Satellite images from the U.S. Geological Survey combine science and art to showcase the splendor and wonder of our planet. Scroll through the images to see more from the "Earth as Art" collection.
In shallow waters surrounding the Tyuleniy Archipelago in the Caspian Sea, chunks of ice were the artists. The 3-meter-deep water makes the dark green vegetation on the sea bottom visible. The lines scratched in that vegetation were caused by ice chunks, pushed upward and downward by wind and currents, scouring the sea floor.
Image acquired April 6, 2016, by the Landsat 8 satellite.
A volcanic landscape in the Tibesti Mountains of Chad shows some mysterious shapes. However, science can explain mysteries in satellite images. The octopus-shaped feature consists of ancient volcanic flows. In the crater below it, what looks like a face is bright salt deposits.
Image acquired Jan. 4, 2018, by the Landsat 8 satellite.
Green shades seem to be bubbling up like a lava lamp on the left side of this image from northeastern Kenya. The right side is like rusted metal. The dark green is the result of geologically recent lava flows, and the other colors are different types of soils. Even with few defined shapes, the piece has a strange beauty.
Image acquired Dec. 21, 2017, by the Landsat 8 satellite.
Middle Eastern terrain
Soft colors contrast with harsh terrain in southwestern Saudi Arabia, near the border with Yemen. Calming blues and purples seem to collide with an angry orange in this rich tapestry of colors, which are the result of the region's complex geology. The wild shapes in this busy landscape lie in a region known as the Asharah fault zone.
Image acquired Dec. 14, 2017, by the Landsat 8 satellite.
Fluorescent colors dominate this dreamlike scene. The orange shapes look like glowfish in a fanciful underwater world. Those glowfish are actually clouds, and the neon green represents mountains, including Mount Rainier, near Seattle, Washington.
Image acquired Dec. 5, 2017, by the Landsat 8 satellite.
In a remote part of the Western Desert in central Egypt, highly eroded plateaus rise from the desert floor. The bright speckles are ancient dry lakes, the salt deposits reflecting brightly. Long ago, water flowed off the plateau, forming the breaches seen on the plateaus' edges. This desolate land between oases is surrounded by extensive sand dunes.
Image acquired Dec. 2, 2017, by the Landsat 8 satellite.
These orange shades and ragged shapes give an impression of moodiness. The jagged scars are extensive valleys carved by water flowing from the Andes Mountains in northern Chile. The crater in the lower right is the volcano Cerro Guachiscota.
Image acquired Dec. 1, 2017, by the Landsat 8 satellite.
Galapagos' Isla Isabela
The northern end of Isla Isabela in the Galapagos looks like a seahorse with warts-with an eye painted in the ancient Egyptian style. The island was formed by the merger of six volcanoes. Wolf Volcano is the prominent one in the center; Ecuador Volcano is the one that forms the seahorse's mouth. Past volcanic flows radiate from the large craters.
Image acquired Nov. 23, 2017, via ASTER.
Egypt's Qattara Depression
This Landsat image looks like a bold watercolor. Yellow dances across the darkness with muted violet underneath. With a kind of science-fiction flair, this scene shows a portion of the Qattara Depression in Egypt.
Image acquired Oct. 6, 2017, by the Landsat 8 satellite.
Farmland in China
Extensive farmland in northeastern China shows a predictable pattern of vertical shapes. But on closer inspection, the shapes begin to look more random, with variances everywhere. Look closely to be surprised by patterns and broken patterns.
Image acquired Sept. 23, 2017, by the Sentinel-2A satellite.
Vegetation appears red in this piece, which moves from dark to light in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. The vegetation grows along streams, which seem to follow a tortured course through the ridges and valleys before wandering through the desert.
Image acquired Aug. 22, 2017, by the Landsat 8 satellite.
Mackenzie meets Beaufort
In far northern Canada, pulses of freshwater flow down rivers after inland ice and snow melts. These pulses, known as a freshet, carry huge amounts of sediment. The sediment seen in this image flowed into the Beaufort Sea from the Mackenzie River, the longest northward-flowing river in North America.
