Space is something that excites and bewilders us all, but it’s fair to say that NASA astronauts have a much more vivid experience of it than most. Luckily for the rest of us, though, these people sometimes snap photos during their space-exploring exploits. Throughout 2020 alone, some incredible photos were taken, with some depicting rocket launches and others showing us the melting ice caps from space. Here, we take a look at 40 of the best.
40. Nighttime in Paris
Paris: the city of love. Year on year the place welcomes countless loved-up couples on romantic breaks. And judging by this NASA picture from space, it looks just as wondrous from up above. Just look at the bright lights at the snaking bend of the River Seine that runs through the city. C’est magnifique!
39. Above the Caribbean
As beautiful as the Caribbean is, we reckon it’s never looked as alluring as it does from this 2020 image from outer space. The pic was snapped by someone on the International Space Station, taken from a specific part of the base known as the Cupola. Note how much lighter the water of the Bahamas is compared to the darker open oceans.
38. Cloudy desert
From an astonishing 259 miles up in the sky, this stunning photograph was snapped on February 13, 2020. It shows a mass of white and slightly menacing clouds whirling above the northern part of the Sahara Desert. It sure looks beautiful from above, but you probably wouldn’t want to be caught up in it.
37. Heading home
This photo’s a real window into the extraordinary life of an astronaut – and it happens to show an actual window on the SpaceX Crew’s Dragon vehicle. Yes, the pic was snapped as the astronaut headed back to Earth after saying goodbye to the ISS. They’d just finished up with the SpaceX Demo-2 mission, which incidentally was the first operation to fire humans to space from America in almost a decade. The land visible out the window, though, is eastern Kazakhstan.
36. Incoming crew
When NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley lifted off on May 30, 2020, it was a significant occasion. That’s because they were aboard the first ever commercially constructed and administered spacecraft. In this astonishing photograph you can see the launch vehicle on its way to the ISS over southwest Turkey.
35. A tumultuous Jupiter
This incredible photograph of Jupiter’s turbulent northern areas was captured on February 17, 2020, during NASA’s Juno flyby mission. Note the extensive, slender bands running through the center of the pic, from the top to the bottom. These are what we call haze particles, but not much is known about what they’re composed of or what causes them to emerge.
34. Phytoplankton surge
When you look at this photograph – taken on July 26, 2020 – what’s the first thing that stands out? For us, it’s the sizable light blue area in the middle of the picture, which is surrounded by the dark blue ocean. So, what exactly is that? The answer is phytoplankton, which are floating plant-like organisms that require sunshine and nutrition in order to survive.
33. An enchanting oasis
This stunning picture was taken on Landsat 8 back on March 7, 2020. It shows the Ili River Delta and the deserts of southeastern Kazakhstan. Amazingly, this is actually a genuinely colored photograph. Look at the turquoise waters of Lake Balkhash and the disintegrating ice, all situated beside those beige deserts. Beautiful.
32. Fires and smoke
Here’s an image of southeastern Australia, that was snapped in natural color on January 4, 2020. That was a bleak date when extreme fires were unleashed across the Land Down Under. The photograph was acquired by a NASA satellite called Aqua, which utilized a gizmo known as the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer.
31. A parched river
This false-colored photograph was captured from Landsat 8 back on July 3, 2020. It shows South America’s Paraná River running near the Argentinian port city of Rosario. The pic was snapped after a stretch of extremely warm weather, which saw the river’s water drop to the lowest level recorded in almost five decades.
30. Oh, chute!
Here we have the Soyuz MS-16 reentry capsule, landing in the vast central Asian country of Kazakhstan. On board were members of the ISS Expedition 63 team, which included Russian cosmonauts Ivan Vagner and Anatoly Ivanishin, as well as NASA astronaut Christopher Cassidy. The craft landed a little to the southeast of a community called Zhezqazghan.
29. Moon shadow
We had a long time to wait for a total solar eclipse in 2020, but it finally happened on December 14. Still, you would’ve struggled to see the event if you weren’t somewhere between the South Atlantic and equatorial Pacific. Luckily for the rest of us, though, NASA was on hand to capture it from outer space. It’s that ominous black cloud at the south of the planet.
28. Night glow
The Persian Gulf is an important part of the world, not least for its copious energy resources. It’s also home to some major cities, whose lights can be seen glistening in this pic. The brightest places can be seen along the southern and western coastlines, which is where the likes of Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dubai are situated.
