On Sept. 7, our GPM core observatory satellite flew over
Florence, capturing a 3D image as the storm’s clouds started to break apart
Other NOAA satellites, like GOES, gather high-resolution, detailed
views of hurricanes, letting us peek into the eye of the storm.
Zooming out a bit, the Suomi-NPP satellite helps us track
Hurricane Florence, and the following tropical storms, as they move closer to
landfall or dissipate over the ocean.
From farther away (a
million miles from Earth!), the EPIC instrument on NOAA’s DSCOVR satellite
captured images of all three of these storms as they moved closer to North
We use our space-based and airborne instruments to provide
innovative data on hurricanes to advance scientists’ understanding of these
storms. You can follow our latest views of Hurricane Florence here and get the
latest forecast from NOAA’s National Hurricane Center here.
Massive Martian dust storms have been challenging—and enticing—scientists for decades. Here’s the scoop on Martian dust:
1: Challenging Opportunity
Our Opportunity rover is facing one of the greatest challenges of its 14 ½ year mission on the surface of Mars–a massive dust storm that has turned day to night. Opportunity is currently hunkered down on Mars near the center of a storm bigger than North America and Russia combined. The dust-induced darkness means the solar-powered rover can’t recharge its batteries.
Martian breezes proved a saving grace for the solar-powered Mars rovers in the past, sweeping away accumulated dust and enabling rovers to recharge and get back to science. This is Opportunity in 2014. The image on the left is from January 2014. The image on the right in March 2014.
4: Dusty Disappointment
Back in 1971, scientists were eager for their first orbital views of Mars. But when Mariner 9 arrived in orbit, the Red Planet was engulfed by a global dust storm that hid most of the surface for a month. When the dust settled, geologists got detailed views of the Martian surface, including the first glimpses of ancient riverbeds carved into the dry and dusty landscape.
Scientists know to expect big dust storms on Mars, but the rapid development of the current one is surprising. Decades of Mars observations show a pattern of regional dust storms arising in northern spring and summer. In most Martian years, nearly twice as long as Earth years, the storms dissipate. But we’ve seen global dust storms in 1971, 1977, 1982, 1994, 2001 and 2007. The current storm season could last into 2019.
Once on the Red Planet, InSight will use sophisticated geophysical instruments to delve deep beneath the surface of Mars, detecting the fingerprints of the processes of terrestrial planet formation, as well as measuring the planet’s “vital signs”: Its “pulse” (seismology), “temperature” (heat flow probe), and “reflexes” (precision tracking).
9: Martian Weather Report
One saving grace of dust storms is that they can actually limit the extreme temperature swings experienced on the Martian surface. The same swirling dust that blocks out sunlight also absorbs heat, raising the ambient temperature surrounding Opportunity.
A dust storm in the Sahara can change the skies in Miami and temperatures in the North Atlantic. Earth scientists keep close watch on our home planet’s dust storms, which can darken skies and alter Earth’s climate patterns.
Here are 5 ways our tech improves life here on Earth…
1. Eyes in the Sky Spot Fires on the Ground
Our Earth observing satellites enable conservation groups to spot and monitor fires across vast rainforests, helping them protect our planet on Earth Day and every day.
2. Helping Tractors Drive Themselves
There has been a lot of talk about self-driving cars, but farmers have already been making good use of self-driving tractors for more than a decade – due in part to a partnership between John Deere and our Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Growing food sustainably requires smart technology – our GPS correction algorithms help self-driving tractors steer with precision, cutting down on water and fertilizer waste.
3. Turning Smartphones into Satellites
On Earth Day (and every day), we get nonstop “Earth selfies” thanks to Planet Labs’ small satellites, inspired by smartphones and created by a team at our Ames Research Center. The high res imagery helps conservation efforts worldwide.
4. Early Flood Warnings
Monsoons, perhaps the least understood and most erratic weather pattern in the United States, bring rain vital to agriculture and ecosystems, but also threaten lives and property. Severe flash-flooding is common. Roads are washed out. Miles away from the cloudburst, dry gulches become raging torrents in seconds. The storms are often accompanied by driving winds, hail and barrages of lightning.
