Glorious images of the Sun, from NASA

July 3, 2014

Who’d have thought of such an image, before we used satellites to look?

NASA SDO images of the Sun

From NASA: Image info: This combination of three wavelengths of light from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory shows one of the multiple jets that led to a series of slow coronal puffs on January 17, 2013. The light has been colorized in red, green and blue. Credit: NASA SDO

NASA’s press release, from June 27, 2014:

A suite of NASA’s Sun-gazing spacecraft have spotted an unusual series of eruptions in which a series of fast puffs forced the slow ejection of a massive burst of solar material from the Sun’s atmosphere. The eruptions took place over a period of three days, starting on Jan. 17, 2013. Nathalia Alzate, a solar scientist at the University of Aberystwyth in Wales, presented findings on what caused the puffs at the 2014 Royal Astronomical Society’s National Astronomy Meeting in Portsmouth, England.

The sun’s outermost atmosphere, the corona, is made of magnetized solar material, called plasma, that has a temperature of millions of degrees and extends millions of miles into space. On January 17, the joint European Space Agency and NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, spacecraft observed puffs emanating from the base of the corona and rapidly exploding outwards into interplanetary space. The puffs occurred roughly once every three hours. After about 12 hours, a much larger eruption of material began, apparently eased out by the smaller-scale explosions.

By looking at high-resolution images taken by NASA’s NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory (Little SDO), or SDO, and NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, or STEREO, over the same time period and in different wavelengths, Alzate and her colleagues could focus on the cause of the puffs and the interaction between the small and large-scale eruptions.

“Looking at the corona in extreme ultraviolet light we see the source of the puffs is a series of energetic jets and related flares,” said Alzate. “The jets are localized, catastrophic releases of energy that spew material out from the sun into space. These rapid changes in the magnetic field cause flares, which release a huge amount of energy in a very short time in the form of super-heated plasma, high-energy radiation and radio bursts. The big, slow structure is reluctant to erupt, and does not begin to smoothly propagate outwards until several jets have occurred.”

Because the events were observed by multiple spacecraft, each viewing the sun from a different perspective, Alzate and her colleagues were able to resolve the three-dimensional configuration of the eruptions. This allowed them to estimate the forces acting on the slow eruption and discuss possible mechanisms for the interaction between the slow and fast phenomena.

“We still need to understand whether there are shock waves, formed by the jets, passing through and driving the slow eruption,” said Alzate. “Or whether magnetic reconfiguration is driving the jets allowing the larger, slow structure to slowly erupt. Thanks to recent advances in observation and in image processing techniques we can throw light on the way jets can lead to small and fast, or large and slow, eruptions from the Sun.”

Van Gogh painted rather unusual images of the Sun and stars; Turner painted perhaps more life-like images.   There are many interesting views of the Sun in art, by Monet, and many, many others.

Vincent van Gogh,

Vincent van Gogh, “Sower with the Setting Sun”

But who conceived of any image like this one from NASA, above?

What private entity could ever do that?  

J. M. W. Turner,

J. M. W. Turner, “Caernarvon Castle,” 1799

Claude Monet,

Claude Monet, “Impression Sunrise”

British biologist J. B. S. Haldane said:

I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.

♦   Possible Worlds and Other Papers (1927), p. 286

Haldane may as well have added, the universe is not only more beautiful that we imagine, but more beautiful than we can imagine.  Reality trumps fiction yet again.


Catch some falling stars (with help from NASA and USA Today)

May 20, 2014

USA Today does some great graphics from time to time.

This set comes as a preview to a special meteor shower — maybe — this weekend.

USA Today chart of meteor showers left in 2014, with star map of how to find Camelopardalid Shower this weekend.

USA Today chart of meteor showers left in 2014, with star map of how to find Camelopardalid Shower this weekend.

And just for this weekend:

Night of Shooting Stars, New meteor shower influenced by Jupiter's gravity -- USA Today starmap showing best place to look for meteoroids this weekend, the Camelopardalid Meteor Shower (first ever).

Night of Shooting Stars, New meteor shower influenced by Jupiter’s gravity — USA Today starmap showing best place to look for meteoroids this weekend, the Camelopardalid Meteor Shower (first ever).

So, early Saturday morning, or early Sunday morning, we could be in for a meteor shower display more intense than we’ve seen in a long time, experts say.

Or maybe not.

NASA’s explanation should help you find them (we found this video via Space.com):


Annals of Global Warming: January 2014 ranks 4th warmest January since 1880

February 21, 2014

Wonk Blog at the Washington Post headlined,

Last month was one of the warmest Januaries ever. No, really

And so it was.

Caption from AGU Blog: This is why the global temperature is not taken in your backyard in January. When you average the entire globe for an entire year, a much different picture emerges. NASA Aqua satellite image of a cold and snowy Mid-Atlantic Wednesday morning.

Caption from AGU Blog: This is why the global temperature is not taken in your backyard in January. When you average the entire globe for an entire year, a much different picture emerges. NASA Aqua satellite image of a cold and snowy Mid-Atlantic Wednesday morning.

Information from the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) of NOAA:

Global Highlights:

  • The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for January was the warmest since 2007 and the fourth warmest on record at 12.7°C (54.8°F), or 0.65°C (1.17°F) above the 20th century average of 12.0°C (53.6°F). The margin of error associated with this temperature is ± 0.08°C (± 0.14°F).
  • The global land temperature was the highest since 2007 and the fourth highest on record for January, at 1.17°C (2.11°F) above the 20th century average of 2.8°C (37.0°F). The margin of error is ± 0.18°C (± 0.32°F).
  • For the ocean, the January global sea surface temperature was 0.46°C (0.83°F) above the 20th century average of 15.8°C (60.5°F), the highest since 2010 and seventh highest on record for January. The margin of error is ± 0.04°C (± 0.07°F).

Introduction:

Temperature anomalies and percentiles are shown on the gridded maps below. The anomaly map on the left is a product of a merged land surface temperature (Global Historical Climatology Network, GHCN) and sea surface temperature (ERSST.v3b) anomaly analysis developed by Smith et al. (2008). Temperature anomalies for land and ocean are analyzed separately and then merged to form the global analysis. For more information, please visit NCDC’s Global Surface Temperature Anomalies page. The January 2014 Global State of the Climate report includes percentile maps that complement the information provided by the anomaly maps. These maps on the right provide additional information by placing the temperature anomaly observed for a specific place and time period into historical perspective, showing how the most current month, season, or year-to-date compares with the past.

Temperatures:

In the atmosphere, 500-millibar height pressure anomalies correlate well with temperatures at the Earth’s surface. The average position of the upper-level ridges of high pressure and troughs of low pressure—depicted by positive and negative 500-millibar height anomalies on the January 2014 map—is generally reflected by areas of positive and negative temperature anomalies at the surface, respectively.

January 2014 Blended Land and Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies in degrees Celsius

January 2014 Blended Land and Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies in degrees Celsius

January 2014 Blended Land and Sea Surface Temperature Percentiles

January 2014 Blended Land and Sea Surface Temperature Percentiles

The combined global land and ocean average temperature during January 2014 was 0.65°C (1.17°F) above the 20th century average. This was the warmest January since 2007 and the fourth highest since records began in 1880. This marks the ninth consecutive month (since May 2013) with a global monthly temperature among the 10 highest for its respective month. The Northern Hemisphere land and ocean surface temperature during January 2014 was also the warmest since 2007 and the fourth warmest since records began in 1880 at 0.75°C (1.35°F) above average. The Southern Hemisphere January 2014 temperature departure of +0.55°C (+0.99°F) was the warmest since 2010 and the fourth warmest January on record.

During January 2014, most of the world’s land areas experienced warmer-than-average temperatures, with the most notable departures from the 1981–2010 average across Alaska, western Canada, Greenland, Mongolia, southern Russia, and northern China, where the departure from average was +3°C (+5.4°F) or greater. Meanwhile, parts of southeastern Brazil and central and southern Africa experienced record warmth with temperature departures between 0.5°C to 1.5°C above the 1981–2010 average, contributing to the highest January Southern Hemisphere land temperature departure on record at 1.13°C (2.03°F) above the 20th century average. This was also the warmest month for the Southern Hemisphere land since September 2013 when temperatures were 1.23°C (2.21°F) above the 20th century average. Some locations across the globe experienced departures that were below the 1981–2010 average. These areas include the eastern half of the contiguous U.S., central Canada, and most of Scandinavia and Russia. The most notable cold anomalies were in Russia, where in some areas the departure from average was 5°C (9°F) below average. Overall, the Northern Hemisphere land surface temperature was 1.17°C (2.11°F) above average—the warmest January since 2007 and the fourth warmest since records began in 1880.

