History is Made: New Horizons Skims Past Pluto

By Tom Yulsman | July 14, 2015 10:26 am
Pluto

This is the last image taken by NASA’s New Horizon’s spacecraft before it made its closest approach to Pluto. The piano-sized probe was speeding toward the planet at 30,000 miles per hour and was 476,000 miles away. (Source: NASA)

| JUST RELEASED (7/15/15): The First Incredible Closeup Image of Pluto Reveals Gigantic Ice Mountains |

After a journey of 10 years and three billion miles, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has made its closest approach to Pluto.

I’m not saying “successfully” because we don’t yet know how well the spacecraft has fared during its close encounter. We’ll know by about 9 p.m. EDT when New Horizons is supposed to phone home.

But scientists do know that the piano-sized probe skimmed just 7,750 miles above the surface of the far away world at 7:49 EDT today — as planned — and is now speeding ever outward into the icy Kuiper Belt.

When I say speeding, I mean it: At closest approach, New Horizons was zipping along at 30,000 miles per hour, making it the fastest spacecraft ever launched.

To appreciate what a remarkable achievement New Horizons’ close encounter with Pluto truly was, consider this, from NASA: Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Planetary Science

As Chan-hom Bears Down on Shanghai, New Video Shows Multiple Cyclones Swirling in the Pacific

By Tom Yulsman | July 10, 2015 8:25 pm

As I’m writing this, there are reports that more than 865,000 people have been evacuated in eastern China in advance of Typhoon Chan-hom’s landfall.

And the megalopolis of Shanghai, home to some 23 million people in the city’s greater metro area, is battening down the hatches as it faces a risk of flooding from what could be an historic storm surge as the typhoon swirls past.

For more details about what to expect from typhoon Chan-hom, check out this post by Jeff Masters over at Weather Underground. For now, I thought I would simply share the compelling video above, which was just published by the Ocean Prediction Center of the U.S. National Weather Service.

The video shows the development of Typhoon Chan-hom, which is in the middle of the trio of cyclones swirling in the western Pacific. To its left (to the west) is Linfa, which came ashore in China as a strong tropical storm. And to its right is powerful Typhoon Nangka, which may pose a threat to the Japanese mainland next week.

The video features infrared and visible imagery from Japan’s Himawari-8 satellite, which recently became operational.

Latest Report: El Niño Continues to Bulk Up in the Pacific — and It May Get a Boost From the Pacific’s Surge of Cyclones

By Tom Yulsman | July 9, 2015 7:49 pm
surge of cyclones

The forecast for how sea surface temperatures would vary from normal in the Pacific Ocean on July 9, 2015. The circled area of abnormally warm water is a hallmark of El Niño. (Source: ClimateReanlyzer.org/Climate Change Institute, University of Maine)

The El Niño once regarded as “El Wimpo” is getting ever stronger, and it’s likely to peak in late fall or early winter as one of the more brawny ones on record.

“At this time, the forecaster consensus is in favor of a significant El Niño event,” states the monthly assessment from the U.S. Climate Prediction Center, released today. “Overall, there is a greater than 90% chance that El Niño will continue through Northern Hemisphere winter 2015-16, and around an 80% chance it will last into early spring 2016,” according to the report.

SEE ALSO: El Wimpo Transforms Into an El Niño That’s Showing Increasing Signs of Being a Humdinger

Abnormally warm surface waters concentrated mostly east of the dateline in the Pacific are a hallmark of El Niño. You can see just that in the graphic at the top of this post. That band of orange and red along the equator that I’ve circled is indicative of surface waters that are more than five degrees F warmer than normal in places.

This warmth has contributed to a burst of intense cyclone activity in the tropical Pacific. And that activity may actually help El Niño bulk up even more.

surge of cyclones

Typhoons Chan-hom (left) and Nangka (right) swirl in the western Pacific Ocean in this animation of visible and infrared satellite images acquired on July 9, 2015. El Niño conditions have contributed to a sharp surge in cyclone activity, which in turn may help El Niño get stronger. (Source: Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies)

Let’s talk about that burst first.

Read More

This Just In: Second Warmest June on Record in U.S.

