The Top 5 “Earth as Art” Images, Thanks to Landsat

NASA’s first Earth-observing Landsat satellite launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base on July 23, 1972, and to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the program they asked the public to vote on their favorite images of the planet from the Landsat Earth as Art gallery. After over 14,000 votes, these were chosen as the top 5 favorites. Happy 40th anniversary, Landsat!

Landsat images from space are not merely pictures. They contain many layers of data collected at different points along the visible and invisible light spectrum. A single Landsat scene taken from 400 miles above Earth can accurately detail the condition of hundreds of thousands of acres of grassland, agricultural crops or forests.

“Landsat has given us a critical perspective on our planet over the long term and will continue to help us understand the big picture of Earth and its changes from space,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “With this view we are better prepared to take action on the ground and be better stewards of our home.”

In cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), a science agency of the Interior Department, NASA launched six of the seven Landsat satellites. The resulting archive of Earth observations forms a comprehensive record of human and natural land changes.

“The first 40 years of the Landsat program have delivered the most consistent and reliable record of Earth’s changing landscape.”

– Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division

“Over four decades, data from the Landsat series of satellites have become a vital reference worldwide for advancing our understanding of the science of the land,” said Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar. “The 40-year Landsat archive forms an indelible and objective register of America’s natural heritage and thus it has become part of this department’s legacy to the American people.”

The next satellite in the series, the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) is scheduled to launch on February 11, 2013.

(Source: NASA/GSFC)

Find out more about the ongoing Landsat mission here, and see recent visualizations from Landsat on the USGS site here.

Video: NASA/GSFC. Inset image: Industrial growth in Binhai New Area, China.  Sub-feature: Erg Iguidi, an area of ever-shifting sand dunes extending from Algeria into Mauritania in northwestern Africa, one of the chosen top 5 Earth as Art images. NASA/GSFC/USGS.

An Orbital Adagio: Nighttime Views from the ISS

People keep making these videos from ISS photography, and we keep loving them. Here’s the latest, assembled by photographer Knate Myers to a track by John Murphy (from the movie soundtrack for Sunshine) it’s a beautiful tour of nighttime passes of the Space Station over our planet. Stars, city lights, airglow, aurorae… it’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but everything worth seeing again. Watch it.

Video: Knate Myers. All images courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center. Via the Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth.

Aurora Over Antarctica: a “Teardrop From Heaven”

“We managed to snap a few photos before Heaven realised its mistake and closed its doors.”
– Dr. Alexander Kumar

This stunning photo of the Aurora Australis, set against a backdrop of the Milky Way, was captured from one of the most remote research locations on the planet: the French-Italian Concordia Base, located located at 3,200 meters (nearly 10,500 feet) altitude on the Antarctic plateau, 1,670 km (1,037 miles) from the geographic south pole.

The photo was taken on July 18 by resident doctor and scientist Dr. Alexander Kumar and his colleague Erick Bondoux.

Sparked by a coronal mass ejection emitted from active region 11520 on July 12, Earth’s aurorae leapt into high gear both in the northern and southern hemispheres three days later during the resulting geomagnetic storm — giving some wonderful views to skywatchers in locations like Alaska, Scotland, New Zealand… and even the South Pole.

“A raw display of one of nature’s most incredible sights dazzled our crew,” Dr. Kumar wrote on his blog, Chronicles from Concordia. “The wind died down and life became still. To me, it was if Heaven had opened its windows and a teardrop had fallen from high above our station, breaking the dark lonely polar night.

“We managed to snap a few photos before Heaven realised its mistake and closed its doors.”

With winter temperatures as low as -70ºC (-100ºF), no sunlight and no transportation in or out from May to August, Concordia Base is incredibly isolated — so much so that it’s used for research for missions to Mars, where future explorers will face many of the same challenges and extreme conditions that are found at the Base.

But even though they may be isolated, Dr. Kumar and his colleagues are in an excellent location to witness amazing views of the sky, the likes of which are hard to find anywhere else on Earth. Many thanks to them for braving the bitter cold and otherworldly environment to share images like this with us!

Read more on Concordia Base here.

Lead image: ESA/IPEV/ENEAA/A. Kumar & E. Bondoux. Sub-image: sunset at Concordia. ESA/IPEV/PNRA – A. Kumar

Stunning Starry Nights of Lincoln Harrison

[Spoiler] I guarantee that these spectacular swirls of color will have you wasting a good chunk of your Friday. But well worth it.

Victoria, Australia-based photographer Lincoln Harrison has been taking pictures for just two years. Harrison says his images are created by taking one shot during twilight and then up to 500 shots in complete darkness throughout the night. Harrison says most of his pictures are of star trails and landscapes usually around Lake Eppalock in Victoria, Australia.

“Locations are chosen in pretty much the same way as I would choose landscape locations,” says Harrison. “I just drive or walk around until I see something that looks good.”

After Harrison returns from his night shoot, he processes the image in Adobe Photoshop, stacking the images using the lighten and blend modes, to create his spectacular images. He then adds the twilight image, sometimes shot using HDR (High Dynamic Range) and a combination of layer masks.

His favorite? At the moment Wormhole. You can see more of his incredible images at his website or at 500px.com

We’d like to see your star trails. Send us your photos or post it on our Flickr page.

Image Caption: Resembling Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night, a collage of star trails photos from Lincoln Harrison.

Image Caption: 256 by Lincoln Harrison

Image Caption: Lincoln Harrison’s Wormhole.

A Shimmering, Simmering Sunspot

This quick animation made by astrophotographer Alan Friedman shows a 30-minute view of sunspot 1520, a large region of magnetic activity on the Sun that’s currently aimed directly at Earth. Although 1520 has been quiet for the past couple of days, it’s loaded with a delta-class magnetic field — just right for launching powerful X-class flares our way. There’s no guarantee that it will, but then there’s no guarantee that it won’t either.

(Click the image to play the animation.)

Alan captured the images from his location in upstate New York using a 10″ Astro-Physics scope and PGR Grasshopper CCD. A master at solar photography — several of his hydrogen alpha images have been featured here on Universe Today as well as other popular astronomy news sites — Alan’s work never fails to impress.

A static, color version of sunspot 1520 can be seen here… what Alan calls “a magnetic beauty.”

Although the sunspots don’t change much over the course of the animation, the surrounding texture on the Sun’s photosphere can be seen to shift and move rapidly. These bright kernels are called granules, and are created by convective currents on the Sun. An individual granule typically lasts anywhere from 8 to 20 minutes and can be over 600 miles (1000 km) across.

The overall wavering effect is caused by distortion from Earth’s atmosphere.

While 1520 is facing Earth we’re subject to any flares or CMEs that may erupt from it, potentially sending a solar storm our way. In another week or so it will have rotated safely around the Sun’s limb and eventually dissipate altogether… but then, it is solar maximum and so there’s likely to be more active regions just like it (or even larger!) coming around the bend.

When they do come, there’s a good chance that Alan will grab some pics of those too.

Check out more of Alan’s photography on his site AvertedImagination.com.

Image © Alan Friedman. All rights reserved.

 

Milky Way to Concordia Base… Come In, Concordia Base…

This stunning photo of the Milky Way was captured from what may be the coldest and most isolated research facility on Earth: the French-Italian Concordia Base station, located at 3,200 meters (nearly 10,500 feet) altitude on the Antarctic plateau, 1,670 km (1,037 miles) from the geographic south pole.

Taken by Dr. Alexander Kumar, a doctor, researcher and photographer who’s been living at the Base since January, the image shows the full beauty of the sky above the southern continent — a sky that doesn’t see the Sun from May to August.

During the winter months no transportation can be made to or from Concordia Base — no deliveries or evacuations, not for any reason. The team there is truly alone, very much like future space explorers will one day be. This isolation is one reason that Concordia is used by ESA for research for missions to Mars.

Of course, taking photos outside is no easy task. Temperatures outside the Base in winter can drop down to -70ºC (-100ºF)!

 Still, despite the isolation, darkness and cold, Dr. Kumar finds inspiration in his surroundings.

“The dark may cause fear, but if you take the time to adapt and look within it, you never know what you may find – at the bottom of the ocean, in the night sky, or under your bed in the middle of the night,” writes Kumar on the Concordia blog. “If you don’t overcome your fear of the ‘unknown’ and ‘monsters’, you will never see marvellous secrets hidden in the dark.

“I hope this photo inspires you too for the days, weeks and months ahead. In terms of the space exploration we are only beginning. We have to continue pushing out into the great beyond.”

Read more of the “Chronicles from Concordia” here.

 Image credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA – A. Kumar

Expedition 31 Blasts Off!

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After a six-week delay, the crew of Expedition 31 successfully launched aboard a Soyuz TMA-04M rocket on Tuesday, May 15 at 0301 GMT (11:01 p.m. EDT May 14) from Russia’s historic Baikonur Cosmodrome, located in the steppes of Kazakhstan.

The rocket will deliver NASA astronaut Joe Acaba and Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin to the International Space Station. After a two-day journey, their Soyuz capsule will dock with the ISS at 11:38 p.m. CDT on Wednesday.

The launch was aired live by NASA HD TV. The full launch can be viewed below:

The crew was originally slated to launch on March 30, but problems with a pressure test forced a delay until a new Soyuz rocket could be brought into service. In the meantime ISS crew members Don Pettit, ESA astronaut Andre Kuipers and cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko have had the station to themselves since April 27.

The three new crew members will remain on Space Station until mid-September, serving as flight engineers under Expedition 31 commander Oleg Kononenko until July 1, when the current crew will depart and Padalka will assume command, marking the beginning of Expedition 32.

For more news on Expedition 31, visit NASA’s ISS website here. Also, you can follow NASA astronaut Joe Acaba on Twitter @AstroAcaba.

Members of the media photograph the Soyuz TMA-04M rocket launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Video credit: NASA TV. Images: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Super Moon? How About a Super Sun!

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On May 5, 2012, while everyone else was waiting for the “Super Moon” astrophotographer Alan Friedman was out capturing this super image of a super Sun from his back yard in Buffalo, NY!

Taken with a specialized telescope that can image the Sun in hydrogen alpha light, Alan’s photo shows the intricate detail of our home star’s chromosphere — the layer just above its “surface”, or photosphere.

Prominences can be seen rising up from the Sun’s limb in several places, and long filaments — magnetically-suspended  lines of plasma — arch across its face. The “fuzzy” texture is caused by smaller features called spicules and fibrils, which are short-lived spikes of magnetic fields that rapidly rise up from the surface of the Sun.

On the left side it appears that a prominence may have had just detached from the Sun’s limb, as there’s a faint cloud of material suspended there.

Alan masterfully captures the Sun’s finer details in his images on a fairly regular basis… see more of his solar (and lunar, and… vintage headwear) photography on his blog site here.

Image © Alan Friedman. All rights reserved.

Giant Sunspot Seen Through Dusty Skies

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The enormous sunspot region responsible for all the recent fuss and flares was easily visible from Earth yesterday… easily visible, that is, with the help of a natural filter provided by a New Mexico dust storm!

Photographer David Tremblay captured this image on March 7 through the dust-laden sky of Alto, New Mexico. Active Region 1429 can be seen on the upper right side of the Sun’s disk. Many times the size of Earth, this sunspot region has already erupted with several X-class solar flares and sent numerous CMEs our way — with potential for more to come!

“Blowing dust from the Tularosa Basin is so very dense that observing the sun was possible with the naked eye this evening,” noted David on SpaceWeather.com, where you can see more of his solar photos taken about the same time.

The image above was captured at 560mm with a Canon MKlll ESO1D.

View more of David’s photography here.

Image © David Tremblay. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Heads Up: It’s Another Mind-Blowing Aurora Photo

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Photographer Ole Christian Salomonsen is a master at capturing the northern lights in all their glory… as this image once again shows.

Ole describes the story behind this photo:

“Shot at the end of a ‘weak’ aurora night in Muonio, Finland. Took this at outside the cabin I was staying at close to Harriniva. The outburst came from an CME that first started disappointingly weak. I was about to go to bed but thought I should wait just a little more and see. Man am I glad I waited!!”

Man, are we glad too! Thanks for sharing these amazing views with us Ole, and keep up the great (and chilly) work!

Image © Ole Salomonsen. Used with permission. See more of Ole’s work on www.arcticlightphoto.no.