Select national information is highlighted below. (Please note that different countries report anomalies with respect to different base periods. The information provided here is based directly upon these data):

  • France’s nationally-averaged January 2014 temperature was 2.7°C (4.9°F) above the 1981–2010 average, tying with 1988 and 1936 as the warmest January on record.
  • Spain experienced its warmest January since 1996 and the third warmest since national records began in 1961, with a temperature of 9°C (48.2°F) or 2°C (3.6°F) above the 1971–2000 average.
  • The January temperature in Switzerland was 2.4°C (4.3°F) above the 1981–2010 average—the fifth warmest January since national records began 150 years ago.
  • Austria experienced its fifth warmest January since national records began in 1768. The nationally-averaged temperature was 3.3°C (5.9°F) above the 1981–2010 average. However, in some regions across the southern parts of the country, the temperatures were the highest on record. In Klagenfurt, the temperature departure was 5°C (9°F)—the highest since January 1813.
  • China, as a whole, recorded an average temperature of -3.4°C (25.9°F) or 1.6°C (2.9°F) above average during January 2014. This was the second highest January value, behind 2002, since national records began in 1961.
  • In Argentina, persistence of extremely high temperatures across central and northern parts of the country resulted in several locations setting new maximum, minimum, and mean temperature records for the month of January.
  • Warm temperatures engulfed much of Australia during January 2014. Overall, the national average mean temperature was 0.91°C (1.64°F) above the 1961–1990 average. This was the 12th highest January temperature since national records began in 1910. Regionally, the January 2014 temperature ranked among the top 10 warmest in Queensland, Victoria, and South Australia.

Across the oceans, temperature departures tend to be smaller than across the land surfaces. According to the percentiles map, much-warmer-than-average conditions were present across parts of the Atlantic Ocean, the northeastern and western Pacific Ocean, and parts of the Indian Ocean. Record warmth was observed across parts of the northern Pacific Ocean (south of Alaska), parts of the western Pacific Ocean, south of South Africa, and across parts of the Atlantic Ocean. Overall, the global ocean surface temperature in January was +0.46°C (+0.83°F)—the warmest since 2010 and the seventh warmest on record.

More at the NCDC/NOAA site.

Warming denialists will scream about these data.

More:


Mars ♥ you, courtesy of NASA

February 15, 2014

Happy St. Valentine's Day from the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) team! This collection of images acquired over the past 3 Mars years shows some of the heart-shaped features found on Mars by the MGS MOC.

14 February 2004 NASA caption:  “Happy St. Valentine’s Day from the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) team! This collection of images acquired over the past 3 Mars years shows some of the heart-shaped features found on Mars by the MGS MOC.”

No kidding! Mars really ♥s us!  Hope you had a happy Valentines Day.

Original Caption Released with Image:
14 February 2004
Happy St. Valentine’s Day from the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) team! This collection of images acquired over the past 3 Mars years shows some of the heart-shaped features found on Mars by the MGS MOC.

  • The heart in E04-01788 is a low mesa located near 46.7°N, 29.0°W, and is about 636 m (2,086 ft) wide.
  • The heart in R10-03259 is a depression located near 22.7°N, 56.6°W, and is about 378 m (1,240 ft) wide.
  • The heart in R09-02121 is a small mesa on a crater floor located near 37.2°S, 324.7°W, and is about 120 m (395 ft) wide.
  • The heart in R09-00918 is a depression located near 35.8°N, 220.5°W, and is about 525 m (1,722 ft) wide.
  • The heart in R04-00395 is a depression in which occurs a low mesa located near 57.5°N, 135.0°W, and is about 1 km (~0.62 mi) wide.
  • The heart in E11-00090 is a depression located near 0.2°N, 119.3°W, and is about 485 m (1,591 ft) wide.
  • The heart in E12-00275 is a depression located near 32.7°S, 139.3°W, and is about 512 m (1,680 ft) wide.
  • The heart in R06-01364 is a depression located near 8.4°S, 345.7°W, and is about 502 m (1,647 ft) wide.
  • The heart in M11-00480 is a depression located near 1.9°N, 186.8°W, and is about 153 m (502 ft) wide.
  • The heart in R08-00939 is a depression located near 12.1°S, 173.5°W, and is about 384 m (1,260 ft) wide.

Other heart-shaped martian landforms were featured in previous MGS MOC image releases:

  • “From Mars, With Love,” 17 June 1999 PIA01342
  • “Happy Valentine’s Day From Mars!” 11 February 2000 PIA02361
Image Credit:
NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems
Image Addition Date:
2004-02-14

NASA photo of the Moon, and Lincoln Memorial

January 21, 2014

This one NOT taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, though I suspect a telephoto lens was involved.

“An amazing photo of a full moon over the Lincoln Memorial.” Photo: NASA

Another photo from the Department of Interior’s Great American Outdoors Tumblr site.

It’s a rising Moon, with the photo taken from the west side of the Lincoln Memorial, perhaps from the Virginia side of the Potomac River.  The Lincoln Memorial is now part of the National Park Service’s portfolio of properties around our national capital.

Update: Jude Crook points out in comments (below) that this was a NASA Photo of the Day, originally; two federal agencies cooperating in the interest of photographic excellence . . .

