NASA Returns to the Beach: Bright Beaches in Florida

NASA Returns to the Beach: Bright Beaches in Florida

Since publishing NASA Earth Observatory Goes to the Beach in July 2017, we have explored even more of the planet’s coasts via satellite images and astronaut photographs. This week, we return to the beach with a look back at some of our favorite seaside stories published in recent years. The image and text on this page first appeared on November 19, 2023.

An astronaut aboard the International Space Station took this photograph of Destin, Florida, a beach city situated on the Gulf of Mexico coastline.

The city is built on a peninsula that separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Choctawhatchee Bay. Ship transport between the Gulf of Mexico and the bay is possible via the East Pass, while a bridge connects Destin to Santa Rosa Island. The thin white streaks seen in the water are wakes from boats.

Destin is part of Florida’s Emerald Coast, an area that spans about 100 miles (160 kilometers) of the Florida Panhandle. The beaches in this area are known for their “sugary white” sand and green-toned waters. The white sand is comprised primarily of quartz grains that were transported from the southern Appalachian Mountains by the Apalachicola River system. Sunlight interacting with algae in the water produces the emerald color.

Destin’s white sandy beaches, emerald waters, and proximity to the Gulf of Mexico make the town a popular tourist destination. Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection reports an estimated total of 4.5 million annual visitors to Florida’s Emerald Coast. Many tourists visit the area because Destin is a major fishing destination.

This peninsula was initially a barrier island. Over time, coastal processes including hurricanes, sand transport, and changing sea levels connected the peninsula to mainland Florida.

The astronaut used a high-focal-length lens to capture this shot. High-focal-length lenses make it possible for space station crew to take high-resolution photographs of the surface with handheld digital cameras while in a low Earth orbit of approximately 254 miles (400 kilometers).

Astronaut photograph ISS069-E-39255 was acquired on July 30, 2023, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a focal length of 1150 millimeters. The image was provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit at Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 69 crew. It has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by Minna Adel Rubio, GeoControl Systems, JETS Contract at NASA-JSC.