Above: Mount Vesuvius, captured from NASA’s Terra spacecraft

Italy is one of the most photogenic countries in the world. Just look at the millions of Instagram accounts, travel blogs, websites and aficionados that document its beauty every day. Hell, you can take a picture of a rusty garage door here and it still looks gorgeous!

But if you think Italy looks great at ground level, just take a peek at these photos taken from space. Italy’s natural (and manmade) wonders edge up a gear, taking on a new lease of life, as explosions of abstract colour slowly morph into recognisable shapes: the contour of a volcano with hot licks of lava; the crisp channel of a lake in a mountain chasm. Even Venice – beautiful, unique Venice – manages to look even more fragile and precious.

These photos are in the public domain thanks to a pretty amazing piece of planetary alignment: the generosity of NASA and the brilliant photographic work of a prolific Japanese remote sensing instrument operating on board the Space Agency’s Terra spacecraft. Last month, NASA released nearly twenty years of pictures shot using thermal imaging by the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) device, in an ambitious project to map and monitor the changing surface of the planet. Funded by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), the instrument has shot more than 2.96 million individual scenes to date – and from now on, all future captures will be publicly available. As well as photos from Italy, there are images from right across the globe, each one more spectacular than the last.

In the meantime, scroll down to see a selection of the Italy images captured by ASTER to date and let’s take a moment to just enjoy the fact that we’re meat-covered skeletons made from stardust riding a flying rock that’s equipped with volcanoes AND gelato in an ever-expanding universe.

How’s that Monday morning looking now?

All images copyright NASA/GSFC/METI/IERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./ Japan ASTER Science Team


Mount Etna in Sicily, mid-eruption



The Venetian Lagoon, photographed from space


The hydrological peculiarities of the Strait of Messina, whose whirlpools and currents have contributed to local mythology.


Lake Garda, captured using thermal imaging.












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If you loved this story, you might be interested in:

Access the secret NASA archives containing an incredible selection of thermal images with this astronomic story on photographing Italy from space.

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Earth & Space, Photographs from the Archives of NASA (UK) (US)

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