Tag: Envisat

The cloudy impact of Sikhote Alin

By Phil Plait | March 24, 2012 7:00 am

As soon as I read the caption of this lovely, if frigid, picture I knew I was going to like it: it’s an Envisat image of clouds forming east of the Russian Sikhote Alin mountains:

Sure, it’s pretty and all, but what’s so special about it?

In 1947, a rain of iron fell on this mountain range. A metallic asteroid the size of a school bus came in from space and exploded over Russia, showering the area with iron fragments. Named for the region, Sikhote Alin meteorites are highly valued: they are from a witnessed event, and are quite lovely. I own several, because I love them. My favorite is shaped like Darth Vader’s head!

A documentary was made about the Sikhote Alin fall, and it’s very cool; I wrote about it a few years back.

Isn’t that awesome? The meteorites those guys pick up so casually are worth thousands of dollars each today.

And in 1947, would those Russians poking through that forest have thought that sometime in the not-too-distant future, we’d routinely get an asteroid’s-eye-view of that very same region?

Image credit: ESA

Giovanna slides into Madagascar

By Phil Plait | February 16, 2012 10:30 am

Not to overwhelm you with pictures of weather from space, but this is too amazing to pass up: 8000 km to the southeast of that Italian snowstorm, a different storm is slamming into Madagascar. Tropical cyclone Giovanna made landfall on the east coast of the island at 06:30 GMT Monday morning.

This picture — click to encyclonate — again taken by the ESA’s Envisat, shows just how big this storm is, about 1500 km from north to south, the size of Madagascar itself. What I said about the picture of snow in Italy goes double here: the violence of this storm is transformed into terrible beauty when viewed from above. I’ll note that the satellite’s orbital height is about 800 km, a bit over half the width of the storm it’s observing.

Image credit: ESA

Related posts:

Attack of the Cyclones
Hurricane Irene from start to finish
Hurricane double whammy

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Pretty pictures

White-laced boot

By Phil Plait | February 15, 2012 10:05 am

It’s been cold and snowy here in Boulder, but Europe is getting hit far harder: they’re having record freezes, and over the weekend Italy got a huge pile of snow dumped on them too, the largest in about 30 years. It’s closed airports and disrupted a lot of the daily activity… but from space, it’s actually quite beautiful:

[Click to molto embiggiano.]

The clouds and snow make it hard at first to see Italy, but it runs from the upper left to lower right in this picture, taken by the European Space Agency’s Envisat. The Adriatic Sea is above Italy, and the Tyrrhenian Sea below. You can just see a piece of Sicily, and the islands of Corsica and Sardinia are visible as well.

I’m always amazed at the perspective of space. Disasters, trouble, and the frailty of life are so apparent when you’re in their midst, but they fade rapidly with distance. It doesn’t make them any less real or any less terrible, but it does provide a longer view that all of us, perhaps, can use sometimes.

Image credit: ESA

Related posts:

Buonanotte, Italia
Claire de lune
Crown of the Dolomites
Snowpocalypse 2011 from space!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: Envisat, Italy, snow

Stunning view of a bloom from space

By Phil Plait | January 14, 2012 7:00 am

Almost exactly one year ago, I posted a beautiful picture of a phytoplankton bloom as seen from space. And here’s another one, and it’s way, way more spectacular!

Holy wow! [Click to enalgaenate.]

This shot of a bloom in the southern Atlantic Ocean was taken by the ESA’s Envirosat, which — duh — is designed to observe our environment. In this case, scientists keep a keen eye on phytoplankton blooms: while this bloom is breathtaking and gorgeous, many can be hazardous. Besides producing toxins that can harm sea life, they can also consume more oxygen in the water than usual, which is obviously tough on any life in the area. The color of the bloom can be found quickly using satellite imagery like this, and the algae species determined. Also, phytoplankton are sensitive to some climate changes, so observing them can act as a "canary in the coal mine" for climate change.

Sometimes, the best view of the Earth around us is from above. And sometimes that view is amazing, but a reminder that our ecosystem is a dynamic balance… and it’s best that we understand all the forces that can upset that equilibrium.

Tip o’ the petri dish to Alan Boyle on Google+. Image credit: ESA

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Pretty pictures, Space
MORE ABOUT: Envisat, ESA, phytoplankton

Russia is on fire

By Phil Plait | August 10, 2010 11:33 am

I had heard that there were severe and extensive fires raging out of control in Russia, but I had no idea how bad it was until I saw this picture:


This image was taken by the European Space Agency’s Envisat Earth-observing satellite. Moscow is in the lower left corner of the frame, and the field of view is several hundred kilometers across. Dozens of plumes from forest and peat bog fires can be seen scattered everywhere.

That area of the world is experiencing record heat, with temperatures over 35° C, far higher than usual. That’s dried out the region, making it a tinderbox for fires. Smoke blowing over Moscow is making pollution ten times normal amounts.

When I lived in California, a fire in a town about 25 kilometers away made life difficult for us; the smoke was awful. I imagine things must be incredibly bad in Russia right now, and I hope very much that these fires can be put under control as rapidly as possible.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: Envisat, ESA, fires, Moscow

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