From the Jet Propulsion Laboratory:
The spinning vortex of Saturn’s north polar storm resembles a deep red rose of giant proportions surrounded by green foliage in this false-color image from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Measurements have sized the eye at a staggering 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) across with cloud speeds as fast as 330 miles per hour (150 meters per second).
This image is among the first sunlit views of Saturn’s north pole captured by Cassini’s imaging cameras. When the spacecraft arrived in the Saturnian system in 2004, it was northern winter and the north pole was in darkness. Saturn’s north pole was last imaged under sunlight by NASA’s Voyager 2 in 1981; however, the observation geometry did not allow for detailed views of the poles. Consequently, it is not known how long this newly discovered north-polar hurricane has been active.
The images were taken with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Nov. 27, 2012, using a combination of spectral filters sensitive to wavelengths of near-infrared light. The images filtered at 890 nanometers are projected as blue. The images filtered at 728 nanometers are projected as green, and images filtered at 752 nanometers are projected as red. In this scheme, red indicates low clouds and green indicates high ones.
The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 261,000 miles (419,000 kilometers) from Saturn and at a sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 94 degrees. Image scale is 1 mile (2 kilometers) per pixel.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.
For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov.. The Cassini imaging team homepage is at http://ciclops.org.
From NASA’s Earth Observatory:
As the state of California has suffered through four years of drought, Shasta Lake has stood as a potent symbol of the water shortage. The largest reservoir in the state—a critical source of water for human consumption and for the fertile farmland of the Central Valley—dropped to just 29 percent of its capacity by December 2015. Water levels stood more than 100 feet below normal.
Now, after a rain-soaked March, Shasta Lake holds 109 percent of its long-term average supply for this time of year. As of March 29, the 21-mile long reservoir held 4.004 million acre-feet of water, well above the historical average of 3.668 million acre-feet (maf). The amount of water in Shasta Lake has tripled since December, and the lake level has risen 134 feet. As recently as February 29, water storage stood at 2.766 maf (83 percent of average); at maximum capacity, the lake holds 4.5 maf.
The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on the Landsat 8 satellite acquired these three natural-color images of Shasta Lake, near Redding, California. The first image was acquired on April 13, 2015, while the second was acquired on March 30, 2016—roughly the mid-point of the California water year. The line plot shows the changes in the elevation of the lake surface above sea level. The third Landsat image (below) shows Shasta Lake on November 23, 2015, near the lowest water level of the year. Light tan colors on the shorelines are new beach areas that were uncovered as water levels dropped.
El Niño conditions in the Pacific have brought above-average precipitation totals to much of California, particularly near northern reservoirs. The second largest reservoir, Oroville, reached 69 percent of capacity (96 percent of historical average) in mid-March. Managers of Shasta and Oroville actually had to release some water through flood control systems due to heavy rain in late February and early March; that has not happened in five years.
While northern reservoirs appear to be in very good shape now, water resource managers and researchers cautioned that total water storage across the state is still below average and groundwater supplies have been severely depleted due to pumping during the drought.
“The unevenness of the precipitation is some concern, and the depth of remaining surface and subsurface storage drawdown from the drought remains sizable,” wrote University of California–Davis scientist Jay Lund on the California WaterBlog. “Overall, total surface storage in California is about 2.7 million acre-feet below average for this time of year (improved from an 8 maf surface storage deficit in October).”
“The drought by 2015 depleted total storage in California by about 22 maf cumulatively or nearly a year’s worth of water use in agriculture,” Lund added. “Storage is recovering during this wet season, but still has a good bit to go—probably 12–16 maf of drought storage drawdown remains, mostly from groundwater.”
From Earth Science Picture of the Day:
The above image of the South Island of New Zealand was taken on June 5, 2001, from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor onboard the Terra satellite. In early June, it’s late winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and the Southern Alps are almost entirely snow covered. Mount Cook (about 12,300 feet), the highest point on New Zealand, is located between the two elongated glacial lakes at the bottom left, along the spine of the Southern Alps. The larger lake is Lake Pukaki and the smaller lake to the northeast is Lake Tekapo. Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island, is just above the spur-like peninsula, Banks Peninsula, at the upper right. The Rakaia River can be seen below the spur.
From NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope website:
Hubble Sees a Galactic Sunflower
The arrangement of the spiral arms in the galaxy Messier 63, seen here in an image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, recall the pattern at the center of a sunflower. So the nickname for this cosmic object — the Sunflower Galaxy — is no coincidence.
Discovered by Pierre Mechain in 1779, the galaxy later made it as the 63rd entry into fellow French astronomer Charles Messier’s famous catalogue, published in 1781. The two astronomers spotted the Sunflower Galaxy’s glow in the small, northern constellation Canes Venatici (the Hunting Dogs). We now know this galaxy is about 27 million light-years away and belongs to the M51 Group — a group of galaxies, named after its brightest member, Messier 51, another spiral-shaped galaxy dubbed the Whirlpool Galaxy.
Galactic arms, sunflowers and whirlpools are only a few examples of nature’s apparent preference for spirals. For galaxies like Messier 63 the winding arms shine bright because of the presence of recently formed, blue–white giant stars and clusters, readily seen in this Hubble image.
Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA
Text credit: European Space Agency
From NASA’s Earth Observatory:
Grass Fires Char Kansas, Oklahoma
In late March 2016, wildfire raged across rural areas of Kansas and Oklahoma. Local authorities and media outlets are calling it the largest grass fire in Kansas history. The Anderson Creek fire started in northern Oklahoma on March 22 and proceeded to burn more than 620 square miles (1600 square kilometers) of prairie and cattle grazing land. No human deaths have been reported, though 600 cattle were killed by the fires. At least 16 homes and 25 structures were lost, as were countless miles of fencing.
The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired these two natural-color images of the fire. The first shows the extensive smoke plumes as winds whipped the fires on March 23, 2016. The second image shows the scarred land as it appeared on March 27.
The wildfire spread quickly due to dry conditions in the region; rainfall has been below normal this spring. By March 31, the fire was close to 90 percent contained, thanks to work by fire crews, the National Guard, and a few inches of snow. Click here to view drone footage of the fire at its peak.
Another awesome image from the Hubble Space Telescope:
Peering deep into the dusty heart of our Milky Way galaxy using infrared vision, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope reveals a rich tapestry of more than half a million stars. Except for a few blue foreground stars, the stars are part of the Milky Way’s nuclear star cluster, the most massive and densest star cluster in our galaxy. So packed with stars, it is equivalent to having a million suns crammed between us and our closest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri. At the very hub of our galaxy, this star cluster surrounds the Milky Way’s central supermassive black hole, which is about 4 million times the mass of our sun.
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA, Acknowledgment: T. Do, A.Ghez (UCLA), V. Bajaj (STScI)
From the Guardian:
Classified pictures showing CIA captives bruised, blindfolded and bound raise new questions about US’s willingness to use ‘sexual humiliation’ on suspects