This image, captured by the crew of ISS Expedition 39 in the spring of 2014, shows a section of the Grand Canyon north of the main tourist center (north and south are inverted here). The Space Station’s 250-mile-high vantage point makes it easy to see the canyon’s intricate system of drainage channels, which kind of resemble twigs and branches radiating from a tree.
The waters of Lake Erie drain into Lake Ontario via the Niagara River, which cuts across a 25-mile-wide stretch of land along the US/Canada border separating the two Great Lakes. The peaceful serenity of the river is interrupted, to say the least, about halfway toward its destination. I’m guessing the first word spoken after its discovery was either “wow”, or “oops”.
Doha, the capital city of Qatar, was little more than a backwater pearl diving village on the shores of the Persian Gulf until its British Protectorate status ended in 1971. Thanks to tremendous wealth generated by vast natural gas and oil reserves Qatar now has the highest per capita income in the world.
The International Space Station was passing over Turkmenistan on July 26, 2015 when a crewmember shot this image of the southern extent of the Caspian Sea. The brilliant concentration of light at dead center, set somewhat inland from the coast, is the capital city of Iran - Tehran. Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, is the bright area protruding into the Caspian in the lower right third of the image.
Lighting up the western coast of the Iberian Peninsula in the lower center of this image from November of 2017 is the only European capital city to lie on the Atlantic coast - Lisbon, Portugal. The intensity of its electric light output contrasts its legacy as one of the oldest cities in the world - older by centuries than either Paris or London, and even older than Rome.
There is much concern among those living downstream from a dam currently under construction along Lake Turkana’s primary fresh water supply, the Omo River. At stake is nothing less than the survival of a half-million African farmers, fisherman, and herders living along the lower river and lake shores.
The late nineteenth century was all about canal building. The Suez Canal (pictured here) was completed in 1869, and reduced the travel distance between the North Atlantic and northern Indian Oceans by 4,300 miles by creating a shortcut from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, through Egypt. The Panama Canal went online a mere eleven years later.
Telescopes were getting bigger and better at this time as well, and astronomers were spending long hours staring at neighboring planets (astrophotography wasn’t a thing yet) and mapping any discernible surface features their optics would resolve. In 1877 Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli observed a number of what he believed to be naturally occuring “canali”, an Italian word meaning “channels”, on the Martian surface. The word’s similarity to the English word “canal”, which refers specifically to an artificial waterway, led to years of bad astronomy in the person of well-to-do American astronomer Percival Lowell. Lowell devoted much of his later career to advancing his theory that the canals had been constructed by intelligent beings in order to redirect badly-needed water from the Martian poles to population centers nearer the planet’s equator.
Although most of Lowell’s contemporaries dismissed his ideas, it wasn’t until the Mars Mariner missions in the 1960s that remote sensing data could definitively prove him wrong.
Just a few miles from Bora Bora among the Leeward Islands of French Polynesia lie Taha’a and Ra'iātea. The lush, inhabited tropical islands in the middle are remnants of eroded volcanos, while the keyhole-shaped network of turquois fringe encircling them are separate kingdoms altogether –living, evolving coral reef.
Citrus groves along the sandy shores of Florida’s ‘Space Coast’ share the land with groves of launch complexes - towering structures whose fruit is the knowledge gained through the exploration of space. The Banana River, which separates Cape Canaveral from Merritt Island, appears in the lower right. In the upper right an enormous cruise ship can be seen exiting Port Canaveral, America’s busiest cruise port, probably on its way to an adventure somewhere in the Caribbean. A runway, oriented to take advantage of the prevailing offshore winds, sits directly center.