Seventy years ago today, the crew of the Enola Gay B29 bomber, acting on behalf of the citizens of the United States and the Allies of World War II, dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.
It was the first time such a weapon had been used against a wartime target. The goal: end the most devastating conflict humankind had ever endured.
At 8:15 a.m., the unimaginably violent explosion from the A-bomb killed 80,000 people instantly; another 60,000 died in ensuing months. Even so, Japan did not surrender. It wasn’t until a second atomic bomb (of a different design) was detonated over Nagasaki three days later that the Japanese finally capitulated.
I thought I would commemorate the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing with images offering different perspectives on the devastation, as well as a few personal reflections.
Pulses of unusually warm water sloshing from the western Pacific Ocean toward South America along the equator have caused El Niño to get even stronger in recent weeks.
In fact, conditions in the equatorial Pacific Ocean are looking a bit more intense right now than they did at this point in the summer of 1997, when a true monster of an El Niño was brewing.
The animation above compares the evolution of sea surface conditions in 1997 (left) to this year (right), as measured by satellites. Yellow through white in the animations show areas where sea level, and by extension ocean temperatures, were higher than normal. (Areas of warm water stand higher because of thermal expansion.)
“We have not seen a signal like this in the tropical Pacific since 1997,” says Bill Patzert, a climatologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, quoted in a post today at NASA’s Earth Observatory. “It’s no sure bet that we will have a strong El Niño, but the signal is getting stronger. What happens in August through October should make or break this event.”
Barring something really weird (always possible!), it is looking increasingly likely to be one of the stronger El Niño’s on record. That should load the weather dice in a way that would bring at least some of water-starved California a healthy dose of wintertime precipitation. Unfortunately, it could also mean turbulent weather that can include landslide-inducing torrents of rain.
You can watch El Niño strengthening in pulses in this animation, based on satellite data from the Jason-2 mission: Read More
Here we go again.
Yet another Category 5 cyclone has roared to life — the sixth or seventh of the year (depending on how you count them — keep reading…), and the very strongest of 2015 so far.
It’s Super Typhoon Soudelor, and as I’m writing this, it is howling over the open Pacific with maximum sustained winds of 150 miles per hour, and gusts up to an astonishing 184 mph, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.
The forecast shows Soudelor churning toward a possible landfall in northern Taiwan as a Category 3 or 4 storm on Friday or Saturday local time. That would pose a risk to Taipei, Taiwan’s largest city. Also, the rugged terrain of the island’s interior could wring copious amounts of water from the storm and cause potentially ruinous flooding.
After tracking across the island, Soudelor is forecast to cross the Taiwan Strait and make landfall in China near Fuzhou.
The unusual animation above shows the storm spinning in the Pacific. I created it using satellite images covering Earth’s full disk.
I’ve circled Soudelor in the opening frame, which was captured by the Himawari-8 satellite at about 6 a.m. UTC today. That would be 3 p.m. local time. The animation goes in 10-minute time steps.
You might be wondering, what’s up with that advancing darkness across Earth’s disk? Read More
I wasn’t intending to post anything on a Sunday night, but I happened on this mind-blowing photograph shot and posted to Twitter by Scott Kelly from the International Space Station. So I just had to share it.
You’re looking at his astronaut’s-eye-view of the River Nile, all aglow at night. In this inverted view, North is toward the bottom of the frame, south toward the top. The Nile flows from the heart of Africa in the upper right quadrant to the dark Mediterranean Sea.
Near where the Nile empties into the Mediterranean you can see the bright glow of Cairo, and the intensively farmed and populated Nile Delta.
Most of Egypt’s population lives along the river, a green ribbon of life in a dry, relatively empty desert region.
That population density is reflected in those glowing lights — which give out toward the border with Sudan. Read More
I’m just catching up on some of the recent spectacular imagery of Pluto sent back by the New Horizons spacecraft during its flyby, and this one really caught my eye.
This beautiful image of sunlight streaming through the atmosphere was captured by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager instrument, known as LORRI. The spacecraft was racing away from Pluto at the time, just seven hours after its closest approach on July 14, 2015.
But the image isn’t just beautiful. It actually astounded New Horizons’ scientists, who were not expecting Pluto’s atmosphere to be so thick. They also were surprised to find distinct layering. Read More
Although the Reynolds Creek Fire burning in Glacier National Park may not be particularly large (at least not yet), its smoke plume and even its glow have been easily visible from space.
And back on the ground, photographers have already captured some spectacular images of the blaze.
