Watch as a lonely sunspot grows larger than our planet, turns toward Earth, and gets ready to blast hot stuff at us

By Tom Yulsman | July 22, 2017 6:59 pm

Actually, it’s a sunspot group, and the active region it is tied to let loose an aurora-causing eruption of hot plasma


NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft captured this view of a sunspot rotating into view between July 5 and 11, 2017. (Source: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO/Joy Ng, producer)

I guess I just can’t get enough of time-lapse animations.

A couple of days ago, I was mesmerized by an animation of satellite images showing not just smoke billowing from a California wildfire but also the blaze itself. And yesterday, I was smitten by an animation showing the tiny Martian moon Phobos zinging around the Red Planet.

SEE ALSO: This is just really cool – a time-lapse animation from the Hubble telescope showing a tiny moon zinging around Mars

Today it’s the one above, showing a sunspot group seeming to zip by as the Sun rotates on its axis. It’s actually from earlier in July, and since then, the active region on the Sun that this sunspot group is associated with has produced an explosive flare and massive of ejection of solar material out into space.

Here’s a broader view that provides a sense of scale, and also reveals how the individual spots shape-shift over time: Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, select, Sun, Top Posts

This is just really cool – a time-lapse animation from the Hubble telescope showing a tiny moon zinging around Mars

By Tom Yulsman | July 21, 2017 5:06 pm

The tiny Martian moon Phobos orbits the Red Planet in this animation of images from the Hubble Space Telescope. Please click the animation to enlarge it. (Source: NASA, ESA, and Z. Levay (STScI)

On May 12, 2016, when Mars was 50 million miles from Earth, the Hubble Space Telescope turned its incredibly sharp eye toward the Red Planet. The time-lapse animation above reveals what it saw.

That little white speck zinging around Mars is Phobos, a football-shaped moon just 16.5 miles by 13.5 miles by 11 miles. You’re seeing it in an animation consisting of 13 separate exposures by Hubble.

Phobos looks like it is speeding along at an unbelievably rapid clip. In reality, Hubble acquired the 13 frames over the course of 22 minutes. So things are really sped up in the time-lapse.

Even so, Phobos is something of a sprinter. As NASA puts it: Read More

California’s dangerous Detwiler fire: The amazing GOES-16 satellite sees the blaze itself, not just the billowing smoke

By Tom Yulsman | July 21, 2017 1:25 pm

With its vastly improved capabilities, the new satellite has the potential to save the lives of firefighters

Hot spots and the massive smoke plume from California's Detwiler Fire are seen in this animation of imagery from the GOES-16 satellite acquired on July 18, 2017. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA)

Heat and the massive smoke plume from California’s Detwiler Fire are seen in this animation of visible and infrared imagery from the GOES-16 satellite acquired on July 18, 2017. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA)

For decades, satellites have been helping fire managers identify and monitor blazes, based on their smoke plumes and the hot spots they create in infrared imagery.

But as the animation above shows in spectacular fashion, the new GOES-16 weather satellite has taken things to a new level. With higher resolution imagery, and nearly real-time imaging capabilities, it is already helping forecasters improve their ability to predict wildfire behavior — which of course has the potential to save lives.

The animation shows California’s Detwiler Fire not far from Yosemite National Park on Wednesday, July 18th. It begins at 1 p.m. California time and runs through dusk. By that evening, the fire had grown to 45,000 acres, up from 20,000 the day before. And as I’m writing this on Friday morning, the fire has grown to 70,000 acres — about the size of Tampa, Florida. Fifty-eight homes have been destroyed, and with the fire just 15 percent contained, 1,500 structures remain threatened.

In the animation, the massive smoke plume is clearly visible. So is something that looks like flames. It’s not exactly that — you’re not seeing actual visual imagery of flames. Instead, you’re seeing heat emanating from the flames, detected by the sensor aboard GOES-16 in infrared wavelengths. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Remote Sensing, select, Top Posts, Wildfire

First half of 2017 was 2nd warmest such period on record

By Tom Yulsman | July 19, 2017 2:28 pm

The month of June by itself was third warmest in records dating back 138 years, according to NOAA


The Mer de Glace, or “Sea of Ice,” is the best known part of the Mount Blanc Glacier in France. It has been receding rapidly for the past 30 years, now at a rate of about 15 feet each year. (Photo courtesy of Wendy Redal)

The Earth has been cooling somewhat since the epic El Niño of 2015/2016. But even so, conditions are still plenty warm.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration rates January through June of 2017 as the second warmest first half of any year since record-keeping began in 1880, behind the record year of 2016.

