Satellite engineers know what every photographer knows: get close to your subject to get better pictures. Not just visible light pictures, but all across the spectrum. The lower altitude also improves things like radar, lidar, communications, and gps.
But when your subject is Earth, and Earth is surrounded by an atmosphere, getting closer is a delicate dance with physics. The closer a satellite gets to Earth, the more atmospheric drag it encounters. And that can mean an unscheduled plummet to destruction for Earth-Observing (EO) satellites.
Continue reading “Earth Observation Satellites Could be Flown Much Lower than Current Altitudes and Do Better Science”
Landsat 8 strikes again.
Landsat 8 is the United States Geological Survey’s most recently launched satellite, and it holds the powerful Operational Land Imager (OLI.) The OLI is a powerful multi-spectral imager with a wide dynamic range.
The OLI does a great job of keeping an eye on Earth, and now its captured images of winds in Namibia picking dust up and carrying it out over the Atlantic Ocean.
Continue reading “Dust Seen Streaming Out of Namibia Into the Atlantic Ocean”
One under-appreciated space asset is the photography skills of the Russian cosmonauts on board the International Space Station. They are extremely skillful photographers who don’t get the same recognition as their astronaut counterparts in their Earth observation skills. In particular, they have taken some stunning high-oblique shots of objects close to the horizon, with almost an 3-D effect.
Continue reading “Mount Everest, Seen from Space!”
Dust plumes are a natural phenomena, part of Earth’s nutrient cycle. They occur when high-velocity winds pick up tiny dry particles from the Earth’s surface and carry them long distances. Every summer, dust plumes from Africa’s Sahara desert travel across the Atlantic Ocean.
They’re usually not this big, and they often sink into the ocean. But this one’s coming right to America.
Continue reading “Watch the Incredible Plume of Dust from Africa Cross the Entire Atlantic Ocean”
An iceberg that calved off of from a larger ice formation has spent three years floating on the ocean near Antarctica. The iceberg broke off of the Larsen Ice Shelf in mid-July 2017. It’s been battered and split up into three pieces, but it’s still going.
Continue reading “This Giant Iceberg Has Been Sailing the Southern Seas for Three Years Now”
One day, my Grade Nine science class got way more interesting.
Suddenly, volcanoes weren’t just something in textbooks. Though I was in neighbouring British Columbia when Mt. St. Helens erupted, there was still a layer of ash on our cars and everything else. For a teenager with a burgeoning interest in science, it was awesome.
Continue reading “40 Years Ago, Mount St. Helens Blew its Top Off”
One of the most fascinating things about planet Earth is the way that life shapes the Earth and the Earth shapes life. We only have to look back to the Great Oxygenation Event (GOE) of 2.4 billion years ago to see how lifeforms have shaped the Earth. In that event, phytoplanktons called cyanobacteria pumped the atmosphere with oxygen, extinguishing most life on Earth, and paving the way for the development of multicellular life.
Early Earth satisfied the initial conditions for life to appear, and now, lifeforms shape the atmosphere, the landscape, and the oceans in many different ways.
At the base of many of these changes is phytoplankton.
Continue reading “New Data Show How Phytoplankton Pumps Carbon Out of the Atmosphere at an Enormous Scale”
In between the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra lies the Sunda Strait. And in the Sunda Strait lies the much smaller island of Anak Krakatau, one of Earth’s active volcanoes. It’s erupted more than 50 times in the past 2,000 years, and now it’s doing it again.
Continue reading “Anak Krakatau Erupted a Few Days Ago. Here’s What it Looked Like From Space”
The Coronavirus shutdown has given us an unprecedented opportunity to look at our civilization a little differently. We all have our own ground-level view of life during this pandemic, but our satellites are giving us another look at this Earthly pause on a grand scale. The latest view comes from the European Space Agency’s Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission.
Continue reading “Venice From Space Looks Very Different This Year”
On Earth, one of the most important factors regulating our climate is the carbon cycle. This refers to the processes by which carbon compounds are sequestered by biological (photosynthesis) and geological processes and released through volcanic activity and organic processes (decay and respiration). For billions of years, this cycle has kept temperatures relatively stable on Earth and allowed for life to flourish.
For the past few centuries, human activity has tipped the scales to the point that some refer to the current geological epoch as the Anthropocene. According to a new study by an international team of researchers, human activity is also leading to a situation where tropical rainforests (a major sequester of carbon dioxide) are not only losing their ability to soak up carbon but could actually be adding to the problem in the coming years.
Continue reading “As Temperatures Increase, Forests are Having More Trouble Soaking up Carbon”