First map of Earth’s hidden groundwater reserves shows we’re using them too quickly

Modern-groundwater-map-printx_1024.jpgAn international team of hydrologists has come up with the best estimate yet for Earth’s total supply of groundwater, saying that nearly 23 million cubic kilometers of groundwater is contained in hidden reserves under the surface of the planet. And while that might sound like a lot, it’s not enough to sustain us if we keep consuming it as fast as we are right now.

The study suggests that less than 6 percent of groundwater in the upper 2 kilometers of the Earth’s landmass is renewable within a human lifetime. That statistic is concerning, not only because the uppermost water is what we can access for drinking, but also because the lengthy renewal cycle is slower than our consumption habits.

“This has never been known before,” said lead researcher Tom Gleeson of the University of Victoria in Canada. “We already know that water levels in lots of aquifers are dropping. We’re using our groundwater resources too fast – faster than they’re being renewed.”

To come up with their global groundwater map, the researchers compiled multiple data-sets, including data from almost a million watersheds and more than 40,000 groundwater models. Of the nearly 23 million cubic kilometers of total groundwater on the planet, approximately 0.35 million cubic kilometers is younger than 50 years old.

The distinction between young and old groundwater is important. Young (or modern) groundwater lies closer to the surface and is more likely to be drinkable. In comparison, older groundwater – which can date as far back as millions of years – lies deeper in Earth’s landmass, and may contain arsenic or uranium. It’s often stagnant and saltier than seawater, and as such, is only usually suitable for agricultural or industrial purposes.

Young groundwater’s proximity to the surface means it’s easier for us to access it and also easier to renew with fresh rainwater – but it’s also more readily exposed to human contamination and more vulnerable to environmental risks like climate change.

The researchers’ map reveals that most of Earth’s groundwater reserves are stored in tropical and mountain regions, including the Amazon Basin, the Congo, Indonesia, and in North and Central America. Arid regions, as one might presume to be the case, don’t have as much water underground.

“Intuitively, we expect drier areas to have less modern groundwater and more humid areas to have more, but before this study, all we had was intuition,“ said one of the team, Kevin Befus, who is now with the United States Geological Survey. ”Now, we have a quantitative estimate that we compared to geochemical observations.”

The researchers hope their findings, published in Nature Geoscience, will help water managers, policy developers, and scientists to better manage Earth’s remaining groundwater in more sustainable ways. In the meantime, Gleeson will be leading a new study, designed to track depletion rates on a global scale.

“Since we now know how much groundwater is being depleted and how much there is, we will be able to estimate how long until we run out,” he said.

Source: First map of Earth’s hidden groundwater reserves shows we’re using them too quickly

First map of Earth’s hidden groundwater reserves shows we’re using them too quickly

EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for 2015

The Delta Aquarid meteor shower – which always happens in late July and early August – is going on now, but bright moonlight is interfering. Click here for more about the Delta Aquarids. This shower overlaps with the famous Perseid meteor shower, which will peak on the mornings of August 11, 12 and 13. It’s going to be a wonderful year for the Perseids! The moon is out of the way. Click here for more about the Perseids. And follow the links below to learn what to expect for meteor showers during the rest of 2015.

January 3-4, 2015 Quadrantids

April 22-23, 2015 Lyrids

May 5-6, 2015 Eta Aquarids

July 28-29, 2015 Delta Aquarids

August 12-13, 2015 Perseids

October 8, 2015 Draconids

October 21-22, 2015 Orionids

November 4-5, 2015 South Taurids

November 12-13, 2015 North Taurids

November 17-18, 2015 Leonids

December 13-14, 2015 Geminids

A word about moonlight

Most important: a dark sky

Know your dates and times

Where to go to watch a meteor shower

What to bring with you

Are the predictions reliable?

Remember …

View larger. | Scott MacNeill created this wonderful composite image at Frosty Drew Observatory in Charlestown, Rhode Island, USA.  We love this image, because you can see the meteors coming from their radiant point in the constellation Perseus.  Thank you, Scott!

January 4, 2015 before dawn, the Quadrantids

Although the Quadrantids can produce over 100 meteors per hour, the sharp peak of this shower tends to last only a few hours, and doesn’t always come at an opportune time. In other words, you have to be in the right spot on Earth to view this meteor shower in all its splendor. The radiant point is in the part of the sky that used to be considered the constellation Quadrans Muralis the Mural Quadrant. You’ll find this radiant near the famous Big Dipper asterism (chart here), in the north-northeastern sky after midnight and highest up before dawn. Because the radiant is fairly far to the north on the sky’s dome, meteor numbers will be greater in the Northern Hemisphere. In 2015, watch in the wee hours – after midnight and before dawn – on January 4. Unfortunately, the almost-fullwaxing gibbous moon is out almost all night long, sitting low in the west in the dark hour before dawn.Click here to find out your moonset time..

Everything you need to know: Quadrantid meteor shower

Around the March equinox … fireball season. A fireball is just an especially bright meteor. Northern spring and southern autumn – for a few weeks around the March equinox – is a good time to see one. It’s fireball season — a time of year when bright meteors appear in greater numbers than usual. In fact, in the weeks around the equinox, the appearance rate of fireballs can increase by as much as 30 percent, says NASA.

April 22 and 23, 2015 before dawn, the Lyrids
The Lyrid meteor shower – April’s shooting stars – lasts from about April 16 to 25. Lyrid meteors tend to be bright and often leave trails. About 10-20 meteors per hour can be expected at their peak. Plus, the Lyrids are known for uncommon surges that can sometimes bring the rate up to 100 per hour. Those rare outbursts are not easy to predict, but they’re one of the reasons the tantalizing Lyrids are worth checking out around their peak morning. The radiant for this shower is near the bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra (chart here), which rises in the northeast at about 10 p.m. on April evenings.In 2015, the peak morning is April 23. Watch also on the morning of April 22. And you might also see Lyrid meteors before and after that date. The waxing crescent moon will set in the evening, leaving a dark for watching this year’s Lyrid shower.

