Avalanches are a terror in the backcountry. Ripping down slopes at speeds that easily top 80 miles per hour, they come and go in a matter of seconds, often leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. However, today we can appreciate the haunting beauty of an avalanche from the safety of outer space, as NASA has shared this previously unreleased satellite image from April 17, 1996.
In what NASA is calling a true “stroke of luck,” the picture was taken by one of the many hundreds of satellites that orbit our planet, capturing imagery of roughly 200 million square miles of the Earth’s surface. Even more unbelievable, these individual satellites produce only still images—making avalanches, and other short-lived natural occurrences, nearly impossible to document on film.
Using infrared, red, and green light waves, the image here shows an enormous avalanche charging 2,500 feet down a steep flank of Kanjut Sar, a peak in the Karakoram Range in northern Pakistan. With a height of 25,460 feet, Kanjut Sar is the 11th highest mountain in Pakistan and the 26th highest in the world. Though not frequented by mountaineers, climbers or skiers, it is well-known in the region for its impressive slides. For more information and images, check out NASA’s got the goods.