This is the View You Get Staring out of the Space Station’s Cupola Module

Those lucky few who have the incredible opportunity to see the Earth from space often report the view gives them a sense of awe, unity and clarity. This perspective-altering experience has come to be known as the Overview Effect, from a book by the same name published 1987 by space philosopher Frank White.

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Earth Observation Satellites Could be Flown Much Lower than Current Altitudes and Do Better Science

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.

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Dust Seen Streaming Out of Namibia Into the Atlantic Ocean

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.

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Mount Everest, Seen from Space!

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.

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Watch the Incredible Plume of Dust from Africa Cross the Entire Atlantic Ocean

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.

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New Data Show How Phytoplankton Pumps Carbon Out of the Atmosphere at an Enormous Scale

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.

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Venice From Space Looks Very Different This Year

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.

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