Such was the case on February 20, 2011, when NASA’s Aqua satellite passed over Libya.
Mainly clear skies that prevailed over the North African nation at midday revealed an apparent tranquil Saharan landscape, while the reality for those living on the ground was quite different.
At the time the image to the right was captured, protests against the regime of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi were being met by lethal force, inflicted by foreign mercenaries and elements of the Libyan military.
The vast majority of Libya consists of a barren desert landscape. But the area adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea receives enough maritime moisture to sustain agriculture and most of the country’s human settlements.
While the coastline provides the country’s mildest climate year-round, conditions change rapidly within only a few miles of the shore.
The hottest temperature ever measured on the Earth’s surface occurred only about 35 miles southwest of Libya’s coastal capital of Tripoli on September 13, 1922.
But that reading in the town of Al Aziziyah is controversial. The record high temperature of 136 degrees Fahrenheit occurred during a nine-year period from 1919 to 1928 when the official thermometer was situated over a black tarmac, which absorbed more solar radiation and produced artificially high readings in the air above.
Also, the weather station’s primary maximum thermometer became damaged just prior to the record high reading and had been replaced with an uncalibrated and non-regulation thermometer.
This means that Death Valley, California, probably has the more realistic all-time record high temperature for the world at a blistering 134 degrees Fahrenheit, measured on July 10, 1913.
Image: NASA's MODIS Rapid Response System