A look back at the best views of our planet from space in the last year, including true color satellite images, Earth science data visualizations, time lapses from the International Space Station, and computer models.
NPP “Blue Marble”
Time-lapse from International Space Station
NPP daytime view followed by night views
River Outflow to the Kara Sea
Bylot Island Comparison
Crop Circles in the Desert
Crack in the Pine Island Glacier
Tiny Shrimp, Big Changes
Petermann Ice Island 2012
United States Active Fires 2012
Gulf Stream Sea Surface Currents and Temperatures
Daily 2012 ozone hole
Daily Sea Ice during Aug & Sept 2012 with Winds
Circulation of Ocean Currents around the Western Antarctic Ice Shelves
Hurricane Sandy’s winds
Aerosols from GEO-5 Nature Run Collection
Moonset time-lapse from International Space Station
This video is public domain and can be downloaded at: svs.gsfc.nasa.gov
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Saturn’s north polar hexagon basks in the Sun’s light now that spring has come to the northern hemisphere. Many smaller storms dot the north polar region and Saturn’s signature rings, which appear to disappear on account of Saturn’s shadow, put in an appearance in the background.
The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft’s wide-angle camera on Nov. 27, 2012 using a spectral filter sensitive to wavelengths of near-infrared light centered at 750 nanometers.
The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 403,000 miles (649,000 kilometers) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 21 degrees. Image scale is 22 miles (35 kilometers) per pixel.
Amazing new photos from NASA’s Cassini probe orbiting Saturn reveal a dizzying glimpse into a monster storm raging on the ringed planet’s north pole.
Cassini took the spectacular Saturn storm photos yesterday (Nov. 27) and relayed it back to Earth the same day, mission scientists said in a statement. The pictures reveal a swirling storm reminiscent of the recent Hurricane Sandy that recently plagued our own planet.
The tempest is located in a strange hexagonal cloud vortex at Saturn’s north pole that was first discovered by the Voyager spacecraft in the early 1980s, and sighted more closely by Cassini since then. The strange six-sided feature, which is nearly 15,000 miles (25,000 kilometers) across, is thought to be formed by the path of a jet stream flowing through the planet’s atmosphere.
“Cassini’s recent excursion into inclined orbits has given mission scientists a vertigo-inducing view of Saturn’s polar regions, and what to our wondering eyes has just appeared: roiling storm clouds and a swirling vortex at the center of Saturn’s famed northern polar hexagon,”
This animation of satellite photos from NASA shows Hurricane Sandy moving along the east coast and into the mid-Atlantic and northeastern US, and here’s another thread to post news and updates about the monster storm.
Watching a particularly beautiful movie of the sun helps show how the lines between science and art can sometimes blur. But there is more to the connection between the two disciplines: science and art techniques are often quite similar, indeed one may inform the other or be improved based on lessons from the other arena. One such case is a technique known as a “gradient filter” — recognizable to many people as an option available on a photo-editing program. Gradients are, in fact, a mathematical description that highlights the places of greatest physical change in space. A gradient filter, in turn, enhances places of contrast, making them all the more obviously different, a useful tool when adjusting photos. Scientists, too, use gradient filters to enhance contrast, using them to accentuate fine structures that might otherwise be lost in the background noise. On the sun, for example, scientists wish to study a phenomenon known as coronal loops, which are giant arcs of solar material constrained to travel along that particular path by the magnetic fields in the sun’s atmosphere. Observations of the loops, which can be more or less tangled and complex during different phases of the sun’s 11-year activity cycle, can help researchers understand what’s happening with the sun’s complex magnetic fields, fields that can also power great eruptions on the sun such as solar flares or coronal mass ejections.
The images here show an unfiltered image from the sun next to one that has been processed using a gradient filter. Note how the coronal loops are sharp and defined, making them all the more easy to study. On the other hand, gradients also make great art. Watch the movie to see how the sharp loops on the sun next to the more fuzzy areas in the lower solar atmosphere provide a dazzling show.
NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this astounding image of the Curiosity Rover descending to the surface of Mars.
NASA’s Curiosity rover and its parachute were spotted by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as Curiosity descended to the surface on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT). The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera captured this image of Curiosity while the orbiter was listening to transmissions from the rover. Curiosity and its parachute are in the center of the white box; the inset image is a cutout of the rover stretched to avoid saturation. The rover is descending toward the etched plains just north of the sand dunes that fringe “Mt. Sharp.” From the perspective of the orbiter, the parachute and Curiosity are flying at an angle relative to the surface, so the landing site does not appear directly below the rover.
The parachute appears fully inflated and performing perfectly. Details in the parachute, such as the band gap at the edges and the central hole, are clearly seen. The cords connecting the parachute to the back shell cannot be seen, although they were seen in the image of NASA’s Phoenix lander descending, perhaps due to the difference in lighting angles. The bright spot on the back shell containing Curiosity might be a specular reflection off of a shiny area. Curiosity was released from the back shell sometime after this image was acquired.
This view is one product from an observation made by HiRISE targeted to the expected location of Curiosity about one minute prior to landing. It was captured in HiRISE CCD RED1, near the eastern edge of the swath width (there is a RED0 at the very edge). This means that the rover was a bit further east or downrange than predicted.
The image scale is 13.2 inches (33.6 centimeters) per pixel.
Tonight at about 10:31 PM Pacific time, the Curiosity Rover is scheduled to land on the surface of Mars, in a complicated multi-stage maneuver with only one chance to get it right. Here’s a multimedia page at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory site that demonstrates the daredevil descent: How Do I Land on Mars?
Here’s a great NASA video about the landing process (h/t: RadicalModerate):
Something awe-inspiring for a Sunday afternoon…
Without exaggeration, this is one of the most amazing and beautiful videos I have ever seen. The full-screen 720p version is mind-blowing.
Launched on Feb. 11, 2010, the Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, is the most advanced spacecraft ever designed to study the sun. During its five-year mission, it will examine the sun’s atmosphere, magnetic field and also provide a better understanding of the role the sun plays in Earth’s atmospheric chemistry and climate. SDO provides images with resolution 8 times better than high-definition television and returns more than a terabyte of data each day.
On June 5 2012, SDO collected images of the rarest predictable solar event—the transit of Venus across the face of the sun. This event happens in pairs eight years apart that are separated from each other by 105 or 121 years. The last transit was in 2004 and the next will not happen until 2117.
The videos and images displayed here are constructed from several wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light and a portion of the visible spectrum. The red colored sun is the 304 angstrom ultraviolet, the golden colored sun is 171 angstrom, the magenta sun is 1700 angstrom, and the orange sun is filtered visible light. 304 and 171 show the atmosphere of the sun, which does not appear in the visible part of the spectrum.