As seen from space: ‘Earth’s connecting point to the rest of the universe’ — and a fierce legal battleground too

By Tom Yulsman | November 30, 2015 2:02 pm
connecting point

Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano, as seen from the International Space Station on Nov. 1, 2015. (Source: NASA Earth Observatory)

Click on this arresting photograph of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano, shot from orbit, and then see if you can make out a series of white structures on the summit.

See them? They form a ‘C’ right at the top. (For an original, high resolution version of the image, go here.)

These are some of the 13 working telescopes near the volcano’s summit, as seen from the International Space Station on Nov. 1, 2015 and posted today by NASA’s Earth Observatory.

As the website for the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy puts it, these telescopes make Hawaii “Earth’s connecting point to the rest of the Universe.” Read More

The Sun blows its top — again

By Tom Yulsman | November 30, 2015 11:51 am

A sequence of images captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft shows the Sun in different wavelengths. Three of the images show a prominent coronal hole toward the top of the Sun, where solar particles have blown outward into space leaving a dark, relatively cool region. A fourth image adds a map of magnetic field lines. (Source: NASA)

Every once in awhile, a kind of hole blows out in the Sun’s atmosphere — a “coronal hole,” as it is called. And it has happened again, this time on top of the Sun.

You can see it above in a sequence of images captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft, or SDO, in different wavelengths of light. Look for the big dark area on the Sun’s cap.

Not to worry! This is completely normal.

SEE ALSO: Has the Sun blown its top?

Ordinarily, the Sun’s magnetic field lines extend up through the atmosphere, or corona, and then loop back down to the surface. This bottles up solar particles near the surface, where they heat up and glow.

But sometimes, magnetic field lines extend up and out into space without reconnecting to the surface. Here, the opening in the magnetic field allows particles to blow out into space. Wherever this happens, the surface becomes darker and cooler, giving the impression of a hole in the Sun.

I created the animation above to illustrate this process. It consists of SDO images of the Sun captured in different wavelengths. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, select, Stars, Sun, Top Posts

Lunar puzzler: What is the mysterious feature in this beautiful image of the Lunar Module orbiting the Moon?

By Tom Yulsman | November 23, 2015 2:28 pm

The Apollo 12 Lunar Module as seen from the Command and Service Modules on Nov. 19, 1969. (Source: NASA)

UPDATE: The lunar puzzler is solved! For the answer, read through to the end of this post. — T.Y. 

Last Thursday marked the anniversary of a significant event in human history: the Apollo 12 Moon landing on Nov. 19, 1969.

This was just the second time humans ever stepped foot on our cratered satellite. But the occasion passed us by last week largely unheralded.

That’s understandable, because the landing wasn’t a first — the astronauts of Apollo 11 hold that honor. And a 46th anniversary isn’t as resonant as, say, a 50th would have been.

“Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence,” said Auric Goldfinger in Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel. (*See the end for the rest of the quote.) But Apollo 12 showed just the opposite: Landing on the Moon a second time wasn’t just coincidence.

It showed that humans were capable of more than just one giant leap. We could leap a second time across across more than 220,000 miles of space and then land with breathtaking precision — within walking distance of the mission’s target, the robotic Surveyor III spacecraft that had touched down back in 1967.

So I think it is fair to say that with Apollo 12, humans became true spacefarers.

To mark the anniversary of the landing, NASA published the image above. Read More

NASA data confirm: Global warming in October obliterated previous record for the month

By Tom Yulsman | November 17, 2015 8:33 pm

For most of the planet, October brought much warmer temperatures than normal. (Source: NASA GISS)

NASA is out with its monthly analysis of global surface temperatures, and the verdict is unsettling: This past month positively obliterated the previous record for warmest October.

The global average temperature in October according to NASA’s analysis was 1.04 degrees C warmer than the long-term average for the month. The previous record of 0.86 degrees C was set in October of last year.

This corroborates the picture drawn by data released a couple of days ago by the Japan Meteorological Agency.

