Explore Africa’s cities, rivers, coasts and wild places with views from above, in a selection of gorgeous astronaut and satellite photography of the continent.
There’s more to images of Africa than giraffes, sunsets, and giraffes silhouetted against sunsets. It’s the second-largest continent on earth. Its 30 million square kilometres encompass more wonders than you could ever hope to see: 55 countries, cities and farmlands, deserts and rainforests, snowy mountains and deep salted basins, and a fascinating history – of both humanity and geology – visible from space.
The eye of the Sahara
Ocean meets rivers in northern Madagascar
Estuaries – where the waters of seas and rivers mix – on the northwestern coast of Madagascar, a large African island in the Indian Ocean. The Mozambique Channel (top) separates Madagascar from the southeastern coast of Africa. The Betsiboka River, which flows into Bombetoka Bay (upper left), leaves striking red floodplain sediments. Mahajamba Bay (right) is fed by several rivers including the Mahajamba and Sofia. Like the Betsiboka, the floodplains of these rivers contain reddish sediments eroded from their basins upstream. Click image to enlarge. (Nasa, CC BY-NC 2.0)
The night lights of Cairo and the Nile River
A night view of northern Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean Sea captured by the International Space Station in September 2016. The lights of the city of Cairo and settlements southwards along the Nile River can be clearly seen. Click image to enlarge. (Nasa Johnson, CC BY-NC 2.0)
Crop circles in Libya’s Al-Jawf Oasis
The Al-Jawf Oasis in Eastern Libya photographed by the crew of the International Space Station in February 2017. The large circles in the desert sand are crops cultivated under center-pivot irrigation systems. Click image to enlarge. (Nasa Johnson, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Ceuta, a Spanish city in Morocco
Ceuta is a Spanish city of some 85 000 people built on a narrow strip of Africa stretching into the western Mediterranean Sea. It lies on the southern coast of the Strait of Gibraltar, where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic Ocean. This enclave of Spain in Morocco is 14 kilometres from the Spanish mainland. About half the city’s population is Moroccan. Ceuta and Melilla are Spain’s two territories on the African mainland. Ceuta has a long history as a strategic trade and military point, going back to its origins in the fifth century BCE as the Carthaginian city Abyla. Click image to enlarge. (Nasa, CC BY-NC 2.0)
Freetown’s deep-water harbour on the Sierra Leone River
Freetown, an important West African port city and the capital of Sierra Leone, captured by Sentinel 2A satellite on 28 March 2016. Its harbour, the centre of the city’s economy, lies in the estuary of the Sierra Leone River and is one of the largest natural deep-water harbours in the world. The city of Freetown was founded in 1792 by freed African-American slaves. Click image to enlarge. (Antti Lipponen, CC BY 2.0)
The coastal waters of Guinea-Bissau
A false-colour composite satellite image of the rivers, coast and islands of Guinea-Bissau. Infrared, red and blue light wavelengths bring out details of the complex patterns of the country’s shallow coastal waters, where silt carried by the Geba and other rivers washes out into the Atlantic Ocean. Click image to enlarge. (Nasa/USGS EROS Data Center, CC BY 2.0)
Kinshasa and Brazzaville on the Congo River
A view of the twin Congo capitals, facing each other across the Congo River. In this 2003 photo taken from the International Space Station, the smaller city of Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of the Congo, is at upper left. The much larger grey area at lower left is Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The cities lie at the point where the Congo River becomes navigable upstream, widening to the east into Pool Malebo – previously named, in honour of himself, “Stanley Pool” by the brutal 19th century British-American explorer Henry Morton Stanley, who murderously prospected the region on behalf of King Leopold II of Belgium. Click image to enlarge. (Nasa Earth Observatory, CC BY 2.0)
Dakar: the western tip of Africa
Dakar, Senegal‘s capital city. This arrow-shaped peninsula is the westernmost point of the African continent. Click image to enlarge. (Antti Lipponen, CC BY 2.0)
Two rivers form the Nile in Khartoum, Sudan
The White Nile and Blue Nile rivers meet in the city of Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. Here they form the great Nile River, which then flows north through Egypt to Cairo and empties into the Mediterranean Sea. In this image taken in the 2005 dry season, the still-flowing White Nile is at left, and the nearly dry Blue Nile curves at right. The source of the White Nile, near the equator in Uganda, produces a nearly constant flow throughout the year. The Blue Nile, by contrast, rises from the highlands of Ethiopia where it is fed by the rainfall of summer monsoons, producing floods in autumn but drying out in the spring. The scars of rainy season floodplains can be clearly seen on the banks of both rivers. Click image to enlarge. (Nasa, CC BY-NC 2.0)
Outstanding universal value: Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains
Created by rapidly erupting lava 31-million years ago, the Simien Mountains in northern Ethiopia, near Gondar in the Amhara region, look like a map of Middle Earth. The mountains are highest part of the Ethiopian Highlands, and surrounded by a steep, ragged escarpment with dramatic vertical cliffs, pinnacles, and rock spires – scenery that draws international tourists. Their basalt volcanic rock is more than three kilometres thick. The world’s only other mountains formed in this way, by massive floods of lava, are South Africa’s Drakensberg range. Ethiopia’s Simien National Park has been awarded Unesco World Heritage status for its “outstanding universal value” to humanity, which rivals that of Colorado’s Grand Canyon. Click image to enlarge. (Nasa, CC BY-NC 2.0)
The extinct volcano in the desert
Brukkaros Mountain, a four-kilometre-wide extinct volcano rising out of the desert in the ǁKaras Region of southern Namibia. Unlike most volcanoes, Brukkaros was formed by a single event. Eighty million year ago a rising plug of superheated magma met groundwater, causing a massive explosion and creating the mountainous crater. Click image to enlarge. (Nasa, CC BY-NC 2.0)
Researched, edited and written by Mary Alexander.
Updated 7 March 2018.