Archives for category: NASA Viz

Satellites provide dramatic views of clouds, but in order to understand the processes that underlie how clouds form and evolve, scientists turn to complex computer models that simulate Earth’s atmosphere. By feeding a range of ground, aircraft and satellite data into Goddard’s Earth Observing System Model (GEOS-5), research meteorologists can see how closely the mathematical equations used to simulate atmospheric dynamics match reality. Such models are by no means perfect, but they have improved tremendously in recent years. The visualizations below, based on GEOS-5 model runs from February 2010, show how well the model reproduced the massive blizzard known as “Snowmaggedon.” In the visualization, watch Snowmaggedon’s sprawling, comma-shaped cloud system—complete with a tail that reaches all the way to the Caribbean—as it churns up the Eastern Seaboard dumping three feet of snow in some areas.

NASA Visualization Explorer, January 2012 

Ever notice how in many parts of the world, puffy, cauliflower-shaped cumulus clouds are more common in the summer? There’s a reason for this: thermal convection. In winter, the sun has less time to heat the surface and cause instability in the atmosphere. But during the summer, heat from the sun warms the land surfaces so much that pockets of hot air—scientists call them thermals—bubble upward much like steam in a pot of boiling water. As the hot air rises, the water vapor trapped within condenses into microscopic cloud droplets. If the air is humid enough, rapidly changing cumulus clouds puff up in the atmosphere, sometimes bulging to heights above 39,000 feet. Watch in the visualizations below—based on a climate model that simulated cloud formation during a Southern Hemisphere summer—how cumulus clouds pop up over the forests of Africa and South America.

NASA Visualization Explorer, January 2012

If terms like adenine and guanine bring back unpleasant memories of Genetics 101 here’s one reason to give the words a second thought: A team of scientists has discovered that these and other DNA building blocks can form in outer space and have been deposited on Earth’s surface by meteorites. To reach this eye-opening conclusion, researchers ground up and analyzed a set of twelve meteorites collected from Antarctica and Australia. Within them, the scientists found a treasure trove of molecules that may have played a key role in allowing early forms. Read more and download the iPad app.

NASA Visualization Explorer, September 2011.