an undersea eruption. This plume is located south of Vangunu Island (seen at the top of the picture), in the Solomon Islands. The Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program says that the volcano, named “Kavachi,” is 66 feet (20 meters) below the surface of the ocean, and first started releasing plumes as far back as October 2020. This photo was taken by the Operational Land Imager-2 on Landsat 9 on May 14, and was Image of the Day for May 17.
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These swirling patterns of green off the coast of North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland are actually made up of phytoplankton. This photo was taken using the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite aboard the NOAA-20 satellite on May 17, 2022 and shared as image of the day on May 22, right in the middle of phytoplankton blooming season. This “spring bloom” typically occurs in the late spring and early summer as more become available for the phytoplankton. According to NASA a similar bloom occurred in this area this time last year.
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An ISS astronaut took this photo of Texas’ intricate landscape on February 7, 2022 with a digital camera, and it was shared as Earth Observatory Image of the Day on May 23. The ISS was above the Caprock Canyons State Park and the Palo Duro Canyon State Park, southeast of Amarillo. According to a brochure from Palo Duro Canyon State Park, the canyon began forming almost 1 million years ago when the Red River began to erode the Southern High Plains.
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This water is baby blue thanks to the shallow reefs in the southern coast of New Caledonia, a French territory located 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) to Australia’s east. This image of the reefs was taken by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station on September 9, 2020, and it was shared as Image of the Day nearly two years later on May 29, 2022. 9,300 marine species call the reefs of New Caledonia home according to Pew Charitable Trusts, and in April 2014, the Natural Park of the Coral Sea was established covering 1.3 million square kilometers (501, 930 square miles).
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Manam Island is located right off the coast of Papua New Guinea, and is home to a highly active volcano. The Operational Land Manager on Landsat 8 caught this picture of the island on May 22, with an infrared signature in the volcano’s summit crater, indicating high levels of heat coming from the volcano. This photo was shared as Earth Observatory Image of the Day on May 30. A previous explosive eruption from Manam occurred in March 2022, which sent a plume of ash 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) into the atmosphere.
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