Super Perigee Moon

The full moon is seen as it rises near the Lincoln Memorial, Saturday, March 19, 2011, in Washington. The full moon tonight is called a super perigee moon since it is at its closest to Earth in 2011. The last full moon so big and close to Earth occurred in March 1993.

Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls


Can’t get it together; it IS together

January 2, 2014

Earth on January 1, 2014.  Looks pretty good from this angle.

Can we make it look this good down here on the ground?

NASA caption: Happy New Year! This image shows the Earth today, January 1, 2014, a few hours into the new year, as seen by the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) satellite. Geostationary describes an orbit in which a satellite is always in the same position with respect to the rotating Earth. This allows GOES to hover continuously over one position on the Earth’s surface, appearing stationary. As a result, GOES provide a constant vigil for the atmospheric “triggers” for severe weather conditions such as tornadoes, flash floods, hail storms, and hurricanes. Image Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project #nasa #earth #space #goes #irl #today #happynewyear #planets #solarsystem #newyear #2014 #nye #home

More, perhaps related:


December 27, Great Beginnings Day: Darwin, Apollo, and more

December 27, 2013

December 27 is one of those days — many of us are off work, but it’s after Boxing Day, and it’s not yet on to New Year’s Eve or Day. We should have celebrated, maybe.

We should celebrate December 27 as a day of portent: A good embarkation, and a good, safe end to a nation-encouraging trip to almost touch the Moon.

HMS Beagle, Darwin's ship

HMS Beagle, on a voyage of discovery

On December 27, 1831, Charles Darwin and H.M.S. Beagle set sail on an around-the-world voyage of discovery that would change all of science, and especially biology, forever.

December 27 1831
After a few delays, H.M.S. Beagle headed out from Plymouth with a crew of 73 under clear skies and a good wind. Darwin became sea-sick almost immediately.

Darwin never fully overcame his seasickness, but he fought it well enough to become the single greatest collector of specimens in history for the British Museum and British science, a distinction that won him election to science societies even before his return from the trip — and cemented his life in science, instead of in the church. Darwin’s discoveries would have revolutionized biology in any case. In analyzing what he had found, a few years later and with the aid of experts at the British Museum, Darwin realized he had disproved much of William Paley’s hypotheses about life and its diversity, and that another, more basic explanation was possible. This led to his discovery of evolution by natural and sexual selection.

Mini-sheet from the Royal Mail honoring Darwin's discoveries in the Galapagos Islands

Mini-sheet from the Royal Mail in 2009 honoring Darwin’s discoveries in the Galapagos Islands

On December 27, 1968, Apollo 8 splashed down after a successful and heartening trip to orbit the Moon. The three crewmen, Commander Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, Jr., and William A. Anders, had orbited the Moon, a very important milestone in the methodological race to put humans on the Moon (which would be accomplished seven months later). 1968 was a terrible year for the U.S., with the North Korean capture of the U.S.S. Pueblo, assassinations of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy during the presidential campaign, riots in dozens of American cities, nasty political conventions with riots at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, a contentious and bitter election making sore the nation’s divide over Vietnam policy, and other problems. On Christmas Eve, Borman, Lovell and Anders broadcast from orbit around the Moon, a triumphant and touching moment for the Apollo Program and Americans around the world. Their safe return on December 27 raised hopes for a better year in 1969.

Motherboard.tv has a great write up from Alex Pasternack, especially concerning the famous photo taken a few days prior to splashdown:

In 1968, NASA engineers were scrambling to meet President Kennedy’s challenge to land a man on the moon by decade’s end. Because delays with the lunar module were threatening to slow the Apollo program, NASA chose to change mission plans and send the crew of Apollo 8 all the way to the moon without a lunar module.

Exactly 43 [45] years ago, the three astronauts of Apollo 8 became the first humans to orbit another celestial object. As they came around the dark side of the Moon for the third time, Frank Borman, the commander, finally turned their capsule around. And then they saw the Earth.

Borman: Oh my God! Look at that picture over there! Here’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty.
Anders: Hey, don’t take that, it’s not scheduled.
Borman: (laughing) You got a color film, Jim?
Anders: Hand me that roll of color quick, will you…

One of the resulting photos taken by Anders on a Hasselblad camera became one of the world’s most iconic images.

As Bill Anders recalls it:

I just happened to have one with color film in it and a long lens. All I did was to keep snapping… It’s not a very good photo as photos go, but it’s a special one. It was the first statement of our planet Earth and it was particularly impressive because it’s contrasted against this startling horizon… After all the training and studying we’d done as pilots and engineers to get to the moon safely and get back, [and] as human beings to explore moon orbit, what we really discovered was the planet Earth.

Plan to raise a glass today, December 27, 2012, to Great Beginnings Day for the human race. December 27 is a day we should remember, for these achievements.

Also on December 27:

Adapted from a post from 2010.

More:


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