Why is the Sun spinning like a pinwheel?

By Tom Yulsman | July 15, 2016 11:58 am

First the Sun develops a big hole, and now it’s flipping end over end. But once again, not to worry — all is well.

An animation of images taken by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory on July 6, 2016. The animation shows the Sun in extreme ultraviolet wavelengths normally invisible to our eyes. (Source: NASA)

An animation of images taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory on July 6, 2016 in extreme ultraviolet wavelengths appears to show the Sun spinning like a pinwheel. (Source: NASA)

A few days ago, I posted a video showing a gigantic hole in the Sun’s atmosphere. Now, NASA has published an animation showing the Sun spinning end over end like a pinwheel.

What’s going on?

For a detailed explanation of the hole in the Sun, go here:

What’s up with that huge dark hole in the Sun?

And now, what’s up with the pinwheeling Sun?  Read More

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

Latest forecast is less bullish on La Niña

By Tom Yulsman | July 14, 2016 1:04 pm

Even so, there’s still better than a 50/50 chance that this weather-influencing phenomenon will emerge during fall and winter

La Niña

Sea surface temperature in June 2016 compared to the 1981-2010 average. The blue tones indicative of cooling in the central tropical Pacific suggest La Niña may develop later this year. (Source: NOAA Climate.gov map by Dan Pisut, based on GEO-Polar data.)

In the latest forecast, La Niña — the cool opposite to El Niño — is still favored to develop by winter. But the odds have dropped over the past month.

The U.S. Climate Prediction Center now pegs La Niña’s chances of developing at 55 to 60 percent. That’s down from odds of 75 percent just a month ago.

If it does develop, it is likely to be a relatively modest one, according to the CPC.

SEE ALSO: As El Niño fades, here comes La Niña Read More

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

Outer solar system survey strikes, well, ice: New dwarf planet orbiting beyond Neptune is discovered

By Tom Yulsman | July 11, 2016 8:40 pm
Dwarf Planet Animation

An animation of three images showing the slow motion of a newly discovered dwarf planet across the sky over three hours. (Source: Outer Solar System Origins Survey)

It all began with a small dot moving across a computer screen.

That dot has now turned out to be a new dwarf planet, temporarily dubbed “RR245.” It’s a chunk of rock and ice about two thirds the size of California (north to south) orbiting amidst other small, icy worlds in the nether reaches of the solar system beyond Neptune.

Its discovery was announced today by an international team of astronomers. The dwarf planet is roughly 435 miles across (700 kilometers). And it’s orbit is one of the largest for any dwarf planet.

“This is a large icy world that’s bright enough that we can now study its surface composition . . . in detail,” says Michele Bannister of the Outer Solar System Origins Survey, or OSSOS. “It’s on an orbit that’s relatively unusual among the known dwarf planets: quite eccentric, and in the past gravitationally perturbed by Neptune.”

According to the International Astronomical Union, which decides such things, dwarf planets are celestial bodies that orbit the sun, are not moons, have enough mass to take on a nearly round shape, and whose gravity has not cleared out the neighborhood around their orbits.

In 2006, the IAU demoted poor Pluto from regular planet to dwarf planet.

OSSOS was designed to map the orbital structure of the outer Solar System. The goal: “To decipher its history,” says Brett Gladman of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. “While not designed to efficiently detect dwarf planets, we’re delighted to have found one on such an interesting orbit.”

The orbit of the newly discovered dwarf planet, RR245, is shown with the orange line. Objects as bright as, or brighter, than RR245 are labeled. RR245 is the 18th largest in the Kuiper Belt. (Source: Alex Parker, OSSOS team)

The orbit of the newly discovered dwarf planet, RR245, is shown with the orange line. Objects as bright as, or brighter, than RR245 are labeled. RR245 is the 18th largest in the Kuiper Belt. (Source: Alex Parker, OSSOS team)

I emailed Michelle Bannister to ask her some questions about the nature and significance of the discovery. Here are some of my questions, and her responses:

* Why is it important to identify these objects beyond the orbit of Neptune? What have we been learning about the origin and evolution of the solar system by doing a survey such as this?

With OSSOS, we are mapping the detailed structure of the orbits of the populations in the outer Solar System. The trans-Neptunian objects are the remnant population that trace how the Solar System formed and then changed as a result of the migration of the giant planets. Our survey will help answer when, and how, Neptune migrated.

Bannister is referring to the large gaseous planets of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, which migrated after their formation during the early evolution of the solar system.  The vast majority of dwarf planets were destroyed or thrown from the Solar System in the gravitational chaos that occurred as the giant planets moved out to their present positions.

But RR245 appears to be an exception. It survived, turning up in 2016 as a small dot on a computer screen…

* I gather that we still do not know the precise physical nature of this dwarf planet. How can some of those details be filled in? And what might they tell us of interest? (Note: I’ve added the links below to help explain the answer.)