Around the world, agriculture is by far the biggest user of freshwater. Thanks in part to infrared imagery from Landsat, operated by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), we can now map, in real time, how much water a field is using, helping conserve that precious resource.
We use the vantage point of space to understand and explore our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future. Our observations of Earth’s complex natural environment are critical to understanding how our planet’s natural resources and climate are changing now and could change in the future.
A flash of lightning. A roll of thunder. These are normal stormy sights and sounds. But sometimes, up above the clouds, stranger things happen. Our Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has spotted bursts of gamma rays – some of the highest-energy forms of light in the universe – coming from thunderstorms. Gamma rays are usually found coming from objects with crazy extreme physics like neutron stars and black holes.
So why is Fermi seeing them come from thunderstorms?
Thunderstorms form when warm, damp air near the ground starts to rise and encounters colder air. As the warm air rises, moisture condenses into water droplets. The upward-moving water droplets bump into downward-moving ice crystals, stripping off electrons and creating a static charge in the cloud.
The top of the storm becomes positively charged, and the bottom becomes negatively charged, like two ends of a battery. Eventually the opposite charges build enough to overcome the insulating properties of the surrounding air – and zap! You get lightning.
When those electrons run into air molecules, they emit a terrestrial gamma-ray flash, which means that thunderstorms are creating some of the highest energy forms of light in the universe. But that’s not all – thunderstorms can also produce antimatter! Yep, you read that correctly! Sometimes, a gamma ray will run into an atom and produce an electron and a positron, which is an electron’s antimatter opposite!
The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope can spot terrestrial gamma-ray flashes within 500 miles of the location directly below the spacecraft. It does this using an instrument called the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor which is primarily used to watch for spectacular flashes of gamma rays coming from the universe.
There are an estimated 1,800 thunderstorms occurring on Earth at any given moment. Over the 10 years that Fermi has been in space, it has spotted about 5,000 terrestrial gamma-ray flashes. But scientists estimate that there are 1,000 of these flashes every day – we’re just seeing the ones that are within 500 miles of Fermi’s regular orbits, which don’t cover the U.S. or Europe.
The map above shows all the flashes Fermi has seen since 2008. (Notice there’s a blob missing over the lower part of South America. That’s the South Atlantic Anomaly, a portion of the sky where radiation affects spacecraft and causes data glitches.)
Fermi has also spotted terrestrial gamma-ray flashes coming from individual tropical weather systems. The most productive system we’ve seen was Tropical Storm Julio in 2014, which later became a hurricane. It produced four flashes in just 100 minutes!
Heads up: a new batch of science is headed to the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX Dragon on April 2, 2018. Launching from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop a Falcon 9 rocket, this fire breathing (well, kinda…) spacecraft will deliver science that studies thunderstorms on Earth, space gardening, potential pathogens in space, new ways to patch up wounds and more.
Let’s break down some of that super cool science heading 250 miles above Earth to the orbiting laboratory:
These include sprites, flashes caused by electrical break-down in the mesosphere; the blue jet, a discharge from cloud tops upward into the stratosphere; and ELVES, concentric rings of emissions caused by an electromagnetic pulse in the ionosphere.
Here’s a graphic showing the layers of the atmosphere for reference:
Science term of the day:Liquid phase sintering works like building a sandcastle with just-wet-enough sand; heating a powder forms interparticle bonds and formation of a liquid phase accelerates this solidification, creating a rigid structure. But in microgravity, settling of powder grains does not occur and larger pores form, creating more porous and distorted samples than Earth-based sintering.
Sintering has many applications on Earth, including metal cutting tools, automotive engine connecting rods, and self-lubricating bearings. It has potential as a way to perform in-space fabrication and repair, such as building structures on the moon or creating replacement parts during extraterrestrial exploration.
Plants in space! It’s l[a]unch time!
Understanding how plants respond to microgravity and demonstrating reliable vegetable production in space represent important steps toward the goal of growing food for future long-duration missions. The Veggie Passive Orbital Nutrient Delivery System (Veggie PONDS) experiment will test a passive nutrient delivery system in the station’s Veggie plant growth facility by cultivating lettuce and mizuna greens for harvest and consumption on orbit.
The PONDS design features low mass and low maintenance, requires no additional energy, and interfaces with the Veggie hardware, accommodating a variety of plant types and growth media.
Quick Science Tip: Download the Plant Growth App to grow your own veggies in space! Apple users can download the app HERE! Android users click HERE!
A continuation of a previous experiment, this version’s new design eliminates the need for astronauts to perform spacewalks for these investigations. New technology includes power and data collection options and the ability to take pictures of each sample on a monthly basis, or more often if required. The testing benefits a variety of industries, including automotive, aeronautics, energy, space, and transportation.
Patching up Wounds
NanoRacks Module 74 Wound Healing (Wound Healing) experiment will test a patch containing an antimicrobial hydrogel that promotes healing of a wound while acting as a foundation for regenerating tissue. Reduced fluid motion in microgravity allows more precise analysis of the hydrogel behavior and controlled release of the antibiotic from the patch.
For the first part of the experiment, the hydrogels will be assembled aboard the station and returned to Earth for analysis of mechanical and structural properties. The second part of the experiment assembles additional hydrogels loaded with an antibiotic. Crew members will collect real-time data on release of antibiotics from these gels into surrounding water during spaceflight. This patch could serve as a non-surgical treatment for military combat wounds and reduce sepsis, or systemic inflammation, usually caused by contamination of an open wound.
Follow @ISS_Research on Twitter for your daily dose of nerdy, spacey goodness.
This Winter Olympics, our researchers are hoping for what a lot of Olympic athletes want in PyeongChang: precipitation and perfection.
Our researchers are measuring the quantity and type of snow falling on the slopes, tracks and halfpipes at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics and Paralympic games.
We are using ground instruments, satellite data and weather models to deliver detailed reports of current snow conditions and are testing experimental forecast models at 16 different points near Olympic event venues (shown below). The information is relayed every six hours to Olympic officials to help them account for approaching weather.
We are performing this research in collaboration with the Korea Meteorological Administration, as one of 20 agencies from about a dozen countries and the World Meteorological Organization’s World Weather Research Programme in a project called the International Collaborative Experiments for PyeongChang 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, or ICE-POP. The international team will make measurements from the start of the Olympics on Feb. 9 through the end of the Paralympics on March 18.
Image Credit: Republic of Korea
South Korea’s diverse terrain makes this project an exciting, albeit challenging, endeavor for scientists to study snow events. Ground instruments provide accurate snow observations in easily accessible surfaces, but not on uneven and in hard to reach mountainous terrain. A satellite in space has the ideal vantage point, but space measurements are difficult because snow varies in size, shape and water content. Those variables mean the snowflakes won’t fall at the same speed, making it hard to estimate the rates of snowfall. Snowflakes also have angles and planar “surfaces” that make it difficult for satellite radars to read.
The solution is to gather data from space and the ground and compare the measurements. We will track snowstorms and precipitation rates from space using the Global Precipitation Measurement mission, or GPM. The GPM Core Observatory is a joint mission between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and coordinates with twelve other U.S. and international satellites to provide global maps of precipitation every 30 minutes (shown below).
We will complement the space data with 11 of our instruments observing weather from the ground in PyeongChang. These instruments are contributing to a larger international pool of measurements taken by instruments from the other ICE-POP participants: a total of 70 instruments deployed at the Olympics. We deployed the Dual-frequency, Dual-polarized, Doppler Radar system, usually housed at our Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, to PyeongChang (shown below) that measures the quantity and types of falling snow.
The data will help inform Olympic officials about the current weather conditions, and will also be incorporated into the second leg of our research: improving weather forecast models. Our Marshall Space Flight Center’s Short-term Prediction Research and Transition Center (SPoRT) is teaming up with our Goddard Space Flight Center to use an advanced weather prediction model to provide weather forecasts in six-hour intervals over specific points on the Olympic grounds.
The above animation is our Unified Weather Research Forecast model (NU-WRF) based at Goddard. The model output shows a snow event on Jan. 14, 2018 in South Korea. The left animation labeled “precipitation type” shows where rain, snow, ice, and freezing rain are predicted to occur at each forecast time. The right labeled “surface visibility” is a measure of the distance that people can see ahead of them.
