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.
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.)
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.
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
|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
|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. |
The New Horizons spacecraft is about 13 million miles from Pluto and its largest moon, Charon. If that seems really far, consider the image above.
It was captured by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager instrument, or LORI, when the piano-sized spacecraft was even farther away — 20 million miles, give or take. Yet LORI could begin to pick out some intriguing surface detail on both bodies.
Note the light and dark features on Pluto, to the right, which are indicative of large-scale aspects of the planet’s terrain. (Although Pluto seems to have an irregular shape, that’s an illusion created by the pattern of dark and bright regions.)
And check out that dark region on Charon’s north pole. It has been called an “anti-polar cap” — and for now, it is quite mysterious.
Alan Stern, the mission’s principal investigator, from the Southwest Research Institute, reacted this way:
About Charon—wow—I don’t think anyone expected Charon to reveal a mystery like dark terrains at its pole . . . Who ordered that?”
Now, New Horizons is just 17 days out from its closest encounter with Pluto. If all goes well (and a lot could go wrong!), on July 14 the spacecraft will swoop to within about 7,750 miles of Pluto (17,900 miles of Charon). For about a half hour, it will take close-up pictures in both visible and near-infrared wavelengths — images that should be able to resolve surface features as small as 200 feet across.
So if there’s a football stadium on Pluto, New Horizons should spot it!
New Horizons is also beginning to beam us images that are being made into the first color movies of Pluto and Charon. Here’s one: Read More
Here at ImaGeo, I’ve mostly stuck to reporting, analyzing and commenting on science from a journalistic perspective, with a strong focus on compelling imagery.
But with today’s landmark decision by the Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states, I thought I’d depart from that practice just this once — with the image above.
In one small measure, it is in keeping with ImaGeo: The remote sensing image is a view of the Western Hemisphere acquired this morning by the GOES-East weather satellite. As for the flag, it is, of course, a symbol of the LGBT movement. I’ve composited the two images using Photoshop.
I realize that people of good will have honest disagreements over the issue of gay marriage. I very much respect that.
And now, back to science — specifically, a post about the approach to Pluto by the New Horizons spacecraft. I was working on it when the Supreme Court decision came down. Stay tuned for that post a bit later today.
The Sun sure has been acting up lately. Early this morning it let loose with yet another in a veritable string of flares — gargantuan explosions of radiation and solar material — many of them pointed toward Earth.
Solar material blasted into space by today’s flare is expected to reach Earth at about 1 p.m. EDT this coming Saturday, according to the Space Weather Prediction Center. But it’s not predicted to trigger anything like the spectacular displays of the auroral borealis that occurred this past Monday (June 22) and into Tuesday.
More about those displays in a minute, but first, check out the image above of today’s flare, captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft. Also, have a look at this pair of images of the solar material — called a coronal mass ejection, or CME — thrown off by the flare: Read More
So far this year, 504 fires have scorched 513 square miles of Alaska — an area the size of the sprawling city of Los Angeles.
And the burning season has only just begun.
Make sure to click on the image above so you can get a full view of just how much of Alaska’s interior is burning. You’re looking at almost the whole state (minus a bit of the Aleutian Island chain and southeastern Alaska).
Those red dots indicate where NASA’s Aqua satellite detected anomalously hot areas yesterday (June 22) — the signature of wildfire. And check out that bluish smoke. It extends from the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge in the west, across central Alaska and on to to the Canadian border in the east, a distance of about 800 miles.
As I’m writing this on Tuesday, June 23 the air quality in Fairbanks was rated as unhealthy, thanks to the pall of smoke. As of the latest count, 261 fires are burning in Alaska. (Go here for a map showing the location of all active Alaskan wildfires.) Read More
A wildfire covering an area more than half the size of Manhattan Island is burning out of control in the San Bernardino National Forest east of Los Angeles.
As I write this on Friday morning (June 19), it has scorched 11,000 acres and is only 10 percent contained, according to InciWeb, the federal incident information system. The cause of the blaze, called the Lake Fire, has yet to be determined. It threatens 150 structures; none are believed to be damaged so far.
California’s epic drought has raised fears that this fire season could be very serious. The Lake Fire is the biggest wildfire in California so far this year.
I created the animation above using images of the blaze and surrounding area acquired by NASA’s Aqua satellite on Thursday, June 18, 2015. The false-color image emphasizes the area of active burning in orange colors. The true-color images clearly shows a giant smoke plume. Read More
As heated debate swirled around Pope Francis’s call today for action on climate change, new data on Earth’s climate were released. The verdict: record warmth.
Earth just experienced its warmest March through May on record, according to the the data released today by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The year-to-date was also the warmest January through May period on record. And so was the month of May itself.
NOAA’s assessment of the climate in May differs slightly from one released by NASA earlier this week, which found that the month was in a tie for second warmest. Different methods for calculating Earth’s average temperature account for the discrepancy, which is relatively small.