NASA, NOAA Satellites Track Hurricane Irma’s Path

Record-setting Hurricane Irma barreled over the Caribbean islands of St. Martin, St. Barthelemy and Anguilla early Wednesday, destroying buildings with its sustained winds of 185 mph (297 kph), with rains and storm surges causing major flooding. The US National Hurricane Center listed the Category 5 Irma as the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded north of the Caribbean and east of the Gulf of Mexico. The storm continues to roar on a path toward the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and possibly Florida, or along the southeast coast of the US.

This animation of NOAA’s GOES East satellite imagery from Sept. 3 at 8:15 a.m. EDT (1215 UTC) to Sept. 6 ending at 8:15 a.m. EDT (1215 UTC) shows Category 5 Hurricane Irma as it moved west and track over St. Martin by 8 a.m. EDT on Sept. 6:

Different models have Irma traveling on slightly different paths and officials from all the areas that might possibly be hit are telling people to prepare and follow evacuation orders. National Hurricane Center scientist Eric Blake said via twitter that some models had the storm going one way, and some another. But he cautioned everyone in a potential path should take precautions. “Model trends can be quite misleading- could just change right back. It is all probabilistic at this point. It could still miss [one particular area]. But chances of an extreme event is rising.”

The fleet of Earth-observing satellites are providing incredible views of this monster storm, and even astronauts on board the International Space Station are capturing views:

While satellite views provide the most comprehensive view of Irma’s potential track, there’s also a more ‘hands-on’ approach to getting data on hurricanes. NOAA hurricane hunter Nick Underwood posted this video while his plane flew into Hurricane Irma yesterday. The plane’s specialized instruments can take readings on the storm that forecasters can’t get anywhere else:

But Irma isn’t the only storm to keep an eye on. Tropical storms Katia and Jose are also on the horizon:

In the meantime, a launch is scheduled from Cape Canaveral on Thursday, September 7. SpaceX is hoping to launch the US Air Force’s X-37B reusable spaceplane, but current forecasts put only a 50% chance of weather suitable enough on Thursday, and only 40% on Friday. We’ll keep you posted.

For the latest satellite views, the Twitter accounts above are posting regular updates.

On Sept. 4 at 17:24 UTC, NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite captured this view of Hurricane Irma as a Category 4 hurricane approaching the Leeward Islands.
Credits: NOAA/NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team.

NASA Releases Spellbinding Images Of Earth At Night

NASA strives to explore space and to expand our understanding of our Solar System and beyond. But they also turn their keen eyes on Earth in an effort to understand how our planet is doing. Now, they’re releasing a new composite image of Earth at night, the first one since 2012.

We’ve grown accustomed to seeing these types of images in our social media feeds, especially night-time views of Earth from the International Space Station. But this new image is much more than that. It’s part of a whole project that will allow scientists—and the rest of us—to study Earth at night in unprecedented detail.

Night-time views of Earth have been around for 25 years or so, usually produced several years apart. Comparing those images shows clearly how humans are changing the face of the planet. Scientists have been refining the imaging over the years, producing better and more detailed images.

The team behind this is led by Miguel Román of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. They’ve been analyzing data and working on new software and algorithms to improve the quality, clarity, and availability of the images.

This new work stems from a collaboration between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA. In 2011, NASA and NOAA launched a satellite called the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite. The key instrument on that satellite is the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), a 275 kg piece of equipment that is a big step forward in Earth observation.

VIIRS detects photons of light in 22 different wavelengths. It’s the first satellite instrument to make quantitative measurements of light emissions and reflections, which allows researchers to distinguish the intensity, types and the sources of night lights over several years.

Composite image of Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern U.S. at night, 2016. Credits: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Composite image of Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern U.S. at night, 2016.
Credits: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Producing these types of maps is challenging. The raw data from SUOMI NPP and its VIIRS instrument has to be skillfully manipulated to get these images. The main challenge is the Moon itself.

As the Moon goes through its different phases, the amount of light hitting Earth is constantly changing. Those changes are predictable, but they still have to be accounted for. Other factors have to be managed as well, like seasonal vegetation, clouds, aerosols, and snow and ice cover. Other changes in the atmosphere, though faint, also affect the outcome. Phenomenon like auroras change the way that light is observed in different parts of the world.

The newly released maps were made from data throughout the year, and the team developed algorithms and code that picked the clearest night views each month, ultimately combining moonlight-free and moonlight-corrected data.

A glittering night-time map of Europe. Looks like there's a Kraftwerk concert happening in Dusseldorf! NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
A glittering night-time map of Europe. Looks like there’s a Kraftwerk concert happening in Dusseldorf! NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

The SUOMI NPP satellite is in a polar orbit, and it observes the planet in vertical swaths that are about 3,000 km wide. With its VIIRS instrument, it images almost every location on the surface of the Earth, every day. VIIRS low-light sensor has six times better spatial resolution for distinguishing night lights, and 250 times better resolution overall than previous satellites.

