Hurricane Earl… from space

By Phil Plait | September 3, 2010 2:00 pm

What does a hurricane look like from orbit? This:

iss_earl

[Click for Corioliciousness.]

Pretty cool. Hurricane Earl was photographed by an astronaut aboard the space station on August 30. Earl is a massive hurricane barraging the east coast of the US. But from this oblique angle the storm bands blur together, giving the massive storm a smooth, almost serene look. Underneath it, I imagine, the situation looks much different.

Funny how, from space, so many things lose their immediacy, their violent nature, and become beautiful.

Image credit: NASA image courtesy NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: Hurricane Earl, ISS

Comments (29)

  1. From this view it looks quite soft, fluffy and peaceful. Perspective changes everything.

  2. I have to agree this really is a beautiful picture. As you say, you can almost imagine that watching the Earth from space gives you a different sense of time – amazing.

  3. Wayne Robinson

    Almost makes the billions of dollars spent on the ISS worthwhile (no it doesn’t, we still would have similar images taken from unmanned satellites).

    The ISS, for all its romance, and as much as I like having images taken from it as my wallpaper on my computer with parts of it recognisable, humans in space is currently a dead-end until some technological breakthrough (if ever) allows it. Unmanned expeditions (such as Cassini) will still give more information for less money.

  4. All I’ll say about the image: As scary as that storm looks…Wow!!

  5. Mike

    But with unmanned satellites, it’s like blow up dolls, it’s not really that real, is it ? There is not human being the camera.

  6. Dean

    Gee…guess what just became my desktop background…

  7. I wonder what Jupiter’s Big Red Spot looks like from below?

  8. Brian

    @3. Wayne Robinson

    The space station is flawed because it is a political solution, but it can still provide useful data that cannot be gained on earth (prolonged human exposure to microgravity, the logistics of keeping people alive in space, etc). Abandoning the manned space program is the surest way to ensure that the technological breakthrough you mention will never happen. You can’t develop it if you aren’t looking for it. Those innovations don’t just drop into our lap.

  9. KC

    The ISS, for all its romance, and as much as I like having images taken from it as my wallpaper on my computer with parts of it recognisable, humans in space is currently a dead-end until some technological breakthrough (if ever) allows it.

    Christ – just enjoy the damn picture you sad sack!

  10. Messier Tidy Upper

    Hurricane Earl was photographed by an astronaut aboard the space station on August 30.

    An astronaut? Which one? Usually we get specific names here!

    @ 3. Wayne Robinson :

    humans in space is currently a dead-end until some technological breakthrough (if ever) allows it.

    Well aren’t you ever behind the times? :roll:

    Technological breakthroughs have allowed humans in space since the 12th of April 1961 when Yuri Gagarin flew. See there’s now these things called rockets and spacecraft, space shuttles and space stations. Did you hear we’ve landed on the Moon and that there are people upthere right now inthe International Space Station which is still under construction? Where’ve you been these past fifty years Mr Robinson, Mars or something? Wait! ;-)

    No. Space is NOT a dead end but our future. If we have the vision to see it. Robots are good too but people in space – boots in the regolith – can accomplish things robots just can’t. They have a flexibility, initiative and capability that robots, however wonderful, don’t have.

    I think we need to have a revival of human spaceflight and start developing, exploring and living in space and on the Moon, Mars and other worlds in my view. If we stay here we will stagnate and eventually perish. There will be a comet or asteroid with our name on it -or who knows what else. The Dinosaurs didn’t have a space program and just look what happened to them! ;-)

    “Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in a cradle forever.” – Konstantin Tsiolkovsky

  11. Paul in Sweden

    10. Messier Tidy Upper Says:
    September 3rd, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    Hurricane Earl was photographed by an astronaut aboard the space station on August 30.

    An astronaut? Which one? Usually we get specific names here!

