NASA’s fleet of satellites and its astronauts aboard the International Space Station took a slew of incredibly beautiful images of Earth this year. From erupting volcanoes and wildfire scars to idyllic islands and surreal cloud formations, here are our favorites. Above, Pavlof volcano in the Aleutian arc erupts in this image captured by astronauts on the International Space Station on May 18, 2013. Below, the eruption plume extends over the Pacific ocean.
A new NASA telescope, sailing toward its assigned orbit, took a moment to look around before it starts its ultimate mission: searching the galaxy for alien planets.
NASA’s TESS spacecraft — short for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite — beamed home one of its first photos taken from space, and it’s a doozy.
The burn scar from the Rim fire that burned more than 255,000 acres in the Yosemite area in August can be seen in grey in the image above. This image was captured on Sept. 16, 2013 by the NASA/USGS Landsat 8 satellite.
The Bingham Canyon Mine near Salt Lake City, Utah is one of the largest open-pit mines in the world, measuring 2.5 miles a cross and almost 4,000 feet deep. The mine’s major product is copper, but it also produces gold, silver and molybdenum. The image above shows the aftermath of the largest landslide in North American history, which struck the mine on Apr. 10, 2013.
The satellite is designed to hunt for new worlds by using the transit method, meaning that TESS will watch for minute dips in a star’s light as a planet passes in front of its host star.
By detecting these transits, TESS can piece together a bit about the orbits of these worlds and whether or not they might be friendly to life.
In total, the satellite’s field of view will include about 20 million stars that could all play host to worlds unknown.
Researchers hope that TESS will be able to find at least 50 planets that are around the size of Earth during its quest.
“TESS is kind of like a scout,” TESS scientist Natalia Guerrero said in a statement.