The SPoRT team will be providing four forecasts per day to the Korea Meteorological Administration, who will look at this model in conjunction with all the real-time forecast models in the ICE-POP campaign before relaying information to Olympic officials. The NU-WRF is one of five real-time forecast models running in the ICE-POP campaign.
For more information, watch the video below or read the entire story HERE.
We just finished the second hottest year on Earth since global temperature estimates first became feasible in 1880. Although 2016 still holds the record for the warmest year, 2017 came in a close second, with average temperatures 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the mean.
2017’s temperature record is especially noteworthy, because we didn’t have an El Niño this year. Often, the two go hand-in-hand.
El Niño is a climate phenomenon that causes warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean waters, which affect wind and weather patterns around the world, usually resulting in warmer temperatures globally. 2017 was the warmest year on record without an El Niño.
We collect the temperature data from 6,300 weather stations and ship- and buoy-based observations around the world, and then analyze it on a monthly and yearly basis. Researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) do a similar analysis; we’ve been working together on temperature analyses for more than 30 years. Their analysis of this year’s temperature data tracks closely with ours.
The 2017 temperature record is an average from around the globe, so different places on Earth experienced different amounts of warming. NOAA found that the United States, for instance, had its third hottest year on record, and many places still experienced cold winter weather.
Other parts of the world experienced abnormally high temperatures throughout the year. Earth’s Arctic regions are warming at roughly twice the rate of the rest of the planet, which brings consequences like melting polar ice and rising sea levels.
Increasing global temperatures are the result of human activity, specifically the release of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. The gases trap heat inside the atmosphere, raising temperatures around the globe.
We combine data from our fleet of spacecraft with measurements taken on the ground and in the air to continue to understand how our climate is changing. We share this important data with partners and institutions across the U.S. and around the world to prepare and protect our home planet.
Earth’s long-term warming trend can be seen in this visualization of NASA’s global temperature record, which shows how the planet’s temperatures are changing over time, compared to a baseline average from 1951 to 1980.
Learn more about the 2017 Global Temperature Report HERE.
Discover the ways that we are constantly monitoring our home planet HERE.
The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was among the top ten most active seasons in recorded history. Our experts are exploring what made this year particularly active and the science behind some of the biggest storms to date.
After a period of 12 years without a Category 3 or higher hurricane making landfall in the U.S., Hurricane Harvey made landfall over Texas as a Category 4 hurricane this August.
Harvey was also the biggest rainfall event ever to hit the continental U.S. with estimates more than 49 inches of rain.
Data like this from our Global Precipitation Measurement Mission, which shows the amount of rainfall from the storm and temperatures within the story, are helping scientists better understand how storms develop.
The unique vantage point of satellites can also help first responders, and this year satellite data helped organizations map out response strategies during hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
In addition to satellites, we use ground stations and aircraft to track hurricanes.
We also use the capabilities of satellites like Suomi NPP and others that are able to take nighttime views. In this instance, we were able to view the power outages in Puerto Rico. This allowed first responders to see where the location of impacted urban areas.
The combined effort between us, NOAA, FEMA and other federal agencies helps us understand more about how major storms develop, how they gain strength and how they affect us.
This month, we are set to launch the latest weather satellite from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Joint Polar Satellite System-1, or JPSS-1, satellite will provide essential data for timely and accurate weather forecasts and for tracking environmental events such as forest fires and droughts.
Image Credit: Ball Aerospace
JPSS-1 is the primary satellite launching, but four tiny satellites will also be hitchhiking a ride into Earth orbit. These shoebox-sized satellites (part of our CubeSat Launch Initiative) were developed in partnership with university students and used for education, research and development. Here are 4 reasons why MiRaTA, one of the hitchhikers, is particularly interesting…
Miniaturized Weather Satellite Technology
The Microwave Radiometer Technology Acceleration (MiRaTA) CubeSat is set to orbit the Earth to prove that a small satellite can advance the technology necessary to reduce the cost and size of future weather satellites. At less than 10 pounds, these nanosatellites are faster and more cost-effective to build and launch since they have been constructed by Principal Investigator Kerri Cahoy’s students at MIT Lincoln Laboratory (with lots of help). There’s even a chance it could be put into operation with forecasters.
