Reading the ABC from Space

Jan 01, 2016


A, what begins with A? There is Antarctica and the Arctic,algal blooms, acid rain, and the atmosphere. And aerosols altering an astronaut’s view of this ancient assemblage of rock in a state adjacent to Arizona!
An astronaut captured this photograph of Utah’s Green River doubling back on itself—a feature known as Bowknot Bend—from the International Space Station on January 22, 2014.
A few years ago, while working on a story about wildfires, a V appeared to me in a satellite image of a smoke plume over Canada. That image made me wonder: could I track down all 26 letters of the English alphabet using only NASA satellite imagery and astronaut photography?With the help of readers and colleagues, I started to collect images of ephemeral features like clouds, phytoplankton blooms, and dust clouds that formed shapes reminiscent of letters. Some letters, like O and C, were easy to find. Others—A, B, and R—were maddeningly difficult. Note that the A below is cursive. And if you can find a better example of any letter (in NASA imagery), send us an email with the date, latitude, and longitude.When I finally tracked down all the letters and it was time write captions, I happened to be a new dad and deep into a Dr. Seuss reading phase with my son. The Seuss-inspired ABC gallery below is the result. To add some education to the fun, I added hyperlinks (highlighted in blue) to help you find out more about specific places, names, and features. To view a large version of an image, click on it.Read more on NASA Earth Observatory site
By Adam Voiland Design by Jesse Allen & Paul Przyborski - December 15, 2015