Tag: Suomi NPP

Sandy’s Big Night

By Phil Plait | October 29, 2012 9:47 am

Last night On October 28, at 02:42 Eastern US time, NASA’s Suomi NPP satellite took this incredible picture of Hurricane Sandy, poised to strike the coast:

[Click to coriolisenate, or download the typhoonesized 3500 x3500 pixel version.]

Suomi-NPP has fantastic imaging capabilities, including a camera which can "see" across the spectrum from green light out into the infrared. City lights in the southeast are easy to spot from their own glow, while Sandy’s dangerous clouds are illuminated by the nearly full Moon. I recommend getting the super-hi-res image and simply scanning around. The detail is amazing.

I suppose this is how a mouse feels, staring into the eyes of snake. There is a simultaneous dread, paralyzing fear, and entrancing beauty to hurricanes seen from space. I marvel when I see these… and then I remember the dozen or so hurricanes I’ve lived and driven through; the adrenaline surges every time I heard a branch crash down; the lying in bed at night awake, wondering what I’d awaken to. There can be terror in beauty.

I escaped all that by moving to Colorado, trading it all instead for flooding, fires, drought… we all have our crosswind to bear, I suppose. But in this case, Sandy is clearly the front page news. If you’re in its path, stay safe and warm.

Image credit: Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon/NASA/NOAA/DoD

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Pretty pictures

Hurricane Sandy looms over the US

By Phil Plait | October 26, 2012 11:16 am

Hurricane Sandy is currently churning up the ocean of the United States’ southeast coast. As the core hit landfall over Cuba yesterday, NASA’s Suomi-NPP satellite took this image of the monster storm in the infrared:

[Click to coriolisenate.]

Holy crap. That’s a big hurricane. It’s being nicknamed Frankenstorm due to it size, and I’m seeing lots of predictions that it’ll be bigger and more damaging even than The Perfect Storm of 1991. This is because Sandy is a hurricane in its own right, but there is also a nor’easter, a low pressure system, off the coast farther north. Together, these two systems can produce a much larger storm capable of dropping a lot of rain and flooding inland areas. On top of that, of course, there’s also high winds.

The system is also slow moving, potentially making things a lot worse. That gives it more time to do damage, of course, but we’re also approaching the full Moon on October 29. It’s not the Moon’s phase that matters, but the position: when it is aligned with the Sun in the sky (either at full or new phase) the tidal force from the Moon aligns with that of the Sun, adding together. The tides from the Sun are about half the strength of the Moon’s, but together (called Spring Tide) they can increase the chance of flooding because high tide is slightly higher than normal.

The storm is expected to strengthen on Monday or Tuesday, and a lot of models show it moving north and then west, over the east coast. I urge everyone to keep your eyes on the news to see what’s what.

Also, I heard an interesting piece of advice that seems sound to me: rake your leaves! Leaves get clogged in drains and can aid flooding. By getting leaves up out of your yard, it lowers the odds of flooding – though by how much I couldn’t say. Still, it sounds like something that can’t hurt, especially given some of the predictions I’ve seen for more than 20 centimeters (8-10 inches) of rain!

Keep safe, everyone.

Image credit: NOAA/NASA

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Pretty pictures

Hurricane Isaac menaces the Gulf coast

By Phil Plait | August 29, 2012 1:03 pm

Hurricane Isaac is hitting the Gulf coast of the US right now, battering the area with 120 kph winds. Just after local midnight on August 28, the Suomi NPP Earth-observing satellite took this eerie and beautiful picture of Isaac when it was still a growing tropical storm:

[Click to encoriolisenate; bigger versions are available on Flickr.]

This picture is a combination of several images taken in different filters, including is in the visible light and infrared, and uses light intensifiers to make faint things viewable [Note: this is actually one image, not a composition of several filtered images. Thanks to Robert Simmon for the correction!]. The waxing gibbous (just past half-full) Moon didn’t set until after 2:00 a.m. local time, so it’s possible the cloud illumination here was coming from that. And of course you can see the city lights, including New Orleans already under the outer bands of the storm.

NASA’s Earth Observatory just posted another, more recent picture in visible light from the Terra satellite, too.

Pictures of hurricanes from space are amazing. As always, there’s a fascinating dichotomy to pictures like this, a simultaneous ethereal beauty and repellent violence. Hurricanes are magnificent, and terrifying.

I hope everyone in the area stays safe. I’ve been through a few hurricanes, and they’re not fun at all.

Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Pretty pictures

Nighttime view of Russian wildfires from space

By Phil Plait | August 7, 2012 10:11 am

Wildfires are burning across the United States right now, but we have some very unwelcome company: for months there have been raging fires in Russia as well, conflagrations burning up vast swaths of the forests there.

The Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite has a camera on board that can detect very low levels of visible and infrared red light. It’s sensitive enough to be able to see wildfires at night, and took this eerie image on August 3, 2012:

The fires are the bright curved lines, and you can also see milky smoke to the right. To give you a sense of scale, the largest of these fires is over 50 km (30 miles) across! That’s so huge I have a hard time comprehending it; the large High Park fire in Colorado earlier this year was far smaller.

Cameras like this one on Suomi-NPP help gauge the size and location of fires, and after the worst is over they can show the extent of the damage (especially when coupled with other satellite imagery). These are critical tools in our understanding of natural disasters, and can help save lives in the future.

I want to show you another picture, too. Last week when I was flying home from a wonderful visit to Portland, Oregon to give a talk, I noticed something odd out my airplane window. After a minute or two, it became clear that what I was seeing was a big wildfire:

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Piece of mind, Pretty pictures

East of the Blue Marble

By Phil Plait | February 2, 2012 1:45 pm

Last week, I posted an exceptional image of our home world as seen by the Suomi NPP Earth-observing satellite. The image was so popular that NASA released a second one, this time of the Eastern hemisphere, showing once again why it’s called the Blue Marble:

[Click to engaiaenate, or grab the terrestrialicious 11,500 x 11,500 pixel shot].

Like the other one, this is a mosaic, created over six different orbits — the bright north/south swaths are actually the reflection of the Sun in the ocean as the satellite passed over that area multiple times.

Although the satellite is in low Earth orbit, just a few hundred kilometers off the surface, the images have been mosaicked together to represent the view as if you were about 13,000 km (8000 miles) away. You’re seeing most of but not quite all of the entire hemisphere here. The inset image shows why; the farther you are from Earth the more of it you see.

If you’re having a hard time picturing that, imagine taking a camera and holding it a couple of centimeters from your floor. You only see a small section of the floor, right? Now take hundreds of pictures, moving the camera each time to get a different part of the floor. If you stitch those pictures together you have a complete image of your floor, even though it was too big to see from any individual shot. It’s as if you were hovering over the floor from higher up and took one shot.

That’s how this was done as well, though the pictures couldn’t just be stitched together; they had to be warped a bit to account for the Earth being round (near the Earth’s limb you’re seeing the ground at more of an angle than what’s directly below you). That’s why the image gives you such an overwhelming feeling of perspective, of actually being over the planet from all those thousands of kilometers away.

And I wonder… someday, our children may get this view every day, just by looking out a window. Every time I think about that, I get a chill. When I was a kid, that thought was science fiction. Now it’s maybe just a few more years down the road.

[UPDATE: Right after posting this, I got a feeling of deja-vu, and suddenly realized where I’ve seen this view of the Earth before: Apollo 17. What I wrote in that last paragraph is literally true: humans have seen this view before, and I hope that one day it will be routine to see it this way once again.]

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Image credit: NASA/NOAA.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Mosaic of home

By Phil Plait | January 25, 2012 10:05 am

Just before Halloween last year, NASA launched into orbit the improbably named National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project, which they thankfully shortened to NPP. In its low 800 km (500 mile) orbit it looks down at the Earth to investigate our environment. It only sees a portion of the Earth at any one time, but if you take observations taken during a single day — say, on January 4, 2012 — and stitch them all together, you get this magnificent shot:

[Click to engaiaenate, or download the Big McLarge Huge 8000 x 8000 pixel version.]

Man, the resolution is so high is like you’re actually there.

Oh wait.

In fact, the biggest version is 8000 pixels across, and the Earth is about 8000 miles wide, so the resolution is about a mile per pixel. We’re not seeing the entire hemisphere here, but the view is roughly 8000 km across (judging from the size of the US compared to the view). The big image is 8000 pixels wide, so the resolution of that mosaic is about 1 km/pixel. The Earth is big.

NPP was recently renamed Suomi NPP in honor of Verner Suomi, a pioneer in using satellites in meteorology. I like that we tend to name satellites and space probes after people whose work made those very missions possible, or for people we honor and respect (my favorite is still Sojourner, the Mars rover named after Sojourner Truth… with the bonus of the name being a pun).

Apropos of nothing, I’ll note the images making up this seamless mosaic were taken around the same time the Earth was at perihelion, when it was closest to the Sun in its orbit. There is nothing particularly important about that fact, but still… when I see pictures like this I think about how amazing our planet is, and how wonderfully well-adapted we are to it. Evolution is a stochastic process, a semi-random series of bumps and false starts that literally made us who were are today. But that doesn’t change the feeling of comfort I get when I see a picture of Earth, floating in space, sitting in the brightest and warmest sunlight of the year.

It’s home, and I’m glad we’re taking such a close look at it.

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MORE ABOUT: Earth, perihelion, Suomi NPP

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