What do all those numbers mean? The team hopes that their new techniques, combined with the power of VIIRS, will create images with extraordinary resolution: the ability to distinguish a single highway lamp, or fishing boat, anywhere on the surface of Earth.

Composite image of Nile River and surrounding region at night, 2016. Credits: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Composite image of Nile River and surrounding region at night, 2016.
Credits: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Beyond thought-provoking eye-candy for the rest of us, these images of night-time Earth have practical benefits to researchers and planners.

“Thanks to VIIRS, we can now monitor short-term changes caused by disturbances in power delivery, such as conflict, storms, earthquakes and brownouts,” said Román. “We can monitor cyclical changes driven by reoccurring human activities such as holiday lighting and seasonal migrations. We can also monitor gradual changes driven by urbanization, out-migration, economic changes, and electrification. The fact that we can track all these different aspects at the heart of what defines a city is simply mind-boggling.”

These three composite images provide full-hemisphere views of Earth at night. The clouds and sun glint — added here for aesthetic effect — are derived from MODIS instrument land surface and cloud cover products. Credits: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
These three composite images provide full-hemisphere views of Earth at night. The clouds and sun glint — added here for aesthetic effect — are derived from MODIS instrument land surface and cloud cover products.
Credits: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

These maps of night-time Earth are a powerful tool. But the newest development will be a game-changer: Román and his team aim to provide daily, high-definition views of Earth at night. Daily updates will allow real-time tracking of changes on Earth’s surface in a way never before possible.

Maybe the best thing about these upcoming daily night-time light maps is that they will be publicly available. The SUOMI NPP satellite is not military and its data is not classified in any way. They hope to have these daily images available later this year. Once the new daily light-maps of Earth are available, it’ll be another powerful tool in the hands of researchers and planners, and the rest of us.

These maps will join other endeavours like NASA-EOSDIS Worldview. Worldview is a fascinating, easy-to-use data tool that anyone can access. It allows users to look at satellite images of the Earth with user-selected layers for things like dust, smoke, draught, fires, and storms. It’s a powerful tool that can change how you understand the world.

Snowzilla’s East Coast Blast Captured as ‘Rare Thundersnow’ by Scott Kelly on Station and Moonlit from Suomi Satellite

Rare #thundersnow visible from @Space_Station in #blizzard2016!  Jan. 23, 2016. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly/@StationCDRKelly
Rare #thundersnow visible from @Space_Station in #blizzard2016! Jan. 23, 2016. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly/@StationCDRKelly

NEW JERSEY – NASA astronaut Scott Kelly captured a rare and spectacular display of ‘thundersnow’ from space as Snowzilla’s blast pummeled much of the US East Coast this weekend with two feet or more of paralyzing snow from the nations’ capital to New York City and beyond.

Meanwhile the NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP Earth orbiting satellite almost simultaneously snapped an eerie image of the East Coast bathed in Moonlight as the ‘Blizzard of 2016’ battered over 85 million residents in 20 states across the East Coast. Continue reading “Snowzilla’s East Coast Blast Captured as ‘Rare Thundersnow’ by Scott Kelly on Station and Moonlit from Suomi Satellite”

Monster Blizzard of 2016 Strikes US East Coast, Tracked by NASA and NOAA Satellites

NASA-NOAA's Suomi NPP satellite snapped this image of the approaching blizzard around 2:35 a.m. EST on Jan. 22, 2016 using the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument's Day-Night band.   Credit: NOAA/NASA
NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite snapped this image of the approaching blizzard around 2:35 a.m. EST on Jan. 22, 2016 using the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument’s Day-Night band. Credit: NOAA/NASA

NEW JERSEY- The monstrous ‘Blizzard of 2016’ predicted by weather forecasters for days has struck a wide swath of the US East Coast from the Gulf coast to the Carolinas to New York and soon into New England, with full fury today, Friday, Jan. 22.

NASA and NOAA satellites are tracking the storm which is already inundating the biggest population centers, affecting some 85 million people in 20 states up and down the Atlantic Coast, as it moves in a northeasterly direction.

This afternoon, NASA and NOAA released a series of eyepopping satellite images showing the massive extent of the storm, which may drop historic amounts of snow on Washington DC and other cities over the next 24 to 48 hours.

The two agencies released a particularly striking image, shown above, showing the storm swarming over virtually the entire eastern half of the continental US as it was barreling towards the East coast cites.

It was taken Friday afternoon by the NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite showing the approaching blizzard around 2:35 a.m. EST on Jan. 22, 2016 using the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument’s Day-Night band.

