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Planet Stories

The world’s largest wetland, captured on Mar 15, 2016. ©2017 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0

Earth Gazing: Looking at the Seven Natural Wonders from Orbit

The list of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World spans continents, biomes, and cultures. Here at Planet, our satellite constellations afford us a unique vantage point from which to observe and admire these one-of-a-kind natural monuments. Take a look at some of the most striking imagery of the Seven Natural Wonders:

Victoria Falls, Zambia and Angola

In Central Africa, the long, winding Zambezi river cuts through the dry landscape, dividing Zambia to the North from Angola to the South. Along this natural border lies the enormous Victoria Falls, which dumps over 1000 cubic meters per second (mean annual flow rate) of river water into a deep, rocky chasm.

It’s the largest falling sheet of water on the planet. From the ground visitors can photograph the extent of the 1,708 meter-wide (5,604 ft), 108 meter-deep(384 ft) falls over the course of a short hike. And from space, the falls can be photographed in their entirety in a fraction of a second.

Image captured May 7, 2017. Image ©2017 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0

In this recent image, water flows from the North over the falls and into a zig-zag pattern gorge. After the perilous fall, the water of the Zambezi travels calmly to its mouth in the Indian Ocean.

Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

A combination of dynamic plate tectonics and eons of erosion formed the giant slabs of granite that preside over the enormous Rio de Janeiro harbor—the stunning natural harbor that extends almost 20 miles into Brazil’s interior.

In this image we can see the iconic, green-crested granite domes that welcome ships into the harbor.

From Planet’s massive archive of RapidEye satellite imagery: Rio De Janeiro Harbor, captured on January 16, 2014. Image ©2017 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0

Sun glints upon the surface of the harbor, creating a shimmery affect that reveals the harbor’s dynamic winds and currents

Parícutin, Mexico

At the height of World War II a corn field near the town of Parícutin, Mexico erupted, spewing ash rocks and lava high into the air. On day-one of its eruption an estimated 12 meter (40 ft) high cone formed. Over its 9-year eruption period, a cinder cone over 457 meters (1500 ft) in height formed, decimating Parícutin, the cornfield, and the surrounding farmland.

Today, Parícutin looks like this:

From above, we see the 424 meter-high cone rise above the valley floor, dubbed “Sapichu” and its surrounding lava flows.

The Grand Canyon, United States

At the beginning there was the Colorado River. Millions upon millions of years—and over 1,800 vertical meters (about 6,000 feet)— later the Grand Canyon as we know it today was formed. This enormous gorge stretches over 4,000 km across the Southeastern United States.

The canyon is so large, that one high-resolution satellite pass from a Dove cubesat couldn’t capture the whole thing. To get the full picture, we stitched together several scenes collected by our Doves into a larger, automatically mosaicked basemap. In the basemap we see the Colorado River snake through the canyon’s buttes, towers and mesas:

A larger Basemap of the Grand Canyon, comprised of several images captured on ©2017 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0

Mount Everest, Tibet

Mount Everest presides over the Himalaya range, dividing greater Asia from the Indian subcontinent. For millions of years, the Indian Plate has been pulled underneath the larger Eurasian Plate at what’s known as a subduction zone. The resulting massive uplift created the 8,850 meter-high (approximately 29,000 ft) Mount Everest.

Mount Everest, imaged by a SkySat on February 14, 2016. ©2017 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0

And the summit keeps getting higher. Today, the Indian Plate moves northward at a rate of 18mm annually, pushing Everest 5mm higher every year.

The Great Barrier, Australia

One of the worlds most biologically diverse ecosystems lies off Australia’s northeastern coast. In fact, it’s the largest structure on Earth made by living organisms—the Great Barrier Reef. The enormous reef system is larger in area than Italy, and home to a bevy of unique species including dugongs, giant clams, giant wrasses, and cuttlefish.

Planet’s monitoring constellation is uniquely positioned to capture regular imagery of coral reefs, and this bonafide wonder is no exception. Take a look at these open-water images:

May 25, 2017 ©2017 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0
Tidal channels cut through unnamed reefs, part of the enormous Great Barrier Reef. July 8, 2016. Image ©2017 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0

While this pristine habitat natural wonder is one of Queensland’s premier destinations, it faces threats. Increasing ocean acidification rates are tied to vast coral bleaching events.

The Northern Lights

The next natural wonder is a worldwide phenomenon. Few natural monuments can be seen from Alaska to Finland to Russia and everywhere in between.

This display is caused by particles from the sun’s atmosphere colliding with gas at the edge of Earth’s atmosphere near the Earth’s poles. Aurora Australis, Aurora Borealis’ southern counterpart, is rarely seen from the ground. Adventurers can travel to Antartica, or a handful of rocky islands in the Southern Hemisphere to catch a glimpse of the Southern Lights.

…Or, you can follow NASA’s Flickr Account. In this animation, created by still photographs captured by an astronaut on board the International Space Station, we see the Southern Lights in all their glory:

Photographs courtesy Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Flight Center. ISS051-E-20911 to ISS051-E-21451.

Some suggested additions…

As 9–5 Earth gazers, we here at Planet have seen our share of stunning places across the globe with the help of our orbiting constellations of satellites.

So, why not round out these seven wonders to an even ten? We hand-picked a few other spots around the globe that we think are worthy of inclusion on our own, updated natural wonders list. Check them out:

K2, Pakistan and China

Mount Everest’s neighbor, K2 is the second highest peak in the world, topping out at 8,611 meters (28,251 ft).

The peak is not directly visible from the nearest village, Askole. To get a clear view, you’ll have to do some backwoods trekking…or capture video from space.

A high resolution SkySat snapped this video of K2’s summit while passing over the Himalayas:

Video captured by the high-resolution imaging SkySat constellation. Captured on June 9, 2014 at 5:52:13. Video/Images ©2017 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0

In this hi-res satellite video, we see the craggy summit peek out from the surrounding clouds. You’ll notice the summit slowly tilt, an effect caused by a satellite in motion imaging a stationary object below.

The Pantanal, Brazil

The Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland, is vast—just shy of 200,000 sqkm. When viewed from from above, seasonal lakes and rivers meander through the enormous interior marshland, tracing painterly patterns onto the landscape.

This image of the Pantanal captured on Mar 15, 2016. ©2017 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0

This expanse in southeast Brazil is home to a myriad of unique species including, giant otters, lowland tapirs, Pantanal Jaguars, Yacare caiman, and gigantic water lilies.

Dukono, Indonesia

A chain of volcanoes sits atop the Eurasian/Indo-Australian subduction zone, part of the Pacific’s infamous Ring of Fire. From space, one of the most impressive volcanoes in the Indonesian archipelago is the enormous (and highly active) Dukono. This broad, gentle-sloped stratovolcano has been emitting gas and ash plumes for the larger part of a century—since 1933 to be exact. Checkout this series of imagery captured by Dove cubesats:

Dukono, issues volcanic ash. Images captured over 8 months. ©2017 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

Since 2014 the emissions have been greater than usual. Planet’s Dove satellites managed to peer through equatorial clouds to capture the sequence above, where we see ash plumes continually streak into the air from August 2016 to March 2017. Volcanic lightning in these plumes are common, drawing awe from onlookers.

As our Doves, RapidEye and SkySats orbit above, we’ll keep our eyes out for interesting activity around the globe. To see what other interesting places we’re looking at, visit our online gallery.

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