The Antenna? It’s a Measuring Tape
That long skinny piece coming out of the bottom right side under MiRaTA’s solar panel? That’s a measuring tape. It’s doubling as a communications antenna. MiRaTA will measure temperature, water vapor and cloud ice in Earth’s atmosphere. These measurements are used to track major storms, including hurricanes, as well as everyday weather. If this test flight is successful, the new, smaller technology will likely be incorporated into future weather satellites – part of our national infrastructure.
Tiny Package Packing a Punch
MiRaTA will also test a new technique using radio signals received from GPS satellites in a higher orbit. They will be used to measure the temperature of the same volume of atmosphere that the radiometer is viewing. The GPS satellite measurement can then be used for calibrating the radiometer. “In physics class, you learn that a pencil submerged in water looks like it’s broken in half because light bends differently in the water than in the air,” Principal Investigator Kerri Cahoy said. “Radio waves are like light in that they refract when they go through changing densities of air, and we can use the magnitude of the refraction to calculate the temperature of the surrounding atmosphere with near-perfect accuracy and use this to calibrate a radiometer.”
In the best-case scenario, three weeks after launch MiRaTA will be fully operational, and within three months the team will have obtained enough data to study if this technology concept is working. The big goal for the mission—declaring the technology demonstration a success—would be confirmed a bit farther down the road, at least half a year away, following the data analysis. If MiRaTA’s technology validation is successful, Cahoy said she envisions an eventual constellation of these CubeSats orbiting the entire Earth, taking snapshots of the atmosphere and weather every 15 minutes—frequent enough to track storms, from blizzards to hurricanes, in real time.
The mission is scheduled to launch this month (no sooner than Nov. 14), with JPSS-1 atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta II rocket lifting off from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. You’ll be able to watch on NASA TV or at nasa.gov/live.
Watch the launch live HERE on Nov. 14, liftoff is scheduled for Tuesday, 4:47 a.m.!
Scientists suspect that the 2015-2016 El Niño – one of the largest on record – was responsible. El Niño is a cyclical warming pattern of ocean circulation in the Pacific Ocean that affects weather all over the world. Before OCO-2, we didn’t have enough data to understand exactly how El Nino played a part.
Analyzing the first 28 months of data from our Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-2) satellite, researchers conclude that impacts of El Niño-related heat and drought occurring in the tropical regions of South America, Africa and Indonesia were responsible for the record spike in global carbon dioxide.
These three tropical regions released 2.5 gigatons more carbon into the atmosphere than they did in 2011. This extra carbon dioxide explains the difference in atmospheric carbon dioxide growth rates between 2011 and the peak years of 2015-16.
In 2015 and 2016, OCO-2 recorded atmospheric carbon dioxide increases that were 50% larger than the average increase seen in recent years preceding these observations.
In eastern and southern tropical South America, including the Amazon rainforest, severe drought spurred by El Niño made 2015 the driest year in the past 30 years. Temperatures were also higher than normal. These drier and hotter conditions stressed vegetation and reduced photosynthesis, meaning trees and plants absorbed less carbon from the atmosphere. The effect was to increase the net amount of carbon released into the atmosphere.
In contrast, rainfall in tropical Africa was at normal levels, but ecosystems endured hotter-than-normal temperatures. Dead trees and plants decomposed more, resulting in more carbon being released into the atmosphere.
Meanwhile, tropical Asia had the second-driest year in the past 30 years. Its increased carbon release, primarily from Indonesia, was mainly due to increased peat and forest fires – also measured by satellites.
We knew El Niños were one factor in these variations, but until now we didn’t understand, at the scale of these regions, what the most important processes were. OCO-2’s geographic coverage and data density are allowing us to study each region separately.
Why does the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere matter?
The concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere is constantly changing. It changes from season to season as plants grow and die, with higher concentrations in the winter and lower amounts in the summer. Annually averaged atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have generally increased year over year since the 1800s – the start of the widespread Industrial Revolution. Before then, Earth’s atmosphere naturally contained about 595 gigatons of carbon in the form of carbon dioxide. Currently, that number is 850 gigatons.
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, which means that it can trap heat. Since greenhouse gas is the principal human-produced driver of climate change, better understanding how it moves through the Earth system at regional scales and how it changes over time are important aspects to monitor.