I guess I’m on a bit of a lunar kick. Earlier today I posted a beautiful photo of the Moon floating above Earth’s glowing limb. And then I ran across an intriguing news item about scientists capturing video of a bright flash on the Moon caused by a meteor crash.
I’ve included the video below, but I thought I would lead off with the spectacular image above of the Hayn Crater on the moon, captured by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. As described by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in its Flickr stream:
The central peak complex in the image above is dramatically illuminated by the low Sun casting long shadows across the crater floor. The floor of Hayn crater contains spectacular remnants of the impact event: impact melt, slump blocks, and complex debris. In some areas, rocks on the floor have cracked and eroded into fields of boulders.
Now there’s a new lunar crater, thanks to the meteorite impact on Sept. 11, 2013 and just described in a paper in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Here’s the video showing the impact flash, as seen by two telescopes in the south of Spain that were searching for lunar impact events: Read More
This image is so beautiful I just had to share it — a sweet piece of visual eye candy to help us all start the week with the right frame of mind.
Koichi Wakata, a JAXA astronaut aboard the International Space Station, shot this photograph of the moon floating above the Earth’s glowing limb on Feb. 21. Enjoy! And have a great week.
The residents of Beijing once again are suffering from hazardous air pollution, prompting the Chinese government to raise the city’s smog alert system to “orange” on Friday — the second highest of four alert tiers.
As a result, schools have cancelled outdoor sports, children and the elderly have been advised to stay indoors, some industrial facilities were ordered to curtail production, and outdoor barbecues and fireworks were banned.
As I write this post it is Monday, Feb. 24 in Beijing (Sunday here), and air quality is at a hazardous level, as the graphic at right shows. (Click the thumbnail for a larger view.) The AQI reading of 373 means that breathing this nasty soup of tiny particulates known as PM2.5 and other pollutants may cause serious health effects for everyone in the population, not just vulnerable folks, like the elderly and people with lung conditions such as asthma.
If I had to pick a word of the week it would probably be “ice” — an abundance of it in the Great Lakes and a lack up in parts of the Arctic.
That icy dichotomy pretty much captures the essence of the strange winter we’ve been having this winter.
The satellite image above, acquired by NASA’s Aqua satellite on Feb. 19, shows the Great Lakes in false color (bands 7-2-1 on the MODIS instrument). Ice cover shows up pale blue, open water is navy blue, snow is blue-green, and clouds are white or blue-green.
In mid-February, ice cover on the Great Lakes reached 88 percent, according to NASA, well above the average maximum extent of ice: 50 percent. Ice cover over 80 percent is very rare, having occurred only five times in the past four decades. Read More
If you thought Starfleet Command was headquartered only on the north side of San Francisco Bay, across the Golden Bridge from the city, check out what the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spied on the surface of Mars in December.
To my eye, those chevron shapes sure look like the Starfleet Command’s logo. So perhaps they are architecturally advanced hangers for repair and maintenance of starships that will be used in the next Star Trek movie?
Perhaps another view can help reveal the answer: Read More
Two days ago, I put together an animation highlighting the severity of California’s epic drought. Today it occurred to me that I could do something similar to show what the devastating floods in the United Kingdom look like from space.
The animation above shows what I came up with. It consists of two false-color images of part of England captured by NASA’s Terra satellite, the first on Nov. 10, 2013, and the second on Feb. 16, 2014 — after the U.K. had been lashed by repeated storms.
I chose this particular false-color scheme (the MODIS instrument’s 7-2-1 combination) because of the way it handles vegetation and water. Vegetation turns up very bright green, and water black. The resulting contrast does a great job of showing flooding.
One of the flooded areas is called Somerset Levels. Located in southwestern England, much of the land here is barely above sea level. Once marshlands, they’ve been drained for use in agriculture. But as NASA’s Earth Observatory put it in a post yesterday, “the marshy character of the land still reasserts itself on occasion.” Read More
You read that right. According to a new survey sponsored by the National Science Foundation, about a quarter of American adults evidently have been left behind by the Copernican revolution.
