The first true-color images of Saturn taken during Cassini’s close encounter are coming in — and they’re beautiful!

By Tom Yulsman | April 28, 2017 12:38 pm
A processed, color photo of Saturn's polar vortex taken by Cassini on April 26, 2017 during the spacecraft's first diver between the planet and its rings. (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Sophia Nasr)

A processed, true-color image of Saturn’s polar vortex based on photos taken by Cassini on April 26, 2017 during the spacecraft’s first dive between the planet and its rings. (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Sophia Nasr)

We’ve already been treated to spectacular black and white closeup images of Saturn, beamed home to Earth by the Cassini spacecraft after it dove between the planet and its rings. Now, we’re getting to see what things look like in true color.

Among the first of these images is the one above, processed by Sophia Nasr, an astro-particle physicist working on dark matter. She will begin her PhD studies in physics at UC Irvine in September 2017. (For her full bio, see the end of this post.) I first spotted Nasr’s image on Twitter, where she may be posting more. You can find her here: https://twitter.com/Pharaoness

SEE ALSO: Cassini shoots through the gap between Saturn and its rings, returning the closest views ever of the planet

That striking, sky-blue feature is the eye of a persistent hurricane at Saturn’s north pole. The feature is 1,200 miles across, about 20 times larger than the average hurricane eye on Earth. And clouds are swirling around it as fast as 330 miles per hour.

The striking cerulean color is not at all false. It comes from scattering of sunlight, the same phenomenon that produces a blue sky here on Earth. Read More

Watch a dust storm kicking up over Mexico and the southwestern United States, as seen from space

By Tom Yulsman | April 27, 2017 6:14 pm
A screenshot from an animation of GOES-16 weather satellite data showing a major dust outbreak in Mexico and the southwestern United States. The dust is shown in pink colors. Please click to watch the animation. (Animation source: GOES-16 Loop of the Day, CIRA/RAMMB/NOAA)

A screenshot from an animation based on GOES-16 weather satellite data showing a major dust outbreak in Mexico and the southwestern United States. The dust is shown in pink colors. Please click to watch the animation. (Animation source: GOES-16 Loop of the Day, CIRA/RAMMB/NOAA)

Right after Earth Day, I published the first installment of what I said would be semi-regular posts showcasing the dazzling imagery now being produced by the new GOES-16 weather satellite.

As promised, here’s a new one — a spectacular animation. On March 23rd, the spacecraft observed a major dust storm over Mexico and the southwestern United States. The dust was picked up by strong southwesterly winds related to a deep trough over the western U.S.

SEE ALSO: Here’s the first installment in a new series at ImaGeo: dazzling imagery from the new GOES-16 weather satellite

In the animation, the dust storm is depicted in pink colors. High level clouds are dark blue, and low level clouds are light brown and green. Read More

Cassini shoots through the gap between Saturn and its rings, returning the closest views ever of the planet

By Tom Yulsman | April 27, 2017 5:36 am
Saturn

This unprocessed image acquired by the Cassini spacecraft is the closest view ever of the giant hurricane that swirls around Saturn’s north pole. It was captured during Cassini’s first Grand Finale dive past the planet on April 26, 2017. (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.)

On the first of 22 scheduled dives between Saturn and its innermost rings yesterday, Cassini zoomed at 77,000 miles per hour to within 1,900 miles of the planet’s cloud tops — and emerged intact.

After re-establishing contact with ground controllers very early Thursday morning, the spacecraft began returning the closest views yet of the gaseous planet’s atmosphere.

The unprocessed image above was acquired toward the start of the dive at 7:49 a.m. on April 26, 2017. It shows the behemoth eye of a hurricane swirling at Saturn’s north pole. About 1,200 miles across, the persistent feature is about 20 times larger than the average hurricane eye on Earth.

