Earth Matters

Help Find an Alphabet in the Sky

July 13th, 2012 by Adam Voiland

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response. This image was acquired on July 11, 2012, by the Aqua satellite.

One of the first things that caught my eye when I started checking for interesting satellite imagery yesterday was this: an enormous “V” of smoke draped over northern Canada, as seen by the MODIS instrument on the Aqua satellite. The plume was caused by numerous wildfires burning in the Caribou Mountains of northern Alberta.

At first glance, what looks like a decorative swash on the upper left of the V even reminded me of the look of the N we use on the Earth Observatory to indicate the orientation of an image. It made me think the two might in essence share the same typeface. In fact, the bottom point of the capital V of Adobe Jensen Pro (the typeface of our N) is much wider and curvier than the point in the smoke above. (Wired points out it also looks like the letter Z, which is true if you rotate the image clockwise a bit.)

Still, it’s a memorable image. And it made me wonder: how many other letters have satellites captured momentarily gracing Earth’s atmosphere and oceans? This is the first that I’ve noticed, but I have no doubt there are many more to find given the ceaseless mixing and swirling of clouds, smoke, dust, ice, and even phytoplankton that constantly occurs across our planet.

I think it would be fun to compile a gallery of them, so if you’ve seen a letter (or other typographical mark) in a satellite image, please let me know. Just leave a comment on the thread below. Send a link to what you’ve found, and explain what letter or other typographical mark you think you see.

If you’re feeling especially ambitious, mention what typeface it reminds you of as well. I’ll update this post as new letters come in, and perhaps we’ll eventually have the whole alphabet (plus a good collection of numbers and symbols).  Sending non-English characters is ok: just note what the character is and what it’s called.

Wondering where you can look for imagery besides the EO archives?  Here are a few places to try:

1) NASA Visible Earth
2) The Gateway to Astronaut Photography
3) Jet Propulsion Laboratory Photojournal
4) Scientific Visualization Studio Archives
5) MODIS Image Gallery
6) Landsat Imagery Gallery

Please note: Our gallery won’t likely include many of the high-resolution commercial satellite images that you may have seen on Google Earth because we cannot reproduce those images on our website without buying them. Besides, medium-resolution and low-resolution satellite instruments are actually better for observing large features such as clouds and smoke plumes. Here’s a list of some of the high-resolution instruments that we’ll only be using sparingly, if at all.

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39 Responses to “Help Find an Alphabet in the Sky”

  1. David says:

    Come on guys, this is a “2” !!

  2. Craig says:

    And just where do I get photos?

    • Adam Voiland says:

      Craig, just out the links at the end of our blog post. There are other sources out there, but those are good places to get started.

  3. Ricardo Ferro says:

    I found lower case “e”

  4. Ricardo Ferro says:

    I found lowercase “c”

  5. Bluebear2 says:

    There is an “O” at 51degrees, 22 minutes, 30 seconds North, 68 degrees, 40 minutes 22 seconds West. This was formed by a meteorite impact.

  6. Megan Harris says:

    The letter “S” (though the image needs to be flipped to be oriented properly) ;

  7. Peter Lazenby says:

    Letter ‘O’ – Crater Lake. Oregon

  8. Andy says:

    I see tar sands 🙁

  9. Rossa says:

    I Think letter ” V ” is good… 🙂

  10. Ron says:

    Question mark made by clouds at NOAA site 3-12-12 around 8:30am

  11. Anna says:

    I found a Y formed by two rivers joining, it the top middle of this picture:

  12. Anna says:

    Disregard previous comment, overlooked the “in the sky” bit. *facepalm*

    • Adam Voiland says:

      Anna, the letters don’t have to literally be in the sky. We’re also interested in patterns that show up on the surfaces of oceans, ice, land, etc.

  13. Subhashini Chandramani says:

    “Quotation mark” in the clouds. A cloud poetry?

  14. K C C says:

    The Eye of the Sahara is the best O of all!

  15. K C C says:

    Or maybe the Eye of the Sahara is a capitol Q?

  16. John Brandt says:

    Do you have, or can you start, an email list/newsletter for this?

  17. Chris B says:

    Here are a few from google maps satellite view:

    I love the letters “A” and “W” in this compilation…

    • Adam Voiland says:

      Thanks, Chris. Nice gallery. Be aware, however, that the focus of our gallery is going to be lower resolution imagery from NASA satellite instruments. Much of the imagery Google uses come from commercial satellites with databases that are difficult for us to access. One of the best places to look is this gallery of imagery from the MODIS instrument:

      • Chris B says:

        Thanks… I didn’t quite understand the focus of this I guess. Now that I do, I will be scouring images that are in line with what you’re asking for… 🙂

  18. Chris B says:

    I found this website that allows you to send messages using google earth satellite letters as a typeface…

    Here are a couple more links to entire alphabets created using satellite views:

    Satellite Alphabet #1:
    Satellite Alphabet #2:

  19. James Fincannon says:

    From Terra:
    “U” from a contrail

    Can’t find a link on the MODIS or Terra site any more. Maybe you have access.

  20. James Fincannon says:

    A contrail casting a shadow onto lower level clouds.
    Could be a Q or J or even a cursive G.

    From 2011, August 11, 14:30 GMT, Goes 11.

    2700 pixels from left edge, 1491 lines from top edge.

  21. gio says:

    it is number “2”

  22. bhagyashree says:

    am sure it’s V……..