Looking up at the sky to enjoy the diversity and beauty of clouds is a pastime as ancient as humanity itself. Yet only during the past century—thanks to the Wright brothers and other pioneering aviators—have we had the ability to look down on clouds from above.
A top-down view of clouds has led to important advances in meteorology and atmospheric science. These images shows pictures of the Canary Islands taken from satellites. The first image shows forest fires in 2007, the second image is from 2013.
Sometimes satellite pictures show nature’s simple beauty. On May 20, 2015, the MODIS camera on NASA’s Terra satellite captured the third image of several cloud vortices swirling downwind of the Canary Islands and Madeira.
Theodore von Kármán, a Hungarian-American physicist, was the first to describe the physical processes that create long chains of spiral eddies like the ones shown above. Known as von Kármán vortices, the patterns can form nearly anywhere that fluid flow is disturbed by an object. In this case, the unique flow occurs as winds rush past the tall peaks on the volcanic islands. As winds are diverted around these high areas, the disturbance in the flow propagates downstream in the form of vortices that alternate their direction of rotation.
You can find NASA images and animations of our planet at https://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view_cat.php?scheme=COLLECTION
Islands are beautiful not only to live upon but also to observe from far up.