By Tom Yulsman | July 8, 2015 11:55 am
Second warmest June

Record to near-record warmth prevailed in June from the Rockies to the West Coast, and 16 states in the East were much warmer than average. Nationally, it was the second warmest June on record. (Source: National Centers for Environmental Information)

I was about to write a post focusing on how the current spate of tropical cyclones in the Pacific Ocean could kick El Niño into higher gear when I saw the latest climate report for the United States. So I’ll put El Niño aside for now to focus on that.

The verdict from the National Centers for Environmental Information: the United States just experienced its second warmest June in a record stretching back 121 years. Only June 1933 was warmer.

According to the NCEI: Read More

WATCH: Chorus Line of Cyclones Marching Across the Pacific

By Tom Yulsman | July 7, 2015 1:25 pm
cyclones

Three tropical cyclones swirl in the western tropical Pacific Ocean, while a tropical disturbance brews in the east near Hawaii. (Source: SSEC University of Wisconsin-Madison)

|See updates below |

Four cyclones are kicking it up in a kind of meteorological chorus line across the tropical Pacific today. You can see them in the animation above, which I created using imagery from the MTSAT satellite.

One of these cyclones, Linfa, is a weak tropical storm. It’s expected to make landfall in China early Thursday local time. Click here for the latest forecast track.

| Update 7/8/15: The forecast today shows Linfa curving to the southeast, skimming along the Chinese coast, and passing over Hong Kong with estimated sustained winds of about 45 miles per hour. This storm poses a risk of coastal flooding. |

Two others are dangerous typhoons.

According to the the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, Chan-Hom is expected to peak in intensity at about 130 miles per hour on Thursday and then make landfall in China a bit south of Shanghai — a city of more than 14 million people — on Saturday, July 11.

Sustained winds of 90 miles per hour at landfall are currently expected, with gusts up to 115. Of course both the track and the intensity could change over the next few days. In fact, if Chan-Hom strengthens just a bit more than expected, it could attain super typhoon status.

| Update 7/8/15: Chan-Hom’s forecast track hasn’t changed much since yesterday. It is still expected to come ashore near Shanghai. The current prediction is for sustained winds of almost 100 miles per hour at landfall. For the latest forecast from the JTWC, go here|

cyclones

Typhoon Nangka, as seen by all 16 channels of the Himawari-8 satellite, which just became operational. Click to watch animation. (Source: Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies.)

Read More

As Parts of Three Continents Bake, Greenland Sees Sudden Spike in Surface Melting

By Tom Yulsman | July 4, 2015 2:14 pm
surface melting

Greenland as seen by NASA’s Aqua satellite on June 29, 2015. (Source: NASA Worldview)

As brutal heat grips parts of Europe, Asia, North America and South America, another place is also experiencing a spike in temperatures — one that you may not have heard about.

It’s happening in Greenland, and high temperatures there over the past two weeks have caused a sudden jump in melting at the surface of the vast ice sheet (seen in that great expanse of white in the satellite image above).

For more details about the heat elsewhere, including record-setting 100+ temperatures in places like the Netherlands, see Jeff Masters’ recent post at Weather Underground.

In this preliminary post I’ll focus on Greenland.

I say preliminary, because a report on the situation is probably coming from the National Snow and Ice Data Center a bit later in July. By then, it is entirely possible that conditions will have shifted. In fact, “it’s not that unusual to see a spike,” Ted Scambos of the NSIDC told me in an email. So we’ll see.

For now, though, check out what’s happening: Read More

WATCH: Spectacular NASA Video Shows Giant Eruption Arching High Above the Sun and Exploding Into Space

By Tom Yulsman | July 2, 2015 9:24 am
eruption

Source: NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center

The Sun was very restless late in June.

Starting in the third week of the month, it erupted with numerous flares and flung giant clouds of solar material, called coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, toward Earth. One result: A strong geomagnetic storm that caused the skies to ignite in spectacular displays of the Northern Lights much farther south than usual.

SEE ALSO: Another in a String of Flares Explodes From the Sun, Sending a Cloud of Solar Material Racing Toward Earth

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft was there to capture all the action, including a gargantuan eruption on June 18th that arched high above the surface and then blew out into space as a substantial CME.

You can see the giant arch of glowing plasma in the image above. Several Earths could fit under that arch! Make sure to click on the image to watch a spectacular video by the NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center covering about four hours of the event.

Right now, the Sun is comparatively calm, and it is forecast to stay that way for the next several days. (For the latest three-day forecast from the Space Weather Prediction Center, go here.)