We have upcoming observations planned with larger telescopes to obtain spectra to investigate the surface composition of RR245. Our collaborators will also be looking for opportunities to measure an occultation: If RR245 passes in front of a distant star, the time it takes for the star to blink out and reappear will give us a minimum and very exact size of RR245.

* For readers who may have heard about the evidence published last winter pointing toward the existence of so-called “Planet-X”, what connection is there between these two realms of research?

No connection. The orbit of RR245, while very distant, is dominated by the gravitational influence of Neptune. This object does not go the many hundreds of AU distance that are needed to provide any constraint on the hypothesis for a ninth planet.

The “AU distance” Bannister refers is an astronomical unit, which is the mean distance from the center of the earth to the center of the sun.

* Lastly, how long does RR245 take to make one orbit around the Sun?

733 years.

What’s up with that huge dark hole in the Sun?

By Tom Yulsman | July 11, 2016 10:48 am

Not to worry, everything’s under control

An animation of images of the Sun acquired by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft on July 11, 2016 highlights a dark area covering the top of the Sun known as a "coronal hole." (Source: NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory)

An animation of images of the Sun acquired by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft on July 11, 2016 highlights a dark area, called a “coronal hole,” covering the top of the Sun. In the animation, the Sun is seen in extreme ultraviolet light. This highlights the atmosphere —the Sun’s corona. Hot, active regions are bright. The dark coronal hole is an area where very little radiation is being emitted. (Source: NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory)

Every once in awhile, the Sun develops a huge “hole” — a dark patch in its outer atmosphere, or corona, like the one visible above.

This is the Sun, as seen today by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.

I’ve posted about these coronal holes before, but I really like this animation, as well as the one below offering a visualization of what’s actually going on.

SEE ALSO: The Sun blows its top — again  Read More

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

Arctic sea ice: yet another record falls

By Tom Yulsman | July 8, 2016 7:31 pm

June’s extent of sea ice was the lowest on record for the month


An animation of images from NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites shows the shrinkage of floating sea ice in Baffin Bay during June of 2016. (Images: NASA EOSDIS. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

With the exception of March, every month so far this year has set a record low for the extent of Arctic sea ice.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center reports that in June, the extent of floating ice in the region was 525,000 square miles below the 1981 to 2010 long-term average. That’s an area equivalent to California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Idaho combined.

And it means June saw the lowest amount of sea ice for the month in the satellite monitoring record, which began in 1979.


Click to enlarge

The animation of satellite images above shows the shrinkage of sea ice in Baffin Bay between Greenland on the right, and Baffin Island on the left. The first image was acquired on June 10, and the second on July 4th. When watching the animation, keep in mind that open water appears almost black. (Click on the thumbnail at right for a labeled image of the Arctic region that can help you get your geographic bearings.)

Right now, sea ice extent in this area is running considerably below average.

In the animation, note how generally white ice gives way to bluer ice. That’s an indication of melting on the surface of floating sea ice.  Read More

Super Typhoon Nepartak storms ashore in Taiwan

By Tom Yulsman | July 7, 2016 3:49 pm

The potentially devastating cyclone threatens flooding and landslides


An animation of radar images shows Super Typhoon Nepartak barreling toward landfall on Taiwan on July 7, 2016. (Source: Taiwan Central Weather Bureau)

As I’m writing this at 2:30 pm on Thursday in Colorado, Super Typhoon Nepartak is reported to be storming ashore on the southeastern coast of Taiwan with wind gusts up to about 180 miles per hour.

I’m not sure of the storm’s sustained wind speed at landfall; we’ll have to wait for that. But as of earlier today, Nepartak had managed to hold on to Category 5 strength, which it has sustained for almost two days.

On Wednesday, the storm attained a peak wind speed of 175 miles per hour.

Video captured by James Reynolds of Earth Uncut TV shows violent rainfall tearing through Taitung city during the evening local time:

SEE ALSO: As Nepartak takes dead aim on Taiwan, amazing satellite videos show the super typhoon swirling in the Pacific Ocean

The storm is forecast to bring as much as three feet of rain to the island of Taiwan, threatening devastating flooding and landslides. After crossing the island, Nepartak is expected to make a second landfall in China on Saturday as a tropical storm.


Vsible and infrared images of Super Typhoon Nepartak from the Suomi NPP satellite show the well-defined eye of this powerful cyclone on Thursday, July 7. (Source: NOAA)

A week of heavy monsoon rains in eastern and central China have already caused massive flooding, resulting in the deaths of about 140 people. More than 26 million people in 11 provinces are reported to have been affected.


Total rainfall from Nepartak as predicted by the HWRF model. Light yellow colors indicate rainfall of 8 to 16 inches. (Source: NOAA/NCEP/EMC)

And now, many of those same people will be facing renewed devastation from the remnants of Nepartak.