    Hurricane Earl From Space

    Updated: Wednesday, 01 Sep 2010, 11:28 AM EDT
    Published : Wednesday, 01 Sep 2010, 8:14 AM EDT

    By NewsCore

    Douglas H. Wheelock, 50, uploaded the stunning image, which was taken from the International Space Station.

    The photograph — which can be seen on Wheelock’s Twitter feed @Astro_Wheels — has since been shown on TV and online media outlets.
    -http://tinyurl.com/3ydywem

  12. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Paul in Sweden : Thanks for that. :-)

    @ everyone here :

    One way or another one day there will be a comet or asteroid with our name on it :

    One way our names will be there because we are living there and making use of comets and asteroids as our homes, making use of the resources they offer and doing marvellous things with them.

    The other way is because that comet or asteroid has our name on it in the metaphorical sense meaning our time will be up. It will impact the Earth and everything & everyone, all Humanity will be wiped out.

    Or if not a comet or asteroid, if we do not spread and expand beyond our tiny pale blue dot but choose instead to stagnate, retreat and cower on Earth literally going nowhere, then it will be something else, who knows what, that does us in before our time. Without us achieving our full potential or having the chance to evolve into something even better.

    The choice is simple – expand into space exploring & settling new frontiers
    or go pathetically and tragically extinct.

    Exploration & expansion into new places is in our DNA, it is a human instinct that along with curiousity, intelligence and creativeness has made us who we are. We turn our back on that at our peril.

    More specifically, a nation that controls space controls the future. If the USA gives up on space it is surrendering the future of its children & grandchildren into the hands of those potentially hostile powers that do have the vision, the drive and the strength to do so. Yes, international space co-operation is possible, sure, but if we don’t play at least some significant part then our futures will be dominated by those who aren’t so feeble. They won’t have our interests or principles at heart. They won’t be as (relatively) generous and benevolent as the United States has been and remains.

    If you wish your children to have a bright future, if you wish our Western values to endure and have a chance at making the world better then there is no option other than supporting human spaceflight and expansion to other worlds.

    ***

    “Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in a cradle forever.”
    – Konstantin Tsiolkovsky

  13. I’m about to see what Earl looks like from the ground as well in a few hours. It’s amazing how something so powerful and destructive can look so beautiful and gentle.

  14. Messier Tidy Upper

    Or as an interesting and well written book I just finished reading the other day put things :

    “We seem to have lost our desire for frontiers; we’ve taken to pouring all our money into the holy buckets of Defence, Health and Welfare. Such spending can in principle take all our wealth, however large that may be, and it won’t return it or multiply it. In contrast, all pioneering multiples, or at least returns, the initial investment allowing more to be spent on Defence, Health and Welfare in the longer term.”
    - Page 336, ‘What does a Martian look like? : The Science of Extraterrestrial Life’ by Jack Cohen & Ian Stewart Ebury Press, 2002 – this edition 2004.

    ***
    “We can wallow in growing misery in a resource-limited, over-polluted environment – or we can head out to the stars. The most obvious alternative – effective population control and a focus – could happen but … [snip!] .. even if staying down here worked, we’d still be stuck in one tiny corner of a huge wonderful universe. Humanity degenerates without new frontiers.”
    - Page 337, ‘What does a Martian look like? : The Science of Extraterrestrial Life’ by Jack Cohen & Ian Stewart Ebury Press, 2002 – this edition 2004.

    ***

    “More than 30 years ago we landed on the Moon. Our last visit was in 1972 and we no longer have already capability to land there. A low-Earth orbit space station is laboriously taking shape, amid little real enthusiasm. … [snip!] .. The question is not about whether aliens have visited us, and if so, why they aren’t here. The important question is why we have not ventured further into space. It would be sad indeed if it turns out that the inability (or reluctance) of an extelligent* species to leave home turns out to be a universal.”
    - Page 328 –329, ‘What does a Martian look like? : The Science of Extraterrestrial Life’ by Jack Cohen & Ian Stewart Ebury Press, 2002 – this edition 2004.

