Archives for category: NASA

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Few images are as beautiful and as terrifying as a satellite view of a hurricane about to make landfall. On October 29, 2012, the Suomi NPP satellite captured an ominous nighttime view of Sandy—an enormous hybrid storm that was part hurricane, part Nor‘easter—churning off the coast of New Jersey.

The string of city lights that stretches from Washington to Boston was mostly gone, blanketed by thick, ghostly storm clouds. One of the most brightly lit cities in the world, New York, was little more than a faint smudge through Sandy’s clouds.

In a matter of hours, that smudge of light would go dark. Large swaths of Manhattan were under water. The Rockaways were on fire. Rooftops along the New Jersey shore became temporary islands for people escaping a wall of seawater that surged inland.

Was Superstorm Sandy an expression of a “new normal” for our weather? Was it a storm pumped up by global warming?

“If you look at the unique set of circumstances in which Sandy emerged and you know something about meteorology and climate,” says Marshall Shepherd, director of the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia, “it’s hard not to ask yourself these kinds of questions.”

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NASA Earth Observatory, March  2013

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Eight thousand is a perfectly arbitrary number. Yet, no other number looms larger for mountain climbers.

Fourteen mountain peaks stand taller than 8,000 meters (26,247 feet). There could have been many more of these “eight-thousanders” if the French commission that established the length of the meter (in 1793) had made it just a bit shorter; there would be hardly any if they had made the meter longer. The decision to make a meter equivalent to one ten-millionth of the distance between the equator and the North Pole left the world with fourteen 8K peaks. All of them are found in either the Karakoram or Himalayan mountain ranges of central Asia.

Fourteen is a number that pushes climbers to the point of obsession. It’s big enough that only the most ambitious consider climbing all of them, but small enough that doing so over a lifetime still seems possible. Even in the United States, a country where most people shun metric measurements, climbers dream of ascending the eight-thousanders. The “twenty-six-thousand, two-hundred-and-forty-seven-footers” hardly has the same ring.

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

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

Mine Collapse in Turkey

At 10 a.m. on February 10, 2011, disaster struck the Çöllolar coalfield in central Turkey, near the city of Elbistan. The northeastern wall of an open-pit mine collapsed, sending about 50 million tons of material into the mine. The debris buried and killed ten workers.

The collapse was the second at the same mine within a week. Four days earlier, a smaller landslide damaged the opposite wall and killed one person. According to a United Nations report, debris from the two landslides covered 2.73 square kilometers (1 square mile). The larger landslide extended 350 meters (1,150 feet) past the original perimeter of the pit. Inadequate drainage of the mine walls likely caused the landslides, according to Caner Zanbak, an environmental adviser to the Turkish Chemical Manufacturers Association.

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Earth Observatory, June 2012