If You Happen To Live In A Place With Little Or No Light Pollution

In this 30-second exposure, a meteor streaks across the sky during the annual Perseid meteor shower in Spruce Knob, W.Va. Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images

Tonight is the best night for viewing this spectacle. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this heads up:

The ‘Best Meteor Shower Of The Year’ Is Peaking Soon. Here’s How You Can Watch

The Perseid meteor shower is upon us, peaking this week, and it will fill the night sky with streaks of light and color until Aug. 24. Continue reading

The Camera’s Gift To The Task Of Documenting Climate Change

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The safety officer Brian Rougeux assembles a radar dome while working at the research camp above Helheim Glacier near Tasiilaq, Greenland, on June 20, 2018. 
Lucas Jackson / Reuters

Alan Taylor, who  compiles and edits the news photo blog “In Focus” for the Atlantic, shares 21 spectacular images with captions that help even a lay person understand better the science of climate change:

Studying Greenland’s Ice to Understand Climate Change

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An iceberg floats in a fjord near Tasiilaq on June 16, 2018. # Lucas Jackson / Reuters

Earlier this year, Lucas Jackson, a photographer with Reuters, joined a team of scientists affiliated with a NASA project named Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) and traveled with it to the Greenland ice sheet and fjords. Jackson photographed the researchers as they set up their scientific equipment and took readings to help understand the ongoing impact of the melting glaciers and map out what to expect in the future. Jackson says: “For both journalists and scientists, climate change is difficult to document. It most often happens imperceptibly—a tenth of a degree increase in temperature, a few less inches of rain, a slowly melting ice sheet.” Continue reading

Decades Of Awareness, But Not Enough Action

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Thirty years ago, James Hansen, a scientist at nasa, issued a warning about the dangers of climate change. The predictions he and other scientists made at the time have proved spectacularly accurate. Photograph by Charles Ommanney / The Washington Post / Getty

I have always been appropriately alarmed by Elizabeth Kolbert’s articles and her comment pieces in the New Yorker. This brief comment below is alarming enough, but with a twist. Science has done its job, but we as citizens, business people, civic leaders have not acted with sufficient urgency considering the clear scientific evidence.

IMG_7014It may be true that scientists have not been the most compelling communicators, but that is no excuse for our inaction. As someone who left a scientific career developing a theoretical framework for entrepreneurial conservation in favor of opportunities to apply those ideas in the real world, I am in the same boat as a climate scientist. I look around today, after decades of best effort and I conclude that we have not accomplished enough in our practice. In our efforts to offer alternatives to messier forms of tourism, we have not accomplished enough. That is discouraging. But discouragement is not an option. We must find a better way to communicate that generates the required action for a less messy planet:

Listening to James Hansen on Climate Change, Thirty Years Ago and Now

On June 23, 1988—a blisteringly hot day in Washington, D.C.—James Hansen told a Senate committee that “the greenhouse effect has been detected and is changing our climate now.” At the time, Hansen was the head of nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and though his testimony was certainly not the first official warning about the “greenhouse effect”—a report to President Lyndon Johnson, in 1965, predicted “measurable and perhaps marked changes in climate” in the decades to follow—it was the first to receive national news coverage. The Times ran the story at the top of the front page, with a graph showing a long-term rise in average global temperatures. Continue reading

Massive Ice Shelf Larsen C

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NASA Blue Marble imagery

Thanks to the New York Times for a graphic illustrating the scale of change, aka consequences, related to global warming:

An Iceberg the Size of Delaware Just Broke Away From Antarctica

By  and 

A chunk of floating ice that weighs more than a trillion metric tons broke away from the Antarctic Peninsula, producing one of the largest icebergs ever recorded and providing a glimpse of how the Antarctic ice sheet might ultimately start to fall apart. Continue reading

Ring of Fire

An onlooker watches an annular solar eclipse from New Mexico.

For the past few years it seems that August is the month to amaze and astonish on the astronomical front. Although the Perseid Meteor Shower happens annually, last year there were an unusually high number of meteor “outbursts” because Jupiter’s gravity has tugged some streams of comet material closer to Earth.

While solar eclipses aren’t technically rare, an annular solar eclipse is more so, when the moon is too far from Earth to obscure the sun completely, leaving the sun’s edges exposed and producing the ‘ring of fire’ effect. What’s particularly special about the upcoming August 21st eclipse is the path from which it can be viewed.