States of Emergency have been declared by Governors of states from the mid-Atlantic to New England, including North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee, West Virginia, the District of Columbia and the list is growing.

The heaviest snowfall is expected in and around Washington DC with estimates of 24 inches of snow or more. 18 to 24 inches may fall along the metropolitan Northeast corridor on Baltimore, Philadelphia, Trenton and New York City.

This visible image from NOAA's GOES-East satellite at 1830 UTC (1:30 p.m. EST) on Jan. 22, 2016 shows the major winter storm now affecting the U.S. East coast.  Credits: NASA/NOAA GOES Project
This visible image from NOAA’s GOES-East satellite at 1830 UTC (1:30 p.m. EST) on Jan. 22, 2016 shows the major winter storm now affecting the U.S. East coast. Credits: NASA/NOAA GOES Project

The heavy, blinding snow was already hitting Virginia and Washington by Friday afternoon. Governors, Mayors and Federal officials warned drivers to get off the roads by early Friday afternoon.

Stay off the roadways !!

Widespread treacherous driving with icy roads, sleet, rain, low visibility and whiteout conditions are causing numerous auto accidents as the blizzard bashes the region.

“The winter storm that caused damage during the night along the Gulf Coast has deepened and has started to spread heavy rain, freezing rain, sleet and snow northward into the Mid-Atlantic region. NASA’s GPM and NOAA’s GOES satellites are providing data on rainfall, cloud heights, extent and movement of the storm” wrote NASA’s Rob Gutro in an update on Friday.

On January 22 at 1329 UTC (8:29 a.m. EST) the GPM core satellite saw precipitation falling at a rate of over 64 mm (2.5 inches) per hour in storms over northern Alabama.  Credits: SSAI/NASA/JAXA, Hal Pierce
On January 22 at 1329 UTC (8:29 a.m. EST) the GPM core satellite saw precipitation falling at a rate of over 64 mm (2.5 inches) per hour in storms over northern Alabama. Credits: SSAI/NASA/JAXA, Hal Pierce

The National Weather Service (NWS) Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland said “An area of low pressure centered over the southeastern U.S. will continue developing into a major winter storm which will impact a large portion of the East Coast from the southern Appalachians through the Mid-Atlantic States from Friday into the weekend. Snowfall totals may exceed 2 feet in portions of these areas, including the Baltimore and Washington D.C. metropolitan areas.”

The monster storm has already caused at least ten deaths. Thousands of motorists are stranded.

High winds up to 55 mph are expected to batter the New Jersey shore, causing significant beach erosion, coastal flooding and property destruction in the same areas devastated by Superstorm Sandy. Thousands of people have been evacuated.

The blizzard has also impacted the US Presidential campaigns and forced New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to temporary cancel campaign appearances in New Hampshire on Friday and Saturday, to deal first hand with the storm back home.

Heavy ice and snow accumulations could cause falling tress resulting in downed power lines and days long power outages during brutally cold temperatures.

Here’s a cool supercomputer animation model:

Video caption: A NASA Center for Climate Simulation supercomputer model that shows the flow of #Blizzard2016 thru Sunday, January 24, 2015. Credit: NASA

Many airports have been closed and some seven thousand flights have also been canceled.

The storm is expected to last into Sunday, Jan. 24

Looking massive from space....  This view of the winter storm over the eastern United States was captured on Friday, January 22, 2016 at 1:55 pm ET via the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument on the Suomi NPP satellite.   Credit: NASA/Goddard/Suomi NPP/VIIRS
Looking massive from space…. This view of the winter storm over the eastern United States was captured on Friday, January 22, 2016 at 1:55 pm ET via the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument on the Suomi NPP satellite. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Suomi NPP/VIIRS

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

US Braces for Cat 4 Hurricane as ‘Joaquin’ Barrels to East Coast and ULA Readies 100th Launch on Oct. 2: Watch Live

Video caption: This animation of images captured from September 29 to October 1, 2015 from NOAA’s GOES-East satellite shows Hurricane Joaquin become a major hurricane in the Bahamas. Credits: NASA/NOAA GOES Project

NEW JERSEY – A wide swath of the US East Coast is bracing for impact in the coming days as ‘Hurricane Joaquin’ strengthened to a major and dangerous Category 4 storm, today, Thursday, Oct. 1, as NASA and NOAA satellites keep constant watch as it barrels potentially towards tens of millions of coastal residents.

Joaquin is already packing winds exceeding 130 mph with even higher wind gusts as the storm continues to strengthen at this hour and the pressure is decreasing. See the latest Hurricane Joaquin animation and imagery from NASA and NOAA, above and below.

Meanwhile amidst the hurricane watch, launch preparations are underway by United Launch Alliance (ULA) for the firms 100th rocket blastoff on Friday morning, Oct. 2 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida with an Atlas V booster as Joaquin nears the US eastern seaboard.