The wildfire began at about 3:45p.m. on Tuesday, July, 21, about six miles east of Logan Pass in Montana’s Glacier National Park. Lightning is the likely culprit, but a definitive determination hasn’t been made yet. It has been burning along the shores of Saint Mary’s Lake, west of the town of St. Mary.
You can watch the wildfire’s birth and initial growth in the animation of GOES-15 weather satellite images above (courtesy of the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies at the University of Wisconsin). Look for the development of a gray plume of smoke just a little above and to the right of center. (You can also see a smaller plume from another fire to the northwest, across the border in British Columbia, Canada.) Read More
Until today, for all we knew as humans, Earth was the only rocky planet in the universe orbiting a reasonably friendly star within a zone that was neither too close nor too far for life to thrive.
Now we know there’s a good chance that the home planet is not unique.
Note the caveat. Please keep reading to find out why it’s necessary….
Astronomers with NASA’s Kepler Mission announced today that they’ve found the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone” orbiting a Sun-like star. They’ve dubbed it Kepler-452b.
It’s 6 billion years old, 1.5 billion more than Earth. It’s also about 60 percent larger in diameter, and its mass is may be five times that of Earth, give or take.
So, about that caveat: Astronomers can’t yet say what Kepler-452b is made of. For it truly to be just like Earth, it would have to be made of rock. And that’s why we still do not know for sure, despite today’s announcement, whether there really are other Earth-like planets circling stars like our Sun within a region where it’s not too hot or too cold for liquid water to exist on the surface. Liquid water is thought to be a requirement for life.
But Jon Jenkins of NASA’s Ames Research Center, home of the Kepler project, told the New York Times that there’s a 50 percent to 62 percent chance of Kepler-452b being rocky.
Or as NASA puts it, “previous research suggests that planets the size of Kepler-452b have a good chance of being rocky.”
You may think you’ve seen many images of Earth just like this one since the Apollo astronauts snapped the very first one more than four decades ago.
But actually, you haven’t.
Maybe you’re thinking, ‘What about those recent Blue Marble images from NASA?’ Sorry, but nope. Those were mostly mosaics of multiple images stitched together.
The spectacular photograph at the top of this post was made on July 6 by the EPIC camera (Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera) on the DISCVR satellite (Deep Space Climate Observatory). It is EPIC’s first image of Earth’s sunlit face, taken from 1 million miles away after a five-month journey across 1 million miles of space to the L1 Lagrange Point.
That point is four times farther from us than the orbit of the Moon.
According to the awesome folks at NASA’s Earth Observatory, who posted this image today: Read More
The first six months of 2015 comprised the warmest first half of any year on record, surpassing the previous global record for January through June set in 2010.
This past June also was the warmest in the 136-year record, according to the latest monthly update from the National Centers for Environmental Information. (Both NASA and the Japan Meteorological Agency have also ranked June as warmest on record.)
As the map above shows, most of the world’s land areas were much warmer than average, meaning they fell within the top 10 percent their historical temperature range for January through June. Vast swaths of the world’s oceans were also much warmer than average at the surface, with record warmth dominating the northeastern and equatorial Pacific, a big portion of the North Atlantic, and the Barents Sea north of Norway.
In particular, check out that swath of record warmth extending westward across the tropical Pacific from Central America. This is just what you’d expect during an El Niño year. And as the NCEI report points out:
. . . 2010 was the last year with El Niño conditions; however El Niño had ended by this point in 2010, while it appears to be continuing to mature at the same point in 2015.
If El Niño does continue to mature, as is expected, we can expect temperatures in the equatorial Pacific to stay high — and maybe even warm further. That could well mean 2015 will end up as the warmest year on record. Read More
Back in early July, unusual warmth helped trigger a sudden and dramatic spike in melting at the surface of Greenland’s ice sheet. Exactly what was happening, and whether the trend would continue, was unclear.
Two weeks later, we now know that while the extent of surface melting is still significantly above average, it has not come close to breaking the record (at least not yet).
At the same time, another significant milestone has been reached: The amount of sunlight reflected by snow on the ice sheet’s surface plummeted during the first week of July to the lowest levels seen in the 16 years that it has been measured by satellite. (Check out the black line in this graph.)
Reflectivity of snow is not as esoteric as it may seem. It’s actually an important climate variable — one that played a critical role in Greenland’s record-setting surface melt in July of 2012. At that time, just a little less than 100 percent of the surface experienced melting.
It was an astonishing event, and warm temperatures were partly to blame. But so was another factor: darkening of the snow by soot from wildfires burning many hundreds of miles away. And as you’ll see in a minute, soot may have been a factor this summer too. Read More