For more than 20 years, astronauts have been shooting photographs of Earth from the International Space Station. Before that, they looked down from Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, the Space Shuttles, and MIR. They have brought us unique views of our home planet in all of its wonder, beauty, and ferocity. They have also made some interesting and timely science observations along the way.
More than 1,000 of those photos have been published here on NASA Earth Observatory. We would like you to help us choose the best in our archives. In early March, we will launch Tournament Earth: Astronaut Photography, and we want you to be part of the selection committee.
From now through February 19, 2021, search our archives and point out the best photos shot by the astronauts. Post the URLs of your favorite photos in the comments section below.
Please note that there are 30+ pages of images to scroll through — an internet rabbit hole of incredible beauty.
In March 2021, we will include some of your selections in Tournament Earth, a head-to-head contest to vote for the best of the best from our archives. Each week, readers will pick from pairs of images as we narrow down the field from 32 nominees to one champion. The Tournament Earth champion will be announced in early April.
So get browsing and get choosing. Then post your favorite URLs in the comments section by February 19.
If you want to learn more about how and why astronauts shoot photos of our planet — and the special training involved — check out our video series “Picturing Earth.” Astronaut Photography in Focus
Every time we run one of these tournaments, we are surprised by what catches the eyes of our readers. It is time to surprise us again. Cast your votes now in round three to pick the best four of the Earthly 8. Voting ends on April 13 at 9 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time. Check out the remaining competitors below.
“Past Winners” Bracket: Ocean Sand, Bahamas (#5) vs. A View of Earth from Saturn (#2)
Fire in the Sky and On the Ground has pulled off two massive upsets. In round 1, it beat #2 seed Night Light Maps Open Up New Applications, 71 to 29 percent. In round 2, Fire beat the sentimental favorite and oldest image in Tournament Earth, All of You on the Good Earth — the original Blue Marble photo (1968) and the inspiration for the first Earth Day (1970). The voters chose the auroral fire over Apollo 8 fame by 57 to 43 percent.
“Ice and Land” Bracket: Where the Dunes End (#8) vs. Retreat of the Columbia Glacier (#6)
Since its launch on the web in April 1999, NASA Earth Observatory has published more than 15,500 image-driven stories about our planet. In celebration of our 20th anniversary — as well as the 50th anniversary of Earth Day — we want you to help us choose our all-time best image.
For now, we need you to help us brainstorm: what images or stories would you nominate as the best in the Earth Observatory collection? Do you go for the most beautiful and iconic view of our home? the most newsworthy? the most scientifically important? the most inspiring?
Search our site and then post the URLs of your favorite Earth images in the comments section below. Please send your ideas by March 17.
In late March 2020, we will include some of your selections in Tournament Earth, a head-to-head contest to vote for the best of the best from our archives. Each week, readers will pick from pairs of images as we narrow down the field from 32 nominees to one champion.
The all-time best Earth Observatory image will be announced on April 29, 2020, the end of our anniversary year.
If you want some inspiration as you begin your search, take a look at the galleries listed below. Or use our search tool (top left) to find your favorite places, images, and events.
The images were acquired by the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) on the DSCOVR satellite, which orbits about 1.6 million kilometers (1 million miles) from Earth. EPIC maintains a constant view of the fully illuminated Earth as it rotates. About twice a year the camera captures images of the Moon and Earth together as the orbit of DSCOVR crosses the orbital plane of the Moon.
While we aren’t aware of any homecoming parades to honor the 2016 champion, watching the video above (or listening to all of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon) seems like a fitting way to celebrate. The images in the movie below were taken over the course of five hours on July 16, 2015. The North Pole is toward the upper left, reflecting the orbital tilt of Earth from the vantage point of the spacecraft. The far side of the Moon was first observed in 1959, when the Soviet Luna 3 spacecraft returned the first images. Since then, several missions by NASA and other space agencies have imaged the lunar far side.
For the second year in a row, an image from the Canary Islands took the championship of Tournament: Earth. In 2013, a submarine volcano near El Hierro Island was the crowd favorite. This year, it was a shot of the entire island chain that dominated the vote. When “Trailing the Canaries” faced “Activity at Kliuchevskoi” in the championship round, it wasn’t just a win for the Canaries image; it was a blowout. Of the nearly 50,000 votes cast, 96 percent went to the Canary Islands image.
To salute our many readers from the Canaries, we’ve combed through our archives and selected five of our all-time favorite images involving the island chain. They are posted below from oldest to newest. Click on each image for more details. Enjoy!
Dust over the Canary Islands (March 2009)
Teide Volcano (July 2009)
Sand and Tourism in Gran Canaria(January 2013)
El Hierro Submarine Volcano Eruption (2013 Tournament Earth Champion)
Trailing the Canaries (2014 Tournament Earth Champion)
I hope your brackets are ready because polls for round one of Tournament Earth close today at 4 p.m EST/9 p.m. UTC. Second round voting will open on Monday at 9 a.m. EST/ 1 p.m. UTC). Also, stay tuned for occasional posts on Earth Matters with details about how images fared in the competition.
The images in the tournament are a blend of reader and staff favorites from the 2013 calendar year. The images are seeded and divided into four brackets categorized by image type: data visualization, photographs, art, and events. The top seed in the data visualization bracket — and the No. 1 seed overall — is a global map of fine particulate pollution that garnered more than 150,000 page views in 2013. The photo section is topped by a nighttime view of Liege, Belgium, as photographed by an astronaut on the International Space Station. The “art” section is led by a satellite image of a rare snowfall in Great Britain. The top seed among natural events is a January 2013 satellite image of a smog and pollution over China — the second most popular image on the Earth Observatory last year. Six of the seven most-viewed images on the site are battling in the events section. Good luck with your bracket!