The Deep Space Climate Observatory spacecraft hovers between the Earth and Sun, keeping a constant eye on our planet’s sunlit side from about a million miles away.
Yet even from that extremely distant vantage point (called Lagrange Point 1), DSCOVR’S camera was able to discern a broad blanket of smoke from wildfires raging in Siberia.
Look for the smoke within the circled area in the image above, acquired by the EPIC camera on July 21, 2016. Click the image to open it in a new window, and then click on it again for a close up view. The smoke is clearly visible.
Despite all the smoke, the Russian government says burning in not terribly extensive. On July 18th, it reported that 77 fires were burning on 45 square miles of territory, an area smaller than Washington D.C. For the year to date, the government says 2,583 square miles have burned.
But Grigory Kuksin of Greenpeace Russia, quoted in a story in Phys.Org, says the government is playing down the extent of the burning. By his accounting, 27,027 square miles have burned so far this year — an area larger than West Virginia.
It’s difficult to know what the precise number is. But given the extensive smoke blanket — which stretches across at least 2,000 miles of Siberia from west to east — I’m guessing that the figure is closer to the estimate from Greenpeace. Read More
The Atlantic hurricane season started with a bang, but since then? Nada.
This despite a huge amount of oceanic heat available to feed these meteorological beasts, as the animation at right shows. (Click to expand it.)
The first hurricane this year, Alex, swirled in the North Atlantic in mid January. That was shockingly early: Since record keeping began, only two other hurricanes are known to have formed in the Atlantic during January, according to Weather Underground’s Bob Henson.
Following Alex, there have been three other named storms. The last one was Tropical Storm Danielle, which dissipated on June 21.
The broadest picture of the dearth of Atlantic hurricanes since then looks like this:
When tropical cyclone activity is high in the Pacific — as it has been recently — things tend to remain calm in the Atlantic. That’s because the rising air that occurs over the eastern Pacific’s stormy areas results in sinking air over the Atlantic. And sinking air is very unfriendly to Atlantic hurricanes.
Beyond that, several factors associated with a phenomenon known as the Saharan Air Layer, or SAL, also inhibit formation of Atlantic hurricanes. Read More
This past month nudged out June 2015 as the warmest on record, according to data just released by NASA.
That makes the first six months of 2016 the warmest first half of any year since 1880. June’s record warmth also means we’ve experienced nine months in a row of record setting temperatures.
A separate analysis released today by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also shows that the first half of 2016 was the warmest.
By NASA’s reckoning, the first half of 2015 was previously the warmest such period on record. “But 2016 has blown that out of the water,” said Gavin Schmidt, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, at an online briefing today.
Given the torrid start to the year, 2016 is very likely to finish as the warmest year on record. Read More
After months of record-setting warmth culminating in extremely high temperatures last week, much of Alaska was primed for wildfire.
Things had been quiet until then, despite the warmest January through June period in Alaska since 1895.
Then the lightning came — with a sudden vengeance: some 45,570 strikes between July 13 and 16th.
The result: Flames finally exploded through Alaskan landscapes, with 114 new wildfires resulting in a more-than-100,000-acre increase in the total number of acres burned in Alaska this season, according to the Alaska Division of Forestry.
During one day last week, the acreage burned was one-third of the total that has burned during the entire season. As of July 16th, 481 wildfires had burned 299,632 acres of Alaska. Read More
The image above is the Juno spacecraft’s first view of Jupiter and some of its moons after it entered orbit around the gas giant on July 4th.
Published by NASA on July 12, it consists of data acquired by the JunoCam when the spacecraft was 2.7 million miles from Jupiter.
Juno was heading away from the planet on its first 53.5-day “capture orbit” — the beginning of its orbital mission. On Oct. 19, the spacecraft will execute its final engine burn of the mission, placing Juno into a 14-day orbit and marking the start of the primary science mission.
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:
And now, what’s up with the pinwheeling Sun? Read More
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.
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.”
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?
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.
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.
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