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.
After cruising through space for who knows how many millennia, a chunk of rock about 15 meters across plunged into Earth’s atmosphere above the Russian region of Chelyabinsk today and exploded with a force rivaling a nuclear blast, injuring at least 700 people with its shockwave: Russian Meteor Largest in a Century.
A meteor that exploded over Russia this morning was the largest recorded object to strike the Earth in more than a century, scientists say. Infrasound data collected by a network designed to watch for nuclear weapons testing suggests that today’s blast released hundreds of kilotonnes of energy. That would make it far more powerful than the nuclear weapon tested by North Korea just days ago and the largest rock crashing on the planet since a meteor broke up over Siberia’s Tunguska river in 1908.
“It was a very, very powerful event,” says Margaret Campbell-Brown, an astronomer at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, who has studied data from two infrasound stations near the impact site. Her calculations show that the meteoroid was approximately 15 metres across when it entered the atmosphere, and put its mass at around 40 tonnes. “That would make it the biggest object recorded to hit the Earth since Tunguska,” she says.
The meteor appeared at around 09:25 a.m. local time over the region of Chelyabinsk, near the southern Ural Mountains. The fireball blinded drivers and a subsequent explosion blew out windows and damaged hundreds of buildings. So far, more than 700 people are reported to have been injured, mainly from broken glass, according to a statement from the Russian Emergency Ministry.
The unsettling part of the story is that nobody saw it coming — and we probably won’t see the next one either.
Despite its massive size, the object went undetected until it hit the atmosphere. “I’m not aware of anyone who saw this coming,” says Heiner Klinkrad, head of the European Space Agency’s space debris office at the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany. Although a network of telescopes watches for asteroids that might strike Earth, it is geared towards spotting larger objects — between 100 metres and a kilometre in size.
“Objects like that are nearly impossible to see until a day or two before impact,” says Timothy Spahr, Director of the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which tracks asteroids and small bodies. So far as he knows, he says, his centre also failed to spot the approaching rock.
We have another Martian Mystery Object — this one a thing that looks suspiciously like a hunk of metal. Curiosity detected it, through a high-res image taken from its Mastcam, on Sol 173 (January 30 in Earth days). Universe Today calls the object “a small metallic-looking protuberance” — it resembles a thick, bent nail, sticking out of the Martian surface — and it is visible in part because it projects a tiny little shadow on the rock below.
For the heck of it, and because it’s a slow news day, I imported the original full-sized photo into Fireworks CS6, clipped out the metallic object, zoomed way in using the Bicubic smoothing algorithm, and here’s the result:
PostPanic director Mischa Rozema’s new short film, Stardust, is a story about Voyager 1 (the unmanned spacecraft launched in 1977 to explore the outer solar system). The probe is the furthest man-made object from the sun and witnesses unimaginable beauty and destruction. The film was triggered by the death of Dutch graphic designer Arjan Groot, who died aged 39 on 16th July 2011 from cancer.
When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took humanity’s first steps on the moon in 1969, I was a teenager in Hawaii, watching the dawning of a new era of space exploration in grainy black-and-white live television. Today we celebrate the life of a real American pioneer: Astronaut Neil Armstrong, First Man to Walk on Moon, Dies at Age 82.
From Neil Armstrong’s family: the next time you walk out on a clear night and see the moon smiling, think of Neil and give him a wink.
— Al Roker (@alroker) August 25, 2012
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):