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Earth from Space

Owens Lake, Calif.

IMAGE: Owens Lake, Calif.

High-resolution image (893 Kb)

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station looked obliquely down at the steep eastern flank of California's Sierra Nevada Mountains. Even from space the topography is impressive. At 4,418 meters (14,494 feet), Mount Whitney is the highest mountain in the contiguous 48 states. The range drops from its peak nearly 3,353 meters (11,000 feet) to the floor of Owens Valley. The elevation of Lone Pine is 1146 meters (3,760 feet). The Sierra Nevada landscape is well known for the deep, glacially scoured valleys like Kern Canyon, which is west of Mount Whitney.

The California landscape changes east of the Sierra, marked by alternating steep desert mountain ranges and valleys. Many of the valleys contain dry lakebeds, remnants of deep lakes that filled the valleys 11,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age. Owens Lake was a salty lake until 1913, when the Owens River was diverted into the Los Angeles Aqueduct, quickly draining the lake. Today, Owens Lake is a dried salt flat that contains some pooled water following rains. Solar evaporation ponds lie along the northern edge. The bright red color in the wet parts of the lakebed is from the red color of salt-loving microbes known as halobacteria.

Astronaut photograph ISS006-E-24783 was provided by the Earth Sciences and Image Analysis Laboratory at Johnson Space Center. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA-JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth.

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Curator: Kim Dismukes
Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty

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