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15 Things That Can Actually Be Seen from Space

These photos are just a glimpse of what astronauts can see when they take a look back down at our home planet.

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Earth's western hemisphere NASA photo
Photo by Uncredited/AP/Shutterstock

What can really be seen from space?

There are many natural wonders of the world, but how many can be seen from space? Science fiction authors, astronauts, and Greek philosophers have stared up at the heavens in wonder at what the great galaxy looks like. Now, however, the cameras have turned to reveal what structures in the world look like from space.

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great pyramid of giza from space nasa
Courtesy NASA Earth Observatory

The Great Pyramids of Giza

The Great Pyramids of Giza were built between 550 to 2490 B.C. and named after the pharaohs who built them: Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure. Pharaoh Khufu started the construction by building a pyramid soaring to 481 feet, followed by his son, Khafre (which also includes the Sphinx) and finally with Menkaure, the smallest. Even though the construction of the ancient pyramids still puzzles archeologists, being able to see the oldest monument of the Seven Wonders of the World from space is a huge feat. Look through these gorgeous travel photos of the world.

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rocky mountain trench
Courtesy NASA Earth Observatory

The Rocky Mountain Trench

Even though the Rocky Mountain Trench is not visible from the moon, it’s visible from the International Space Station (ISS). An astronaut took this photo on September 6, 2014.

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lake karakul from space nasa
Courtesy NASA Earth Observatory

Karakul Lake in Tajikistan

Karakul Lake is located in the Pamir Mountains in the landlocked Central Asian country Tajikistan. Karakul means “black lake” in various Turkish languages, and the description is apt as the normally dark surface is transformed in winter into a white winter landscape. The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on the Landsat 8 satellite took this photo on May 1, 2019, when the snow could still be seen and hadn’t melted yet. Looking for other facts about lakes? These true stories behind the shipwrecks on Lake Superior will give you goosebumps.

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royal forest nasa from space
Courtesy NASA Earth Observatory

The Niepolomice Forest in Poland

As the adage goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words” and a picture of Earth from space is no exception. This satellite image shows the Niepołomice Forest in Poland. Read up on these true stories from the most haunted forests in the world.

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power outages hurricane from space nasa
Courtesy NASA Earth Observatory

Power outages from Hurricane Matthew

Hurricane Matthew crashed into the coasts of Haiti, Cuba, and Grand Bahama Island as a catastrophic Category 5 hurricane. It then passed by Florida and Georgia before making landfall on the South Carolina coast as a weakened Category 1. These night time images of the Atlantic coast of the United States were captured by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite.

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Courtesy NASA Earth Observatory

Palm Island Resort off the coast of Dubai

Off the coast of Dubai lies the man-made structure Palm Island Resort, which can be seen from space as a palm tree. The photograph was taken by an astronaut with an Electronic Still Camera on March 5, 2003.

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grand canyon under snow from space nasa
Courtesy NASA Earth Observatory

The Grand Canyon under snow

The Grand Canyon is one of the most well-known natural wonders of the world, and astronauts in space get a truly unique view of this wonder. According to Earth Observatory,  this photo was taken over Las Vegas, and astronauts were also able to get some sense of the topography from shadows and light. Here are a few spectacular photos of America’s national parks that will leave you awestruck.

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bear lake from space
Courtesy NASA Earth Observatory

Bear Lake

Oceans aren’t the only large bodies of water to be captured by astronauts and satellites. One of the Rocky Mountains larger lakes, the 19-mile long Bear Lake, is on the border of Idaho and Utah. The lake caught the eye of an astronaut; this photo was taken with a Nikon digital camera on September 6, 2016. These are the astronomy facts you never learned in school.

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checkerboard pattern northern idaho from space
Courtesy NASA Earth Observatory

Checkerboard pattern in Northern Idaho

Contrary to what this photo looks like, it’s not a life-size version of a game of chess or checkers. The squiggly line at the left of the photograph is the Priest River in northern Idaho. According to Earth Observatory, the land in the picture is “managed for wildlife and timber harvesting” and the checkerboard is a method used for “maintaining the sustainability of forested tracts while still enabling a harvest of trees.” This photograph was acquired on January 4, 2017, with a Nikon digital camera. Here are a few things you didn’t know about space travel.

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glacier from space nasa
Courtesy NASA Earth Observatory

The Glacier Okjökull

Unfortunately, nothing is going to last forever and Okjökull is no exception. These two images compare the Icelandic glacier in 1986 to present-day 2019. In 1901, the glacier was about 38 square kilometers or 15 square miles, but now less than 1 square kilometer is left. Sadly, the glacier was declared dead in 2014. This is what could happen if glaciers continue to melt.

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island of madagascar from space nasa
Courtesy NASA Earth Observatory

The island of Madagascar

It’s hard to believe that astronauts holding cameras took these photos from the International Space Station (ISS).  The trick, according to Earth Observatory, is smaller lens sizes. Make sure you know these facts about Earth you never learned in school.

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canada wildfire smoke from space Nasa
Courtesy NASA Earth Observatory

Smoke from Canada

America’s northern neighbor is filled with stunning mountains, forests, and cities. There are also natural disasters and wildfires that happen, too. According to Earth Observatory, wildfires in Canada were so big that the smoke was visible from 1.5 million kilometers (or 1 million miles) from Earth.

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lights from cities at night from space nasa
Courtesy NASA Earth Observatory

Lights from cities at night

Some cities like New York City never sleep, and it’s stunning to view what a city looks like at night from space. This photograph of cities in Ireland and the United Kingdom was taken by an astronaut at night with a 28 mm lens.

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lake oahe south dakota from space nasa
Courtesy NASA Earth Observatory

Lake Oahe, South Dakota

Lake Oahe is the largest lake in the Missouri River reservoirs in South Dakota and can reach a depth of over 200 feet. An astronaut using a Nikon D5 camera took the photo from the International Space Station. Find out the difference between a pond and a lake.

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volcano erebus from space nasa
Courtesy NASA Earth Observatory

The Volcano Erebus

Even though Antarctica is thought to be a sea of endless white, natural terrain provides a contrast to the scenery. There’s an active volcano on Antarctica called Erebus that was caught on camera from space and it’s not only the most active volcano in Antarctica but also the most active southernmost volcano on Earth, according to Atlas Obscura. Looking for inspiration for your next trip? These are the volcanos you can actually visit.

Madeline Wahl
Madeline Wahl is a former associate editor and writer at RD.com whose work has appeared on HuffPost, Red Magazine, McSweeney's, Pink Pangea, The Mighty, Golf Channel and Yahoo Lifestyle, among others. More of her writing can be found on her website, madelinehwahl.com.