The other day, BadAstronomer (the Twitter handle of Phil Plait, the writer of Discover Magazine’s Bad Astronomy Blog) used his blog to share a beautiful picture taken from space, and a nice science tidbit that’s worth sharing.

Here’s the picture:

This is a variation of the image posted at theNASA Earth Observatory, which also has some nice commentary and more detail about how the image was acquired.

The plume is obvious, as is its shadow to the northeast. Two smaller, lower plumes can be seen rocketing out over the sea to the north and south, and the wind is carrying ash in beautiful eddies to the east, too.

From this view, high above the Earth, it’s eerily beautiful. I imagine seeing the pyroclastic flows from this event would have been underpants-soilingly terrifying from the ground, however. I’m not seeing much news about this, even though it happened days ago, and I haven’t heard of any deaths resulting from it.

Phil then goes on to say this cool bit about science.

The good news is, by studying events like these, and learning all we can about the natural world around us, we can understand what makes these dangerous giants tick. I mentioned that when Soufriere Hills blew in 1997, nineteen people died. That’s on an island with a population of over 4000… so why were so few killed? Because volcanologists – scientists – knew the warning signs and were able to get most of the people out of harm’s way.

Science. It’s cool, and it makes our lives better. It sometimes even saves them outright.

It’s a good week for us then. We have an amazing image of earth’s power, acquired by cool space technology (for those keeping score, it’s the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite). And we have a concrete example of how science improves the lives of people.