Image acquired July 19, 2017, by the Landsat 8 satellite.
Meteorite impact crater
Even with the calming blue tones, there is an unsettling feeling in the jagged marks that lead to a circular feature. This feature is Gweni-Fada Crater, a meteorite impact crater in the Ennedi Plateau of northern Chad. In addition to the tension between calm and storm, there is a sense that this scene could pass as a view on another planet.
Image acquired Jan. 5, 2017, by the Landsat 8 satellite.
Jordan's Valley of the Moon
In this region, called the Valley of the Moon in Jordan, steep-sided granite mountains alternate with sandy valleys. It may be an unfriendly landscape, but it makes nice textures for an art print. An intriguing interruption of those textures is provided by a few center pivot irrigation fields.
Image acquired June 30, 2017, by the Landsat 8 satellite.
Clouds over Kazakhstan
A feathery, blood red streak cuts across the heart of this image. The translucent red paint stroke is not actually a feature of the land. It is a cirrus cloud detected by Landsat 8's cirrus band. This cirrus cloud, which hovers over the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan, is invisible in natural color imagery.
Image acquired March 14, 2017, by the Landsat 8 satellite.
Snow covers the landscape in southwestern Minnesota just a day before the winter solstice. It may look like a stark black and white image, but it is really a natural color image. The Minnesota River flows from the upper left to the lower right.
Image acquired Dec. 20, 2016, by the Landsat 8 satellite.
Tranquil colors and patterns intermingle near Argentina's Colorado River, which runs across the upper one-third of the image. The calming textures are interrupted by a violent splash in the center, the result of volcanic action from the Auca Mahuida Volcanic Field from long ago.
Image acquired Dec. 2, 2016, by the Landsat 8 satellite.
Cracking ice on the Arctic Ocean fractures like broken glass in far northern Canada. Uninhabited Eglinton Island is the land on the right. Fingers of land from Prince Patrick Island stretch downward in the upper left of the image.
Image acquired June 25, 2016, by the Landsat 8 satellite.
The main feature here, near Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas, is the Schooner Cays shoal complex. The tidal sand ridges, parabolic bars, and intervening channels explode in a blue rhythm. The Bahamas have the third most extensive coral reef in the world.
Image acquired April 24, 2016, by the Landsat 8 satellite.
A serene gradient from red to smoky blue-gray seems to mask a chaotic scene underneath, expressing a wide range of emotion. Looking like a NASA closeup of Jupiter, this image reveals sediment in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast.
Image acquired March 13, 2016, by the Landsat 8 satellite.
Most of this image is in the Simpson Desert Regional Reserve of South Australia. The shallow lakes, appearing in colors ranging from nearly black to aqua blue, are dry most of the time. Here, they seem to stretch with the sand dunes, which extend for hundreds of kilometers.
Image acquired Jan. 5, 2016, by the Landsat 8 satellite.
Appearing as if an artist imitating Jackson Pollock had randomly spurted ink onto the canvas, this image shows swirling ice in the Foxe Basin of northern Canada. Even though the image is from late July, there was still ice floating in the water this far north.
Image acquired July 24, 2015, by the Landsat 8 satellite.
Abstract figures seem to appear on these South American plateaus. It is reminiscent of Southwestern artistic style with a modernist abstract twist. These farm fields are on the tops of plateaus in northeastern Brazil. Where the edges of the fields are ragged lines, the fields have been planted right up to the edge of cliffs.
Image acquired Aug. 1, 2014, by the Landsat 8 satellite.
Rockies from space
Tantibus is Latin for nightmare. This image does appear to be a creepy, foggy, haunted scene. But there is nothing to worry about – it is just science data. The elevation data shown here, recorded by space shuttle Endeavour in 2000, are from the Rocky Mountains of Utah and Colorado. Dark areas are low elevation, and the brightest spots are the highest elevations, here representing mountaintops.
Image acquired in February 2000 from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission.