In classical Greek mythology, the island of Crete was home to King Minos and the terrible Minotaur, a beast that was half man and half bull. The known historical record of Crete is no less impressive. The island was the center of the Bronze Age Minoan civilization that flourished from approximately 2700–1420 BC. There is archeological, geological, and cultural evidence to suggest that a cataclysmic volcanic eruption of Santorini volcano around 1620 BC was a major cause of the decline—if not complete destruction—of the Minoan civilization.
Today, Crete is the largest and most heavily populated island of Greece (or the Hellenic Republic). The island stretches approximately 260 kilometers (161 miles) from west to east, and it is roughly 60 kilometers (37 miles) across at its widest point. The rugged terrain of Crete includes mountains, plateaus, and several deep gorges. The largest city on the island, Heraklion, sits on the northern coastline.
Several smaller islands ring Crete. Two of the largest of these, Dia and Gavdos, are sparsely populated year-round, although Gavdos hosts numerous summer visitors.
The western and central parts of Crete appear surrounded by quicksilver in this astronaut photograph taken from the International Space Station. This phenomenon is known as sunglint, caused by light reflecting off of the sea surface directly toward the observer. The point of maximum reflectance is visible as a bright white region to the northwest of the island. Surface currents causing variations in the degree of reflectance are visible near the southwestern shoreline of Crete and the smaller island of Gavdos (image lower left).
Astronaut photograph ISS028-E-18562 was acquired on July 22, 2011, with a Nikon D3S digital camera using a 48 mm lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by the Expedition 28 crew. The image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast. 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 William L. Stefanov, Jacobs/ESCG at NASA-JSC.
Named Isla de Aves in Spanish, (meaning “Island of the Birds”) Aves Island lies west of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean. It provides a nesting site to green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) and, of course, birds. Because the abundant bird droppings, known as guano, could be used in fertilizer and gunpowder, guano miners worked on the island until they depleted the supply. Since its discovery by Europeans, likely in the late 16th century, Aves Island was subsequently claimed by several European nations. The island is currently claimed by Venezuela, although disputes about ownership of the island, and the surrounding exclusive economic zone in the Caribbean, continue today.
The ghostly white shapes northeast and immediately southwest of Wrangel Island are sea ice. Over the course of the satellite record, Arctic sea ice has advanced and retreated past Wrangel Island many times. From 1979 to 2000, the sea ice edge at the end of summer generally fell somewhere in the vicinity of Wrangel Island, but this is not the first summer when the sea ice edge has retreated well north of the island.