Which began almost half a millennium ago and ended 200 years later. That would be in the 1700′s.
(A quick aside: When I first posted this short piece, I was in such a state of absolute disbelief that I wrote a headline saying that 1 in 4 Americans believe that the Earth revolves around the sun.)
Okay, just for the record . . .
The heliocentric model was advanced by Nicolas Copernicus back in the 1500′s. Before then, the Ptolemaic view of the universe held that the Earth was at the center of everything. It was a model that didn’t die easily.
Galileo Galilei conducted observations of Venus with his telescope that gave strong support to the sun-centered model of Copernicus. Later, Isaac Newton figured out gravity (or at least the big picture), which explained the force that caused the planets, including Earth, to revolve around the sun. Case closed.
I have to say that I can’t believe I’m writing this. Suffice it to say that if you have a batty uncle or some such who hasn’t yet heard of the Copernican revolution, show him the video above of Venus transiting in front of the sun, as seen by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. I don’t know whether that will be helpful. But it could be a start.
And it never failed that during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way. — John Steinbeck, “East of Eden”
Thus begins chapter 1 of “The West Without Water” by Lynn Ingram and Frances Malamud-Roam, a book that delves into 20 millennia of climate history to give us some insight into what we are experiencing in the Western United States now, and what we might need to prepare for in the future.
It’s an apt quote to go with the animation above — a before and after look at the continuing epic California drought. Each frame consists of data from NASA’s Terra satellite.
The first was captured on Feb. 15, 2013, when the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains (which run from upper middle to lower right) was 72 percent of normal for the date. That was low and worrisome.
On that date, a little less than 50 percent of California overall was suffering from some degree of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. None of the state was in extreme or exceptional drought, the highest two categories.
Fed in large measure by irrigation water, the vast Central Valley just to the west of the mountains — one of the prime agricultural regions of the nation — was still relatively green.
Flash forward a year to this past weekend — Feb. 16. That’s the second image in the animation. The snowpack in the Sierra is visibly diminished. As of today, measurements show that it stands at just 26 percent of normal. This is despite recent storms. (If you’d like to check on current and past California snowpack conditions, go here.)
And as of Feb. 11 of the current year, the Drought Monitor found 95 percent of California to be drought, with 70 percent the state categorized as in extreme or exceptional drought.
As a result, vegetation throughout the state is suffering, including in the Central Valley. NASA scientists have used data from the MODIS instrument on the Terra and Aqua satellites to map where greening from plant growth is below normal for this time of year: Read More
An Indonesian volcano let loose a massive eruption late on Feb. 13, propelling a mushrooming cloud of ash more than 13 miles high. So far, four deaths are confirmed, and more than 56,000 people have been displaced.
The gallery here includes imagery of the eruption of the Kelut volcano (also spelled “Kelud”) from a number of satellites, as well as graphics that explain the origin of the entire Indonesian volcanic chain. Make sure to enlarge each one to get the full effect. Below are additional details about each image. Read More
Nature has really been dishing out the misery to millions of people on opposite sides of the Atlantic in the past few days.
It might be tempting to conclude that the cold and snow that has reached from Mississippi to Maine this week (as seen in the animation of satellite images above), and the extreme storms that have caused devastating flooding in the United Kingdom, each are separate examples of the kind of weather mayhem that just happens to occur from time to time. But this winter, these events have not been a time-to-time phenomenon. The cold and snow on one side, and intense wind and rain storms on the other, have come one after the other, starting in late December.
So how unusual is that, and what’s going on?
If a new scientific analysis is correct, the repeated bouts of extreme weather on either side of the Atlantic are indeed unusual — and both are manifestations of a chain of climatic “teleconnections” that reach half way around the globe and all the way to the tropics.
According to the new analysis, produced this week by the U.K.’s Met Office, they are tied together by a distorted and, in some places, unusually fast jet stream, abnormally warm sea surface temperatures in the West Pacific, and by a particularly intense polar vortex — not a weak one, as has been widely reported before.
And the analysis does not stop there. It also raises the possibility that the extreme weather may have gotten a boost from us, through human-caused climate change. Read More