Light Pollution is Obscuring the Night Sky. RIP Stargazing

A startling analysis from Globe at Night — a citizen science program run by NSF’s NOIRLab — concludes that stars are disappearing from human sight at an astonishing rate. Image Credit: NOIRLab/NSF/AURA, P. Marenfeld

A citizen science initiative called Globe at Night has some sobering news for humanity. Our artificial light is drowning out the night sky for more and more people. And it’s happening more rapidly than thought.

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NASA Satellites can Pinpoint the Exact Locations of Excessive CO2 Emissions

Carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere if half of global-warming emissions are not absorbed. Credit: NASA/JPL/GSFC

In 2013, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) had reached four-hundred parts per million (ppm) for the first time since the Pliocene Era (ca. three million years ago). According to the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), “excess carbon dioxide” in our atmosphere will result in a global average temperature increase of between 1.5 and 2 °C (2.7 and 3.6 °F) by 2030. This will significantly affect ecological systems worldwide, including species extinction, droughts, wildfires, extreme weather, and crop failures.

Aside from curbing emissions, these changes call for mitigation and adaptation strategies and climate monitoring. This is the purpose of NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) 2 and 3 missions, twin satellites that make space-based observations of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere to understand the characteristics of climate change better. Using the world’s fifth-largest coal-fired power plant as a test case, a team of researchers used data from OCO 2 and 3 to detect and track changes in CO2 and quantify the emissions produced below.

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NOAA’s New Weather Satellite is Operational, and its Pictures of Earth are Gorgeous

Polar-orbiting satellites capture swaths of data throughout the globe, and observe the entire planet twice each day. The global mosaic, captured by the VIIRS instrument on the recently launched NOAA-21 satellite, is a composite image created from these swaths. Image Credit: NOAA STAR VIIRS Imagery Team.

You’d have to be in some kind of sense-of-wonder-repressed coma not to appreciate satellite images of Earth. If you are, then images from the NOAA’s newest satellite might pull you out of it.

And they’re only a taste of the fascinating images that it will provide.

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Good News! The Ozone Hole is Continuing to Shrink

earth's atmosphere has an ozone hole (not seen here)
Earth’s atmosphere seen from space. The top layer of the stratosphere is the ozone layer, which protects us from harmful solar UV. Scientists are tracking the ozone hole over the Antarctic. Credit: NASA

Most of us don’t think about ozone as we go about our daily lives. Yet, this pale blue gas plays a huge role in keeping our planet habitable. There’s a layer of it in Earth’s stratosphere, and it absorbs most of the ultraviolet radiation streaming from the Sun. Without the ozone layer, the UV would cause severe damage to most life on Earth. What would happen if we had an ozone hole?

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If Earth Were an Exoplanet, it Would Still be Tricky to Figure Out if There’s Life Here

Earth as seen by the JUNO spacecraft in 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill.

How would Earth appear to alien astronomers? What would their observations tell them about Earth if they searched the heavens for signs of habitability like we are? It’s a fun thought experiment.

But the experiment is more than just fun: it’s scientifically instructive. In many ways, it’s easier to study our planet and how it appears and then extrapolate those results as far as they go.

A new study shows that finding evidence of life on Earth may depend on the season alien astronomers are observing.

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The Methane Released From the Damaged Nord Stream Pipeline is Visible From Space

On September 20, 2022 a GHGSat satellite observed the area of the Nordstream pipeline break, and saw an estimated emission rate of methane of 79,000 kg per hour – making it the largest methane leak ever detected by GHGSat from a single point-source. Credit: GHGSat and ESA.

On September 26, 2022, leaks were discovered in the underwater Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines, located near Denmark and Sweden. Both pipelines are owned by Russia and were built to transport natural gas from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea. Officials have said the leaks were caused by deliberate action, not accidents, and were likely intentional sabotage. While accusations have abounded, the motives behind the damage are not yet known.

Seismic disturbances in the Baltic Sea were detected, and officials said that while neither pipeline was transporting gas at the time of the blasts, they still contained pressurized methane, which is the main component of natural gas. The methane has now spewed out, producing a wide stream of bubbles on the sea surface which are visible from various satellites in Earth orbit.

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Gaze Down Into the eye of Hurricane Ian, Seen From Orbit

On September 28, the Landsat 8 satellite passed directly over Ian’s eye as the storm approached southwest Florida. Credit: US Geological Survey.

NASA and NOAA satellites — as well as astronauts on the ISS — captured some stunning imagery of Hurricane Ian, as seen from orbit. Our lead image shows an eerie view of the hurricane’s eye on September 28. The Landsat 8 satellite passed directly over Ian’s eye as the storm approached southwest Florida.

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Satellites are Tracking Rivers of Garbage Flowing Across the Oceans

garbage patches in Earth's oceans
A a computational model of ocean currents called ECCO-2 that shows how garbage can be distributed across Earth's oceans. Courtesy NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

There’s an ocean of human-made garbage floating through Earth’s seas. From plastic straws to beverage bottles and food wrappers, the ocean waters are this planet’s fastest-growing junkyard. Some of the plastic gets ground into little beads called microplastics, and ends up in the food chain, with humans at the top. For that reason, and many others, the European Space Agency is tracking ocean-bound plastics through the auspices of the MARLISAT project. It’s one of 25 efforts created to identify and trace marine litter as it moves through the world’s waterways. The ultimate goal is to help countries reduce ocean litter, particularly plastics.

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A New Instrument is Going to the ISS to Study the Climate Impact of Dust in Earth’s Upper Atmosphere

People often seem surprised when they learn that NASA doesn’t just look out to the other planets, stars, and galaxies. It’s also an agency that studies our own home planet—from space! And why not? Earth is part of the solar system, too. So, to that end, there’s a new Earth studies mission called EMIT on its way to the International Space Station. It’s designed to track dust as it moves from one place to another on our planet through through our atmosphere.

The official name of the mission is the Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT, for short). It will use a high-tech imaging spectrometer to study dust around the globe over the next year.

A dust plume stretches over the eastern Mediterranean, shrouding parts of Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus. The June 2020 image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. NASA’s EMIT mission will help scientists better understand how airborne dust affects climate. Credits: NASA
A dust plume stretches over the eastern Mediterranean, shrouding parts of Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus. The June 2020 image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. NASA’s EMIT mission will help scientists better understand how airborne dust affects climate. Credit: NASA
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Antarctica Lost an Ice Shelf, but Gained an Island

The eastern coast of Antarctica has lost most of the Glenzer and Conger ice shelves, as seen in these satellite images taken between November 15, 1989 - January 9, 2022. Credit: NASA GSFC/UMBC JCET.

Collapsing ice shelves on the eastern coast of Antarctica has revealed something never seen before: a landform that might be an island. But this is not the first newly revealed island off the Antarctic coast. A series of islands have appeared as the ice shelves along the continent’s coastline has disintegrated over the past few years.

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