Earlier this month, the southeastern United States was struck by Hurricane Michael. After the category 4 storm made landfall on Oct. 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael proceeded to knock out power for at least 2.5 million customers across Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia.
In this data visualization, you can clearly see where the lights were taken out in Panama City, Florida. A team of our scientists from Goddard Space Flight Center processed and corrected the raw data to filter out stray light from the Moon, fires, airglow, and any other sources that are not electric lights. They also removed atmosphere interference from dust, haze, and clouds.
In the visualization above, you can see a natural view of the night lights—and a step of the filtering process in an effort to clean up some of the cloud cover. The line through the middle is the path Hurricane Michael took.
Although the damage was severe, tens of thousands of electric power industry workers from all over the country—and even Canada—worked together to restore power to the affected areas. Most of the power was restored by Oct. 15, but some people still need to wait a little longer for the power grids to be rebuilt. Read more here.
Exactly sixty years ago today, we opened our doors for the first time. And since then, we have opened up a universe of discovery and innovation.
There are so many achievements to celebrate from the past six decades, there’s no way we can go through all of them. If you want to dive deeper into our history of exploration, check out NASA: 60 Years and Counting.
In the meantime, take a moonwalk down memory lane with us while we remember a few of our most important accomplishments from the past sixty years!
In 1958, President Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which effectively created our agency. We officially opened for business on October 1.
To learn more about the start of our space program, watch our video: How It All Began.
Alongside the U.S. Air Force, we implemented the X-15 hypersonic aircraft during the 1950s and 1960s to improve aircraft and spacecraft.
The X-15 is capable of speeds exceeding Mach 6 (4,500 mph) at altitudes of 67 miles, reaching the very edge of space.
Dubbed the “finest and most productive research aircraft ever seen,” the X-15 was officially retired on October 24, 1968. The information collected by the X-15 contributed to the development of the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle programs.
On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon. The crew of Apollo 11 had the distinction of completing the first return of soil and rock samples from beyond Earth.
Astronaut Gene Cernan, during Apollo 17, was the last person to have walked on the surface of the moon. (For now!)
The Lunar Roving Vehicle was a battery-powered rover that the astronauts used during the last three Apollo missions.
To learn more about other types of technology that we have either invented or improved, watch our video: Trailblazing Technology.
Our long-term Earth-observing satellite program began on July 23, 1972 with the launch of Landsat 1, the first in a long series (Landsat 9 is expected to launch in 2020!) We work directly with the U.S. Geological Survey to use Landsat to monitor and manage resources such as food, water, and forests.
Landsat data is one of many tools that help us observe in immense detail how our planet is changing. From algae blooms to melting glaciers to hurricane flooding, Landsat is there to help us understand our own planet better.
Off the Earth, for the Earth.
To learn more about how we contribute to the Earth sciences, watch our video: Home, Sweet Home.
Space Transportation System-1, or STS-1, was the first orbital spaceflight of our Space Shuttle program.
The first orbiter, Columbia, launched on April 12, 1981. Over the next thirty years, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour would be added to the space shuttle fleet.
Together, they flew 135 missions and carried 355 people into space using the first reusable spacecraft.
On January 16, 1978, we selected a class of 35 new astronauts–including the first women and African-American astronauts.
And on June 18, 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman to enter space on board Challenger for STS-7.
Everybody loves Hubble! The Hubble Space Telescope was launched into orbit on April 24, 1990, and has been blowing our minds ever since.
Hubble has not only captured stunning views of our distant stars and galaxies, but has also been there for once-in-a-lifetime cosmic events. For example, on January 6, 2010, Hubble captured what appeared to be a head-on collision between two asteroids–something no one has ever seen before.
In this image, Hubble captures the Carina Nebula illuminating a three-light-year tall pillar of gas and dust.
To learn more about how we have contributed to our understanding of the solar system and beyond, watch our video: What’s Out There?
Cooperation to build the International Space Station began in 1993 between the United States, Russia, Japan, and Canada.
The dream was fully realized on November 2, 2000, when Expedition 1 crew members boarded the station, signifying humanity’s permanent presence in space!
Although the orbiting lab was only a couple of modules then, it has grown tremendously since then!
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.