As Nepartak takes dead aim on Taiwan, amazing satellite videos show the super typhoon swirling in the Pacific Ocean

By Tom Yulsman | July 6, 2016 2:54 pm
Super Typhoon Nepartak

An animation of images from the Himawari-8 satellite shows Super Typhoon Nepartak swirling in the Pacific Ocean on July 6, 2016 as it takes dead aim on Taiwan. (Source: CIRA/RAMMB)

Feasting on unusually warm Pacific Ocean waters, fearsome Super Typhoon Nepartak is churning directly toward Taiwan, where it is forecast to make landfall tomorrow.


Source: Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies)

In just 24 hours spanning Monday and Tuesday, Nepartak exploded from a tropical storm with winds of about 70 miles per hour to a Category 4 storm with 150 mph winds.

Over 88-degree waters (31 degrees C), which is up to 3.6 degrees above normal, Nepartak has now strengthened to a Category 5 storm. Its maximum sustained winds were pegged this morning at 173 mph, with gusts up to an incredible 207. (The thumbnail at right is an infrared image of the super typhoon with its forecast track.)

Click on the screenshot at the top of this post to watch a highly detailed animation of images acquired today by the Himawari-8 satellite. As the animation shows, the storm features a compact, round eye surrounded by spiral arms where intense convection is taking place.

Quoting meteorologists, Andrew Freedman at Mashable describes Nepartak as a “near-perfect storm” in its appearance. Read More

With soaring temperatures in the forecast, risks rise from California’s Sherpa Fire, and other blazes across the West

By Tom Yulsman | June 18, 2016 5:08 pm
Sherpa Fire

An animation of satellite images acquired between Jun 16 and 17, 2016 show the smoke plume from the Sherpa Fire near Santa Barbara, California. (Images: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

From a trail near my house along Colorado’s Front Range, the majestic Rockies ordinarily stand out in clear relief against blue Western skies. But when I set out on a run this morning, those skies were gauzy, and the mountains were barely visible.

The cause: smoke blowing in from wildfires burning to the west.

With temperatures beginning to soar under a growing dome of high pressure, firefighters are struggling to contain major wildfires in California, Arizona, New Mexico and other western states.

SEE ALSO: Here’s what the brutal heat wave now setting up across a large part of the U.S. looks like — in four simple graphics

The Sherpa Fire near Santa Barbara has garnered the most media attention — and rightfully so, since it is burning near a highly populated area and threatens many homes. As I’m writing this on Saturday afternoon, it has covered more than 7,000 acres. That’s about a quarter of the size of the nearby city of Santa Barbara.

The fire, which is burning in the Santa Ynez Mountains, has frequently raced downhill toward California Highway 101 along the coast. It has prompted the mandatory evacuation of about 270 homes.

The animation above shows its evolution during Thursday and Friday, as seen from the vantage of space. The animation consists of images captured by three satellites on June 16 and 17: NASA’s Terra and Aqua, and the Suomi NPP satellite. (The first and last images in the animation linger slightly longer than the others.)

The fire has also been visible to the GOES-West weather satellite: Read More

NOAA confirms it: temperatures across Earth’s land and sea surfaces are still running at record highs

By Tom Yulsman | June 17, 2016 11:29 am


Earlier this week, NASA released its monthly analysis of global average temperatures — and now NOAA has followed with its own.

The two agencies concur: With last month coming in as the warmest May on record, average temperatures across Earth’s land and sea surfaces continue to run at record highs.

According to both NOAA and NASA, January through May 2016 was the warmest such period on record. And the record-breaking streak actually goes back even farther — a total of 13 months by NOAA’s reckoning. That’s the longest such streak since the record began in 1880.

NASA, which uses the same temperature data but goes about its analysis differently, finds that each of the last eight months has been record warm.

SEE ALSO: Latest analysis from NASA: It’s now eight straight months of record shattering global warmth

Other tidbits from NOAA’s report: Read More

Here’s what the brutal heat wave now setting up across a large part of the U.S. looks like — in four simple graphics

By Tom Yulsman | June 16, 2016 2:19 pm

heat wave

I created the animation above to show how the heat wave coming to a large portion of the United States is forecast to evolve between now and Tuesday.

Check out the spreading stain of deep red in the graphical forecast maps that make up the animation. The stain shows temperatures soaring under a massive heat dome forecast to build over Southern California, Arizona, other parts of the Southwest, and beyond.

Not shown in the animation is the stifling heat and humidity already afflicting parts of the Southern Plains. More about that in a minute. But first…

As you watch the animation, watch for the high temperatures in Phoenix and Los Angeles. Also check out how the red stain fills the meandering trace of the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona. The canyon is so deep that it is usually considerably warmer than the higher elevations on the southern and northern rims.

The coming heat wave in Los Angeles and Phoenix

Los Angeles is now forecast by the National Weather Service to top out at 103 degrees on Monday. (The animation pegs it a 101, but as I’ve been preparing this post, the forecast has been updated.)

According to the NWS forecast discussion for the area, if the models are right: 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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