Everything you need to know: Lyrid meteor shower

May 6, 2015 before dawn, the Eta Aquarids
This meteor shower has a relatively broad maximum – meaning you can watch it for several days around the predicted peak. However, in 2015, the bright waning gibbous moon is sure to diminish the numbers. The radiant is near the star Eta in the constellation Aquarius the Water Bearer (click here for chart). The radiant comes over the eastern horizon at about 4 a.m. local time; that is the time at all locations across the globe. For that reason, the hour or two before dawn tends to offer the most Eta Aquarid meteors, no matter where you are on Earth. At northerly latitudes – like those in the northern U.S. and Canada, or northern Europe, for example – the meteor numbers are typically lower for this shower. In the southern half of the U.S., 10 to 20 meteors per hour might be visible in a dark sky. Farther south – for example, at latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere – the meteor numbers may increase dramatically, with perhaps two to three times more Eta Aquarid meteors streaking the southern skies. For the most part, the Eta Aquarids is a predawn shower. In 2015, the bright waning gibbous moon will obscure this year’s production. The most meteors will probably rain down on May 6, in the dark hours before dawn. But watch on May 5 and 7 as well! The broad peak to this shower means that some meteors may fly in the dark hour before dawn for a few days before and after the predicted optimal date.

Everything you need to know: Eta Aquarid meteor shower

Late July and early August, 2015, the Delta Aquarids
Like the Eta Aquarids in May, the Delta Aquarid meteor shower in July favors the Southern Hemisphere and tropical latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere. The meteors appear to radiate from near the star Skat or Delta in the constellation Aquarius the Water Bearer. The maximum hourly rate can reach 15-20 meteors in a dark sky. The nominal peak is around July 27-30, but, unlike many meteor showers, the Delta Aquarids lack a very definite peak. Instead, these medium-speed meteors ramble along fairly steadily throughout late July and early August. An hour or two before dawn usually presents the most favorable view of the Delta Aquarids. At the shower’s peak in late July, 2015, the rather faint Delta Aquarid meteors will have to contend with moonlight. The waxing gibbous moon will be out until the wee hours after midnight. Try watching in late July predawn sky, after moonset.

Everything you need to know: Delta Aquarid shower

August 12-13, 2015 before dawn, the Perseids
The Perseid meteor shower is perhaps the most beloved meteor shower of the year for the Northern Hemisphere. Fortunately, the slender waning crescent moon rising at or near dawn will not obtrude on this year’s shower. The Perseid shower builds gradually to a peak, often produces 50 to 100 meteors per hour in a dark sky at the peak, and, for us in the Northern Hemisphere, this shower comes when the weather is warm. The Perseids tend to strengthen in number as late night deepens into midnight, and typically produce the most meteors in the wee hours before dawn. They radiate from a point in the constellation Perseus the Hero, but, as with all meteor shower radiant points, you don’t need to know Perseus to watch the shower; instead, the meteors appear in all parts of the sky. They are typically fast and bright meteors. They frequently leave persistent trains. Every year, you can look for the Perseids to peak around August 10-13. Predicted peak mornings in 2015: August 11, 12 and 13. The Perseids combine with the Delta Aquarid shower (above) to produce a dazzling display of shooting stars on what are, for us in the N. Hemisphere, warm summer nights. In 2015, as always, the Perseid meteors will be building to a peak from early August until the peak nights; afterwards, they drop off fairly rapidly. With little or no moon to ruin the show, this is a great year for watching the Perseid meteor shower.

Everything you need to know: Perseid meteor shower

October 8, 2015, the Draconids
The radiant point for the Draconid meteor shower almost coincides with the head of the constellation Draco the Dragon in the northern sky. That’s why the Draconids are best viewed from the Northern Hemisphere. The Draconid shower is a real oddity, in that the radiant point stands highest in the sky as darkness falls. That means that, unlike many meteor showers, more Draconids are likely to fly in the evening hours than in the morning hours after midnight. This shower is usually a sleeper, producing only a handful of languid meteors per hour in most years. But watch out if the Dragon awakes! In rare instances, fiery Draco has been known to spew forth many hundreds of meteors in a single hour. In 2015, the waning crescent moon rises at late night and will not intrude on this year’s Draconid shower. Try watching at nightfall and early evening on October 8 and 9.

Everything you need to know: Draconid Meteor shower

October 22, 2015 before dawn, the Orionids
On a dark, moonless night, the Orionids exhibit a maximum of about 10 to 20 meteors per hour. The waxing gibbous moon will be out the during the evening hours, but it’ll set before the prime time viewing hours, providing deliciously dark skies for this year’s Orionid shower. More meteors tend to fly after midnight, and the Orionids are typically at their best in the wee hours before dawn. These fast-moving meteors occasionally leave persistent trains. They sometimes produce bright fireballs, so watch for them to flame in the sky. If you trace these meteors backward, they seem to come from the Club of the famous constellation Orion the Hunter. You might know Orion’s bright, ruddy star Betelgeuse. The radiant is north of Betelgeuse. The Orionids have a broad and irregular peak that isn’t easy to predict. This year, 2015, presents a fine year for watching the Orionid meteor shower. The best viewing for the Orionids in 2015 will probably be before dawn on October 22. Try the days before and after that, too, sticking to the midnight-to-dawn hours..

Everything you need to know: Orionid meteor shower

Late night November 4 until dawn November 5, 2015, the South Taurids
Fortunately, the full moon will wash away all but the brightest South Taurid meteors. The meteoroid streams that feed the South (and North) Taurids are very spread out and diffuse. That means the Taurids are extremely long-lasting (September 25 to November 25) but usually don’t offer more than about 7 meteors per hour. That is true even on the South Taurids’ expected peak night. The Taurids are, however, well known for having a high percentage of fireballs, or exceptionally bright meteors. Plus, the other Taurid shower – the North Taurids – always adds a few more meteors to the mix during the South Taurids’ peak night. In 2015, the slim waning crescent moon coming up before dawn will not seriously obtrude on this year’s South Taurid meteor shower. The South Taurids should produce their greatest number of meteors in the wee hours – between midnight and dawn – on November 5. Remember, it’ll be possible to catch a fireball or two!

Late night November 12 until dawn November 13, 2015, the North Taurids
Like the South Taurids, the North Taurids meteor shower is long-lasting (October 12 – December 2) but modest, and the peak number is forecast at about 7 meteors per hour. The North and South Taurids combine, however, to provide a nice sprinkling of meteors throughout October and November. Typically, you see the maximum numbers at around midnight, when Taurus the Bull is highest in the sky. Taurid meteors tend to be slow-moving, but sometimes very bright. In 2015, the new moon comes only one day before the predicted peak, providing a dark sky for the 2015 North Taurid shower.

Late night November 17 until dawn November 18, 2015, the Leonids
Radiating from the constellation Leo the Lion, the famous Leonid meteor shower has produced some of the greatest meteor storms in history – at least one in living memory, 1966 – with rates as high as thousands of meteors per minute during a span of 15 minutes on the morning of November 17, 1966. Indeed, on that beautiful night in 1966, the meteors did, briefly, fall like rain. Some who witnessed the 1966 Leonid meteor storm said they felt as if they needed to grip the ground, so strong was the impression of Earth plowing along through space, fording the meteoroid stream. The meteors, after all, were all streaming from a single point in the sky – the radiant point – in this case in the constellation Leo the Lion. Leonid meteor storms sometimes recur in cycles of 33 to 34 years, but the Leonids around the turn of the century – while wonderful for many observers – did not match the shower of 1966. And, in most years, the Lion whimpers rather than roars, producing a maximum of perhaps 10-15 meteors per hour on a dark night. Like many meteor showers, the Leonids ordinarily pick up steam after midnight and display the greatest meteor numbers just before dawn. In 2015, the rather wide waxing crescent moon sets in the evening and won’t interfere with this year’s Leonid meteor shower. The peak morning will probably be November 18 – but try November 17, too.

Everything you need to know: Leonid meteor shower

December 13-14, 2015, mid-evening until dawn, Geminids
Radiating from near the bright stars Castor and Pollux in the constellation Gemini the Twins, the Geminid meteor shower is one of the finest meteors showers visible in either the Northern or the Southern Hemisphere. Best yet, there is no moon to obscure the 2015 Geminid shower. The meteors are plentiful, rivaling the August Perseids, with perhaps 50 to 100 meteors per hour visible at the peak. Plus Geminid meteors are often bright. These meteors are often about as good in the evening as in the hours between midnight and dawn. In 2015, the slender waxing crescent moon will set soon after the sun, providing a wonderful cover of darkness for the Geminid meteor shower. Your best bet is to watch on December 12-13 and 13-14, from mid-evening (9 to 10 p.m.) until dawn.

Animation Credit: NASA MSFC

A word about moonlight. In 2015, moonlight will not pose much of a problem for the April Lyrids, August Perseids, October Draconids, October Orionids, November South Taurids, November North Taurids, November Leonids and December Geminids. There’s some moon-free viewing time for the July Delta Aquarids. The nearly full moon gets in the way of the January Quadrantids and May Eta Aquarids. Our almanac page provides links for access to the moonrise and moonset times in your sky.

Most important: a dark sky. Here’s the first thing – the main thing – you need to know to become as proficient as the experts at watching meteors. That is, to watch meteors, you need a dark sky. It’s possible to catch a meteor or two or even more from the suburbs. But, to experience a true meteor shower – where you might see several meteor each minute – avoid city lights.

Know your dates and times. You also need to be looking on the right date, at the right time of night. Meteor showers occur over a range of dates, because they stem from Earth’s own movement through space. As we orbit the sun, we cross “meteor streams.” These streams of icy particles in space come from comets moving in orbit around the sun. Comets are fragile icy bodies that litter their orbits with debris. When this cometary debris enters our atmosphere, it vaporizes due to friction with the air. If moonlight or city lights don’t obscure the view, we on Earth see the falling, vaporizing particles as meteors. The Lyrids take place between about April 16 and 25. The peak morning in 2015 should be April 22, but you might catch Lyrid meteors on the nights around that date as well.

Where to go to watch a meteor shower. You can comfortably watch meteors from many places, assuming you have a dark sky: a rural back yard or deck, the hood of your car, the side of a road. State parks and national parks are good bets, but be sure they have a wide open viewing area, like a field; you don’t want to be stuck in the midst of a forest on meteor night. An EarthSky friend and veteran meteor-watcher and astrophotographer Sergio Garcia Rill also offers this specific advice:

… you might want to give it a try but don’t know where to go. Well, in planning my night photoshoots I use a variety of apps and web pages to know how dark the sky is in a certain location, the weather forecast, and how the night sky will look. Here’s the link toDark Sky Finder. It’s a website that shows the light pollution in and around cities in North America which has been fundamental for finding dark sites to setup shots. Dark Sky finder also has an app for iPhone and iPad which as of this writting is only 99 cents so you might want to look into that as well. For people not in North America, the Blue Marble Navigator might be able to help to see how bright are the lights near you.

The other tool I can suggest is the Clear Sky Chart. I’ve learned the hard way that, now matter how perfectly dark the sky is at your location, it won’t matter if there’s a layer of clouds between you an the stars. This page is a little hard to read, but it shows a time chart, with each column being an hour, and each row being one of the conditions like cloud coverage and darkness. Alternatively, you could try to see the regular weather forecast at the weather channel or your favorite weather app.

What to bring with you. You don’t need special equipment to watch a meteor shower. If you want to bring along equipment to make yourself more comfortable, consider a blanket or reclining lawn chair, a thermos with a hot drink, binoculars for gazing at the stars. Be sure to dress warmly enough, even in spring or summer, especially in the hours before dawn. Binoculars are fun to have, too. You won’t need them for watching the meteor shower, but, especially if you have a dark sky, you might not be able to resist pointing them at the starry sky.

