Sunglint and Clouds off Western South America

Note: This caption refers to the image versions labeled "NASA's Earth Observatory web site".

The setting sun highlights cloud patterns above the Pacific Ocean, as well as the ocean surface itself in this impressive image taken by an astronaut on board the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS was located over the Andes Mountains of central Chile at the time. The view is looking towards the Pacific Ocean and the Sun setting in the west (towards image upper right). Light from the setting Sun reflects off the water surface towards the observer on the ISS and creates a mirror-like appearance--a phenomenon known as sunglint.

Bands of relatively low altitude cumulus clouds appear much like a flotilla of ships with their west-facing sides illuminated by the waning sunlight and the rest in shadow (image center). Due to the low Sun angle, they cast long and deep shadows over large swaths of the ocean surface. Given the short camera lens used, an individual cloud shadow may extend for miles. Light gray clouds at image lower left appear to be at a higher altitude. The cloud cover is likely a remnant of a frontal system that moved inland over South America from the Pacific a day or two prior to the time the image was taken.

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