The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has released stunning pictures from space showing the dramatic terrain of the area around the Winter Olympics host city Sochi, which sits on the Black Sea and borders the Caucusus Mountains. This is the first time the Olympics are being held in Russia since the Moscow Summer Games in 1980, when Russia was still part of the U.S.S.R.
The Games started Feb. 7 and will run until Feb. 23, featuring a record 98 events.
In the image, red indicates vegetation, white is snow, buildings are gray and the ocean is dark blue. The area imaged is about 15 miles (24 kilometers) from west to east (left to right) at the coastline and 25 miles (41 kilometers) from front to back. Height is exaggerated 1.5 times. The image was created from the ASTER visible and near-infrared bands, draped over ASTER-derived digital elevation data.
With its 14 spectral bands from the visible to the thermal infrared wavelength region and its high spatial resolution of 15 to 90 meters (about 50 to 300 feet), ASTER images Earth to map and monitor the changing surface of our planet. ASTER is one of five Earth-observing instruments launched Dec. 18, 1999, on Terra. The instrument was built by Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. A joint U.S./Japan science team is responsible for validation and calibration of the instrument and data products.Photo: NASAOne of the Expedition 38 crew members aboard the International Space Station used a 400mm lens to expose this vertical view of the general area of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Sochi is a city in Krasnodar Krai, Russia, located on the Black Sea coast near the border between Georgia/Abkhazia and Russia. It has an area of 1,353 square miles or 3,505 square kilometers.Photo: NASAThe Caucasus Mountains form the border between Europe and Asia, spanning the gap between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. They also form the boundary between cold, dry air from Asia and humid air from the Mediterranean. Flowing in from the south and west, the humid ocean air hits the Caucasus and gets pushed up. The rising air cools, resulting in heavy snowfall when temperatures are cool enough. Because of this pattern, snowfall tends to be heaviest in the southern and western Caucasus. Rosa Khutor, the new ski resort that is the venue for mountain events at these Olympics, is built in one such region.
Rosa Khutor is just 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Sochi and its subtropical warmth. Leading up to the games, some critics voiced concerns that Rosa Khutor would not have enough snow for competition. In February 2013, it was warm and raining at the resort, forcing several World Cup events to be cancelled. Spurred by these fears, the resort stockpiled 450,000 cubic meters (16 million cubic feet) of snow from last year and installed hundreds of snow-making machines to ensure the slopes would be snow-covered.Photo: NASAExpedition 38 Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio tweeted this photo of Sochi, Russia from the International Space Station, saying, "To all the Olympic athletes in the US, @USOlympic and around the world. A shot of Sochi for you. Good luck!"Photo: NASA