Can you spot your ABCs from space?

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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 Jan. 22, 2014. The bend looks like the letter 'A.' Photos provided by NASA

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 Jan. 22, 2014. The bend looks like the letter ‘A.’ Photos provided by NASA

A few years ago while working on a story about wildfires, writer Adam Voiland of NASA Earth Observatory spotted a satellite image of a smoke plume over Canada in the shape of the letter ‘V.’

The image made him wonder if he could track all 26 letters of the English alphabet using only satellite imagery and astronaut photography.

With the help of readers and colleagues, Voiland was able to compile stunning alphabet imagery formed by Earth’s natural wonders such as swirling clouds, phytoplankton blooms and landscapes.

When it came to writing captions for the photographs, Voiland was inspired by Dr. Seuss’s ABC. For the letter ‘A’, he wrote:

“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!”

The collection of NASA alphabet imagery is still a work in progress and Voiland is encouraging anyone who can provide a better example of any letter, whether in cursive or script, to contact NASA with the date, latitude and longitude.

The N-E-W-S-H-O-U-R had fun with the natural letters.

What begins with N? Numerous cloud condensation nuclei in the North Pacific! Nefarious nitrogen dioxide and NOx. The near infrared and NDVIand the Nimbus satellite. Nor’easters and the Nile at night. On March 4, 2009, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Terra satellite captured this image of ship tracks over the Pacific. Ship emissions contain small particles that cause the clouds to form.

What begins with N? Numerous cloud condensation nuclei in the North Pacific! Nefarious nitrogen dioxide and NOx. The near infrared and NDVIand the Nimbus satellite. Nor’easters and the Nile at night. On March 4, 2009, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Terra satellite captured this image of ship tracks over the Pacific. Ship emissions contain small particles that cause the clouds to form.


What begins with E? Earth, of course. Evaporation and the exosphere.Egypt and Eyjafjallajökull. Eskers, erratics, El Niño, and EO-1. This ephemeral entourage of algae off the east coast of an island where English is spoken! On Oct. 25, 2009, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this imageof a phytoplankton bloom off the coast of New Zealand.

What begins with E? Earth, of course. Evaporation and the exosphere.Egypt and Eyjafjallajökull. Eskers, erratics, El Niño, and EO-1. This ephemeral entourage of algae off the east coast of an island where English is spoken! On Oct. 25, 2009, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this imageof a phytoplankton bloom off the coast of New Zealand.


What begins with W? Wayward wisps of dust wafting in winter winds.Washington and Warsaw. Water, wavelengths, and weathering. On Jan. 13, 2009, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this imageof dust blowing over the Red Sea.

What begins with W? Wayward wisps of dust wafting in winter winds.Washington and Warsaw. Water, wavelengths, and weathering. On Jan. 13, 2009, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this imageof dust blowing over the Red Sea.


What begins with S? Swirling stratocumulus sliding over salty Atlantic seas! Stratovolcanoes, sulfates, and sunglint. Satellites andspectrometers. On April 29, 2009, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Terra satellite acquired this image of clouds swirling over the Atlantic Ocean.

What begins with S? Swirling stratocumulus sliding over salty Atlantic seas! Stratovolcanoes, sulfates, and sunglint. Satellites andspectrometers. On April 29, 2009, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Terra satellite acquired this image of clouds swirling over the Atlantic Ocean.


Hello H, what begins with H? Haze, hurricanes, and hydrocarbons. Hawaiiand Hakodate. Hummocky humus heaped on these hills in the heart of Kyrgyzstan. On Aug. 30, 2014, the Operational Land Imager on Landsat 8 acquired this image of rivers running through colorful ridges in southwestern Kyrgyzstan.

Hello H, what begins with H? Haze, hurricanes, and hydrocarbons. Hawaiiand Hakodate. Hummocky humus heaped on these hills in the heart of Kyrgyzstan. On Aug. 30, 2014, the Operational Land Imager on Landsat 8 acquired this image of rivers running through colorful ridges in southwestern Kyrgyzstan.


What begins with O?Was it an odd inorganic object from outer space that obliterated this piece of Mauritania? Of course. What else begins with O? The Okavango Delta. Oxbows, oozing lava, and the ozone layer. On Jan. 24, 2008, the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on the Terra satellite captured this imageof Tenoumer meteorite crater in Mauritania. The meteorite struck Earth between 10,000 and 30,000 years ago.

What begins with O?Was it an odd inorganic object from outer space that obliterated this piece of Mauritania? Of course. What else begins with O? The Okavango Delta. Oxbows, oozing lava, and the ozone layer.
On Jan. 24, 2008, the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on the Terra satellite captured this imageof Tenoumer meteorite crater in Mauritania. The meteorite struck Earth between 10,000 and 30,000 years ago.


What begins with U? Ulaanbaatar. Ultraviolet radiation andurbanization. This undulating uplifted river up in Utah. On May 9, 2004, the Ikonos satellite captured this image of Gooseneck State Park in Utah.

What begins with U? Ulaanbaatar. Ultraviolet radiation andurbanization. This undulating uplifted river up in Utah. On May 9, 2004, the Ikonos satellite captured this image of Gooseneck State Park in Utah.


What beings with R? Radiometers and radiosondes. Rome andRotterdam. The resplendent solar radiation reflecting from the surface of this lake. On Jan. 20, 2015, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 captured this image of Lago Menendez in Argentina.

What beings with R? Radiometers and radiosondes. Rome andRotterdam. The resplendent solar radiation reflecting from the surface of this lake.
On Jan. 20, 2015, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 captured this image of Lago Menendez in Argentina.

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