The leaking oil pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico is gearing up to be the worst environmental disaster in American history. It’s still second to the Exxon Valdez incident, but at this rate it will pass the Alaska spill soon. Reading about this is breaking my heart, and angering me a lot. It’s difficult to express in words how truly awful this is… so maybe a picture will help.
This image, taken by NASA’s Aqua satellite, shows the slick as it was on May 4 — well over 50 km (30 miles) long and growing. An earlier image shows the slick when it was half that size, just three days earlier. "Alarming" is a terribly understated word to say the least. Against the natural browns and greens of the land, and the steely blue of the Gulf waters, the gray of the oil is threatening, menacing, sick. It reminds me of The Black Thing from A Wrinkle In Time.
[Update: The Shuttle landing was waved off today due to low cloud coverage. The first landing attempt opportunity will be Tuesday at 07:34 EDT.]
The Space Shuttle Discovery is scheduled to land at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center Monday morning at 08:48 EDT (12:48 GMT).
ISS astronaut Soichi Noguchi took this picture of Discovery over the Caribbean as she undocked from the station and prepped for landing. After she lands, there will be one more flight for the Orbiter, scheduled for September. In fact, each of the Orbiters — Discovery, Endeavour, and Atlantis — each have one flight left before they are retired. Assuming their lives aren’t extended, but that’s still in the scuttlebutt (shuttlebutt?) stage.
If you want to watch this landing yourself, the de-orbit burn will be at 07:43, so stay tuned to NASA TV around then to find out if weather will permit it to touch down. The ground track is unusual this time, taking the Orbiter over most of the country. It’s a bit too far north to get a good view from Boulder, and it’s also a bit early for me… but I might try for it anyway. It’s not like there are many more chances to see it.
[Update: I just noticed that if the landing is delayed one orbit -- about 90 minutes -- then Discovery will pass almost overhead at my location (and it'll be at a more decent hour of the morning, too). Keep your eyes and ears open for news of when it lands, and check those ground tracks.]
Magnificent: The Big Picture has a series of incredible pictures from the latest Soyuz and Shuttle missions to the International Space Station.
They are all amazing, but I think I like this one the best:
I know, it’s not what you’d think I’d pick, is it? But it shows astronaut Soichi Noguchi in the station’s cupola, taking one of his astonishing photographs that he posts on Twitter. Looking at this picture of him, and thinking of his incredible photos, really brings home the fact that humans are in space right now, circling the Earth over your head.
This may seriously be my favorite picture ever taken from space: the view from inside the International Space Station as it heads toward the aurora at 28,000 kilometers per hour:
This picture was taken by Soichi Noguchi looking out of the newly installed ISS cupola, which provides dramatic vistas of space from inside the station. You can see the Soyuz module that carried astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson on board– incidentally, with Discovery on its way to the ISS carrying three women, this will be the first time four women will have been in space simultaneously. [Update: According to commenter Ben Honey, that's actually a Progress capsule, and not the Soyuz. The profile does match a Progress, so I assume he's right. I stand corrected.]
This image is simply fantastic. The aurora, commonly called the northern lights, are caused by subatomic particles slamming into our atmosphere and ionizing the oxygen and nitrogen atoms there like shrapnel from bullets hitting a target. Guided by the Earth’s magnetic field, these particles tend to hit at high latitudes. The glow itself is similar to that of a neon sign: when the wayward electrons recombine with the atoms, they give off light. The colors are characteristic of the atom in question, and can be used to identify the atmospheric constituents.
The green glow is actually much lower than the ISS; that part of the aurora is usually at a height of 100 or so kilometers (60 miles), while ISS is at 400 km (240 miles). The red glow can reach higher, to more than 500 km (300 miles), so when Soichi says he is flying through the aurora he is literally correct. The fantastic speed of the ISS is apparent in the trailing of the stars in the image, and the streaking of the purple clouds below.
Astonishing, lovely, poetic, beautiful… and Holy Haleakala, real. When we humans want and choose to, we can fly through the northern lights. What else can we accomplish when we set our minds to it?
A few weeks ago, International Space Station astronaut Soichi Noguchi took an amazing picture of Endeavour re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.
He has been busily snapping away at the Earth and posting the pictures on his Twitter feed. You really should be following him!
Recently, he unknowingly did me a big favor by posting this incredible shot of Egypt:
Yes, those are actual pyramids in the picture! Amazing. And by doing that, he made it very easy for me to answer the question I still get about once a month from people: "Is the Great Wall of China the only man-made object you can see from space?".
I already knew the answer is no; you can see cities easily, as well as agricultural formations, big roads, and more. But this one shot makes it very plain and simple: yes, humans have made quite an impact on the planet, and you can easily see it from space.
The Space Shuttle mission STS-130 ended last night with the Orbiter Endeavour safely landing in Florida at 10:20 p.m. Eastern time yesterday. I live-tweeted the event, and so I was too busy to pay much attention to the Twitter feed from Soichi Noguchi, an astronaut onboard the International Space Station. I wish I had, because then I could’ve retweeted a picture he took that is simply amazing:
That’s Endeavour as it was over (I believe) the Caribbean Sea. At that point, it was still sloughing off the energy of orbit, dropping in velocity as it dropped through our atmosphere. To do that, it made two wide, curving, banking turns, called S-turns, that slow the Orbiter down. As it’s doing that, it’s ramming the Earth’s air at something like Mach 25, which violently compresses the gas and heats it up. This is what causes the Orbiter (as well as incoming meteors) to glow, not friction.
The more you know.
Anyway, the glow is bright enough to be seen in the Space Station, if it happens to be overhead at that time — and that doesn’t have to be the case; it depends on how long it takes after the Orbiter undocks from the ISS before it lands, for example. In this case, though, Soichi was on the ball, and snapped this shot of Endeavour while it was still glowing hotter than the surface of the Sun!
Like I said, amazing. As far as I know, that’s the first time this has been photographed from space. And we’ll only get four more chances… but after that, maybe it’ll be a Dragon capsule they’ll see.