Fires rage, volcanoes erupt, galaxies form, asteroids collide — and our satellites and space telescopes capture it all.
Have you seen what the Arizona wildfires, Chile’s volcanic eruption and the flooding Mississippi and Missouri Rivers look like from space? Have you seen the new close-up images of asteroids colliding, the sun flaring and comets whizzing by?
If not, prepare to be wowwed by this sampling of images of terrestrial and celestial events that our increasingly sophisticated satellites and space telescopes are now able to capture. They’re sorted here into two sections — Looking Down (Images of Earth) and Looking Up (Planets & Stars) — with a very special short video under “Best for Last.” If you do nothing else, watch this last video. It’s breathtaking.
Looking Down (Images of Earth)
As of Tuesday, June 14, Arizona’s Wallow Fire, now believed to have spread from an unattended campfire, had consumed more than 469,000 acres of land, according to a New York Times report. That’s 1,000 acres more than Arizona’s 2002 Rodeo-Chediski wildfire, previously the state’s biggest — and this one’s still burning.
• To see more satellite images of Arizona’s wildfire and other blazes, click here or click the image below.
As of June 14, the Mississippi River was still above flood stage and threatening to flood again, and the Missouri River had reached a record 29.6 feet near Williston, ND and had broken through two levees near Hamburg, IA.
• To view more satellite images of the Mississippi and Missouri floods and other swollen rivers and flood zones, click here or click the image below.
First Nicaragua’s Telica volcano belched ash and gas on May 19, 2011 after slumbering for 60 years. Then Iceland’s Grimsvotn volcano erupted on May 22. Then Mexico’s Popocatepetl (Popo), near Mexico City, erupted on June 3. Then, on June 4, a fissure in southern Chile’s Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcanic range began pumping enough ash high into the atmosphere to disrupt air travel from Argentina and Uruguay on the other side of the continent, all the way east across the southern Atlantic to Australia and New Zealand.
• To see photos and videos of all four eruptions taken on earth, with a few space shots thrown in for good measure, click here (The Telegraph), here (The Globe and Mail) and here (amazing Denver Post photo gallery).
Earth as Art
Just how unbelievably beautiful is this earth of ours? So beautiful that the good people at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have assembled a gallery of more than 125 exquisite images of various parts of our planet as captured by satellite cameras and have made these images available for viewing and purchase ($25 for a 26″ x 28″ print) so we can all enjoy them.
Got a wall you’d like to dress up with some exquisite, inexpensive art work? If the images above and below don’t suit, click on any of them or click here to see more.
And thanks to Linda Lee for this Nature News lead.
Yuri’s First Orbit
Images of the earth such as the one above seem almost commonplace now, most people have seen so many. But imagine being the first human being to rocket into space, circle the planet and drink in these vistas firsthand. That person was Yuri Gargarin, who completed the first orbit of Earth on April 12, 1961.
To honor the 50th anniversary of his achievement, a group of filmmakers have produced “First Orbit,” a film recreation of Gargarin’s experience that combines new footage shot by astronauts aboard the International Space Station with actual recordings of Gargarin’s comments during his flight (subtitled in English) and a contemplative musical score that puts viewers in a mood to meditate on what Gargarin might have been thinking during his orbit, sitting inside a cramped capsule, watching Mother Earth slip by below.
The film runs one hour and 39 minutes — only nine minutes shorter than Gargarin’s entire flight.
Looking Up: Planets & Stars
Planets as Art
The image above isn’t new — just newly enhanced to make it even more gorgeous. It’s the latest version of a close-up of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot — a storm about twice the size of earth that has been swirling on the planet’s surface ever since earthlings first identified it more than 300 years ago.
The photo was taken by the Voyager 1 Spacecraft during a close pass of Jupiter on March 4, 1979 — about a year and a half after Voyagers 1 and 2 were launched from Cape Canaveral, now Kennedy Space Center, to begin their journeys to the edge of the solar system and beyond. The Voyagers have been flying for almost 34 years now at speeds of about 325 million miles a year, and Voyager 1, the farther one out — the farthest out humans have yet sent anything — is just now approaching the solar system’s edge. After that, according to NASA, it will be many thousands of years of drift before either Voyager spacecraft nears another star.
The Voyagers took pictures of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune on their way to interstellar space, the newest data from Voyager 1 has scientists rethinking what goes on at the edge of the solar system, and both spacecraft carry a copy of the Golden Record, embedded with scenes, sounds, music and greetings in many languages from Earth to any intelligent life they might encounter in their travels.
• To view more pictures that the Voyagers took of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, click here, or click the image below and poke around.
• To view more beautiful images such as the enhanced image of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot above and enjoy a new “Astronomy Picture of the Day” every day, click here, or click the image below.
Scientists! Such hair-splitters! The solar flare that occurred on June 7 wasn’t the biggest they’ve ever seen or even the biggest so far this year, researchers said. They ranked it as medium-sized and predicted it would have little affect on Earth — except perhaps for contributing to some colorful aurora.
But all that plasma that exploded out from the surface of the sun and then splashed back down in what scientists call a coronal mass ejection (CME) — NASA scientist Philip Chamberlain told National Geographic that this CME was the biggest event of its kind that scientists have ever seen. Big enough for the splash-back to cover half the sun’s surface.
Chamberlain also warned that the eruption wasn’t an isolated event and that more frequent and bigger eruptions are likely to follow during the next two to three more years of increased solar activity.
• To watch a great video of the June 7 eruption and hear NASA scientist C. Alex Young explain what we’re seeing, click here, or lick the image below.
