Holy Haleakala! I mean, Manam!

By Phil Plait | July 27, 2009 7:00 am

Check. This. Out.

Manam volcano imaged by NASA

That’s the Manam volcano in Papua New Guinea, as imaged by NASA’s Earth Observing-1 satellite (and you can also download a ginormously embiggened version, too). In late June the volcano had a minor eruption, captured by the orbiting camera. You can see several older pyroclastic flow beds, where previous eruptions spewed out viciously hot rocks, gas, and ash which roared down the slope of the volcano to the sea.

Images like this, especially when taken over long periods of time to show changes in the landscape, help scientists understand just how these volcanoes work. That can lead to better predictive power, and that can save lives.

Some people say the space program is a waste of money. Perhaps they forget that we sometimes point our advanced equipment back at ourselves, to learn more about the planet we call home. And if they still gripe, perhaps we can remind them that this particular satellite cost each person in the U.S. just a few pennies; how much do they think the thrill of seeing such a gorgeous picture of Manam should cost… even if it had no scientific value at all?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Pretty pictures

Comments (60)

  1. Tim

    we sometimes point our advanced equipment back at ourselves

    I thought I read somewhere recently that the overwhelming majority of satellites NASA launches are pointed back towards Earth.

  2. “Some people say the space program is a waste of money. Perhaps they forget that we sometimes point our advanced equipment back at ourselves, to learn more about the planet we call home.”

    This is a point that needs to be made again and again. I’ve actually got a few anti-spacers to admit that this is a definite benefit, although they steadfastly refuse to admit that anything done outside Low Earth Orbit might be worthwhile.

  3. Amazing and beautiful

  4. Gary Ansorge

    Saw Bob Park on the Colbert show last week. MAn he’s getting old(Park, not Colbert).
    I fear old Bob is subject to a bit of the same tech envy exhibited by those who think we can address our planetary inadequacies by staying here. People have no idea that we’ve already gone far beyond a merely planetary supportable population. We absolutely require exploitation of the solar systems resources and that WILL require human presence in space.

    Rant over,,,

    Beautiful pics. Great reminders of how small this pebble in the sky really is,,,

    GAry 7

  5. Levi in NY

    Neato!

    Really makes you want to become a galactic dictator and drop a whole bunch of alien souls down there, huh?

  6. Petrolonfire

    So that’s where flight 815 (‘Lost’) got to … ;-)

    Lemme guess the volcano puashe sthe island around and wsomewhere in that column of white smoke is a monster made of black smoke? ;-)

    Seriously, one frakken neat image. 8)

    (I can say “frakken” here right?) ;-)

  7. Petrolonfire

    @4 Levi in NY :

    Who says you need to be a Galactic dicator to do that … Give me a chopper with sufficient fuel etc .. & there’s a bunch o’folks I’d be only to happy to drop down there! ;-)

  8. Matt J

    Nice! In the words of the Muppet Show: Mahna Manam!

  9. Messier Tidy Upper

    Off topic sorry but I’m pretty keen to get an answer on this & the thread seems to have slipped too far down. From :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2009/07/23/the-giant-eye-of-an-infrared-galaxy/

    @ 20. RickJ Says:

    … Arp classed the pair under “Spiral Galaxies with Companions on Arms: Small, high surface brightness companions.” His photo taken in the 50’s with the 200″ telescope is at:

    http://nedwww.ipac.caltech.edu/level5/Arp/Figures/big_arp77.jpeg

    Thanks for that RickJ. :-)

    Looking at Arp’s old photo there I’d be tempted to call NGC 1097 “The InfraRed Eye galaxy” a barred spiral galaxy rather than merely a spiral one. SBb or c on the Hubble classification type maybe? What do y’all reckon?

    Does anyone have a recent, true colour visual light image of this galaxy for comparison?

  10. Plutonium being from Pluto

    Am I the only one who looks at that and thinks :

    Aha! PacMan Island!

    Green pacman? ;-)

  11. Really? Ginormously embiggened?

    I would expect an astronomer to know more about the size of things. The Carina nebula from Hubble in full size, THAT is ginormous! This is hardly the resolution of a cheap compact camera.

  12. Ray

    With all due respect to Phil’s love of the space program, the photo could have as easily come from an airborne platform as from a satellite.

  13. dhtroy

    Why is that when I look at that picture, I think … Jurassic Park …

  14. Dave

    Iain, I suggest you click on the photo, then click on the one it brings up to see the larger image. Even that 3300px × 2200px photo was likely sized down considerably from the original so people like you with crummy video cards could load it.

  15. Wayne

    It’s good to hear something about EO-1, I was at the launch back in November 2000 (for Munin, a secondary payload on the same Delta 2). I can always remember the date because every evening we’d go back to the hotel and check to see if we had a new President yet. :-)

  16. I’ve been using this pic for my desktop background at work for about 2 or 3 weeks. It’s absolutely gorgeous.

  17. “how much do they think the thrill of seeing such a gorgeous picture of Manam should cost… even if it had no scientific value at all?”

    $0.00

    Many people who believe that the space program is a waste of time and money tend to focus on the single most expensive thing they can find without realizing how many trillions of dollars are being spend on feel good PR campaigns, bureaucratic waste, politics and advertising and buying things with pretty much no real or significant value. They want the communication capabilities and the pretty images, but they don’t want to pay for them. They’ll like the gorgeous high rez pic, but they don’t really care about the geology involved or how it was acquired.

    This is why it’s easy for them to point at how many billions a swarm of satellites or a space station cost to build and maintain because it’s a big number, and without bothering to figure out how much we’ve learned from space exploration or how it’s applicable to our lives, they declare that the whole thing is a waste of money.

  18. Charles Boyer

    I was looking through my CRC, but could not find the conversion for “ginormous.”

    Maybe Wikipedia would help?

    :-)

  19. gibson042

    This really is a nice photo. Phil misses the point when he addresses the “waste of money” claim, though; the significant problem is not the satellite’s cost but the forceful origins of its funding. The thrill of seeing this picture should cost whatever people are willing to voluntarily pay, but we’ll never know that figure because no one had a choice in the matter.

    It really is a nice photo, though.

  20. Messier Tidy Upper

    Gargantuan? Titanic? Colossal? Behemothic? Leviathanesque?

    Or wait for it … Astronomical? ;-)

    FYI. Interestingly enough, all these terms come from mythology except “astronomical’ of course.

    Gargantuan form Gargantua a giant imagined by Voltaire or Swift in a satire. (If memory serves.)

    Titanic comes from the Greek myth of the Titans – elder giant gods that were supplanted by
    the Gods of Olympus Zeus, Posidon, Aphrodite, Hera, Artemis, Athena, et al .. One of the Titans is Atlas who not only holds up the world but is also one of the stars in the Plieades (“seven sisters” star cluster, M45) for his role in being their mythological father.

    Colossal from the mythical Colossus of Rhodes which was also a statute on the eponymous Aegean island.

    Behemoth and Leviathan are two giant monsters mentioned in the Old Testament / Hebrew mythology.
    —-

    PS. Just please, please, not that ugly neolgism that the BA gratingly shoves on us taken from a barely funny joke in the Simpsons, “embiggen.”

    BTW. The whole point of that joke was that “embiggen ” and “cromulent” are NOT proper words. Using them as if they were makes the already weak joke fall even flatter and also dumbs down English even worse. The correct term is ‘enlarge’, thankyou very much.

    My view of course but ..

  21. That’s not ginormous enough! I want ginormouser! ;^)
    It looks like there are a couple human habitations on the island. Look at the NW & SW “corners” and you’ll see them. I don’t think I’d like living there. Hard to sleep when a pyroclastic flow might be a rude wake up call.

    Looks like they had a couple lahars too, to the West and SSW. Tough place to live. I like it here in Virginia just fine, so idyllic as this looks from orbit, I’ll stay put.

  22. Petrolonfire

    @ Richard Drumm The Astronomy Bum :

    Hard to sleep when a pyroclastic flow might be a rude wake up call.

    Or worse may NOT wake you up at all … ;-)

    @ Messier Tidy Upper :

    One of the Titans is Atlas who not only holds up the world but is also one of the stars in the Plieades

    Does holding up the world mean Atlas is the greatest armed robber of all time? ;-)

  23. I'd rather be fishin'

    Comments like ‘spending money on the space program is a waste” annoy me on many levels. People who make such assine statements don’t understand that money spent on science is an investment in the future.

    My sister-in-law recently commented that the money should be spent on earth. I asked her where she thought the money was being spent, the Mars branch of ‘Rockets-R-Us’?

  24. Nate

    For further minbloweryness consider that the island is INHABITED full time!

  25. Ray

    @ Messier Tidy Upper,

    “BTW. The whole point of that joke was that “embiggen ” and “cromulent” are NOT proper words. Using them as if they were makes the already weak joke fall even flatter and also dumbs down English even worse. The correct term is ‘enlarge’, thankyou very much.”

    Actually, embiggen was used in 1884. It *is* a “proper” word.

    http://www.allwords.com/word-embiggen.html

  26. KC

    >Saw Bob Park on the Colbert show last week. Man he’s getting old…

    I had the same thought…looks like Bob has picked up Robert VanAllen’s old banner and is hobbling away with it….

    >With all due respect to Phil’s love of the space program, the photo could have as easily come >from an airborne platform as from a satellite.

    No you couldn’t have gotten that from an airborne craft, at least not very easily.

  27. Mike Davey:

    I’ve actually got a few anti-spacers to admit that this is a definite benefit, although they steadfastly refuse to admit that anything done outside Low Earth Orbit might be worthwhile.

    I guess they’ve never looked at a weather forecast? I don’t think geosynchronous weather satellites qualify as LEO.

  28. Chris A.

    @Messier Tidy Upper:
    Since we’re nit-picking…

    While Atlas is shown holding up the world in popular depictions, in the original mythology he holds up the sky (otherwise, what would he be standing on?!).

    But perhaps more to the point: “Behemoth” is properly used as both a noun and an adjective.

  29. 11. Plutonium being from Pluto Says:

    Am I the only one who looks at that and thinks :

    Aha! PacMan Island!

    Green pacman?

    He ate something that didn’t agree with him?

    J/P=?

  30. Beelzebud

    But… But…. Conservative Republican “Bobby” Jindal says that we need to cut wasteful spending on stuff like “Volcano monitoring”!

  31. JB of Brisbane

    @Messier Tidy Upper – you forgot hippopotamic and Brobdignalian.

  32. I'd rather be fishin'

    So once I embiggen the really neat picture, do I then emshrimpify when done?

  33. Nothing wrong with embiggening the English language with perfectly cromulent new words. The English language is a living language. It evolves. Words get added with use. It is why we have multiple hundreds of thousands of words available to us.
    http://www.oed.com/news/updates/newwords0906.html

  34. Paul M

    But Gibson #20 – you do have a say in the funding. Isn’t that what a democracy is all about? Ok, it requires a little effort on your part but it can be done. What you’re saying is kind of like objecting to spending on road safety on the grounds that you weren’t personally consulted. That’s one of the roles of government.

  35. I'd rather be fishin'

    Apparently, some countries even have government commissions on their language to stop the importation of English terms and phrases.

  36. MadScientist

    With the US public non-military birds all data (raw and processed) is freely available to the public and it was also decided many decades ago that the data will be made available to anyone on the planet. The EU still has to step up and do the same with its birds. People around the world use data from all of the US earth observation satellites and limiting data access would really put the squeeze on a lot of government organizations. Unfortunately some countries like Australia continue to be huge users but contribute very little to these programs and there has been talk for a number of years now about restricting data access so that other users contribute more to the development and deployment of these instruments.

    Now how much would I pay for these pictures? As little as possible. :) I like the freely available data paid for with tax money, especially on those occasions when I’ve got to look through a few tens of GBs of it.

  37. Phil, i don’t think anyone outside the Rethuglican white is sensibly arguing that earth observation from space is a waste of money – most critics of the NASA budget are questioning the sense of over-commitment to pork-barrel manned missions that do little & cost lots. If anything, a proper push behind earth observation might actually be popular with the electorate; as our little home has tended to be a low priority in the space race, rather to our information cost

  38. Ken

    Very OT:

    Last night my family and I were catching the ISS overpass (Looked great, precisely where and when predicted).

    In the process we saw what appeared to be a couple other satellites.

    Can anyone point me to a good website that could help me identify what those were? Something like “what’s likely to be visible at such-and-so time/date, settable to past dates.

    Thanks in advance!

  39. Paul M

    Hi Ken

    http://www.heavens-above.com

    Give it your location, use the daily predictions option and then there are links to go either forward or backward in time.

  40. Mark Hansen

    “…Give it your location, use the daily predictions option and then there are links to go either forward or backward in time…

    Sign me up! I’ll take backward in time to just before major sporting events with large bets please!

  41. Tom K.

    “prepare for ludicrous size!” Dark Helmet

  42. @ Ray:

    Flying an aircraft over an active volcano? Not a good idea…..

  43. Those who claim that “spaceflight is a waste of money” really need to learn to put things into perspective. Even the cost of the ISS, and major planetary missions, works out as a piddling few dollars per citizen. e.g. the overall cost of Voyager, throughout its lifetime, was roughly 25 cents per US citizen per year – surely the greatest bargain in history, IMO!
    Simply saying that a major project costs n billion dollars is meaningless to the average man in the street, who has no comprehension of how much a billion dollars actually is – so we need something with which to compare, such as the amount which the nation spends on familiar things. So here’s something to think about… the total cost of Apollo, the single most expensive space project ever, was comparable to the amount which the American population spent, during the same period, on cigarettes!!!
    I rest my case.

  44. Geetarz

    Anyone have an idea what the carbon emissions are from this puppy? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

    ~G

  45. gibson042

    @Paul #35 You seem to be saying that everyone in a democracy must, in addition to accepting the decisions of their rulers, take partial responsibility for them. But what about people who reject the might-makes-right premise of democracy and don’t believe that majority vote legitimizes forcing anyone’s will upon others?

    Like every minority, they have no say in how the pilfered funds are allocated. On satellites and bombs and detention camps and fancy ceremonies and expense accounts, their wishes are ignored.

    In this case and in many others, the results are far prettier than the means of their acquisition.

  46. Flying sardines

    @ gibson042 : “..But what about people who reject the might-makes-right premise of democracy and don’t believe that majority vote legitimizes forcing anyone’s will upon others?”

    Democracy = “might makes right?” WTF?

    Because the people of North Korea and China have so much greater say over how their nations spend their taxes than us rii-iight? :roll:

    Okay foreign policy wise the USA may have its militaristic turns but, come on, that’s just way OTT. Internally and – usually – internationally the US behaves quite reasonably or at least reasonably~ish. Esp. when compared to real global “might= right” states like China and the ancient Mongol Empire.

    “Like every minority, they have no say in how the pilfered funds are allocated.”

    Pilfered? Tax money – with representation let’s not forget – is is hardly what I’d call ‘pilfered’ ..

    If you don’t want to live in a democracy – a representative one (& let’s face it Athenian style refenderum on every issue by quorum democracies are non-existent today ..) where we get to vote & have at least some say in our governance – heck we can run for office ourselves if we so desire – then how exactly would *you* prefer to run things? Well?

  47. Ken

    #40 @Paul,

    That’s where I got the ISS track info in the first place. :-)

    I didn’t see where you could say “show me all the sats expected to be visible today” kind of option. Only where you could select a sat and then get predictions.

    I did find a Java applet on a NASA site (J-Track I think) that did do what I was looking for. So I’m happy (what my neighbors saw was almost certainly SEASAT-1, I don’t remember right now what the one I saw was.

  48. @Flying sardines This is quickly getting derailed (and I am partly culpable), but I will address your questions as briefly as possible. Any further discussion should be taken out of band.

    « Democracy = “might makes right?” WTF? »

    Your references to China and Mongolia make me think you are confused about what I mean. I’m talking about domestic interactions here, not foreign. The premise of democracy is that majorities can leverage the *might* of strength in numbers to *rightly* dictate conditions to minorities. Violence is usually shrouded in implied threats, but if you don’t believe it’s there then try ignoring a statute you disagree with.

    « Pilfered? Tax money – with representation let’s not forget – is is hardly what I’d call ‘pilfered’ »

    Begging the question. Your assumption that the taxes are products of representation is incorrect, at least with respect to yours truly. Any politician claiming to represent me is relying on the very premise that I rejected above (and in all likelihood, they don’t represent you either). They extract tax money only under duress from their threats of imprisonment… “extorted” is a more accurate description, but I think “pilfered” still fits.

    « If you don’t want to live in a democracy… then how exactly would *you* prefer to run things? Well? »

    I don’t want to run things at all. I want those who *do* to stop harming people (including me) in my name. Anyone wishing to do business with me can extend the same courtesy that I offer everyone else, and first get my agreement. Claims of obligation from me predicated on mere existence are no more legitimate than those predicated upon unrequested windshield washes from bums.

    You may say that you’d rather live with the politicians. And you can have democracy, if that’s what you want… but my failure to persuade you doesn’t erase the immorality of involuntary democracy.

    Now how about some more photos?

  49. Robert E

    @gibson042
    I don’t want to run things at all. I want those who *do* to stop harming people (including me) in my name. Anyone wishing to do business with me can extend the same courtesy that I offer everyone else, and first get my agreement.

    Yeah, right. And just how fast would all progress on everything grind to a halt? And when the majority still wanted to do something you didn’t agree with what then?

  50. AR

    From the perspective of an individual dissenter, it is of no difference whatsoever whether the political powers that be consist of a single dictator or 55% of the population in an arbitrarily defined geographic region; they are coerced into cooperation just the same.

    And when the majority still wanted to do something you didn’t agree with what then?

    Well, I suppose they’d do it. They’d just have to finance it themselves.

  51. Neil Haggath wrote: “Those who claim that “spaceflight is a waste of money” really need to learn to put things into perspective.”