SEE ALSO: Global temperatures skyrocketed in October

The jump in global temperatures in October was also the greatest departure from average — by far — for any month in NASA’s entire record, which dates back to 1880. We’re talking 1,630 months here. Read More

Earth Art: ‘Delicate fingerprints of water’

By Tom Yulsman | November 17, 2015 12:46 pm
fingerprints of water

A view from the International Space Station of a region of Oman about 12 miles to the west-northwest of Hamra Al Drooa. (Source: Kjell Lindgren/NASA)

I spotted this stunning image on Instagram this morning, and I just had to share it. Make sure to click on it to see an enlarged version.

Shot by NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren aboard the International Space Station on Nov. 11, 2015, it shows a desert region of Oman dissected in a beautiful filagree pattern by dry water-courses.

On Twitter, Lindgren described it this way: “The delicate fingerprints of water imprinted on the sand. The #StoryOfWater.”

For the exact location of this spectacular example of Earth art, click here.

Global temperatures skyrocketed in October

By Tom Yulsman | November 16, 2015 1:03 pm

According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, the global average surface temperature in October 2015 (over land and oceans) was +0.53°C above the 1981-2010 average (+0.85°C above the 20th century average). This was the warmest October since 1891. (Graph: Japan Meteorological Agency)

The first of several monthly climate analyses for October is out, and the news is sobering: Global average temperature across the land and seas skyrocketed compared to previous Octobers, shattering the previous record for warmth set just last year.

According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, this past October was the warmest in a record stretching back 1891, with a global average temperature for the month coming in at 0.85°C above the 20th century average.

In the United States, NOAA and NASA will be coming out soon with their own independent analyses of the climate in October 2015. In the meantime, check out this prediction for where we’ll wind up at the end of the year, posted to Twitter by Gavin Schmidt, who directs the center in charge of NASA’s global climate dataset: Read More

If global warming continues unabated, humans are likely to completely remake the map of the Arctic in a few decades

By Tom Yulsman | November 9, 2015 6:33 pm
open water

The number of open water days per year — meaning days without sea ice — increases significantly in the Arctic region between 1920 and 2100, according to a new modeling study. (Individual images: Katy Barnhart. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

Ice was in the news quite a lot last week. There was, for example, the news that Antarctica could be gaining, not losing, ice, at least for now.

Lest you were tempted to breathe a sigh of relief, critics pointed to contrary evidence. And there were also these unsettling findings about the gigantic West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

But far to the north, some equally important news unfortunately got less attention. For the long and short of it, see the animation above.

I created it to portray in visual form what a study published last week has revealed: Unless we start reining in greenhouse gas emissions, “our projected impact on the climate system will change the face of Arctic sea ice,” says Katy Barnhart, who led the study while she was at the University of Colorado’s Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research. (Full disclosure: I’m a professor at the University of Colorado.)

The animation shows computer model simulations of how Arctic sea ice is likely to respond to continued human-caused warming. More specifically, it models how the number of days of open water change each year from 1920 to 2100 under a “business-as-usual” scenario. By 2100, according to the study, much of the Arctic has greater than 150 additional days of open water as compared with the pre industrial period prior to 1850.

But we won’t have to wait that long to see significant changes. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, the entire coastline of the Arctic, and most of the Arctic Ocean itself, will see at least 60 additional days a year of open water by mid-century. Some sites will even see 100 additional open water days.

Arctic sea ice has already shrunk in geographic extent during the period of modern observations. This has been one of the significant signs and symptoms of human-caused warming. But for people and other species in the Arctic, something else is even more important than an overall, general decrease in ice extent:

What’s going to happen in their neck of the woods?

With that in mind, Katy Barnhart, and her colleagues, sought to produce a detailed forecast of open water patterns in the Arctic. Among the questions they sought to answer were these: Read More

Waiting for El Niño: Is he finally getting ready to blast North America?

By Tom Yulsman | November 7, 2015 9:10 pm

A screenshot from the jet stream forecast for November 7th through the 23rd, as calculated by the GFS model. Watch for a strengthening of the subtropical jet over the Pacific Ocean off the Baja Peninsula, extending across Mexico and up into the southern tier of the United States. Strengthening of the subtropical jet stream in this area is typical during a strong El Niño. (Source: NCEP/NWS/NOAA)

Waiting for El Niño hasn’t exactly been like waiting for Godot. Even so, it sure feels like we’ve been waiting awhile for the predicted weather impacts to show up unequivocally.

Well, we may not have to wait that much longer.


El Niño’s impacts across North America

For the United States, El Niño’s impacts typically arrive on a strengthening of the subtropical jet stream, a phenomenon that tends to sweep Pacific storm systems on a more southerly track than normal — across Southern California, and then the southern tier of the United States. And if the GFS weather model is right, that strengthening is about to take shape.

Take a look at the screenshot at the top of this post to see where this strengthening typically happens. Then click on it to watch a video showing the forecast evolution of winds at the height of the jet stream in the atmosphere between Nov. 7 and 23rd.

See that lengthening stripe of blue out over the Pacific off the coast of the Baja Peninsula, extending across Mexico and up into the U.S. southern tier of states? That sure looks like a strengthening of the subtropical jet stream to me. (At the same time, there’s still that stronger branch to the north. Ain’t weather fun?)

I’m a science journalist (and a journalism professor at the University of Colorado), not a meteorologist. So I thought I’d dig a little deeper to reassure myself that I’m actually on to something.  And here’s what I came up with: Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Atmosphere, Climate, ENSO, select, Top Posts, Weather

High energy particles spraying from a hole in the Sun may trigger the aurora borealis south of Chicago and New York

By Tom Yulsman | November 1, 2015 1:45 am
aurora borealis

Screenshot from a video showing a hole in the Sun’s corona rotating toward Earth. The imagery was acquired by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft over 48 hours, ending on Nov. 1, 2015. (Source: NASA/SDO)

**UPDATE Monday 11/02/15**: Since I wrote this post over the weekend, the aurora forecast has changed. The northern lights could be visible tonight as far south as Oklahoma and North Carolina! The highest activity is forecast for tonight. But auroral displays will continue to be visible farther south than usual through Friday. For the latest forecast, go here.

You read the headline right: There is indeed a “hole” in the Sun.

To be more precise, there’s an area where the density of plasma in the solar atmosphere, or corona, is much lower than the surroundings, creating a dark splotch on the Sun’s face.

SEE ALSO: Why Has the Sun Developed a Huge Hole? 

Called a “coronal hole,” it’s a region where magnetic field lines are open. This allows a stream of charged particles to spray out into space. And as the video linked from the image above shows, that coronal hole has rotated into clear view by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft.

And as it happens, that hole is also facing us now. So as I’m writing this early Sunday morning, the enhanced stream of solar wind particles is headed toward us, prompting the Space Weather Prediction Service to issue a strong geomagnetic storm watch for November 2 (UTC day), and a moderate watch for November 3. Read More

Sorry, I just couldn’t resist: Twelve views of Cyclone Chapala in one psychedelic animated gif

By Tom Yulsman | October 30, 2015 7:19 pm

Twelve satellite views of Cyclone Chapala show what the storm looks like in different wavelengths of light. Click on the image for an animation. (Source: Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies)

After posting earlier today about Cyclone Chapala, I wasn’t intending to do another one — until I spotted the unusual animation above over at the blog of the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies.

Being a child of the ’60s, well, I just could resist its psychedelic draw. (Make sure to click on the image to watch it as an animation.)

For details about the storm, please see my earlier post: Cyclone Chapala strengthens rapidly over record-warm water, aims for unusual landfall in war-torn Yemen

Since I wrote that post, the latest forecast from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center shows Chapala making landfall in Yemen on Monday as the equivalent of a Category 1 hurricane. Read More



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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