27. Overwhelmed by floods
This photo taken from Landsat 8 on January 27, 2020, shows the damage that torrential rains from a number of tropical disturbances did to Madagascar. From this perspective, we can take note of the widespread flooding that took numerous lives in the northern part of the island. You can clearly see the sediment-filled rivers swollen out of their banks.
26. Gleaming Great Lakes
In late January 2020 the East Coast of America and Canada was hit by a cold snap that resulted in an influx of snow and ice. The remarkable extent of it can be seen in this photograph taken on January 20, 2020, from a satellite known as Suomi NPP. Notice how the snow blanketed the land surrounding the Great Lakes, while their dark and colorful waters could still be seen clearly.
This astonishing image was taken by astronaut Christina Koch from the International Space Station on January 4, 2020. It shows the annual Quadrantids meteor shower in action, a remarkable spectacle in which pieces of an asteroid known as 2003 EH1 zoom past the Earth. Marvel at the stunning color of the green light and the glowing asteroid over Edmonton, Canada.
24. Ash-damaged island
That island in the middle of this image looks a little like something that broke off the Moon, doesn’t it? Well, in actual fact, it’s a volcanic islet in the Philippines, home to the active Taal Volcano. The dusty brown color is an after-effect of the volcano’s eruption, as the once green and fertile land was covered in ash. Landsat 8 took the photograph of Taal back on March 11, 2020 – and what an image it is.
23. The gorgeous colors of fall
Who doesn’t love fall? Well, those beautiful autumn colors are on full display in this epic photograph from space. An astronaut on the International Space Station armed with a Nikon D5 digital camera took this picture on October 14, 2020. That’s Canada’s capital city of Ottawa below. Note the Rideau Canal and Ottawa and Gatineau Rivers, which are clearly visible in the image.
22. Red Popocatépetl
Here’s another one you won’t believe is on planet Earth. But this red landscape is actually a false-colored image of the Popocatépetl volcano in Mexico, located some 40 miles southeast of Mexico City. It’s an active stratovolcano that’s been erupting on and off since 2005. The infrared photograph was taken on February 25, 2020, on NASA’s Terra satellite, and it shows the volcanic plume venting from the summit crater.
21. Mesmerizing Lake Skadar
That turquoise and darker blue pool that looks like some kind of abyss is, in fact, Lake Skadar, the biggest lake in the Balkans. The eye-catching swirls in the photograph are the result of sediment being moved around because of melting snow and water rushing off from nearby mountains. The remarkable image of the lake – which lies between Montenegro and Albania – was captured back on February 21, 2020, from the International Space Station.
20. A watery day
Believe it or not, this is actually a naturally colored image of a place on Earth – not a picture of Mars or Jupiter. The photograph was captured on February 9, 2021, from Landsat 8. It shows Lake Lefroy in the west of Australia. The lake and the surrounding area had been hit by heavy rains at the time, providing it with a really eerie look.
19. An astronaut’s perspective
Imagine being this astronaut, looking down on Earth from the International Space Station. What a privilege it must be to witness our vast planet from so far above. This photograph was taken on June 21, 2020, and it depicts an annular eclipse that formed across much of Asia and Africa thanks to a new Moon lining up with the Sun. The image shows us China being covered by the shadow of the Moon.
18. Marveling at Mogadishu
Mogadishu is perhaps best known to Americans as the place where a Black Hawk helicopter went down in 1993. Nonetheless, the city in Somalia is a crucial port in Africa where over two million individuals live. This photograph was snapped from the International Space Station as it moved above the Horn of Africa. Notice the colorful sand dunes surrounding the built-up city area and the green agricultural fields further down from the coast.
17. Rosy-colored lake
No, that isn’t a giant watermelon on the Earth’s surface. In actual fact, it’s a crater lake in India’s central west region known as Lonar Lake. On the left, we see the lake as it usually is, defined by a greenish color. On the right, we see it after it bizarrely changed color to pink in 2020. Why it did so remains unclear, even to NASA’s boffins.
16. Frozen Finland thaws
This image of northern Finland was captured from NASA’s Earth Observatory on May 25, 2020. It focuses on the community of Ivalo and its surrounding areas, which had endured atypically warm weather around that time. This meant that the record amounts of snow and ice that had previously arrived in the winter started to melt at an astonishing rate.
15. Landing in Kazakhstan
It looks a bit cramped in there, fellas. That’s Roscosmos cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner photographed inside the Soyuz MS-16 reentry capsule. They were members of the International Space Station’s Expedition 63 crew, who, along with NASA astronaut Christopher Cassidy, came back to Earth with a bump. Their craft had just landed a little southeast of Zhezqazghan town in Kazakhstan on October 22, 2020.
