NASA Data Visualization Lets You Visit the Red Planet


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❝ Have you ever wished you could go to Mars without taking on the long-term commitment and risks associated with spaceflight? Now you can explore the surface of Mars without leaving the comfort of planet Earth, thanks to troves of imagery from NASA spacecraft and a cool data-visualization software called OpenSpace.

With OpenSpace, you can fly over Martian mountaintops and swoop through the deep canyons of Valles Marineris with the highest-resolution views from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), creating sort of a Google Earth for Mars. And that’s just the beginning; the makers of OpenSpace said they aim to ultimately map the entire known universe with dynamic and interactive visualizations created from real scientific data.

❝ Using data and images from the Context Camera (CTX) on MRO and the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, researchers have already mapped 90 percent of the Red Planet’s surface down to a resolution of about 20 feet (6 meters) per pixel. Incorporating high-resolution images from the spacecraft’s HiRISE camera (High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment), OpenSpace has allowed researchers to image parts of Mars down to a resolution of about 25 centimeters (10 inches) per pixel. That’s 24 times sharper than before.

Way cool. As close as I’m ever gonna get!

Thawing Permafrost — Quantified


False color image: red = vegetation, blue = waterNASA Earth Observatory

❝ Permafrost — subsurface soil that remains frozen year-round — covers nearly 19 million square kilometers of the circumpolar Arctic and is thought to contain around 1700 billion tons of organic carbon [Schuur and Abbott, 2011]. However, there is high risk of permafrost thaw under projected anthropogenic climate change.

❝ The general processes that would lead to thaw of this vast carbon store are well understood. Increase in length of above-freezing air temperatures leads to boost in microbial activity and release of carbon. Significant releases could promote a vicious cycle, as higher atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) enhances anthropogenic warming. What’s less well understood are abrupt changes, the accuracy of predictive models, and requirements for long-term monitoring…The processes of carbon release are intertwined with multiple factors, including microbial community composition, stability of old carbon, physical soil structure, and relative fraction of leaching to atmospheric emission.

❝ Because this event signifies potential large carbon cycle feedbacks, the Arctic has become a region of intense scientific study in recent years. Scientists expect the top three meters of permafrost is likely to thaw by the end of this century…but significant uncertainties remain on timing, magnitude, and mechanisms. Journal of Geophysical Research-Biogeosciences and other journals have seen a number of papers published recently that shed significant new light on many features of this dramatically changing landscape.

RTFA. Less sensational in intent than any transliteration into journalism for the masses, Ankur Rashmikant Desai explains some of the broad swath of research in process. While ideologues try to ignore science, scientists continue their work of examining reality and trying to explain to their peers – and the mass of civilization who would rather just all the bad bits would go away on their own.

Which rarely happens.

NASA filled the night sky with glowing blue and green clouds

❝ Since June 1, NASA has been trying to launch a small rocket to study the Earth’s upper atmosphere. In the wee hours of Thursday morning, the rocket finally carried its payload into space, giving a spectacular light show along the east coast, from New York to North Carolina.

❝ A few minutes after liftoff, the rocket ejected 10 soda can-sized containers of barium, strontium, and cupric oxide…The canisters burst into colorful clouds that, as they drift, help scientists study how ions move in the ionosphere—the part of our atmosphere that interacts with the charged particles streaming from the sun. These types of studies can help scientists understand auroras and predict the effects of space weather.

Suddenly catching sight of something like this – several hundred miles away and not expecting something like this to appear in the night sky can really freak you out. Happened to me once. Up in the middle of the night when I lived on Fairhaven Harbor in New Haven, CT – I had a great view to the South when one of these tests went off. And this was decades ago before easy access to online info to figure out what I’d seen. Phew! 🙂

NASA GRACE Satellite Mapping


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❝ Scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center generate groundwater and soil moisture drought indicators each week. They are based on terrestrial water storage observations derived from GRACE satellite data and integrated with other observations, using a sophisticated numerical model of land surface water and energy processes.

❝ The drought indicators describe current wet or dry conditions, expressed as a percentile showing the probability of occurrence within the period of record from 1948 to the present, with lower values (warm colors) meaning dryer than normal, and higher values (blues) meaning wetter than normal. These are provided as both images and binary data files.

Important stuff even if you don’t earn your living from the land. That ain’t a large number of folks as the percentage of US population. Their products are significant even in a global economy.

Sooner or later, everything in these maps is going to affect your life.

Photos of a hurricane on Saturn from the Cassini Spacecraft

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has survived an unprecedented trip between Saturn and its rings, and has amazing pictures to show for it.

Flight controllers regained contact with Cassini on Thursday, a day after it became the first craft to cross this hazardous region. The rings are made up of countless icy particles, any of which could have smacked Cassini. The spacecraft’s big dish antenna served as a shield as it hurtled through the narrow gap, temporarily cutting off communications….

Twenty-one more crossings are planned — about one a week — before Cassini’s fatal plunge in mid-September. The next one is Tuesday (2nd May). Some of those passages will bring Cassini even closer to the planet as well as the innermost D ring. The gap between the rings and the top of Saturn’s atmosphere is between 1,200 and 1,500 miles across (1,900 to 2,400 kilometers).

Watch for it. Stay in touch with NASA.

Latest NASA Night Lights Maps


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NASA scientists are releasing new global maps of Earth at night, providing the clearest yet composite view of the patterns of human settlement across our planet.

Satellite images of Earth at night — often referred to as “night lights” — have been a gee-whiz curiosity for the public and a tool for fundamental research for nearly 25 years. They have provided a broad, beautiful picture, showing how humans have shaped the planet and lit up the darkness. Produced every decade or so, such maps have spawned hundreds of pop-culture uses and dozens of economic, social science and environmental research projects…

In the years since the 2011 launch of the NASA-NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite, Román and colleagues have been analyzing night lights data and developing new software and algorithms to make night lights imagery clearer, more accurate and readily available. They are now on the verge of providing daily, high-definition views of Earth at night, and are targeting the release of such data to the science community later this year.

Wow. Worth looking forward to.

NASA’s Juno Probe Just Sent Us Photos of Jupiter Unlike Anything Before


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Juno Swirls

Roughly the size of a basketball court, NASA’s Juno probe departed in 2011, hurtled through space for five years and finally made itself comfortable in Jupiter’s orbit in July 2016.

Now, at about 415 million miles from Earth, it has made its fifth close flyby of the Gas Giant and the images it sent home are breathtaking

So far, they’ve discovered what Jupiter’s poles look like for the first time and are continuing to study the swirling clouds and storms covering the planet’s atmosphere (it’s thought they might be linked to complicated currents from the planet’s moon, Io)…

Traveling 129,000 miles per hour, Juno itself will never get closer than 2,700 miles from the cloud tops. Though that seems far, the data from the probe has already allowed scientists to rewrite what they thought they knew about giant planets and, possibly, the origins of our entire solar system.

No space travel available for cranky old geeks like me; so, photos like these are the next best thing. That and the creative minds of folks making movies with great CGI, nowadays.

Earth three-peats hottest year record

❝ Earth sizzled to a third-straight record hot year in 2016, with scientists mostly blaming man-made global warming with help from a natural El Nino that’s now gone.

Two U.S. agencies and international weather groups reported Wednesday that last year was the warmest on record. They measure global temperatures in slightly different ways, and came up with a range of increases, from minuscule to what top American climate scientists described as substantial.

They’re “all singing the same song even if they are hitting different notes along the way. The pattern is very clear,” said Deke Arndt of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration…

“This is clearly a record,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies. “We are now no longer only looking at something that only scientists can see, but is apparent to people in our daily lives.”

❝ Temperature records go back to 1880. This is the fifth time in a dozen years that the globe has set a new annual heat record. Records have been set in 2016, 2015, 2014, 2010 and 2005…

Schmidt said his calculations show most of the record heat was from heat-trapping gases from the burning of oil, coal and gas. Only about 12 percent was due to El Nino, which is a periodic warming of parts of the Pacific that change weather globally, he said. Arndt put the El Nino factor closer to a quarter or a third…

❝ The effects are more than just records, but actually hurt people and the environment, said Oklahoma University meteorology professor Jason Furtado. They’re “harmful on several levels, including human welfare, ecology, economics, and even geopolitics,” he said.

I’ll second that emotion.

Lunar farside


Click to enlargeNASA/GSFC/ASU/Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

Tidally locked in synchronous rotation, the Moon always presents its familiar nearside to denizens of planet Earth. From lunar orbit, the Moon’s farside can become familiar, though. In fact this sharp picture, a mosaic from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s wide angle camera, is centered on the lunar farside. Part of a global mosaic of over 15,000 images acquired between November 2009 and February 2011, the highest resolution version shows features at a scale of 100 meters per pixel.

Surprisingly, the rough and battered surface of the farside looks very different from the nearside covered with smooth dark lunar maria. The likely explanation is that the farside crust is thicker, making it harder for molten material from the interior to flow to the surface and form the smooth maria.

Thanks, UrsaRodinia