    * Extelligent = the authors idea of intelligence externalised; essential culture plus a lot more.

    @13. reevesAstronomy : Hope all goes well and you come through hurricane Earl alright without any harm or property damage. Best wishes. :-)

    (Here I was thinking the weather over here was stormy & miserable lately! ;-) )

  15. Its crazy this whole conversation started with a simple picture of hurricane Ear”. Now, that, amazes me.. :P

  16. Stargazer

    Not a lot of people know why the ISS is useful. Besides all other kinds of science they do up there, it is also a useful way to get experience from assembling large structures in space, and to get people from different countries and cultures to work together for long periods of time in space. Both very useful för the future of space exploration/colonisation. Another important thing is to study the effects of zero-g on the human body, and it makes sense to do it close to Earth at first. Meanwhile we should develop better means of propulsion, to bring Mars (and the outer Solar system) closer.

  17. Wayne Robinson

    The trouble with the ISS is that it’s only in low Earth orbit. The ISS is only 50-100 km higher than the altitudes Yuri Gagarin in 1961 or John Glenn achieved. The Space Shuttle was oversold as a vehicle that would cheaply put payload into space, and unfortunately NASA discontinued the Saturn rocket, and doesn’t have the blue-prints to rebuild it. Humans don’t have a future in space until the problems of shielding from solar flares and cosmic radiation is solved. The Apollo missions were fortunate in that the radiation exposure to the astronauts in the 10 days of the missions were within safe levels. The radiation exposure during expeditions lasting years to Mars would require much more shielding, adding to the cost. And that’s even before the problem of prolonged exposure to zero gravity. The ISS is just a toy. Now, if we had the space elevator …

  18. scgvlmike

    It may only be an optical illusion, or even an artifact of my monitor, but does the area around the eye look at anyone else slightly like a barred spiral galaxy?

  19. Gary Ansorge

    15. Inevective

    Just goes to show that humans will argue over ANYTHING.

    I expect the reason reality unfolds the way it does is due to an averaging of all possibilities(arguments) in the false vacuum.

    As esoteric as THAT statement is, someone should be able to argue about it,,,

    That’s a BIG storm. I keep wondering why it has had so little effect on the local weather here in Georgia. We’re still hot and humid with little precipitation. Usually, when the hurricanes are sneaking up the east coast, we get tons of rain.

    Gary 7

  20. Paul in Sweden

    I still miss skylab!

  21. Harley Bower

    Theres something wrong with most of you. Its obvious you all have “money” “jobs” and are in good health.
    I too have these things but I would like to fix the existing earth instead of scurrying off to the great unknown. Spend a few billion here, get it fixed and then if you get boared and have a few spare billions then go play with the great unknoen.
    A few billion spent here in your own back yard would make this earth a much more pleasent place to live and you wouldn’t have to go looking for a place to run and hide once our world selfdistructs simply because you guys chose to spend your extra billions of MY TAX DOLLARS on the pie in the sky.
    Silly people who control my tax dollars sometimes really tick me off.

  22. DrFlimmer

    Funny how, from space, so many things lose their immediacy, their violent nature, and become beautiful.

    Just like Supernovae or GRBs. Although, technically, we see them IN space and not FROM space. However, the latter can also be true, with the telescopes up there. So, we can see it in space from space…. ähm, never mind.

    Just like Supernovae and GRBs, which are also quite beautiful from the distance (don’t want to see one up too close..)

  23. Wayne Robinson

    “I still miss skylab!”

    I’m pleased to say that Skylab missed me. When it was coming down, there was some concern that it was going to hit somewhere populated in Western Australia.

  24. Paul in Sweden

    Earl’s biggest damage in Northeast: business – Yahoo! News
    “The tropical storm, far less intense than feared, brushed past the Northeast and dumped heavy, wind-driven rain on Cape Cod cottages and fishing villages but caused little damage.