In a statement released by NASA, the mission’s manager was ebullient: Read More

Cassini: Going boldly where no spacecraft has gone before—on a dive between Saturn’s rings and the planet itself

By Tom Yulsman | April 26, 2017 10:13 am
This artist's rendering shows NASA's Cassini spacecraft above Saturn's northern hemisphere, heading toward its first dive between Saturn and its rings on April 26, 2017. (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This artist’s rendering shows NASA’s Cassini spacecraft above Saturn’s northern hemisphere, heading toward its first dive between Saturn and its rings on April 26, 2017. (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

On July 1, 2004, Cassini became the first spacecraft ever to orbit Saturn. And today, the spacecraft has likely achieved another milestone: Using its 13-foot-wide high-gain antenna as a shield, it probably has made the first ever dive between the rings and the giant gaseous planet itself.

I say “probably” because the spacecraft is not in contact with Earth right now, so scientists do not yet know how it fared. The earliest that it is expected to regain contact, via NASA’s Deep Space Network, is about midnight tonight, which is 3 a.m. EDT on Thursday, April 27.

This is the first of 22 scheduled dives between Saturn’s innermost ring and and its uppermost atmosphere. NASA is calling this the “Grand Finale,” and it is intended to provide scientists with data never envisioned in the mission’s original plan. That includes detailed measurements Saturn’s gravitational and magnetic fields and of the rings’ mass, as well as sampling of the atmosphere.

It’s also hoped that Cassini will send back incredibly vivid, close-up images of Saturn’s rings and clouds.

“What we learn from these activities will help to improve our understanding of how giant planets — and families of planets everywhere — form and evolve,” NASA says. Read More

The Arctic as we once knew it is going, going…

By Tom Yulsman | April 25, 2017 8:31 pm

A new report finds that while continued change is ‘locked in,’ there’s still time to stabilize some trends by cutting greenhouse gas emissions

Arctic ice

A chunk of glacial ice about one story high floats in a fjord near Ny Ålesund in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard in September of 2016. (Photograph: © Tom Yulsman)

In the past few years, I’ve heard it from many researchers: Global warming has pushed the Arctic into a completely new state. Now, a comprehensive assessment report published today confirms it:

With each additional year of data, it becomes increasingly clear that the Arctic as we know it is being replaced by a warmer, wetter, and more variable environment. This transformation has profound implications for people, resources, and ecosystems worldwide.

For the past 50 years, our emissions of greenhouse gases have warmed the Arctic at twice the rate as the world as a whole. And between 2011 and 2015, the region has been warmer “than at any time since instrumental records began in around 1900,” according to the assessment report, published by the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental group focusing on environmental protection and development. Read More

Watch as a giant explosion on the Sun blasts material into space, followed by dancing loops of glowing gas

By Tom Yulsman | April 24, 2017 10:48 am

NASA describes the display of coronal loops as particularly unusual

Please click to watch a video showing a coronal mass ejection exploding from the Sun, followed by the formation of coronal loops. (Source: NASA SDO)

Please click to watch a video showing a coronal mass ejection exploding from the Sun, followed by the formation of coronal loops. (Source: NASA SDO)

As NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory watched on April 19, 2017, a huge explosion of hot, ionized gas and magnetic field blasted outward from the Sun.

Immediately following this coronal mass ejection, or CME, gargantuan loops of glowing plasma many times larger than Earth arced high in the Sun’s atmosphere. Such bright coronal loops form as charged particles spin along the Sun’s magnetic field lines.

While such displays occur frequently on the Sun, a description on NASA’s SDO website noted that this one was unusual: “We have observed this phenomenon numerous times, but this one was one of the longest and clearest sequences we have seen in years.”

The action was captured in a combination of two wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light over a period of about 20 hours.  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, select, Top Posts

Here’s the first installment in a new series at ImaGeo: dazzling imagery from the new GOES-16 weather satellite

By Tom Yulsman | April 23, 2017 4:17 pm
An animation of images from the new GOES-16 weather satellite shows the progression of a day starting on April 21, 2017. (Source: CIRA/RAMMB/NOAA)

An animation of images from the new GOES-16 weather satellite shows the progression of a day for 12 hours starting on April 21, 2017. (Source: CIRA/RAMMB/NOAA)

With Earth Day just behind us, I’ve been inspired to start a new series here at ImaGeo: semi-regular posts showcasing the truly dazzling imagery now being produced by the GOES-16 weather satellite.

