Stunning Images of Mars Reveal Vistas That Are Eerily Reminiscent of Landscapes Here on Earth

By Tom Yulsman | May 11, 2015 12:27 pm

The view from Mount Sharp on Mars, as seen by the Curiosity rover on April 10, 2015. (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

The redrock canyons and up-tilted strata of eastern Utah form some of my favorite landscapes on Earth. So when I saw the scene visible in the image above it really stopped me dead in my tracks.

Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Luckily, it didn’t do the same for the Curiosity rover on Mars, which has been slowly climbing the Red Planet’s Mount Sharp and sent this spectacular view of the surrounding landscape back to Earth in early April. What really strikes me about this image, and the ones to follow, is just how familiar it looks.

The jagged skyline in the distance is part of the higher elevations of Mount Sharp. For a map showing the rover’s route through this landscape, click on the thumbnail at right. (And for an explanation of the notations on the map, click here.)

The image at the top of this post is actually a relatively small crop from a sweeping panorama that combines 33 telephoto images into one Martian vista. Here’s the entire panorama: Read More

WATCH: Landfall of Super Typhoon Noul. Plus: Ana Becomes Strongest Tropical Storm to Hit U.S. This Early in the Year

By Tom Yulsman | May 10, 2015 11:55 am

Typhoon Noul made landfall in the Philippines on May 10, 2015, as seen by the MTSAT satellite. (Source: Japan Meteorological Agency)

Super Typhoon Noul roared ashore on the extreme northeastern corner of the island of Luzon in the Philippines at about 4:45 p.m. local time on Sunday (4:45 EDT).

Click on the screenshot above to watch an animation of MTSAT images showing the storm approach and make landfall before curving toward the northeast and heading back out to sea. In the animation, make sure to check out that dark, clearly defined eye.

And for an astounding closeup view, click here to watch an animation of imagery from the Himawari-8 satellite, courtesy of the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies. The detail visible inside the eye is simply mind boggling. (The resolution is 0.5 kilometers, which means the animation will take awhile to load unless you have a very fast Internet connection.)

Noul’s exact strength at landfall seems to be in dispute. The Joint Typhoon Warning Center reports that the storm came ashore with sustained winds of 150 miles per hour (130 knots), and gusts to 184 mph (160 knots). But the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration is reported to have pegged Noul’s sustained winds at 115 mph with gusts to 136.

Either way, Noul prompted 2,500 people in the thinly population region to huddle in shelters while the worst of the storm passed. I haven’t seen any reports of damage and casualties yet.

SEE ALSO Ana and Noul: A Tale of Two Cyclones Read More

Ana and Noul: A Tale of Two Cyclones

By Tom Yulsman | May 9, 2015 4:33 pm

Astronaut Scott Kelly shot this photo of Tropical Storm Ana from the International Space Station on Thursday, May 8, 2015.

Tropical Storm Ana is headed for landfall in the Carolinas early on Sunday morning. You can see the cyclone swirling near the coast in the image above shot from the International Space Station.

Ana is a preemie: She has arrived three weeks before the official start of the Atlantic hurricane system. And as a preemie, Ana is not terribly strong: As I’m writing this at about 5:30 p.m. EDT on Saturday, maximum sustained winds are pegged at 60 miles per hour.

The storm is now moving off the sustaining warmth of the Gulf Stream and is beginning to encounter cooler waters. That combined with wind shear and dry air is forecast to cause gradual weakening until the storm makes landfall. Read More

Snowpack in the West “isn’t just low — it’s gone”

By Tom Yulsman | May 9, 2015 3:16 pm

An animation of images acquired by NASA’s Terra satellite, one on April 27, 2013, and the other from April 29 of this year, when snowpack was less extensive. (Source: NASA Worldview)

The quotation in the headline for this post is the assessment of David Garen, a hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. It’s a slight exaggeration, as the animation above shows. But not by much.

As Garen puts it in a press release issued yesterday by his agency:

Across most of the West, snowpack isn’t just low – it’s gone. With some exceptions, this year’s snowmelt streamflow has already occurred . . .  We still have some snowpack in northern Colorado, western Montana and southern Wyoming. In addition, snowmelt from Canada will flow into the Columbia River


Source: NCDC

Snowpack at many monitoring stations is at or near the lowest on record, according to Garen. The culprit: strikingly warm temperatures in the West that hindered accumulation in the mountains and then led to premature and rapid melting.