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, select, Sun, Top Posts

WATCH: Time-Lapse Movie Shows Pluto and Charon Looming Larger as the New Horizons Spacecraft Speeds Ever Closer

By Tom Yulsman | July 1, 2015 9:54 am
Pluto

Time-lapse movie consisting of images acquired by the New Horizons spacecraft as it approached Pluto and Charon between May 28 and June 25, 2015. (Source: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

The New Horizons spacecraft has been sending home a steady stream of photos as it has closed in on Pluto. Now, the mission team has stitched a series of those images together to create the spectacular time-lapse animation above.

Pluto is in the center, spinning on its axis. Charon, the planet’s largest moon, is orbiting around it.  As they loom ever larger in the frame, details on their surfaces become clearer. As described by NASA:

The images show Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, growing in apparent size as New Horizons closes in. As it rotates, Pluto displays a strongly contrasting surface dominated by a bright northern hemisphere, with a discontinuous band of darker material running along the equator. Charon has a dark polar region, and there are indications of brightness variations at lower latitudes.

SEE ALSO: As the Piano-Sized New Horizons Spacecraft Approaches, Pluto and Charon Are Coming Into Intriguing Focus

The images in the time-lapse animation were acquired by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, or LORRI, camera, between May 28 and June 25 as the spacecraft raced closer and closer. In those 29 days, the spacecraft’s distance to Pluto decreased from about 35 million miles to 14 million miles.  Read More

Smoke From Hundreds of Wildfires in Canada Streams South Across Much of the Central United States

By Tom Yulsman | June 29, 2015 2:53 pm
smoke

Smoke from hundreds of fires burning in Canada streamed far south into the U.S. on June 28, 2015, as seen in this image from NASA’s Aqua satellite. (Source: NASA Worldview)

|See update below |

Pushed by a wildly contorted jet stream, smoke from more than 200 wildfires burning in Canada’s Alberta and Saskatchewan provinces has streamed 1,600 miles south, deep into the United States.

You can see the fires and the plume in the image above, acquired by NASA’s Aqua satellite yesterday.

I did my best to analyze the satellite image and locate the approximate end of the plume. By my estimate, it traveled as far south as southern Missouri, near the city of Springfield. From the fires in northern Alberta, that’s a distance of about 1,600 miles.

Here’s another view, captured yesterday by a GOES weather satellite: Read More

Idiot Drone Pilot Hampers Efforts to Save Homes from Southern California’s Lake Fire

By Tom Yulsman | June 26, 2015 3:19 pm
Idiot

NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired this image of smoke from the Lake fire streaming north on June 25, 2015. The fire was burning in southern California in San Bernardino National Forest. The Los Angeles basin is to the left of the red outlines, which indicate hot spots where MODIS detected unusually warm surface temperatures associated with fire activity. (Source: NASA Earth Observatory)

|Please see the update below about questions that have been raised about whether this was truly a hobbyist’s drone.|

I check in at NASA’s fabulous Earth Observatory web site almost every day, because I know I’ll be treated to spectacular imagery and also learn something new. Today was no different, except this time instead of being edified I wound up getting enraged.

Along with publishing the image of Southern California’s Lake Fire above, the folks at the Earth Observatory noted this:

Hobbyist drones have hampered firefighting efforts and contributed to the fire’s rapid growth, according to news reports.

Click that ‘news reports’ link and you’ll be taken to a Los Angeles Times story. It reports that a hobby drone buzzing at 11,000 feet over the fire had caused the pilot of a jumbo DC-10 aircraft laden with 10,800 gallons of fire retardant to turn away from the drop point.

That point was was chosen specifically in hopes that homes in the tinder dry forest could be saved from the Lake Fire’s flames.

|Update 6/26/15: As a couple of commenters below point out, there are questions as to whether the drone could have been piloted by a hobbyist. It was flying at a very high altitude, and it had, according to one news report, a four-foot wingspan. This has led to speculation that it was a military drone. In fact, the hobbyist claim does seem somewhat suspicious to me. I’ll try to track down more information about this and report what I learn. Either way, the pilot still qualifies as an idiot in my book. 

SEE ALSO: Animations of Satellite Images Show the Massive Lake Fire Burning Out of Control Near Los Angeles Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Drought, select, Top Posts, Wildfire
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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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