A ULA Atlas V is slated to lift off Friday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 6:08 a.m. EDT with the Morelos-3 communications satellite for Mexico, before the hurricane gets closer to Florida.

The National Hurricane Center declared Joaquin had intensified into a massive Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale, as of 2 PM EDT today, Oct. 1.

You can watch the launch on ULA’s live webcast starting at 5:48 a.m. Oct 2: http://www.ulalaunch.com

The governors of three states – New Jersey, Virginia and North Carolina – have already declared ‘States of Emergency’ in anticipation of potentially destructive winds, potentially life threatening drenching rains and floods, downed power lines and ocean rip currents with high waves in local areas.

Multiple NASA and NOAA satellites are intensively and continuously observing Joaquin, and are providing absolutely critical data to forecasters and government officials with the most current and best information available.

NASA’s GPM, Terra and NPP-Suomi satellites and NOAA’s GOES-East satellite are tracking Joaquin and have seen powerful thunderstorms today which indicates continued strengthening.

At this time we still don’t whether the US eastern seaboard will suffer a major hit but officials are taking no chances after suffering through Superstorm Sandy which caused many deaths, widespread power outages and billions and billions of dollars of damage – from which we are still recovering.

Joaquin is currently over The Bahamas in the Caribbean and is expected to make a sharp right turn on Friday Oct 2 and head northwards to the east coast and the Atlantic Ocean. It could start impacting the Carolinas and regions further north as soon as Sunday, Oct. 4, based on current forecasts, and drop double digits inches of torrential rainfall.

NASA-NOAA's Suomi NPP satellite passed over Joaquin at 06:10 UTC (2:10 a.m. EDT) on Oct. 1 as it was strengthening from a Category 2 to a Category 3 hurricane. It’s now a Category 4. Imagery showed cloud top temperatures colder than -63F/-53C (yellow).  Credits: NRL/NASA/NOAA
NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite passed over Joaquin at 06:10 UTC (2:10 a.m. EDT) on Oct. 1 as it was strengthening from a Category 2 to a Category 3 hurricane. It’s now a Category 4. Imagery showed cloud top temperatures colder than -63F/-53C (yellow). Credits: NRL/NASA/NOAA

Its pounding the Bahamas right now and is creating a disaster with hurricane force winds and heavy rainfall, say weather forecasters, as it remains over the island for some 24 hours or more and may drop over 10 inches of rain.

But there is a very wide cone of uncertainly of where it could hit as the possible storm track extends from the Carolinas to Maine. It may or may not directly impact the eastern US. The storm may shift to the right and spare the east coast. But no one knows at this time.

Some areas on the US East coast stretching from Virginia to Maine have already suffered from torrential rains and severe flooding from an unrelated storm the past few days and also right now today, Thursday.

So the grounds are already saturated in parts of the Carolina’s, Virginia, Maine and elsewhere.

NASA/JAXA's GPM satellite provided a 3-D side view of Tropical Storm Joaquin on Sept. 29 showing the internal precipitation structure. The areas in blue are frozen precipitation. Areas in green and red are liquid precipitation.  Credits: Scientific Visualization Studio, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
NASA/JAXA’s GPM satellite provided a 3-D side view of Tropical Storm Joaquin on Sept. 29 showing the internal precipitation structure. The areas in blue are frozen precipitation. Areas in green and red are liquid precipitation. Credits: Scientific Visualization Studio, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Coastal flood warnings and watches are already in effect in many areas along the eastern seaboard where local areas could be drenched by some 12 to 18 inches of additional rain which could fall even before the hurricane hits.

Significant beach erosion has already occurred in the Carolinas over the past few days and more is expected up and down the entire coast up to Maine.

And 10 foot high defense berms of sand are being constructed at this moment along miles and miles of the Jersey Shore – areas that suffered devastating damage from Superstorm Sandy.

There is a potential risk of deadly flooding, flash flooding and damage to houses, buildings, businesses, roadways and infrastructure.

“At 2 p.m. EDT (1800 UTC), the center of Hurricane Joaquin was located near latitude 23.0 North, longitude 74.2 West. Joaquin was moving generally southwestward at about 6 mph (9 kph), and the National Hurricane Center forecast a turn toward the northwest and north on Friday, Oct. 2. On the forecast track, the center of Joaquin will move near or over portions of the central Bahamas today and tonight and pass near or over portions of the northwestern Bahamas on Friday, Oct. 2,” according to NASAs Rob Gutro.

The weather forecast for Friday’s launch from Cape Canaveral , Florida is currently 70 percent GO for liftoff of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at 6:08 a.m. EDT. The Atlas V will launch with the Morelos-3 mission for Mexico’s Secretaria de Comunicaciones y Transportes (Ministry of Communications and Transportation).