Click on the thumbnail at right to see a map showing how statewide maximum temperatures varied from the long term average between January 1 of this year and the end of April.

And please make sure to keep reading for a discussion of the broader context of what’s happening to snowpack in the West. That includes megadroughts of the past — and how they may serve as an analogue for what we might expect in the future, particularly as the climate continues to warm under our influence.

SEE ALSO: Watch the West’s Snowpack Shrink Dramatically Right Before Your Eyes in Striking Satellite Image Animations

But before I get to that, here are some additional details about this year’s thin western snowpack — and the impacts we should expect. Read More

Double Typhoon Trouble in the Western Pacific, Plus a Brewing Storm in the Atlantic Ocean

By Tom Yulsman | May 6, 2015 5:25 pm

Two tropical systems are seen in this satellite image of the Pacific Ocean basin. Typhoon Noul is marked TY06W. The system to its east stands a high chance of developing into a typhoon. (Source: JTWC)

As Typhoon Noul continues to spin up in the western Pacific Ocean, posing a distinct threat to the Philippines this weekend, a big tropical depression to the east is growing and stands a high chance of developing into a “significant tropical cyclone within the next 24 hours,” according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.

Meanwhile, in the Atlantic, an area of disturbed weather over the Northwest Bahamas designated as Invest 90L could become a subtropical depression by Friday. The storm will likely bring heavy rain and high surf to the Carolinas on Friday.

Back in the Pacific, Noul has already brought high winds and heavy rain to Yap Island. The typhoon’s maximum sustained winds were pegged earlier today at 86 miles per hour, with gusts to 103. Here’s how the typhoon looked in satellite microwave imagery as it approached Yap: Read More

WATCH as a Massive Eruption of Incandescent Plasma Explodes Far Into Space From the Sun

By Tom Yulsman | May 5, 2015 12:32 pm

A screenshot of an animation of images from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, shows an eruption of plasma exploding into space from the Sun. (Source: ESA/NASA/SOHO)

An elongated filament of plasma suspended above the Sun by titanic magnetic forces suddenly broke free on April 28 and 29, 2015. To watch the ensuing explosive spray of incandescent material out into space — a phenomenon known as a coronal mass ejection, or CME — please click on the image above.

The animation consists of images from the orbiting Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. SOHO’s Lasco C2 camera is able to acquire imagery of wispy CMEs like this only by blocking out the blindingly bright Sun using an “occulting disk.”

Click for large image. (Credit: NASA)

Click for large image. (Credit: NASA)

You can think of this technique as a kind of artificial eclipse.

In the screenshot above, a full-disk image of the Sun acquired by another spacecraft, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, was superimposed over the occulted area to provide a sense of scale.

For a full-size version of the still image, click on the thumbnail at right.

SEE ALSO: Huge Filament 50 Times Size of Earth Erupts from Sun

Another instrument on SOHO acquired this wider view of the action: Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, select, Sun, Top Posts

House GOP to Humanity on Global Warming: Put on This Blindfold and Keep Marching

By Tom Yulsman | May 4, 2015 12:39 pm

Credit: Adapted from Andrea Wright, Flickr Creative Commons

In case you haven’t heard, Republicans have pushed through a spending measure in the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee that would slash more than $300 million from NASA’s Earth science programs.

They argue that NASA should get back to its true mission: Exploring space, not studying and monitoring Earth.

Republican Senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz summed up the GOP’s argument during a Senate hearing in March (as reported by Andrew Freedman of Mashable):

“Almost any American would agree that the core function of NASA is to explore space. That’s what inspires little boys and little girls across this country.”

“I am concerned that NASA in the current environment has lost its full focus on that core mission.”

What to make of this?