    They probably are putting it into perspective, Neil – they just aren’t putting it into the perspective you personally want. A bit difference. That the cost of this Earth-orbiter – forget about the really expensive missions for the moment – is considerably less than a B2 bomber doesn’t in itself make it the better investment… it maybe that a financially strapped US would be better served not buying either. It’s not a matter of the taxpayers paid for THAT, so why won’t they pay for this?; more of case of: why on earth should they pay for either?

    Because i’m sympathetic to the cause, it worries me that i’m not hearing good answers from the community. Have we really run out of good reasons to go into space?

  52. space cadet

    To Ken – hope you’re still here. Try this. If the link doesn’t work, search ‘real time satellite tracking’

    http://www.n2yo.com/?s=29049

    Ken and everybody else, go here (apod) for a pretty cool volcano pic

    http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap060607.html

  53. Lenny V

    Looks rather like a big bonfire, seen from above… :) The scale isn’t obvious – at least in this small image – unless you actively study the ground and determine it’s not grass or moss covering a little rock splinter of an island, but rather trees, and a lot of them.

    Truly fascinating how different our own planet looks just by changing the perspective.

  54. Paul M.

    No Gibson, I am saying that you as an individual have a say. I never implied that any one particular individual or group would get what they want. That’s what a democracy is – you have a voice even though it sounds like you don’t want it. There is another type of government where one person gets what they want all the time… pretty sure you know the word for it.

    Ken,
    On the front page of Heavens-Above there are some links under the heading Satellites. It has “Daily predictions for all satellites brighter than magnitude:” and options for 3.5, 4.0 and 4.5. Glad you found the info you wanted though!

  55. AR

    Why do you take for granted that some type of government must exist in the first place?

  56. Robert, #51:
    “Have we really run out of good reasons to go into space?”

    No, we haven’t! One of the commonest arguments from the “spaceflight is a waste of money” brigade is that “the money would be better spent on solving the world’s environmental problems”. This is one of the most idiotic arguments I’ve ever heard, for the simple reason that the two most important environmental problems of our time – global warming and the ozone hole – were discovered as a result of spaceflight!
    The hole in the ozone layer was discovered in Landsat images. The greenhouse effect was discovered by studying the atmosphere of Venus, and attempting to explain the anomalously high temperatures revealed by Mariner 2, before anyone ever suspected that it could be happening on Earth.
    Surely, understanding and protecting our own planet is a good enough reason for going into space, in anyone’s book.

  57. Actually, Neil, the ozone hole was discovered by a British researcher in Antartica (it should have bee picked up by LandSat, but NASA wasted the data); but otherwise you make a good case for Earth observation. That isn’t an argument for going into space, though – it’s an argument for using space to fix up our problems here

    How does this argument extrapolate to jolly jaunts to Mars?, say

  58. Robert #57:

    “That isn’t an argument for going into space, though – it’s an argument for using space to fix up our problems here”, So what exactly is the difference?
    As you acknowledge, it’s a valid argument for using satellites for Earth observation. And, as has been pointed out elsewhere, the vast majority of satellites are used for Earth observation. Ergo, you have just acknowledged that the vast majority of spaceflight is being done for valid reasons.
    As for planetary missions, re-read my previous post. The greenhouse effect was discovered by studying the atmosphere of Venus, so all the probes which have been sent there were and are entirely justified.
    As for your question about Mars; we now know that Mars has undergone dramatic climatic changes in its past history. Surely it stands to reason, that studying the climatology of other planets – and especially the environmental disasters which have befallen both Venus and Mars – will help us to better understand our own.
    Regarding other valid uses of space; most of us now take it for granted that we can:
    – Sit in the comfort of our living rooms, and watch on live TV, the Olympics from Beijing, the world heavyweight title fight from Las Vegas, etc. etc.
    – Turn on the TV and see a reasonably accurate forecast of the weather for the next few days, which helps us plan our activities.
    – Find our way to where we want to go, with SatNav in our cars.
    Need I go on???

  59. All ancient history, Neil (& in some cases, the relationship between the benefit & the achievement is rather stretched – the greenhouse effect on earth was actually discovered by people on earth noticing a stready increase in planetary temperatures & linking it to a parallel observation of increases in CO2 levels… observing Venus only illustrated the effect’s potential in crisis mode). Comparative planetology may be scientifically useful; but is that enough to justify jolly jaunts to the planet costing as much as a medium sized war? I doubt it (& i’m sympathetic to the cause). What must the unconvinced think?, when all the advocacy community can do is repackage old, rejected ideas as though they were new insights. It’s not as if they actually paid for SatNav, which is a parasite on military space exp[enditure

  60. Michael

    If Christopher Nolan ever needs a Boy Wonder, he just needs to check out Phil.

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