Morelos-3 will be part of the Mexsat constellation of satellites that delivers advanced telecommunications throughout Mexico.

United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket after rollout to Pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida for planned Oct. 2 launch at 6:08 a.m. EDT with the Morelos-3 mission for Mexico’s Ministry of Communications and Transportation.  In progress assembly of the commercial crew access tower is seen at right, now under construction for the Boeing Starliner space taxi for astronaut crews launching to the ISS. Credit: Julian Leek
United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket after rollout to Pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida for planned Oct. 2 launch at 6:08 a.m. EDT with the Morelos-3 mission for Mexico’s Ministry of Communications and Transportation. In progress assembly of the commercial crew access tower is seen at right, now under construction for the Boeing Starliner space taxi for astronaut crews launching to the ISS. Credit: Julian Leek

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket during rollout to Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on Oct. 1 for planned Oct. 2 launch at 6:08 a.m. EDT with the Morelos-3 mission for Mexico’s Ministry of Communications and Transportation.  Credit: Julian Leek
United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket during rollout to Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on Oct. 1 for planned Oct. 2 launch at 6:08 a.m. EDT with the Morelos-3 mission for Mexico’s Ministry of Communications and Transportation. Credit: Julian Leek

NASA and NOAA Satellites Image Crippling Blizzard of 2015 Pounding New England

NEW JERSEY – Record breaking snow from the ‘Blizzard of 2015’ hit vast regions of the US Northeast today, Jan. 27, 2015, stretching from Long Island to New England.

NASA and NOAA Earth orbiting satellites are keeping track of the storm affecting millions of residents.

This afternoon the agencies provided a new set of night-time and daytime views of the Blizzard of 2015 taken by the Suomi NPP and the GOES-East satellites.

The crippling blizzard is causing misery, extensive destruction to homes and businesses in localized areas, power outages, traffic accidents, breaks in some sea walls and deaths.

The satellite image above shows a combination of the day-night band and high resolution infrared imagery from the NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite.

It was taken as the historic blizzard neared peak intensity as it moved over the New York area and through the Boston Metropolitan areas at 06:45Z (1:45 a.m. EST) on January 27, 2015.

The high cloud tops from the most intense parts of the storm blurred the regions normally bright nighttime lights in the satellite image.

Although the snow totals were about half the over two feet forecast for the New York Metropolitan region, many areas to the north and east were inundated with very heavy to historic snow fall totals, as bad or worse than the forecasters predicted.

Over two feet of snow fell on areas of New York’s Long Island and stretching north to vast regions of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and into Maine.

Near hurricane force waves are crashing into some coastal towns along the Massachusetts shoreline. Wind gusts as high as 78 mph have been recorded.

“Highest snowfall report has been Auburn, MA with 32.5 inches! Wind gust reports as high as 78 mph in Nantucket, MA,” according to a tweet this evening from the National Weather Service (NWS).

Worchester, Mass had a record breaking 31 inches of snow. And it’s still falling this evening in the 2nd largest city in New England.

A flood emergency is in effect in Marshfield, Mass., where an 80 foot section of the seawall was smashed by crashing waves and is destroying homes as shown on NBC Nightly News.

Blinding snow is raging in Portland, Maine this evening according on a live NBC News report.

On January 27, 2015 at 17:35 UTC (12:35 p.m. EST) NOAA's Geostationary Operational Environmental or GOES- East satellite captured an image of the nor'easter over New England. Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project
On January 27, 2015 at 17:35 UTC (12:35 p.m. EST) NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental or GOES- East satellite captured an image of the nor’easter over New England. Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project

“At 10 a.m. EST, the National Weather Service noted “the powerful nor’easter that brought moderate to heavy snowfall and blizzard conditions to the Northeast on Monday will continue to affect the region on Tuesday, with heavy snow and blizzard conditions expected from eastern Long Island to Maine as the system slowly moves to the northeast. Snow and strong winds will being tapering off from south to north Tuesday night into Wednesday morning,” wrote NASA’s Rob Gutro of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in an update.

“Later on January 27, 2015 at 17:35 UTC (12:35 p.m. EST) NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental or GOES-East satellite captured an image of the nor’easter over New England. The image was created by the NASA/NOAA GOES Project and showed the clouds associated with the nor’easter blanketing New England. An occluded front extended north and eastward out of the low pressure area’s center out into the Atlantic Ocean.”

