While the Earth can wow us with its stunning natural beauty, sometimes you need a pretty unique vantage point to really appreciate it. For instance, this picture of a phytoplankton bloom swirling in a figure-eight pattern probably wouldn't look like much if you were in the midst of it. But when viewed from the European Space Agency's Envisat satellite, the smearing shapes and bold colors can really be appreciated. In addition to being pretty to look at, images like this can give scientists a better understanding of the microscopic phytoplankton -- which play a huge role in removing carbon from the atmosphere and form the basis of the marine food chain.
By day, red tide looks weird and smells worse. But by night, the microscopic phytoplankton (Lingulodinium polyedrum) that make up the red tide cause the waves to glow an erie blue. The LA Times quotes Professor Peter J. Franks from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who explains the bioluminescent phenomenon thusly:
When jostled, each organism will give off a flash of blue light created by a chemical reaction within the cell. When billions and billions of cells are jostled -- say, by a breaking wave -- you get a seriously spectacular flash of light.See another view of the glowing blue water, this time from a kayaker, after the break.