The August eclipse will be the first to go coast to coast across the U.S. since 1918, offering viewing opportunities for millions of people.

Sky-watchers across the United States are gearing up for the best cosmic spectacle in nearly a century, when a total solar eclipse will race over the entire country for the first time since 1918. On August 21, tens of millions of lucky people will be able to watch the moon completely cover the sun and turn day into night for a few fleeting minutes.

The main event will be visible from a relatively narrow path, starting in Oregon and ending in South Carolina. In between, the total eclipse will cross multiple cities in 12 states, prompting plans for countless watch parties, cosmic-themed tours, and scientific observations. (Also see “100 Years of Eclipse-Chasing Revealed in Quirky Pictures.”)

Click on the image above to FOLLOW THE ECLIPSE ON ITS COAST-TO-COAST TOUR

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If You Happen To Be In The Deep South

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An annular solar eclipse as seen in Utah in May 2012. A similar “ring of fire” eclipse will be visible in the southern hemisphere on Sunday. CreditRobyn Beck/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

For our friends and colleagues in the south, both in the Americas and in Africa, an astrophysical rarity will be in the night sky, not to be missed:

Cue the Johnny Cash music. On Sunday, a “ring of fire” eclipse will blaze over parts of South America and the southern and western tips of Africa. Scientifically known as an annular eclipse, this solar phenomenon occurs when the moon moves in between the sun and the Earth but is too far away to completely block the sun as it would during a total solar eclipse.

“Because you have this thin little ring around the edge of the moon where the sun pokes out, it gives it that ring of fire effect,” said C. Alex Young, a solar astrophysicist from NASA. Continue reading

Model Mad, Alt

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Multiple Twitter accounts claiming to be run by members of the National Park Service and other U.S. agencies have appeared since the Trump administration’s apparent gag order. The account owners are choosing to remain anonymous. David Calvert/Getty Images

Thanks to Wynne Davis at National Public Radio (USA) for It’s Not Just The Park Service: ‘Rogue’ Federal Twitter Accounts Multiply, another example of model mad:

“Rogue” accounts that have the look of those by real federal agencies are spreading like wildfire on Twitter.

The AltUSNatParkService Twitter account has gained more than 1 million followers and inspired the creation of many more “unofficial resistance” accounts for specific national parks and other entities, including accounts like Rogue NASA and AltUSForestService. Continue reading

Model Mad, NPS

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Redwood national park in California. Photograph: Jeffrey Schwartz/Alamy

We like what we see of the madly determined folks risking their professional careers in the interest of the environment and social justice:

National Park Service climate change Twitter campaign spreads to other parks

A day after three climate-related tweets sent out by Badlands National Park were deleted, other park accounts have sent out tweets that appear to defy Trump

The National Park Service employees’ Twitter campaign against Donald Trump spread to other parks on Wednesday, with tweets on climate change and a reminder that Japanese Americans were forcibly interned in camps and parks during the second world war.

A day after three climate-related tweets sent out by Badlands National Park were deleted, other park accounts have sent out tweets that appear to defy Trump. One, by Redwood national park in California, notes that redwood groves are nature’s number one carbon sink, which capture greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming…

…Golden Gate national park in California said in a tweet that 2016 was the hottest year on record for the third year in a row. The tweet directed readers to a report by Nasa and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also known as Noaa…

…The tweets went beyond climate change.

Death Valley national park tweeted photos of Japanese Americans interned there during the second world war, a message that some saw as objecting to Trump’s pledge to ban Muslims from entering the country and a proposal to restrict the flow of refugees to the United States…

Read the whole story here.

For Lunar Phenomena, Tonight’s The Night Of A Lifetime

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A supermoon seen above Cairo in October. Credit Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

Thanks to the New York Times for this reminder:

The Supermoon and Other Moons That Are Super in Their Own Ways

By NICHOLAS ST. FLEUR

Shrug off the supermoon.

Yes, it’s true that on Sunday and Monday nights the full moon will be at its closest to Earth in nearly 70 years. But to the casual observer, it probably won’t look much different from a regular full moon. Yet headlines heralding the event as some sort of don’t-miss spectacle are everywhere. Continue reading

Sorry, Bolivia!

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NASA satellite images show Bolivia’s Lake Poopo filled with water in April 2013 (left), and almost dry in January 2016. PHOTO: NASA/AP

Drying rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. Fancy a list? Here and here, you go. The world’s waters are rapidly running dry, threatening wild habitats and human civilization, exacerbating climate change. In turn, livelihoods, ecosystems, energy generation are all affected. Like in Bolivia, which just lost its second largest lake.

Continue reading

Her Job is To Keep Mars Clean

Catharine A. Conley, a NASA planetary protection officer. PHOTO: Paul E. Alers/NASA

Catharine A. Conley, a NASA planetary protection officer. PHOTO: Paul E. Alers/NASA

You’ve heard of a myriad job profiles, but what do you think are the responsibilities of a planetary protection officer? This officer knows, and all her efforts are now focused on keeping micro-organisms and spores from Earth away from Mars.

At the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Catharine A. Conley has a lofty job title: planetary protection officer. But with no extraterrestrial invasions on the horizon, Dr. Conley’s job is not so much protecting Earth from aliens as protecting other planets from Earth. Mars, in particular. “If we’re going to look for life on Mars, it would be really kind of lame to bring Earth life and find that instead,” Dr. Conley said.

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Watching the Waters

 Scientists believe ocean currents and natural cycles are temporarily offsetting a sea level rise in the Pacific Ocean. Photograph: Ray Collins/Barcroft Media

Scientists believe ocean currents and natural cycles are temporarily offsetting a sea level rise in the Pacific Ocean. Photograph: Ray Collins/Barcroft Media

Over the past century, the burning of fossil fuels and other human and natural activities has released enormous amounts of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. These emissions have caused the Earth’s surface temperature to rise, and the oceans absorb about 80 percent of this additional heat. As per a recent update from a panel of NASA scientists, sea levels worldwide rose an average of nearly 3 inches (8 cm) since 1992, the result of warming waters and melting ice.

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‘Lettuce’ Celebrate NASA’s Moment

On Monday, astronauts aboard the International Space Station harvested and ate the first lettuce to have been grown in space. Photo by NASA

On Monday, astronauts aboard the International Space Station harvested and ate the first lettuce to have been grown in space. Photo by NASA 

“It was one small bite for man, one giant meal for mankind.” And that’s putting it lightly. On Monday, after watching a batch of red romaine lettuce grow under a purplish glow in the microgravity of space, NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station harvested their own fresh produce. And this officially is the first time astronauts have dined on a harvest sown in space. Nothing like ‘home-grown’ food, right?

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Leaving an Ugly Mark in Space

It’s not just here on earth that litter is a problem. In the last 40 years, there have been more than 5,000 launches into space, and they’ve ended up leaving a mark, and now scientists are worried about the litter they’ve left behind. ‘Space junk‘ are the small objects that we’ve left behind in space.They include things like old satellites, gloves, and toolkits accidentally dropped by astronauts. In 2014, the International Space Station had to move three times to avoid lethal chunks of space debris. The problem also threatens crucial and costly satellites in orbit. So what is the scale of the space junk problem, and what can we do about it?

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A Ticket on the Eco-friendly Supersonic, please

Supersonic flight is one of the four speeds of flight. speeds up to five times faster than the speed of sound. PHOTO: NASA

Supersonic flight is one of the four speeds of flight. It has speeds up to five times faster than the speed of sound. PHOTO: NASA

Imagine flying at more than twice the speed of sound. At that speed, a London to New York flight lasts under 3.5 hours. And the last time that happened was in 2003, just before the supersonic Concorde ceased operating. More than a decade later, there are conversations on whether the supersonic culture can be revived. There are arguments for both sides and the latest is news about the talent at NASA working on making commercial supersonic flight eco-friendly.

Unless you have access to a F-22 fighter jet, you probably haven’t been able to fly faster than the speed of sound since the last Concorde flight in 2003. NASA wants to change this. The agency said that it is spending over $6 million to fund research into cheaper and greener supersonic travel. This isn’t NASA’s first attempt to bring back supersonic travel. It has been (literally) pushing the boundaries of flight for years. NASA’s predecessor was involved in building the first supersonic plane in 1946, and the agency has been working on concepts since 2006 with companies like Lockheed-Martin and Boeing that may one day lead to a new generation of planes that get you places very quickly.

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If You Happen To Be On Earth June 6th

According to NASA, transits of Venus across the disk of the Sun are among the rarest of planetary alignments.  The last time it occurred, in 2004, I happened upon some wonderful pinhole viewing boxes set up in a Paris park.  (The 2004 transit allowed full visibility throughout Europe, where I happened to be living at the time.) Continue reading