14. Colorado fires
This incredible false-color picture taken on the Landsat 8 satellite on October 22, 2020, is tinged with a great sadness. That’s because it shows the devastating East Troublesome wildfires that struck Colorado, which were the second worst in the state’s history. The blaze torched over 190,000 acres of land. You can clearly see all the smoke emanating from it.
13. Blasting off
Can you imagine being one of the astronauts blasting off inside this Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft? The excitement, the trepidation – it must be an adrenaline rush like no other. In this case, the Expedition 64 members on board included Russian cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut named Kate Rubins. It was October 14, 2020, and they were on their way to the International Space Station from Baikonur Cosmodrome. Thankfully, they all got there in one piece.
12. Mars-like creek
Wow. That’s the first word that came to mind upon looking at this photograph. Taken by the International Space Station Crew Earth Observations Facility on April 5, 2020, the pic shows Australia’s awe-inspiring Cooper Creek floodplain. The red sands around the major river system almost make it look like Mars. But it’s in southwest Queensland, honest.
11. Eruption of Klyuchevskaya
Here’s a photograph from space that looks like it could be of Mordor. But no, this is actually in Russia. The false-colored image is of Klyuchevskaya, which today is among the more active of Earth’s volcanoes. It’s located on the Kamchatka Peninsula, where it’s been erupting regularly since October 2019. This image was snapped on April 21, 2020, by Landsat 8. Note how the volcano is puffing both ash and steam, while lava flows down one of its sides.
10. Hurtling to space
This astonishing photograph shows a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as it hurtles up to space. It was taken on November 15, 2020, not long after the spacecraft had been launched from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. Three NASA astronauts and their Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency colleague were on board for the ride of a lifetime.
9. Brighten up
It was July 5, 2020, and there was a most thrilling sight visible from the International Space Station. Basically, a comet known as NEOWISE was in the middle of shooting through the solar system. Too bad if you missed it, because it’ll be roughly another 6,800 years before it happens again.
8. Antarctica melting away
This one is more than a little alarming. As beautiful as this photograph looks with its dark blue and turquoise waters and huge areas of white ice, it effectively depicts global warming in action. You see, Antarctica was enduring record temperatures when this picture was taken. Remarkably, the northern tip of the continent hit 64.9 °F on February 6, 2020, which was nearly the same as L.A. at the time.
7. Cape Canaveral launch
Who doesn’t love a rocket launch? After all, they’re surely among the coolest things that human beings have ever accomplished. This particular photograph was taken by Bill Ingalls from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on May 30, 2020. That’s the SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket and Crew Dragon Capsule firing astronauts up to the International Space Station. Awesome.
6. Shoot the Sun
You’ve probably been told that you should never look directly at the Sun. That’s some sound advice, but thankfully you’re okay to take a peek at this mesmerizing photograph. It’s actually a composite image that illustrates how the International Space Station travels through space, 250 miles from our planet. Cool!
5. Space radish
Here’s an interesting peek at one of the many research and science experiments that occur aboard the International Space Station. Astronaut Kate Rubins was part of a project to grow radishes in an environment with extremely weak gravity. The hope was that this project could lead to the optimization of plant development in outer space.
4. Testing, testing
You might be wondering what exactly you’re looking at floating above the Earth in this photograph. Well, the answer is that this is the STPSat-4 satellite being deployed for use. This hi-tech piece of space apparatus is equipped with a range of antennas, weather sensors, solar panels and tracking instruments.
3. Storm in the night
This image may look beautiful from space, but it was a truly destructive weather event down on Earth. The photograph shows Hurricane Laura, which hit the U.S. Gulf Coast in August 2020. The picture in question was acquired by the NOAA-20 satellite at 2:20 a.m. Central Time on August 26, 2020.
2. Mexico in focus
Below the International Space Station on March 23, 2020, was America’s southern neighbor Mexico. An astronaut expertly captured nearly the entirety of the country in this fantastic photograph. You can see its magnificent mountain ranges and rugged coastlines, plus the disparate climate zones like dense forests and coastal plains.
1. Sandy bank
Created by numerous geologic developments and the interactions of ocean organisms, this stunning formation of seagrass and sand is known as the Great Bahama Bank. It used to be on dry land millions of years ago, but it was gradually submerged by rising sea levels. This image taken by Landsat 8 on February 15, 2020, shows us the bank’s mix of limestone and white carbonate sand.