And given that solar flares contribute to Aurora displays, how perfect that a Christian Science Monitor online weekend edition recently featured a photo gallery of beautiful images of these breathtaking light shows. To view them, click here, or click the image below.
In November 2010, the Deep Impact Spacecraft, launched in 2005 as part of a dual scientific mission called EPOXI, beamed back images of a close encounter with a small comet named Hartley 2 — the first close-up images of a comet traveling in space that humans have ever captured.
• To hear NASA scientist Ed Weiler explain why this mission is so special, why comets are so fascinating and what other science-fiction-like comet encounters are coming down the pike, click here or click the image below, wait for NBC’s Brian Williams to finish his short report, then click on the second comet-video icon on the right of the screen, “Comet gets its close-up.” It’s worth watching.
From late January through late May 2010, the Hubble Space Telescope captured images of a strange, x-shaped, comet-like object that scientists were pretty sure was the aftermath of two asteroids colliding in space. “Darn!” many of them thought at first. ” We must have just missed it!” No. Further analysis revealed that they had actually missed the collision by an entire year.
• To learn more about this asteroid event and see a bunch of great photos and videos, click here. To go directly to two videos of the x-shaped body seeming to fall away into distant space and watch a third video explaining what we’re really seeing (it has to do with orbits), click here, or click the image below.
And then, guess what? Less than a year after capturing the very first images ever of two asteroids colliding in space, last December 27 through January 4, Hubble caught images of the same thing happening again!
• To learn more about this second event, click here, or click the image below.
They’re called Blue Straggler Stars because they seem to lag behind in the usual astral aging process. Long after other stars in their birth cluster have begun expanding and cooling toward the yellow-orange-red end of the stellar color spectrum, they’re still burning young, hot and blue.
How do they do it? One theory: Two stars start life as an orbiting binary pair. As they begin to age and expand, the smaller star sucks in material from the larger one and gets a whole new lease on life.
Researchers have known for some time that these age-defying stars exist in distant star clusters, but they had never spotted them close to home, so to speak, in our own Milky Way. Now they have. They found 42 possible candidates in the section of star field the Hubble Space Telescope searched. There are 18 in the sub-section below. Can you find them? Hint: No, they’re not the big blue sparklers.
Having trouble? Give up? Here they are, circled in green.
Not easy to spot, are they? In some ways, the researchers just got lucky. According to a NASA press release, they weren’t even looking for Blue Stragglers when they found them. They were looking for something else — “hot Jupiter-class planets that orbit very close to their stars” — when the realized, wait a minute, hold on, what’s that?
According to lead researcher Will Clarkson, the area of sky scientists were searching was also miniscule — about the size of “a human fingernail held at arm’s length” — and packed with stars — about a quarter million. “Only the superb image quality and stability of Hubble allowed us to make this measurement in such a crowded field,” Clarkson said. Let’s hear it for Hubble!
• To see more than 1,000 astonishing images that the Hubble Space Telescope has captured of the cosmos, click here, or click the image below.
Talk about exciting discoveries: This one has scientists recalculating when the universe first took form.
In March of this year, researchers announced that they had located a distant, “mature” galaxy that seems to have begun taking shape about 200 million years after the Big Bang — a blink in cosmic time and much earlier than scientists had thought galaxies came into being. “This challenges theories of how soon galaxies formed and evolved in the first years of the Universe,” lead researcher Johan Richard said.
Let’s hear it again for Hubble and the other space telescopes and observatories that contributed to this discovery. And let’s hear it again for luck — in this case, a lucky alignment of Earth and this ancient galaxy with an intermediate cluster of galaxies called Abell 383 whose strong gravity bends light in a way that magnifies distant objects, making them easier to detect. Amazing, isn’t it?
• To learn more and see more images and videos about this discovery and other Hubble space news, click here, here and here. To see a wonderful video pan of the Galaxy Cluster that served as Science’s Big Magnifying Glass in Space, click here, or click the image below.
This just in: After almost seven years in transit and about three months in orbit around its target, NASA’s Messenger Spacecraft has now sent back more than 20,000 images of the planet Mercury that are providing scientists with all sorts of new insights into this little known planet closest to our sun.
One of the things the data is revealing: Despite Mercury’s proximity to the sun, it seems that certain craters at the planet’s north and south poles are never exposed to sunlight — meaning the deposits at the bottom of these craters that researchers suspect might be ice actually could be. It’s too soon to say for sure, but if other data streaming back from Messenger suggests it is, lead researcher Sean Solomon told wired.com, “we will have the irony that the planet closest to the sun has more ice even than our own moon.”
• To learn everything you could ever want to know about the Messenger Mission and see all sorts of images and videos, click here (NASA Messenger Mission Home Page) and here (Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory Messenger Mission Home Page).
• To read recent news reports on the photos NASA has just released and what they might mean, click here (Los Angeles Times), here (BBC), here (The Christian Science Monitor) and here (wired.com, with some great images).
• To see two different videos of the press conference NASA held on June 16 to announced the Mercury Mission findings and hear snippets of what different scientists — including one female scientist (yaaay!) — consider most exciting about what they’re learning, click here and here.
• To go directly to NASA’s gallery of Messenger-captured images of Mercury, click here. To go directly to Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory’s more extensive image gallery, click here, or click the image above or below.
Best for Last: Our Precious Planet
Finally, as the Mercury-bound Messenger Spacecraft made a shot-put swing around Earth and then hurtled off into space, it turned its cameras earthward and took 358 pictures in 24 hours of the Beautiful Blue Marble it was leaving behind. Click the image above to watch the video. It’s breathtaking.
And to help all of us earthlings get a better perspective on our place and importance in the universe we have hardly begun to explore, the Messenger Spacecraft also gives us this: