The natural world never fails to find ways to surprise us. Once we think we’ve seen and experienced it all, nature stuns us with imagery and phenomena that we never could’ve imagined.
Even seasoned world travelers haven’t witnessed some of the planet’s most incredible sights and sounds. Lucky for us, some people have gone out of their way to capture their amazing experiences in photographs and videos that bring these rare scenes to our screens.
Here are just 20 of the unbelievable images of all that is beautiful and bizarre that you can find on Earth—and beyond.
1. Let’s start with something we all know and love: the sun. As awe-inspiring as our solar system’s star is, it’s a bit difficult to comprehend its enormous size. To help, take note of the small black dot near the top-left portion of this image. Any guess what that little spot is? Why, it’s a planet: Mercury!
2. Speaking of planets from an entirely different perspective, check this out. This might look like a photo of how it would appear if the Earth was entirely made up of water, and to be honest, it’s not far off. This is actually a Google Earth image of our dear planet as seen from the Pacific Ocean. That’s a lot of water!
3. When a volcano erupts, people expect smoke, ash, and incredibly hot magma. But what happens when there’s an electrical storm, as pictured during the eruption below? Apparently, should a volcano give off too much energy, the end result looks something like this.
4. Does it look like someone has magically parted the seas here? Well, it turns out that this is what is known as a “cross sea.” It occurs when waves traveling in two totally different directions collide with one another. See the grid it forms in the distance?
5. And just to further demonstrate how insanely cool even everyday waves actually are, take a gander at what it looks like inside of one of those bad boys. This could either be every surfer’s dream come true… or their worst nightmare.
6. There’s no denying that, with their shells, turtles are one of the more fascinating species around. But have you ever wondered what it would look like if you could see inside of the shell? Well, here’s a peek.
7. As common as it is to find all over the world, most people don’t give much thought to wood. Yet, while it might all appear solid from afar, something strange happens when you put it under a microscope. Huh! Wood you look at that.
8. Thanks to advances in modern film and video technology, people are finally getting the chance to see things in slow-motion like never before. Take, for instance, this ladybug unfurling its wings. Who knew there was so much going on when they want to fly away?
9. We rarely think of fish as being stealthy hunters. After all, how smart can they be if they regularly fall for the ol’ worm-on-a-hook trick? Still, this archerfish defies all expectations, what with its incredible ability to spout water from its mouth in order to knock insects from their leafy perches above. That poor little bugger never stood a chance.
10. You’re familiar with electric eels, but did you know that they’re not the only animals of the sea who have the ability to produce electricity? This tiny shrimp, known as an ostracod, produces luminescent chemicals that deter most predators from eating them. This fish actually tried to swallow one and had to spit it back out!
11. This doesn’t apply to all owls, but some boast incredibly long legs when they stand up. Who knew that they were hiding those long stems all these years? The Log Lady was definitely right: “The owls are not what they seem.”
12. Afraid of lightning and thunder? You’re never going to want to visit this place. At the mouth of the Rio Catatumbo in Venezuela, thunder and lightning storms happen as many as 160 days a year!
13. If you’re ever shopping for a bouquet of flowers and you notice galaxy-esque petals amongst the roses and daffodils, there’s no way you can pass it up. This beautiful celestial flower is what’s known as a night sky petunia.
14. These layers of beautifully placed clouds over a mountain might look Photoshopped, but they’re very real! They’re actually part of a naturally occurring cloud formation that’s created when strong winds affect the water droplets and ice crystals hovering above a mountain.
15. Have you ever watched a shampoo commercial and wondered how the directors get the model’s hair to blow so smoothly in the wind? Well, it turns out that the actor is standing in front of a green screen—and a technician in a green suit is playing with their locks!
16. This might appear to be some sort of magical forest, but unfortunately, it’s not. That’s just an extremely hot flame burning a tree from the inside-out. The color of the flame is purplish because it’s so hot.
17. Look at this enormous walrus! You have to imagine that this man’s friends accused him of Photoshopping the picture, but it turns out that the large water animal had just climbed onto a stationary submarine to take a nap in the sun. Sleep tight, big guy.
18. Every snowflake is so beautifully unique, so it’s a real shame that they all get destroyed when they hit the ground. This is what it looks like to see a snowflake collide with a surface and disappear in an instant.
19. You might believe you’re looking at a collage of four different photographs here, but you’d be wrong. This is actually one single photo! The red and gray are part of a wall on the boardwalk in the foreground, while the two different shades of blue are the sky and ocean in the background.
20. Much like the previous photo, this is also one image. The photographer took the picture from a hill that is so steep that it appears the boats are suspended in the sky. Once you realize the perspective, it’ll be easier to grasp this natural illusion!
It’s easy to take the beauty of the natural world for granted, but these pictures prove it’s always worth a deeper look.
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