The Bahamas are simply gorgeous in this latest astronaut photograph from the International Space Station. The delicate ripples on the sandy ocean floor, gentle texture of muddy islands, and clean cuts of deeper ocean channels make this more of an idealized painting than real life.
If astronaut Scott Kelly is going to keep sending home photos like this, he can live on the International Space Station for longer than his one-year mission. It’s not just beautiful; it also contains a myriad of tiny bits of science to observe.
The seafloor ripples along the lower right corner are generated by the swash-backwash of shallow water waves pulling on loose sediments in the daily play of wind waves. Their wavelength is proportional to the wavelength of the surface expression of the wave and the depth of the water as the waves drag more fiercely on the ocean floor in shallower seas.
The puffy white clouds (and their darker shadows on the ocean surface below) are quite low. These tiny cumulus clouds are beautiful and don’t carry precipitation like their larger cumulonimbus stormcloud siblings. They likely reflect minor instabilities in temperature or moisture.
The long trails of sediment reflect the dominant direction of flow, with hints of longshore drift adding hooks and spits to the tiny islands. Each deeper underwater channel has a submarine fan where it’s dropped sediments as the flow’s energy decreases.
We could go on, finding evidence of the myriad of processes that actively work upon our planet, changing the landscapes a grain of sand at a time every moment of every day. But it’s been a busy week for science, so it’s time to take a break, breathe deep, and marvel instead. Wow, our home planet is gorgeous.
Top image: The Bahamas as seen from the International Space Station on July 19, 2015. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly