Elemental Earth

Ancient Greek, Hindu, and Buddhist philosophers saw fire, air, water, and earth as the prime elements—the fundamental building blocks of the natural world. Modern science recognizes 118 elements (so far) and now uses experimental methods for understanding the physical world. Yet fire, air, water, and earth still help us see the beauty, raw power, and dynamics of our planet.

From its origins, NASA has studied the atmosphere, the solid but moveable earth, fire and heat, and water in its various forms. We have done this in novel ways, using innovative tools to study Earth from the edge of the atmosphere to the ocean surface to formations within the crust. Using satellites and crewed spacecraft, we look at Earth in macrocosm and microcosm, from the flow of one mountain stream to the flow of jet streams.

Since 1999, Earth Observatory has published thousands of images of this awesome and ever-changing planet. Now we want you to view elemental fire, air, water, and earth as scientists and astronauts see them from space—and then pick your favorite images in a five-round tournament. Each week from March 1 to April 5, you can help narrow the field from 32 nominees down to one champion.

Visit the Tournament Earth page to vote for images, open a larger version, see complementary images, and learn more about them.

View the bracket.

Video by Kathryn Hansen, based on NASA images by Joshua Stevens, Lauren Dauphin, Jesse Allen, Robert Simmon, and Jeff Schmaltz using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey, MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS LANCE and GIBS/Worldview, Advanced Land Imager/NASA EO-1, VIIRS day-night band data from the Joint Polar Satellite System, GOES 17 imagery courtesy of NOAA, and Copernicus Sentinel data processed by ESA. Graphic adapted from work by Kasha Patel. Astronaut photographs provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. Earth visualization by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Text by Michael Carlowicz.