The latest NOAA forecast as of 4 PM, Jan. 27 states:

HIGH WINDS AND HEAVY SNOW WILL BEGIN TO GRADUALLY TAPER OFF FROM SOUTH TO NORTH TONIGHT…BUT WILL LAST INTO EARLY WEDNESDAY MORNING ACROSS PORTIONS OF MAINE. HEAVY SNOWFALL WILL COMBINE WITH SUSTAINED WINDS OF 30 TO 40 MPH…AND GUSTS IN EXCESS OF 50 MPH…TO CREATE LIFE-THREATENING WHITEOUT OR BLIZZARD CONDITIONS. THESE WINDS MAY LEAD TO DOWNED TREES AND POWER LINES RESULTING IN POWER OUTAGES. TRAVEL WILL BE IMPOSSIBLE AND LIFE-THREATENING IN MANY AREAS. ALONG THE IMMEDIATE COASTLINE…WIND GUSTS TO NEAR 65 MPH WILL BE POSSIBLE. COASTAL FLOODING AND SEVERE BEACH EROSION WILL ALSO BE A POSSIBILITY…AND VULNERABLE ROADS AND STRUCTURES MAY BE FLOODED OR DAMAGED.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Reporting from snowy New Jersey.

Ken Kremer

Holiday Lights So Bright You Can See ’em from Space

Call it holiday light creep. A NASA satellite has been tracking the spread of Christmas lighting from 512 miles up for the past three years and according to the data, nighttime lights around many major U.S. cities shine 20 to 50 percent brighter during Christmas and New Year’s when compared to light output during the rest of the year. Not surprisingly, most it comes from suburban areas.

Christmas isn’t the only time holiday festivities spill into the cosmic night. In some Middle Eastern Cities nighttime lights shine more than 50 percent brighter during Ramadan than the rest of the year. Because snow reflects so much light, the researchers could only analyze snow-free cities lest they risk comparing apples to oranges. The team focused on the U.S. West Coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles and on cities south of a rough line from St. Louis to Washington, D.C.

The map compares the nighttime light signals from December 2012 and 2013 to the average light output for the rest of 2012 to 2014 in and around several large cities in Texas. Dark green shadings indicates increased lighting in December, primarily from outdoor holiday lights. Credit: NASA’s Earth Observatory/Jesse Allen

As someone who has spent many winter nights observing I can attest to snow being a major factor in nighttime sky brightness. Even downward shielded lighting must necessarily reflect upward and into the heavens when it strikes the snow below. Summer is a far darker time of year than winter across much of the northern U.S.

Close-ups of three cities using the Suomi-NPP satellite. Credit: NASA/
Close-ups of three cities using the Suomi-NPP satellite data. Dark green pixels are areas where the lights are 50 percent brighter. Credit: NASA’s Earth Observatory/Jesse Allen

The orbital images were all taken by the Suomi NPP satellite, a joint NASA/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration mission, carries an instrument called the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) that detects light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared as it flies over at roughly 1:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. each day. VIIRS has a low-light sensor that can distinguish night lights tens to hundreds of times better than previous satellites. In the U.S. the lights starting getting brighter the day after Thanksgiving and continued through News Year’s Day. Miguel Román, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and member of the Suomi NPP Land Discipline Team, made the discovery while researching urban energy use patterns in the context of greenhouse emissions. And you thought all those twinkly bulbs were just for fun.


NASA Sees Holiday Lights from Space

The science team found that light intensity increased by 30 to 50 percent in the suburbs and outskirts of major cities. Lights in the central urban areas didn’t increase as much as in the suburbs, but still brightened by 20 to 30 percent. This makes sense when you consider that folks in the ‘burbs not only decorate their homes but often extend Christmas displays across the yard and up into the trees.

In several cities in the Middle East, city lights brighten during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, as seen using a new analysis of daily data from the NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP satellite. Dark green pixels are areas where the lights are 50 percent brighter, or more, during Ramadan. Image Credit: NASA's Earth Observatory/Jesse Allen
In several cities in the Middle East, city lights brighten during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, as seen using a new analysis of daily data from the NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP satellite. Dark green pixels are areas where the lights are 50 percent brighter, or more, during Ramadan. Credit: NASA’s Earth Observatory/Jesse Allen

Holiday lighting – a simple joy of the season. Yet it reflects both the hopes and wishes of human culture and the mundane facts of energy use. Through satellites, we can step back and watch the world change in ways never thought possible.  We truly live in the Age of the Anthopocene, a newly designated era reflecting the profound effect our species has had and continues to have on the planet. To see all the holiday space photos, check out Goddard’s Flickr page.

An overhead view of the Eastern U.S. Click for a Flick page showing all U.S. cities in the survey. Credit:
An overhead view of the Eastern U.S. Click for a Flick page showing all U.S. cities in the survey. Credit: NASA’s Earth Observatory / Jesse Allen

Satellite Watches Dust from Chelyabinsk Meteor Spread Around the Northern Hemisphere

When a meteor weighing 10,000 metric tons exploded 22.5 km (14 miles) above Chelyabinsk, Russia on Feb. 15, 2013, the news of the event spread quickly around the world. But that’s not all that circulated around the world. The explosion also deposited hundreds of tons of dust in Earth’s stratosphere, and NASA’s Suomi NPP satellite was in the right place to be able to track the meteor plume for several months. What it saw was that the plume from the explosion spread out and wound its way entirely around the northern hemisphere within four days.