The year-to-date temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.64°F above the 20th century average of 56.3°F, according to NOAA.

If that does not seem like very much, consider how miserable you feel when you spike a fever that’s only a couple of degrees above normal.

Or, for something directly connected to the warming of our planet, consider the photograph above, taken by my friend Wendy Redal during a trip to France in June. It shows the Mer de Glace, or “Sea of Ice,” an extension of the Mont Blanc Glacier.

Since 1850, the Mer de Glace has retreated by two kilometers, or 1.2 miles. You can see what that shrinkage looks like in this comparison: Read More

Soar over Pluto’s mountains and icy plains in this cool flyover based on data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft

By Tom Yulsman | July 17, 2017 8:32 pm

While mission scientists were at it, they also produced a spectacular flyover of Charon, Pluto’s largest moon

New Horizons fly-over of Pluto. (Source: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Paul Schenk and John Blackwell, Lunar and Planetary Institute)

New Horizons flyover of Pluto. (Source: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Paul Schenk and John Blackwell, Lunar and Planetary Institute)

The still images of Pluto sent home to Earth by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft in July of 2015 were remarkable enough.

The incredible distance to Pluto — 4.67 billion miles! — meant that until then, the dwarf planet was long shrouded in mystery. And then, BOOM! — mind boggling images of jagged mountains, flowing glaciers and icy plains.

Now, mission scientists have draped imaging data over a digital elevation model of Pluto to create the flyover above — a video showing what it might be like if you could visit Pluto in a spaceship.

As NASA describes the scene, the dramatic Pluto flyover begins:

. . . over the highlands to the southwest of the great expanse of nitrogen ice plain informally named Sputnik Planitia. The viewer first passes over the western margin of Sputnik, where it borders the dark, cratered terrain of Cthulhu Macula, with the blocky mountain ranges located within the plains seen on the right. The tour moves north past the rugged and fractured highlands of Voyager Terra and then turns southward over Pioneer Terra — which exhibits deep and wide pits — before concluding over the bladed terrain of Tartarus Dorsa in the far east of the encounter hemisphere.

The digital mapping and rendering that went into creating the flyover were carried out by Paul Schenk and John Blackwell of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston. They also gave the same treatment to data returned by New Horizons after it flew by Charon, Pluto’s largest moon. Here’s the result: Read More

WATCH: an arresting view from space of powerful Hurricane Fernanda churning in the Pacific as day turns to night

By Tom Yulsman | July 17, 2017 5:39 pm

The GOES-16 weather satellite acquired the imagery used in this animation showing Hurricane Fernanda swirling in the eastern Pacific Ocean for 24 hours, starting on Saturday, July 15. (Note: The animation repeats several times.) As of Saturday, Fernanda was a powerful Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds close to 130 miles per hour. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA SLIDER. Please note that The GOES-16 data are preliminary and non-operational.)

As of Monday afternoon, winds of about 125 miles per hour continued to swirl within Hurricane Fernanda as it churned westward in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

But as the Category 3 storm begins to move over cooler surface waters, it should begin to weaken and eventually peter out, posing no threat to land.

And a good thing, too, because Fernanda has been a very powerful storm, reaching Category 4 strength on Friday, July 14th and attaining maximum sustained winds of 145 miles per hour.

To produce the animation above showing Fernanda from the vantage of space, I used a cool new web application: the Satellite Loop Interactive Data Explorer in Real-time, or “SLIDER” for short. The image data come from the new GOES-16 weather satellite. The animation shows Fernanda over the course of 24 hours, starting on Saturday afternoon.

During the period covered by the animation, day turns to night, and back to day again, providing what I find to be a really arresting view of the storm.

Seeing Fernanda both in daytime and nighttime is made possible by an imagery product called “GeoColor.” This allows an almost seamless transition between visible imagery acquired during the day and infrared imagery captured at night. Read More

Satellite images reveal an iceberg with twice the volume of Lake Erie breaking off the Antarctic Peninsula

By Tom Yulsman | July 12, 2017 2:41 pm
Gargantuan iceberg calves from Antarctica

An image acquired by the Suomi-NPP satellite on July 12, 2017 reveals a gargantuan iceberg calving from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica.  (Image source: NASA Worldview)

It has been predicted for a long time, and now it has finally happened: One of the largest icebergs ever recorded has broken free of the Larsen C Ice Shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Scientists monitoring a growing rift in the ice shelf confirmed today in a blog post that the trillion-ton iceberg had calved. It occurred at some point between Monday, July 10th and Wednesday, July 12th. The scientists, part of a research project called Project Midas, say the berg is about 2,230 square miles in size — roughly the size of Delaware — and that its volume is twice that of Lake Erie.