It’s now on its shakedown cruise, so to speak. Scientists are still testing everything out and evaluating the data being returned by the satellite. So it is not yet officially operational.

Even so, just have a look at the animation above, and the others below, and I think you’ll agree that GOES-16 seems to be experiencing smooth sailing so far. (Although I’m guessing that the engineers working behind the scenes might take issue with that!) Read More

There’s no place like home

By Tom Yulsman | April 22, 2017 7:40 pm

A visual celebration of the home planet, starting with a view from Earth as seen from Saturn — 870 million miles away — and zooming in close

home

In this image, acquired by the Cassini spacecraft just this past April 12th, the rings of Saturn dominate the view. But see that little white dot? That’s home — 870 million miles away.

On the morning of the first Earth Day, on April 20th, 1970, a friend and I boarded the IRT subway line in Brooklyn and headed for Manhattan. Our destination: Fifth Avenue, where New York City’s festivities were to take place.

earthrise

Source: NASA

I don’t recall ever having heard the term “home planet” back then. Yet the basic idea already had great currency, thanks to the iconic image of the Earth rising above the limb of the moon, shot by Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders on Christmas Eve of 1968. The late and great landscape photographer Galen Rowell is said to have described it as  “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.”

In fact, it may well be one of the most important photographs ever taken, period. That’s because it helped us realize that we humans live on a finite planet, “spaceship earth,” as some called it, and that if we didn’t take care, we could foul it beyond repair.

As Apollo 8 astronaut Jim Lovell put it in a live broadcast from lunar orbit: Read More

Tropical Storm Arlene spins up in the Atlantic, two months before average date of first storm of hurricane season

By Tom Yulsman | April 21, 2017 9:25 pm

Is climate change playing any role in an apparent lengthening of the hurricane season?

Tropical Storm Arlene

Arlene, as seen by NASA’s Terra satellite on the morning of Friday, April 21, 2017 — probably before it was downgraded in status from a tropical storm. The U.S. East Coast is off screen to the left. (Source: NASA Worldview)

It’s way early for hurricane season to start, but that’s precisely what happened yesterday with the formation of Tropical Storm Arlene in the far northern Atlantic.

Brian McNoldy, a researcher at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, writing at his Tropical Atlantic Update blog, puts this into perspective:

. . . this is exactly two months before the average date of first storm formation (June 20). It is also the 6th pre-season named storm to form in the past 6 years.

And as Weather Underground meteorologist Brian Henson put it in a post today: Read More

Check out this cool animation illustrating California’s dramatic change in fortunes

By Tom Yulsman | April 21, 2017 3:20 pm

The animation, based on data from a NASA airborne observatory, show just how much the state’s snowpack has grown

Animation of snow water equivalent

Snow water equivalent — the water content of snow — in California’s Tuolumne River Basin, as seen in an animation comparing 2015 and 2017. Lighter blue indicates less snow, deeper blue is more snow (see color bar at left). The 2017 snow water equivalent was 21 times greater than 2015, which was the lowest snowpack on record. (Source: NASA)

The incredible impact of California’s drought-busting deluges has now become even clearer, thanks to this compelling new animation from NASA.

You’re looking at a comparison of snowpack on April 1, 2015 and 2017 in the Tuolumne River Basin of the Sierra Nevada range. Famous Mono Lake is to the right. The entire basin spans more than 1,600 square miles, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island.

The data that underlie these images, collected by instruments aboard NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory, or ASO, tell a dramatic story: Not only is the snowpack in the basin currently 21 times greater than it was in 2015; it is also larger than the four previous years of snowpack — combined.

This is great news for San Francisco and California’s Central Valley growers, since the Tuolumne basin is a major source of water for both. Read More

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ImaGeo

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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