The bolide, measuring 59 feet (18 meters) across, slipped quietly into Earth’s atmosphere at 41,600 mph (18.6 kilometers per second). When the meteor hit the atmosphere, the air in front of it compressed quickly, heating up equally as quick so that it began to heat up the surface of the meteor. This created the tail of burning rock that was seen in the many videos that emerged of the event. Eventually, the space rock exploded, releasing more than 30 times the energy from the atom bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. For comparison, the ground-impacting meteor that triggered mass extinctions, including the dinosaurs, measured about 10 km (6 miles) across and released about 1 billion times the energy of the atom bomb.

Atmospheric physicist Nick Gorkavyi from Goddard Space Flight Center, who works with the Suomi satellite, had more than just a scientific interest in the event. His hometown is Chelyabinsk.

“We wanted to know if our satellite could detect the meteor dust,” said Gorkavyi, who led the study, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. “Indeed, we saw the formation of a new dust belt in Earth’s stratosphere, and achieved the first space-based observation of the long-term evolution of a bolide plume.”

The team said they have now made unprecedented measurements of how the dust from the meteor explosion formed a thin but cohesive and persistent stratospheric dust belt.

About 3.5 hours after the initial explosion, the Ozone Mapping Profiling Suite instrument’s Limb Profiler on the NASA-NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite detected the plume high in the atmosphere at an altitude of about 40 km (25 miles), quickly moving east at about 300 km/h (190 mph).

The day after the explosion, the satellite detected the plume continuing its eastward flow in the jet and reaching the Aleutian Islands. Larger, heavier particles began to lose altitude and speed, while their smaller, lighter counterparts stayed aloft and retained speed – consistent with wind speed variations at the different altitudes.

By Feb. 19, four days after the explosion, the faster, higher portion of the plume had snaked its way entirely around the Northern Hemisphere and back to Chelyabinsk. But the plume’s evolution continued: At least three months later, a detectable belt of bolide dust persisted around the planet.

Gorkavyi and colleagues combined a series of satellite measurements with atmospheric models to simulate how the plume from the bolide explosion evolved as the stratospheric jet stream carried it around the Northern Hemisphere.

“Thirty years ago, we could only state that the plume was embedded in the stratospheric jet stream,” said Paul Newman, chief scientist for Goddard’s Atmospheric Science Lab. “Today, our models allow us to precisely trace the bolide and understand its evolution as it moves around the globe.”

NASA says the full implications of the study remain to be seen. Scientists have estimated that every day, about 30 metric tons of small material from space encounters Earth and is suspended high in the atmosphere. Now with the satellite technology that’s capable of more precisely measuring small atmospheric particles, scientists should be able to provide better estimates of how much cosmic dust enters Earth’s atmosphere and how this debris might influence stratospheric and mesospheric clouds.

It will also provide information on how common bolide events like the Chelyabinsk explosion might be, since many might occur over oceans or unpopulated areas.

“Now in the space age, with all of this technology, we can achieve a very different level of understanding of injection and evolution of meteor dust in atmosphere,” Gorkavyi said. “Of course, the Chelyabinsk bolide is much smaller than the ‘dinosaurs killer,’ and this is good: We have the unique opportunity to safely study a potentially very dangerous type of event.”

Source: NASA

Herbal Earth: Spectacular Vegetation Views of Our Home Planet and the Natural World of Living Green Life

Earth’s Vegetation from Suomi NPP satellite. World map of vegetation data collected by the Suomi NPP satellite (National Polar-orbiting Partnership) in a partnership between NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Credit: NASA/NOAA
Photo and Video Gallery below[/caption]

Herbal Earth: that’s the title of a spectacular collection of vivid new views of the Earth’s vegetation captured over the past year by the Suomi NPP satellite.

NPP is short for National Polar-orbiting Partnership – an Earth science satellite partnership between NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Although it’s rather reminiscent of the manmade ‘World at Night’ – its actually the ‘Natural World of Living Green Life.’

The Suomi NPP satellite data were collected with the Visible-Infrared Imager/Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument from April 2012 to April 2013 and used to generate this gallery of images and animations – released by NASA and NOAA on June 19.

Western Hemisphere -Vegetation on Our Planet. The darkest green areas are the lushest in vegetation, while the pale colors are sparse in vegetation cover either due to snow, drought, rock, or urban areas. Suomi NPP Satellite data from April 2012 to April 2013 was used to generate these images. Credit: NASA/NOAA
Western Hemisphere -Vegetation on Our Planet. The darkest green areas are the lushest in vegetation, while the pale colors are sparse in vegetation cover either due to snow, drought, rock, or urban areas. Suomi NPP Satellite data from April 2012 to April 2013 was used to generate these images. Credit: NASA/NOAA

Suomi NPP was launched on October 28, 2011 by a Delta II rocket and placed into a sun-synchronous orbit 824 km (512 miles) above the Earth. It orbits Earth about 14 times daily.