SEE ALSO: Rush Limbaugh Anti-Scientism — There He Goes Again

Let’s put aside the obvious fact that Earth is a planet — our home planet — and thus arguably deserves at least as much attention as, say, Mars. Read More

Entire City of Kathmandu and Surroundings May Have Been Thrust More Than Two Feet Upward by Nepal Earthquake

By Tom Yulsman | April 30, 2015 4:54 pm
Changes in elevation and position that occurred as a result of the April 25, 2015 earthquake in Nepal are depicted in this image created using satellite data. Areas in blue were uplifted by a meter or more. (Source: DLR)

Changes in elevation and position that occurred as a result of the April 25, 2015 earthquake in Nepal are depicted in this image based on satellite data. Areas in blue were uplifted by about 2.5 feet. (Source: DLR)

One aspect of the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that rocked Kathmandu and surrounding areas in Nepal became dramatically evident almost immediately: The violent shaking caused monuments and an estimated 70,000 homes to come crumbling down.

More than 6,000 people have died as a result, and survivors are still being pulled out of the rubble.


Source: USGS

Since the quake on April 25, I’ve been waiting to hear about another effect — one that is not so obvious from the ground: How much did the quake deform the crust in this part of the world. After all, the collision of the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates, which began 50 million years ago, has been responsible for the upthrust of Mt. Everest and the world’s tallest mountain range, the Himalaya.

We’ve just started to get an answer, thanks to data from Europe’s Sentinel-1A radar satellite. Scientists from DLR, the national aeronautics and space research agency of Germany, have used that data to create the image at the top of this post, which reveals how much the land in and around Kathmandu moved in relation to the satellite in orbit. Read More

Rush Limbaugh’s Anti-Scientism: There He Goes Again

By Tom Yulsman | April 30, 2015 11:20 am

Southern California’s Santa Catalina Island, as seen by NASA’s Landsat 5 satellite on May 13, 2007. The image is made from a combination of visible and infrared light to enhance the contrast between areas burned by a wildfire (dark pink), naturally bare ground (light pinkish-orange), and vegetation (green). Credit: NASA image created by Jesse Allen, using data provided courtesy of the Landsat Project Science Office, NASA/GSFC.

On his radio show yesterday, Rush Limbaugh popped a cork over tentative scientific evidence that Santa Catalina Island near Los Angeles may be sinking. He excoriated the Los Angeles Times for considering it news, made fun of the scientists who conducted it — and even managed to twist himself in knots working global warming into his tirade.

All the while, he ignored the fact that research like this can help scientists do a better job of determining the risks we face from potentially catastrophic events like earthquakes and tsunamis.

Limbaugh focused his ire on one aspect of the research: If Santa Catalina Island is indeed sinking, it would take 3 million years for it disappear completely:

Do you realize the global warming crowd doesn’t think we’re gonna make it for three million more years.  Stephen Hawking and the boys say we better colonize an asteroid or the moon or we’re finished.  Three million years and it makes the news and they can’t even say it conclusively?  How absurd! The whole point of this obviously is to promote the meme that the sea levels are rising.

Then comedian and now Senator Al Franken once called Rush Limbaugh a “big fat idiot,” as part of a book title. But Limbaugh is no idiot. He’s a zealot who calculates every word to advance his allegedly conservative political agenda. It’s also clear that he interprets everything through that ideology — and that he believes everyone else is as thoroughly jaundiced as he is, most especially scientists. Read More

As 2015 Begins With Record Warmth, is the Pacific Primed to Dump Huge Amounts of Heat Into the Atmosphere?

By Tom Yulsman | April 18, 2015 3:07 pm


It’s official: According to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, the first quarter of 2015 has set a new record, with the January through March period coming in as the warmest such period on record across the globe’s land and ocean surfaces.

The month of March was also ranked warmest by NCDC in a record dating back 136 years. The Japan Meteorological Agency concurs, whereas NASA, which does its own independent analysis, ranked March as third warmest. That’s a distinction without much of a difference since the estimates of all three agencies are very close to each other.

Two climatic factors may now be conspiring with humankind’s emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases to push the globe toward an entire year of record warmth: El Niño and a broader phenomenon known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.

First, let’s consider El Niño, which is one side of a climatic pattern called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, or ENSO. During an El Niño, heat stored in the tropical Pacific Ocean is released into the atmosphere, which tends to give a boost to global average temperatures. NOAA’s latest forecast is for a 70 percent chance of El Niño continuing through summer and a 60 percent chance that it will persist through the fall.

SEE ALSO: Odds of El Niño Continuing Through Summer Upped to 70% Read More


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ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

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