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I’m in the parking lot of the visitor’s center at Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia, the first of four parks I’ll traverse today, waiting for the start of the Freedom’s Run Marathon. In the half-light of October dawn, the scene is surreal.

There’s a golden glow on everything, from the sculpted Blue Ridge Mountains above to the winding waters of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers below. At the confluence of the two, water has sliced through two separate ridges, creating a distinctive notch in the mountains. Meanwhile, a few runners wearing garbage bags to keep warm wander past.

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Runner’s World, September, 2013

The atmosphere was electric at Providence Landing Park in Lompoc, California as the first stage of an Atlas 5 rocket ignited in the distance on February 11, 2013.

Cheers erupted at 10:02 a.m. from the hundreds of people gathered there as the rocket rose, gathered itself, then surged into a perfect blue sky over Vandenberg Air Force Base. As the cheers subsided, it was surprisingly quiet for a moment as awe sank in, save for the patter of scores of cameras clicking in unison.

A full 30-or-so seconds later, the sound arrived. You could feel the roar in the ground. The Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM), the latest satellite in the world’s longest-running series of Earth-observing satellites, was on its way to space.

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Earth Observatory, Earth Matters blog, February 2013


For more than a decade, scientists have observed “ship tracks” in natural-color satellite imagery of the ocean. These bright, linear trails amidst the cloud layers are created by particles and gases from ships. They are a visible manifestation of pollution from ship exhaust, and scientists can now see that ships have a more subtle, almost invisible, signature as well.

Data from the Dutch and Finnish-built Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) on NASA’s Aura satellite show long tracks of elevated nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels along certain shipping routes. NO2, is among a group of highly-reactive oxides of nitrogen, known as NOx, that can lead to the production of fine particles and ozone that damage the human cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Combustion engines, such as those that propel ships and motor vehicles, are a major source of NO2 pollution.

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Earth Observatory, February 2013

Today is a big day. I just arrived in Los Angeles from DC this afternoon, and I’m heading to Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc, California, to see an Atlas 5 rocket blast Landsat 8 into space. Officially, the satellite is called the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) until it reaches orbit safely, but I’m going to call it Landsat 8 anyway in the spirit of keeping jargon to a minimum.

This is the second time I’ve been fortunate to have a front-row seat to the launch of one of NASA’s Earth-observing satellites. The mission that brought me to Vandenberg the first time was called Glory; it was a climate-centered mission, designed to measure aerosols and fluctuations in the amount of sunlight that reaches the top of Earth’s atmosphere.

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Earth Observatory, Earth Matters blog, February 2013

On the afternoon of January 14, 2013, a fierce bushfire swept across the campus of Siding Spring Observatory, a world-class astronomy facility on a ridge in Australia’s Warrumbungle National Park. The observatory is home to some of the most powerful sky-mapping telescopes in the world.

Ten years earlier, a brush fire devastated one of Australia’s other top observatories, so the staff of Siding Spring feared that history was repeating itself. As the fire reached the observatory’s campus, cameras and telescopes sent back disturbing images of flames lapping at the doorsteps of buildings and smoke billowing overhead.

By nightfall on January 14, the situation looked dire to the scientists and staff who had evacuated and were left to monitor the situation online. A handful of buildings on the campus were on fire. At one point, a thermometer on campus recorded a spike in air temperatures to 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit).

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Earth Observatory, February 2013

For centuries, traders along the Silk Road relied on the oasis at Dunhuang for a reprieve from the withering sunlight and heat of the Gobi desert. By 2011, a large solar farm on the outskirts of the city had started transforming that searing light into an energy resource for the region.

The Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on the Earth-Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite captured this series of images showing the installation of solar power panels on the outskirts of Dunhuang in the Gansu province of western China. In 2006 (top image), barren desert dominated, except for the road and a few patches of agricultural fields (lower right). By 2011 (middle image), grids of photovoltaic panels began to appear in large numbers. By 2012 (lower image), thousands of square meters were covered.

China’s State Development & Investment Corporation and the China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corporation (CGNPC) began construction in the area in August 2009, according to China Daily. Two 10-megawatt (.01 gigawatt) facilities were opened by July 2010, making the site China’s first large-scale solar power station.
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Earth Observatory, February 2013