The VIIRS instrument measures vegetation changes over time by looking at changes in the visible and near-infrared light reflected by vegetation. The 22-band radiometer sensor can detect subtle differences in greenness.

Nile Delta: July 9-15, 2012.  Amidst the deserts of Egypt, the Nile River provides life-sustaining water to the region. Also visible are the urbanized areas of northern Egypt. Credit: NOAA/NASA
Nile Delta: July 9-15, 2012. Amidst the deserts of Egypt, the Nile River provides life-sustaining water to the region. Also visible are the urbanized areas of northern Egypt. Credit: NASA/NOAA

The data are incorporated into the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) which represents the photosynthetic potential of vegetation.

The NVDI measures and monitors plant growth, vegetation cover and biomass production from the Suomi NPP satellite information.

The Florida Everglades: March 18-24, 2013. The "river of grass" extending south of Lake Okeechobee shows clear signs of its modified state with areas of dense agriculture, urban sprawl and water conservation areas delineated by a series of waterways that crisscross Southern Florida.  Credit: NOAA/NASA
The Florida Everglades: March 18-24, 2013. The “river of grass” extending south of Lake Okeechobee shows clear signs of its modified state with areas of dense agriculture, urban sprawl and water conservation areas delineated by a series of waterways that crisscross Southern Florida. Credit: NASA/NOAA

A quarter of the Earth’s surface is covered by some green vegetation, the remainder is the blue ocean.

Video: Green- Vegetation on Our Planet (Tour of Earth)

And don’t forget to “Send Your Name to Mars” aboard NASA’s MAVEN orbiter- details here. Deadline Very Soon: July 1, 2013. Launch: Nov. 18, 2013

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about Earth, Mars, Curiosity, Opportunity, MAVEN, LADEE and NASA missions at Ken’s upcoming presentation

June 23: “Send your Name to Mars on MAVEN” and “CIBER Astro Sat, LADEE Lunar & Antares Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, 8 PM

Eastern Hemisphere -Vegetation on Our Planet. Credit: NASA/NOAA
Eastern Hemisphere -Vegetation on Our Planet. Credit: NASA/NOAA

The Black Marble: Stunning New Orbital Views of Earth at Night

This image of Asia and Australia at night is a composite assembled from data acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite in April and October 2012. Credit: NASA, NOAA, and the Department of Defense.

Two months of night-time imagery gathered by the Suomi NPP satellite have resulted in a stunning new look at Earth at night, appropriately nicknamed the Black Marble.

The nighttime views were made possible by the new satellite’s “day-night band” of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite. VIIRS detects light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared and uses filtering techniques to observe dim signals such as city lights, gas flares, auroras, wildfires, and reflected moonlight. In this case, auroras, fires, and other stray light have been removed to emphasize the city lights.

“This is not your father’s low light sensor!” said Steve Miller, senior research scientist and deputy director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere (CIRA), Colorado State University, speaking at the American Geophysical Union conference this week.

See more views and a video presentation of the VIIRS data below:

The new satellite is providing a much higher resolution across a greater band of light than previous night-light gathering satellites.

Originally developed for meteorologists to be able to look at nighttime clouds, the VIIRS data is providing a wide variety of information. “We are getting as much mileage from these data sets as we can,” said Chris Elvidge, who leads the Earth Observation Group at NOAA’s National Geophysical Data Center.

Elvidge and Miller said the data is being used to model population distribution, fossil fuel and CO2 emissions, and other information that can be gleaned from nighttime lights such finding power outages, determining astronomical viewing conditions, providing site selection for astronomical observatories, and looking at impacts of artificial lights on humans and animals.

The difference between electrical lights and fires, and night glow and auroras can even be determined by VIIRS.

North and South America at night is a composite assembled from data acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite in April and October 2012. Credit: NASA, NOAA, and the Department of Defense.

Europe, Africa, and the Middle East at night is a composite assembled from data acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite in April and October 2012. Credit: NASA, NOAA, and the Department of Defense.

Named for satellite meteorology pioneer Verner Suomi, NPP flies over any given point on Earth’s surface twice each day at roughly 1:30 a.m. and p.m. The polar-orbiting satellite flies 824 kilometers (512 miles) above the surface, sending its data once per orbit to a ground station in Svalbard, Norway, and continuously to local direct broadcast users distributed around the world,
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See more imagery and get additional information about the night-time VIIRS Data at the NASA Earth Observatory website.