Incredible timelapse by an MIT PhD

Alex Rivest has a PhD in Neuroscience from MIT. Oh, and he’s competiting to be a NASA astronaunt. Oh, and one more thing, he’s put together this beautifully artistic time lapse of earth as seen from the International Space Station. You see tons of aurora, the flickering of lightning from storms on the earth and the bright lights of the world’s largest cities. He also has a blog post that answers a lot of questions you may have after watching the video. You can find it here. Enjoy!

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Aurora Dances with Jupiter, Venus, and Pleiades

Excellent shot by Doug Kiesling in Saint Cloud, MN this July. On the left of the photo is the faint aurora in pink while on the right of the photo you can see Jupiter, Venus, and Pleiades, a cluster of young stars. By young I mean 100 million years old.

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Great Photos of Giant Sun Spot

Sun spots are areas on the surface of the sun of extreme magnetic activity. Very large ones have been known to cause significant solar storms and this one is quite large. You can see the “swirling” effect in the photo caused by the strong magnetic field lines much like those that you can observe when you use a magnet to align particles of graphite.

Here’s an interesting fact: The “black” spot on the sun is about as bright as a full moon. It’s only dark because the photos are taken with settings to make them stand out against the extremely bright background.

The black and white photo gives you a great sense of depth. These sun spots are 120,000 miles in width. Yeah, about halfway to the moon. No big deal.

A quick measurement shows both are about 200,000 kilometers (120,000 miles) across – fifteen times the width of the Earth! If one end were placed on Earth, it would stretch halfway to the Moon.

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Giant Rotating Storm Spotted on Saturn’s Moon

Titan, one of Saturn’s most interesting moons, has yet another mystery: a giant vortex on it’s south pole. Cassini spotted the vortex on June 27th, 2012. There are similar phenomena that occur on Earth that are associated with the changing of the seasons, but this vortex is especially interesting because it extends very high into the atmosphere.

the structure inside the vortex is reminiscent of the open cellular convection that is often seen over Earth’s oceans,” said Tony Del Genio, a Cassini team member at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, N.Y. “But unlike on Earth, where such layers are just above the surface, this one is at very high altitude, maybe a response of Titan’s stratosphere to seasonal cooling as southern winter approaches. But so soon in the game, we’re not sure.”


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Beautiful Photo of Milky Way

Absolutely stunning photograph of the milky way over Piton de l’Eau on Reunion Island. The photographer waited over two years for the perfect conditions to take this photo. Dedication! And well worth it I’d say.


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Sobering Photos of Nuclear Weapon Tests

Nuclear blast in the upper atmosphere in 1962

During the Cold War, the U.S. and Soviet Union detonated nuclear weapons in the upper atmosphere to study the dynamics of a nuclear explosion. Yes, we detonated nuclear bombs in our upper atmosphere. Can you imagine if a country did that today? Regardless, much was learned from the tests.

The more popular and well known test was Starfish Prime. July 9th marked the 50th anniversary of Starfish Prime which involved the detonation of a 1.4 megaton nuclear bomb about 900 miles south of Hawaii.

The feathery filament is from the bomb debris, while the red glow may be due to glowing oxygen atoms; this tends to be from atoms higher than 100 km, so the glow is probably due to the heavy ions impacting our air.

The blast also produced an EMP which was also caused by the rapid ejection of electrons. When electrons are accelerated as fiercely as they are during a nuclear blast, they create a very powerful magnetic field.

When the bomb detonated, those electrons underwent incredible acceleration. When that happens they create a brief but extremely powerful magnetic field. This is called an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP. The strength of the pulse was so huge that it affected the flow of electricity on the Earth hundreds of kilometers away! In Hawaii it blew out hundreds of streetlights, and caused widespread telephone outages. Other effects included electrical surges on airplanes and radio blackouts.

Read more here. Great article at Bad Astronomy!

Awesome Panoramic picture of mars

NASA released a 360 degree panoramic picture of the Martian terrain taken by Opportunity, the mars exploration rover. I guess scientists actually CAN take a decent picture? Pretty amazing if you ask me!

This full-circle scene combines 817 images taken by the panoramic camera (Pancam) on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. It shows the terrain that surrounded the rover while it was stationary for four months of work during its most recent Martian winter.

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saturn ring effects

I love the pictures from the NASA Cassini mission. This one is especially interesting because it displays the gravitational effects that Saturn’s moons have on its rings. You can see that it almost has a ripple effect as if it were flowing through a liquid.

Saturn’s moons Daphnis and Pan demonstrate their effects on the planet’s rings in this view from the Cassini spacecraft.

Read more here.

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One !@#$ty picture that means a lot

See that little tiny blue dot about halfway down the brown streak on the right side of the image? That’s earth. That’s right. Carl Sagan, an astronomy legend, requested that NASA take the image from Voyager 1. It really does show us how small we are.

Astronomer Carl Sagan requested that the picture be taken, and he subsequently reflected that ‘all of human history has happened on that tiny pixel, which is our only home.’

On a related note, there has been some buzz lately about the two Voyager crafts (which were launched in the 1970s) because they are getting very close to exiting the solar system. I believe there is some kind of “Heliosphere” that they will enter? Somehow the particles there are different or something… Pulling from memory here. The point is they aren’t so sure what will happen so it’s exciting!

Image source here.

Eddies spotted by ISS off Russia’s coast

Eddies are a whirlpool-like phenomena caused by obstructions of flow. You can find them everywhere! Just move your spoon through your cup of coffee and watch the eddies spin off. No, eddy is not a person…

Read more here.

The irregular south-eastern coastline of Kamchatka provokes large, circular eddy currents to spin off from the main south-westward-flowing Kamchatka current. Three such eddies are highlighted by surface ice floe patterns at image center. The patterns are very difficult (and dangerous) to navigate in an ocean vessel. While the floes may look thin and delicate from the ISS vantage point, even the smaller ice chunks are several metres across.