Are the predictions reliable? Although astronomers have tried to publish exact predictions in recent years, meteor showers remain notoriously unpredictable. Your best bet is to go outside at the times we suggest, and plan to spend at least an hour, if not a whole night, reclining comfortably while looking up at the sky. Also remember that meteor showers typically don’t just happen on one night. They span a range of dates. So the morning before or after a shower’s peak might be good, too.

Remember … meteor showers are like fishing. You go, you enjoy nature … and sometimes you catch something.

Peak dates are derived from data published in the Observer’s Handbook by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and Guy Ottewell’s Astronomical Calendar.

Dick Dionne in Green Valley, Arizona caught this bright Taurid fireball on November 15, 2014.  Many reported fireballs in early November this year!

EarthSky Facebook friend Eddie Popovits caught this Perseid fireball in early August 2014.

Eta Aquarid meteor captured on May 6, 2014 by Mike Taylor.  Visit Taylor Photography.

View larger. | Simon Waldram in the Canary Islands caught this Lyrid meteor on the night of April 20-21, 2014.  Thank you, Simon!

Mike O'Neal posted this on the EarthSky Facebook page today (April 22).  He wrote, 'Had mostly cloudy sky, but did see some beautiful ones between the breaks.'

A North Taurid meteor seen fleeing its radiant point near the Pleiades in the constellation Taurus.  Captured by EarthSky Facebook friend Abhijit Juvekar on November 12, 2013.  Thank you, Abhijit!

View larger. | Scott MacNeill created this wonderful composite image at Frosty Drew Observatory in Charlestown, Rhode Island, USA.  We love this image, because you can see the meteors coming from their radiant point in the constellation Perseus.  Thank you, Scott!

Eta Aquarid meteor seen by EarthSky Facebook friend Ann Dinsmore on the morning of May 5, 2013.  View larger.  Thanks Ann!

From EarthSky Facebook friend Guy Livesay. He wrote, ' Didn't see many Lyrids on the 21st or 22nd in Eastern NC. This is from the 21st. There's actually 2 in this shot very close together.'

Bottom line: The Lyrid meteor shower is next on the mornings of April 22 and 23. April 23 will probably have more meteors. Details on how to watch, plus listings of all major meteor showers in 2015.

EarthSky’s top 10 tips for meteor-watchers

 Source:  EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for 2015

EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for 2015

Why we live on Earth and not Venus

Compared to its celestial neighbours Venus and Mars, Earth is a pretty habitable place. So how did we get so lucky? A new study sheds light on the improbable evolutionary path that enabled Earth to sustain life.

The research, published this week in Nature Geoscience, suggests that Earth’s first crust, which was rich in radioactive heat-producing elements such as uranium and potassium, was torn from the planet and lost to space when asteroids bombarded the planet early in its history. This phenomenon, known as impact erosion, helps explain a landmark discovery made over a decade ago about the Earth’s composition.

Researchers with the University of British Columbia and University of California, Santa Barbara say that the early loss of these two elements ultimately determined the evolution of Earth’s plate tectonics, magnetic field and climate.

“The events that define the early formation and bulk composition of Earth govern, in part, the subsequent tectonic, magnetic and climatic histories of our planet, all of which have to work together to create the Earth in which we live,” said Mark Jellinek, a professor in the Department of Earth, Ocean & Atmospheric Sciences at UBC. “It’s these events that potentially differentiate Earth from other planets.”

On Earth, shifting tectonic plates cause regular overturning of Earth’s surface, which steadily cools the underlying mantle, maintains the planet’s strong magnetic field and stimulates volcanic activity. Erupting volcanoes release greenhouse gases from deep inside the planet and regular eruptions help to maintain the habitable climate that distinguishes Earth from all other rocky planets.

Venus is the most similar planet to Earth in terms of size, mass, density, gravity and composition. While Earth has had a stable and habitable climate over geological time, Venus is in a climate catastrophe with a thick carbon dioxide atmosphere and surface temperatures reaching about 470 C. In this study, Jellinek and Matt Jackson, an associate professor at the University of California, explain why the two planets could have evolved so differently.

“Earth could have easily ended up like present day Venus,” said Jellinek. “A key difference that can tip the balance, however, may be differing extents of impact erosion.”

With less impact erosion, Venus would cool episodically with catastrophic swings in the intensity of volcanic activity driving dramatic and billion-year-long swings in climate.

“We played out this impact erosion story forward in time and we were able to show that the effect of the conditions governing the initial composition of a planet can have profound consequences for its evolution. It’s a very special set of circumstances that make Earth.”

Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by University of British ColumbiaNote: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. A. M. Jellinek, M. G. Jackson. Connections between the bulk composition, geodynamics and habitability of EarthNature Geoscience, 2015; DOI: 10.1038/ngeo2488
Why we live on Earth and not Venus

Latest Pics From New Horizons Reveal Flowing Ices And Pluto’s Dark Side

New Horizons says goodbye to Pluto

New Horizons says goodbye to Pluto

Sayonara, Pluto! This image was captured by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft from 1.25 million miles away on July 15th, immediately following its flyby of the dwarf planet. Pluto appears in silhouette, backlit by the Sun, while the white outline is the haze in Pluto’s atmosphere, which has been revealed by New Horizons to be several times thicker than previously estimated. In fact, there are two distinct levels of haze visible in the new images, one at 30 miles above Pluto’s surface and another at 50 miles above.

Beamed across billions of miles and a very narrow bandwidth, the latest images from the Pluto flyby were worth waiting for. One reveals the view from New Horizons after it sped past Pluto and looked back to study its atmosphere. “This is our equivalent on New Horizons of the Apollo 11 earthrise,” says New Horizons’ Alan Stern.

It is both beautiful and mysterious. Backlighting by the sun shows that Pluto’s atmosphere is about four times taller than scientists thought was possible. It has two distinct layers of haze–one at 30 miles above the surface, and another at 50 miles. The haze extends to about 80 miles out, whereas scientists previously thought that it could only extend to 20 miles.

From a NASA press release:

Models suggest that the hazes form when ultraviolet sunlight breaks apart methane gas, a simple hydrocarbon known to reside throughout Pluto’s atmosphere. The breakdown of methane triggers the buildup of more complex hydrocarbon gases, such as ethylene and acetylene, which were also discovered at Pluto by New Horizons. As these hydrocarbons fall to the lower, colder parts of the atmosphere, they condense as ice particles, forming the hazes. Ultraviolent sunlight chemically converts hazes into tholins, the dark hydrocarbons that color Pluto’s surface.

Another image suggests that ice sheets have scraped across Pluto’s “Sputnik Plains” sometime in recent history–within the last 10s of millions of years–and may still be doing so today. So far, evidence of this phenomenon has only ever been observed on Earth and Mars. “From what we know of the heat flow coming from interior, there’s no reason that this stuff cannot be going on today,” said New Horizons’ Bill McKinnon.

Flowing ice on Pluto

Flowing ice on Pluto

Images of Pluto’s surface captured by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft reveal that a giant sheet of ice recently flowed — and could still be flowing now — in a plain in the western half of Pluto’s “heart,” also known as Tombaugh Regio.

The image shows an area that’s about 250 miles across. It shows evidence of deep and extensive erosion, while the top shows evidence of a viscous ice flow filling in a crater. “The plains seem to have moved and surrounded the mountains,” said McKinnon. “To see evidence of recent geological activity is a dream come true.”

Flowing Ices On Pluto

NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

You can fly over Sputnik Planum in this NASA video:

Our map of Pluto is starting to get pretty detailed now:

Pluto's mountains contain a Cthulhu

Pluto’s mountains contain a Cthulhu

Among the many fun new names given to features of Pluto’s landscape that were revealed by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is an especially eye-popping one: Cthulhu, the name given to the dark, heavily-cratered region on Pluto’s southern hemisphere and a reference to the fictional ancient, squid-faced “Elder God” deity created by sci-fi writer H.P. Lovecraft.

And speaking of detail, remember that incredible image of Pluto’s heart that New Horizons sent back just before the flyby? Well, it just got even better.

This is our best image of Pluto yet

This is our best image of Pluto yet

A global mosaic of Pluto captured by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft and released on July 24 reveals Pluto and its distinctive heart-shaped feature in more eye-popping detail than ever captured. The image was created by combining four separate captures from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) with color data from the Ralph Instrument on New Horizons, and contains twice the amount of detail compared to the view captured on July 13.

Latest Pics From New Horizons Reveal Flowing Ices And Pluto’s Dark Side

NASA’s New Horizons Finds Second Mountain Range in Pluto’s ‘Heart’

Pluto's mountain range

A newly discovered mountain range lies near the southwestern margin of Pluto’s Tombaugh Regio (Tombaugh Region), situated between bright, icy plains and dark, heavily-cratered terrain. This image was acquired by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14, 2015 from a distance of 48,000 miles (77,000 kilometers) and sent back to Earth on July 20. Features as small as a half-mile (1 kilometer) across are visible.

Pluto’s icy mountains have company. NASA’s New Horizons mission has discovered a new, apparently less lofty mountain range on the lower-left edge of Pluto’s best known feature, the bright, heart-shaped region named Tombaugh Regio (Tombaugh Region).

These newly-discovered frozen peaks are estimated to be one-half mile to one mile (1-1.5 kilometers) high, about the same height as the United States’ Appalachian Mountains. The Norgay Montes (Norgay Mountains) discovered by New Horizons on July 15 more closely approximate the height of the taller Rocky Mountains.

The new range is just west of the region within Pluto’s heart called Sputnik Planum (Sputnik Plain). The peaks lie some 68 miles (110 kilometers) northwest of Norgay Montes.

This newest image further illustrates the remarkably well-defined topography along the western edge of Tombaugh Regio.

“There is a pronounced difference in texture between the younger, frozen plains to the east and the dark, heavily-cratered terrain to the west,” said Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI) at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “There’s a complex interaction going on between the bright and the dark materials that we’re still trying to understand.”

While Sputnik Planum is believed to be relatively young in geological terms – perhaps less than 100 million years old – the darker region probably dates back billions of years. Moore notes that the bright, sediment-like material appears to be filling in old craters (for example, the bright circular feature to the lower left of center).

This image was acquired by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14 from a distance of 48,000 miles (77,000 kilometers) and sent back to Earth on July 20. Features as small as a half-mile (1 kilometer) across are visible. The names of features on Pluto have all been given on an informal basis by the New Horizons team.

Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

Source: NASA’s New Horizons Finds Second Mountain Range in Pluto’s ‘Heart’

NASA’s New Horizons Finds Second Mountain Range in Pluto’s ‘Heart’

NASA Views Complex World: New Horizons Pluto Science Update Set for July 24

Pluto's mountain range

A newly discovered mountain range lies near the southwestern margin of Pluto’s Tombaugh Regio (Tombaugh Region), situated between bright, icy plains and dark, heavily-cratered terrain. This image was acquired by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14, 2015 from a distance of 48,000 miles (77,000 kilometers) and received on Earth on July 20. Features as small as a half-mile (1 kilometer) across are visible.
Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

Members of NASA’s New Horizons team will hold a science update at 2 p.m. EDT Friday, July 24, to reveal new images and discuss latest science results from the spacecraft’s historic July 14 flight through the Pluto system.

The briefing will be held in the James E. Webb Auditorium at NASA Headquarters, located at 300 E St. SW in Washington. NASA Television and the agency’s website will carry the briefing live.

The briefing participants are:

  • Jim Green, director of Planetary Science at NASA Headquarters
  • Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado
  • Michael Summers, New Horizons co-investigator at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia
  • William McKinnon, New Horizons co-investigator at Washington University in St. Louis
  • Cathy Olkin, New Horizons deputy project scientist at SwRI

Media may ask questions by telephone. To participate by phone, reporters must send an email providing their name, affiliation and telephone number to Felicia Chou at felicia.chou@nasa.gov by noon Friday. Media and the public also may ask questions during the briefing on Twitter using the hashtag #askNASA.

For NASA TV streaming video, scheduling and downlink information, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

For more information on the New Horizons mission, including fact sheets, schedules, video and images, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons

NASA Views Complex World: New Horizons Pluto Science Update Set for July 24

#DSCOVR today’s new image of #Earth. What made the Blue Marble so special? #EarthRightNow

It was the first full photo of the Earth, taken on December 7, 1972, by the American crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft. The original Blue Marble is thought by many to be the most-reproduced image of all time.

What made the Blue Marble so special? Sure, it might have been the first full photo of the Earth that we took, but we’ve taken a bunch more since then.

Like this one.

And this one.

And this one.

So why is the “Blue Marble” a bigger deal than these? Turns out, it’s quite tricky to take a good photo of the entire Earth.

The first challenge is that our planet is big. The only way to view all of it at once is to get much farther away from the Earth than we do for many of our activities in outer space. The International Space Station, for instance, orbits at a height of just 400 kilometers, or about 249 miles away from Earth.

The second problem is a familiar one that plagues many photographers who are Earthbound: lighting. In order to view the Earth as a fully illuminated globe, a person (or camera) must be situated in front of it, with the sun directly at his or her back. Not surprisingly, it can be difficult to arrange this specific lighting scheme for a camera-set up that’s orbiting in space at speeds approaching thousands of miles per hour.

As a result of these challenges, NASA, NOAA, and other science agencies most often rely on composite images to depict our planet. These images stitch together multiple high-resolution snapshots taken by satellites already in orbit to produce one seamless portrait of the Earth. And that’s what the three photos above are: composite images produced by NASA over the past fifteen years (released respectively in 2002, 2007, and 2012).

Composite imaging is an extremely useful tool for helping people understand the Earth — they allow researchers to capture certain features at higher resolution; reduce the obscuring effect of cloud coverage in certain areas; and overlay various data layers to help identify patterns and trends. Composites can result in some truly remarkable images, like this “Black Marble,” which, by stitching together multiple views of the planet, shows a full global view of the Earth’s city lights.

But there’s something remarkable about a single snapshot of the Earth — an intact view of our planet in its entirety, hanging in space.

Apollo 17 astronaut Eugene Cernan explained:

“…you’re looking at the most beautiful star in the heavens — the most beautiful because it’s the one we understand and we know, it’s home, it’s people, family, love, life — and besides that it is beautiful. You can see from pole to pole and across oceans and continents and you can watch it turn and there’s no strings holding it up, and it’s moving in a blackness that is almost beyond conception.”

That’s why today, I am excited to see that NASA has released its new Blue Marble, the first of many more to come later this year.

This Blue Marble is the first fully illuminated snapshot of the Earth captured by the DSCOVR satellite, a joint NASA, NOAA, and U.S. Air Force mission. After launching in February 2015, DSCOVR spent months rocketing away from Earth before reaching its final orbit position in June 2015 at Lagrange point 1 (L1), about one million miles away from Earth. (A Lagrange point, in case you were wondering, is “a position where the gravitational pull of two large masses precisely equals the centripetal force required for a small object to move with them.” For our purposes, that means that a Lagrange point is a spot at which a satellite can maintain a fixed position relative to the Earth.)

DSCOVR just after launch.

The DSCOVR mission serves several important purposes, including providing scientific data on heat and radiation fluxes across the Earth’s atmosphere, and maintaining the nation’s ability to provide timely alerts and forecasts for space weather events, which can disrupt telecommunications capabilities, power grids, GPS applications, and other systems vital to our daily lives and national and local economies.

And with its Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (which has an epic acronym. Seriously. It’s EPIC), DSCOVR will capture and transmit full images of the Earth every few hours! The information gathered by EPIC will help us examine a range of Earth properties, such as ozone and aerosol levels, cloud coverage, and vegetation density, supporting a number of climate science applications.

One of the best parts of this mission is that NASA will make all of the data, data products, and images collected by DSCOVR freely available to the public, including the new “Blue Marble” images. Starting soon, you’ll be able to view and download new “Blue Marble” images taken by DSCOVR every day.

In addition to providing useful data to scientists and researchers, these images will remind all of us that we live on a planet, in a solar system, in a universe. And that we are not just Americans, but citizens of Earth.

Source: A New Blue Marble

#DSCOVR today’s new image of #Earth. What made the Blue Marble so special? #EarthRightNow

NASA’s Next Giant Leap

Artist's concept image of a boot print on the moon and on Mars.

The first humans who will step foot on Mars are walking the Earth today.

It was 45 years ago that Neil Armstrong took the small step onto the surface of the moon that changed the course of history. The years that followed saw a Space Age of scientific, technological and human research, on which we have built the modern era. We stand on a new horizon, poised to take the next giant leap—deeper into the solar system. The Apollo missions blazed a path for human exploration to the moon and today we are extending that path to near-Earth asteroids, Mars and beyond.

Technology drives exploration and we’re building on the Apollo program’s accomplishments to test and fly transformative, cutting-edge technologies today for tomorrow’s missions. As we develop and test the new tools of 21st century spaceflight on the Journey to Mars, we once again will change the course of history.

The Path to Mars begins with research on Earth and extends beyond its bounds, aboard the orbiting laboratory of the International Space Station, with our international partners. Some 250 miles above our heads, astronauts are conducting hundreds of experiments not possible on Earth, teaching us how humans can live, work and thrive for longer periods in space.

comicon.jpg
On the 45th Anniversary of Apollo 11’s return to Earth, actor Seth Green moderated a Comic-Con panel with Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Planetary Division Director Jim Green, NASA astronaut Mike Fincke and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Systems Engineer Bobak Ferdowsi.

To help this nation send humans to deep space and return them to Earth safely, engineers across the country are developing a new space transportation capability, destined to travel far beyond our home planet. The Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket will be the most advanced space vehicles ever built. Together, they will take us farther into the solar system than humans have ever traveled. They are our spaceship to Mars and beyond.

As we build on the lessons of the space station and turn our eyes toward Mars, we are designing missions to take us to a “proving ground” around the moon called cis-lunar space, where some of the very building blocks of the solar system can be explored.

Near-Earth asteroids provide a unique opportunity to test the new technologies and capabilities we need for future human missions to Mars. Around 2019, we’ll launch a robotic mission to rendezvous with a near-Earth asteroid. The spacecraft either will capture an asteroid in its entirety or retrieve a boulder off of a much larger asteroid, then redirect the asteroid mass to a stable orbit around the moon.

In the mid 2020s, astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft, launched by SLS, will explore that asteroid and return to Earth with samples.

The new technologies we test through the Asteroid Redirect Mission, and the new human spaceflight capabilities we prove by sending astronauts to study the asteroid, will make important advances to safely send humans to Mars. This includes tools like Solar Electric Propulsion, a highly efficient way to help us transport large objects and heavy cargo to support future Mars missions. NASA will continue to make significant investments in new technologies vital to achieving exploration goals. This includes advancements in entry, descent and landing technologies such as Low Density Supersonic Decelerators.

Sending humans to deep space around the moon also will help advance techniques for space operations on and around Mars and its moons. The space around our moon is different than low-Earth orbit but very similar to what an Orion spacecraft will experience on the trip to and from Mars. For instance, solar and cosmic radiation is intense. We also can use cis-lunar space to begin practicing activities in deep space, like spacewalks, and learn to cope with delays in communication with Earth because of the distance.

Mars beckons us to explore. Missions to Mars could answer some of the fundamental questions of humanity: Does life exist beyond Earth? Could humans live on Mars in the future?

The journey to answer these questions has risks, but the rewards for humanity are worth it. Meeting the remaining challenges ahead of us to send humans to Mars will take the ingenuity and innovation of the entire nation and our international partners.

This next decade of exploration will be an exciting time of rapid technological development and testing. In December 2014, we’ll conduct the first test flight of Orion. In 2015, the New Horizons Mission will fly by Pluto and see the icy world up close for the first time. 2016 will see launches of two other Mars missions, InSight and the European Space Agency’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, as well as asteroid sample return mission OSIRIS-REx. By the end of 2017, U.S. commercial companies will begin launching astronauts from U.S. soil to the space station. In Fiscal Year 2018, we’ll fly SLS and Orion together on a test mission to a stable orbit around the moon called a “Distant Retrograde Orbit” (DRO), where astronauts will explore a relocated asteroid in the 2020s. In 2018, Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, will extend our senses farther into space and time, to see light from the universe’s first stars. In about 2019, we’ll launch the robotic spacecraft to capture and redirect an asteroid. In 2020, we’ll send a new rover to Mars, to follow in the footsteps of Curiosity, search for evidence of life, and pave the way for future human explorers. In 2021, SLS and Orion will launch humans on the first crewed mission of the combined system. In the mid-2020s, astronauts will explore an asteroid redirected to DRO around the moon, and return home with samples that could hold clues to the origins of the solar system and life on Earth. In doing so, those astronauts will travel farther into the solar system than anyone has ever been.

Source: NASA’s Next Giant Leap

NASA’s Next Giant Leap

Take a look at the 1st “Blue Marble” image since 1972! Learn more about #DSCOVR #EarthRightNow

CKXYtgKWwAAOHLhThe Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) is an Earth-observing satellite, originally proposed by former Vice President Al Gore in 1998. Inspired by Apollo 17’s photograph, The Blue Marble—the first image to show the fully illuminated face of our planet—Vice President Gore challenged NASA to create a satellite that would allow anyone to view Earth and its changing face through a continuous real-time image via the Internet.

After years of delay, DSCOVR was finally launched from Cape Canaveral onboard a Space X Falcon 9 rocket on February 11, 2015. The mission is a partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization (NOAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the United States Air Force.

DSCOVR is located at the LaGrangian Point 1, or “L1,” a unique point in space—more than 1 million miles from Earth—where the gravity of the Earth and Sun are balanced. From L1,DSCOVR co-orbits the Earth and conducts its scientific missions, which include the first ever measurement of the energy budget for planet Earth.

Source: Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR)

Take a look at the 1st “Blue Marble” image since 1972! Learn more about #DSCOVR #EarthRightNow

This Is How The World’s Climate Changed Last Year

The state of the world’s climate is complex enough that it takes 413 scientists from 58 countries half a year to completely summarize a year’s worth of data.

And 2014 was a doozy.

According to the American Meteorological Society and NOAA’s “State of the Climate in 2014″report, several markers measuring the earth’s climatic trends set historical records. This is the 25th year that scientists have provided this report, and it was full of hundreds of pages of detailed atmospheric and oceanic summaries of what’s happening to our air, land, and water.

“The year 2014 was forecast to be a warm year, and it was by all accounts a very warm year, in fact record warm according to four independent observational datasets,” the report said. The reason: “the radiative forcing by long-lived greenhouse gases continued to increase, owing to rising levels of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and other radiatively active trace gases.”

The world’s experts know that climate change is happening, and why, and provide reports like these every year spelling out the impacts in excruciating detail.

“The variety of indicators shows us how our climate is changing, not just in temperature but from the depths of the oceans to the outer atmosphere,” said Thomas R. Karl, director of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

For those without the time to peruse nearly 300 pages of scientific summaries, here are seven records that fell in 2014.

Heat

Average temperature in 2014 compared to the 1981-2010 average. Adapted from Plate 2.1c in State of the Climate in 2014.

Average temperature in 2014 compared to the 1981-2010 average. Adapted from Plate 2.1c in State of the Climate in 2014.

Though the world knew this back in January thanks to NOAA data, the report confirmed, and elaborated upon, the certainty around the record broken by 2014 as the hottest year on record.

With the glaring exception of the eastern North American continent, many countries — more than 20 — broke high temperature records last year. Much of Europe and Mexico had their hottest years, while Australia, Argentina, Uruguay, and much of Africa came close.

“Australia’s annual mean temperature anomaly, with respect to 1961–90, was +0.91°C, making 2014 the third warmest year for the country since national temperature records began in 1910,” the report said. The year before, 2013, was the hottest year on record.

With emissions continuing and El Nino coming on strong, it should not be a surprise that 2015 looks to easily break 2014’s global average surface temperature record.

Sea Levels

To convey the surreality of their findings, G.C. Johnson and A.R. Parsons, the authors of the Global Oceans section of the report used a tactic uncommon in climatology. Haikus. Haikus for sea level rise and rising temperatures.

Not quite El Niño,
North Oceans’ fluxes, warmth shift,
dance with weird weather.

Seas warm, ice caps melt,
waters rise, sour, rains shift salt,
unceasing, worldwide.

Measuring average global sea level is fantastically complex stuff. Winds can move large volumes of water around, temperature shifts can make the ocean shrink in some places and not others, while the daily tides, currents, and other variables conspire together to sabotage an accurate reading. So experts use a variety of different measurements and data streams to get something accurate and useful. And it told them that 2014 broke another sea level record.

slr

“Owing to both ocean warming and land ice melt contributions, global mean sea level in 2014 was also record high and 67 mm greater than the 1993 annual mean, when satellite altimetry measurements began,” the report said.

Sea levels do not rise when icebergs or ice sheets floating in them melt — the water has already been displaced. Melting land ice does make sea levels rise, and this is the cause of sea level rise that most people know. However, the heat being pumped into the oceans from the greenhouse effect not only increases the temperature, it also causes the water to expand, which makes sea levels rise.

Hot Days, Warm Nights

daysnights

Most of Europe had excessively large numbers of hot days and nights — daily maxima and minima. Several countries set records for warmest annual values.

“These continuous warm anomalies contributed to 2014 seeing the largest frequency of warm days and nights on record: on a continental average over a quarter of days (and nights) had temperatures in the warmest 10% of the climatological (1961–90) temperature distribution,” the report said.

The winter minimum in most of Alaska was also the warmest on record, which helped it break its regional heat record.

Storms In Hot Water

“Across the major tropical cyclone basins, 91 named storms were observed during 2014, above the 1981–2010 global average of 82,” the report said. “The Eastern/Central Pacific and South Indian Ocean basins experienced significantly above-normal activity in 2014; all other basins were either at or below normal.”

By many accounts, however, 2014 was a weak year for tropical cyclones, especially compared to the large number of strong storms in 2013. But the strong cyclones of 2014 were often extremely powerful.

Of the 91 named storms, seven became Category 5 systems: Marie and Genevieve, Cyclone Gillian, and then Super Typhoons Halong, Vongfong, Nuri, and Hagupit.

“The rate of typhoons that reached super typhoon status in 2014 was 67%, exceeding the previous record rate of 58% in 1970,” the report noted. Usually, only 23 percent of normal typhoons can hit super typhoon intensity each year.

Yearly mean Optimal Interpolation of Sea Surface Temperature anomaly.

Yearly mean Optimal Interpolation of Sea Surface Temperature anomaly.

One factor at play is extremely high ocean surface temperatures.

“But it was the oceans that drove the record global surface temperature in 2014,” the report said. “Although 2014 was largely ENSO-neutral [EL Niño Southern Oscillation], the globally averaged sea surface temperature (SST) was the highest on record.”

Disappearing Glaciers

“In higher latitudes and at higher elevations, increased warming continued to be visible in the decline of glacier mass balance, increasing permafrost temperatures, and a deeper thawing layer in seasonally frozen soil,” the report said. This was particularly dramatic in Greenland. Warm temperatures melt ice faster than snowfall can replenish it, and darker melt pools on the top of the glaciers absorb more energy from the sun than frozen white ice.

This has been going on for decades, and the rate has been accelerating:

glacierloss

The World Glacier Monitoring Service received preliminary data from Argentina, Austria, Chile, China, France, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States. It indicated that for the 31st consecutive year, the world saw no “positive annual balances,” of the water stored by glaciers. Specifically, the earth saw the loss of 0.853 meters of water equivalent — “the equivalent depth of water resulting from snow or ice melt.”

Since 1980, that cumulative mass balance loss hit 16.8 meters in 2014.

Pollution

The report said carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide all hit record concentrations in the atmosphere last year, as they have for essentially each year beforehand.

“Carbon dioxide increased by 1.9 ppm [parts per million] to reach a globally averaged value of 397.2 ppm for 2014,” the abstract began. “Altogether, 5 major and 15 minor greenhouse gases contributed 2.94 W/m² of direct radiative forcing, which is 36% greater than their contributions just a quarter century ago.”

ghgemissionschart

Some climate watchers are familiar with the Keeling Curve, which has plotted the carbon dioxide concentration readings taken from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii since 1958. In 2013, the tracker passed above 400 ppm for the first time in recorded history, and each year since, more days have been spent above that symbolic number.

Using other measurements to supplement the data, the report estimated that the 2014 global average was 397.2 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere, a 1.9 ppm bump from 2013. This year, the number will continue its inexorable climb, unless global emissions slow significantly.

One graph unknown to most is the methane concentration graph, let alone the nitrous oxide graph. Those, according to the report, show a similar upward sweep. The CFC graph at the bottom alone displays a slow decline in atmospheric concentrations because the world came together more than 25 years ago to address the hole in the ozone layer CFCs were creating, and agreed on the Montreal Protocol. This limited CFCs’ use in aerosols and other products. They were largely replaced, however, by HFCs, which are also extremely potent greenhouse gases.

The CFC graph shows what a successful emissions reduction regime might look like for the other greenhouse gases.

Source: This Is How The World’s Climate Changed Last Year

This Is How The World’s Climate Changed Last Year