    It left clear, blue skies in its wake. It was the perfect start to a Labor Day weekend that Cape Cod’s restaurants and hotels hoped to salvage after business was decimated ahead of the storm.”
    -http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100904/ap_on_bi_ge/earl;_ylt=AvjjvxV8kJ1V1Qh2_PdMQi2s0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTM0MHNtM2hnBGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMTAwOTA0L2VhcmwEY2NvZGUDbW9zdHBvcHVsYXIEY3BvcwMxBHBvcwMyBHB0A2hvbWVfY29rZQRzZWMDeW5fdG9wX3N0b3J5BHNsawN1c3NheXNnb29kYnk-

    The site of the Ted Kennedy memorial wind farm at the cape was undamaged and talks of wind and solar powered offshore oil drilling rigs still loom in the distance.

    How can we increase CO2 output in out atmosphere?

    Deaths from climate/weather related disasters have plummeted since about 1900. How much coal do we need to burn to keep this trend going?

    Climate changes and if mankind burning coal drastically reduces the damage that mother earth inflicts on us shouldn’t we all as responsible individuals BBQ every weekend?

  25. Paul in Sweden
  26. Messier Tidy Upper

    @17. Wayne Robinson :

    I finds your lack of faith in the ability of technology and science to fix such issues saddening and I think you are very wrong about this. You’re very much a glass half-empty pessimist aren’t you?

    I think we’ll find a way to solve such problems and there are already many good ideas which I’ve read and seen in various places. Do you really have so little regard for human ingenuity and inventiveness? Have you forgotten how we keep doing things that the nay-sayers say we can’t do from flying at all to landing on the Moon?

    @ 21. Harley Bower : Ditto. Why are so many like you now so gloomy and lacking in vision and courage and optimism for the future? We can do amazing things, there are many, many creative, intelligent people who are working to fix problems in new and better ways. Do you really have to insult such people by denying their ability to overcome the problems you mentioned?

    As for spending money here in your backyard – where do you *think* the cash gets spent? Haven’t you heard of the idea of investment? Haven’t you ever thought about how far we’ve come in terms of developing better more effective technologies and how this has helped our lives? Didn’t you see the first two quotes mentioned in comment #14 above?

    Sigh.

    You can’t fix social and economic problems by abandoning space and abandoning the idea of expanding in the future. That way is guaranteed failure and stagnation. If you had your way we wouldn’t go anywhere, wouldn’t learn anything and would eventually be beaten and lose control of our lives to the nations that do.

    The sort of attitude expresed in that comment makes me angry that you can be so totally wrong, so totally blind and so utterly lacking in vision and hope. It also makes me pity you. What a miserable, depressing hopeless and unimaginative outlook on everything you (& those like you) appear to hold. :-(

    I think you are the silly one here & am very glad that you are NOT controlling the spending of tax dollars or we’ll all be much worse off.

    @15. Inevective Says:

    Its crazy this whole conversation started with a simple picture of hurricane “Earl”. Now, that, amazes me..

    You haven’t been online long then I take it? ;-)

    You’ll find threads can and often do go the topic fairly often sometimes taking quite interesting and far off twists and turns. Its one of the joys & quirks of the net.

    @18. scgvlmike Says:

    It may only be an optical illusion, or even an artifact of my monitor, but does the area around the eye look at anyone else slightly like a barred spiral galaxy?

    Well its certainly a spiral structure! ;-)

    I don’t see more than the very slightest resemblence myself but, maybe.

    @13. reevesAstronomy Says:

    I’m about to see what Earl looks like from the ground as well in a few hours.

    How did that go for you? Hope you’ve managed okay & will reappear here & post again to let us know what that was like.

  27. Jeffersonian

    so totally amazing
    pinch yourself…that’s OUR space-flotation rock yr lookin at

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