Here’s another comparison: The gargantuan chunk of ice (which is likely to be given the nondescript designation of “A68”) is a million times more voluminous than the Empire State Building.

Martin O’Leary, a Swansea University glaciologist and member of the MIDAS project team, had this to say about the calving: Read More

Remember the North Pole winter thaw? A new study finds a rising trend in Arctic warming spikes in winter

By Tom Yulsman | July 11, 2017 4:02 pm
Blah blah. (Source: Norwegian Polar Institute)

During the N-ICE2015 expedition, scientists froze their boat, the Lance, into the Arctic sea ice to gather data from January to June of 2015. (Source: Norwegian Polar Institute)

During each of the past three years, something quite bizarre has happened in the central Arctic.

No, global warming did not cause some Thing to rise up out of the ice and go on a rampage. It was temperatures that rose up. And not just by a little.

This occurred during extreme warming events near the North Pole that sent temperatures spiking close to, or above, the freezing mark for one to three days. Compare that to average winter temperatures in winter: typically lower than minus 30 degrees Celsius, or -22 F.

Arctic warm spells in winter are by no means unheard of. But were the extreme conditions seen during the last three years a sign that warm episodes are becoming more common than in the past? And has the duration of warm episodes in winter been increasing?

A new study published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters finds that the answer to both questions is yes.

Since 1980, an additional six warming events — defined as temperatures rising above -10 degrees C, or 14 F — are occurring each winter in the North Pole region, according to the study by a team of Norwegian, American and German scientists. In addition, the average length of each event has grown from fewer than two days to nearly two and a half days. Read More

Southern California wildfires blossom as the new GOES-16 satellite watches the action from space

By Tom Yulsman | July 10, 2017 5:40 pm

Meanwhile, 2,000 miles to the north, it’s fire and ice — as seen by NASA’s Terra satellite

Twin California wildfires are seen in this animation of imagery acquired by the GOES-16 weather satellite. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA/NOAA)

Twin Southern California California wildfires — the Alamo Fire and the Whittier Fire a little to the south of it — are seen in this animation of imagery acquired by the GOES-16 weather satellite. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA/NOAA)

It’s that time of year. Sixty-five wildfires — 20 of them new — are blazing in the United States across some 1,100 square miles of land.

For the year to date, 32,737 fires have scorched more than 5,400 square miles — an area equivalent to the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and then some. In terms of acreage, that’s about 30 percent ahead of the year-to-date average for the previous ten years. (For the latest statistics, see the National Interagency Fire Center.)

More than a dozen wildfires are making headlines in California today, including two that have exploded in size in the southern part of the state.

The Alamo fire burning in San Luis Obispo County has consumed 28,926 acres as of this morning. That’s about twice the size of Manhattan.

A little to the south is the Whittier Fire in the Santa Ynez Mountains not far from Santa Barbara. It has burned 10,823 acres. “The combination of old, dry fuels with a newly cured heavy grass crop contributed to the rapid growth of this fire,” according to a morning update from InciWeb, an inter-agency incident information system.

The new GOES-16 weather satellite watched as both blazes blossomed. See above for an animation showing the growth of the smoke plumes from those fires. Read More

The little storm that could: Watch a tenacious tropical depression race ahead of a huge blob of Saharan dust

By Tom Yulsman | July 7, 2017 1:38 pm

The GOES-16 weather satellite eyed Tropical Depression Four in the central Atlantic Ocean on Thursday afternoon, July 6, 2017, as it raced ahead of a huge blob of brownish dust streaming off the Sahara in Africa. (Source: CIRA/RAMMB/NOAA)

It may have a humdrum name, but since Tropical Depression Four formed in the central Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday evening, it has certainly distinguished itself.

It is a “small, tenacious depression” that “has continued to hold its own,” the National Hurricane Center said in its update this morning. The spectacular animation above, from the GOES-16 weather satellite, suggests why that word, tenacious, is appropriate.

Tropical Depression Four has managed to stay alive despite dry and dusty air streaming west from the Sahara in Africa. In the video, you can see the swirling depression racing ahead of a large mass of dusty, brown-tinged air.

For a tropical depression to rev up and grow into a full-blown hurricane, it needs to be fueled by warm, moist air. So dry air has the opposite effect — it saps the strength of depressions and hurricanes.

Tropical Depression Four has held its own while struggling against the dry air. Yet ultimately, the Saharan Air Layer, or SAL, as scientists call it, is winning. And that means in all likelihood the depression will degenerate by tonight. 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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