October 31, 2011

View of October snowstorm from space


NASA's Aqua satellite captured this image of the rare October snowstorm at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, showing snow cover from West Virginia to Maine.

The storm claimed 12 lives, and 2.2 million homes remained without power as of Monday, Reuters reported. 

What's your reaction to this early snow? Share in the comments. 

Photo courtesy of NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team

Posted by Kim Walker at 5:12 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

September 8, 2011

All those prayers for rain? Here's what you get

Here's a pretty cool rainfall estimation map, courtesy of Eric the Red. It shows the rain totals for the mid-Atlantic states from the date Hurricane Irene blew through in late August, through Thursday morning, Sept. 8, as derived from radar returns and surface measurements. You may now cease your summertime prayers for rain. Please.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:22 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

August 31, 2011

Surfing for crazies only in Tahiti

Regulars were calling it an historic day of surfing in Tahiti yesterday, an off-day during the Billabong Pro competition. Twenty-five-foot surf, and tubes big enough to hold a school bus made it a day only for daredevils towed to the reef by personal watercraft. Enjoy.   


Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

August 30, 2011

Watch Irene from space in NOAA animation

Here's what Hurricane Irene looked like from NOAA's GOES satellite, up until Saturday's landfall. For an updated version, click here.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:53 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

Hurricane Irene rain and wind maps for Maryland

Here are the wind and rain maps for Hurricane Irene, just released by the National Weather Service regional forecast office in Sterling, Va. Click to enlarge.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:46 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: By the numbers, Cool pictures, Hurricanes

August 17, 2011

Terrific rainstorm in downtown Baltimore

Rainbow over East BaltimoreIt's been absolutely pouring in downtown Baltimore since shortly after 6 p.m. There were no warnings from the weather service. There is almost nothing  showing on radar.

But the streets are full of water, the visibility is much reduced in heavy rain and lashing winds. And anyone caught outside will be drenched. 

The instruments at The Sun show almost three-quarters of an inch of rain have fallen, sometimes at nearly 7 inches an hour. 

And now, there is a full arch rainbow over East Baltimore as seen from The Sun building.

"It was just a shower that developed along the bay breeze," said Nikole Listemaa, a NWSRain meteorologist at the regional forecast office in Sterling, Va., The bay breeze occurs when sunshine heats the land, causing the air above it to rise. That draws in cooler air from the bay. The bay breeze collides with the rising air over the land. It rises, cools and its moisture condenses, triggering a thunderstorm.

This one was small, Listemaa said. "Looks like it actually missed BWI airport and probably missed Martin State Airport. It was just one lone shower or thunderstorm that stayed over the same area for a little while."

It was not severe, hence no Severe Storm Warning. There were a few lightning strikes, but not many, she said. Radar estimates  show an inch and a half of rain. "Looks like most of that fell over the Inner Harbor area."

(SUN PHOTOS: Frank Roylance)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:17 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Cool pictures, Events

August 15, 2011

Perseid shower produces some great photos

I was in Erie, Pa. Saturday morning when the Perseid meteor shower peaked. The skies looked pretty discouraging the evening before, so I slept through the event. Fortunately, not everyone did. And the result was some really cool images.

The first were shot by Mike Hankey, an astrophotographer who lives in northern Baltimore County. He's the guy who, with a lucky break, captured an image of the Mason-Dixon meteor in July 2009. This time he nabbed some Perseids in classic meteor images.

The other remarkable photo (below) came from the crew of the International Space Station, who were looking DOWN on the meteors as they streaked into the outer limits of the Earth's atmosphere. Very cool.

 Perseid meteor from the ISS

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:15 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

August 10, 2011

Virginia wildfire smoke seen from space

If you happened to be in Washington, DC Tuesday, or in Anne Arundel County as I was, you could smell what seemed like wood smoke in the air.  It was smoke, and it was coming from a raging Virginia wildfire smokefire in southeast Virginia's Great Dismal Swamp, blown by a south wind into northern Virginia and southern Maryland.

Today, a new image from NASA's GOES-13 satellite shows that the fire is still burning, but the wind shifted with the front that swept across the state late yesterday. It's now blowing mostly to the northeast.

The fire is called the Lateral West Fire. It was ignited by lightning and fueled by brush and woods dried by drought conditions in the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

By late Tuesday the blaze was only 10 percent contained, and it had consumed 2,500 acres of wild lands. The smoke has triggered a Code Orange air quality alert in the area, including the cities of Norfolk, Hampton and Virginia Beach.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:15 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

August 3, 2011

New photo technique reveals rocket plumes

Anyone who has witnessed the launch of the space shuttles can't help being impressed by the blinding brilliance of the craft's rocket plumes. The three liquid-fueled main engines and the two solid fuel boosters produce a flame that is almost painfully bright. My reaction every time is that the thing is too ferocious for humans to ride. And yet they do.

And as many times as I've watched launches on TV, the spectacle never comes close to the experience of being there. The flame is muted on the TV screen, just like the thunderous, crackling roar.

The exhaust plume gets washed out in still photos, too, becoming flat and featureless.

But a team of NASA researchers has managed to put together a composite photo technique that can now reveal the contours and details of a rocket plume. Instead of a flat yellow or white, the plume becomes a turbulent storm with ropes of flame and smoke. They tried it out on the final shuttle launch that sent Atlantis into space last month.

Here is a comparison of the new technique (right) and a standard image. Pretty cool. Here's more on how they did it.

(NASA PHOTO: Louise Walker/J.T. Heineck)

Atlantis launch


Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:59 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

July 23, 2011

Morning storm produces "mammatus" clouds

There's a thunderstorm moving across Baltimore County this morning that is producing "mammatus" clouds. They're a sign of a fairly strong storm. The name comes from the Latin for "udder" or breast," for reasons that seem clear enough. Here's the photo I shot:

Mammatus clouds

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:46 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Cool pictures

July 15, 2011

Wow! Atlantis rocket-cam shots from NASA

The sky is my beat, so here's some video from NASA shot from several cameras mounted on Atlantis during this week's historic final shuttle launch. It's a spectacular view we don't often get to see.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:39 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

July 6, 2011

Scary "haboob" strikes Phoenix suburbs

A huge dust storm, with a wall of dust that slowly engulfed the Phoenix area Tuesday evening and turned day into night, has been captured on plenty of video cameras. Here's one. Weather professionals are calling it "impressive ... historic." Some natives Arizonans are saying it's the worst "monsoon season" dust storm they've seen. Just another extreme event to add to the list we've chalked up in the past two years.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:55 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

July 5, 2011

Wallops Minotaur launch seen from Hampden

Just back from vacation and found this photo in my inbox. William "Bear" Stifler, who has captured lots of striking weather images from his place in Hampden, went out last Wednesday to try to capture the Minotaur launch.

It worked. From more than 115 miles away, Bear snapped the 70-foot rocket as it climbed toward Minotaur launch Baltimoreorbit from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), located at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore. The cargo was an Air Force battlefield imaging satellite called ORS-1.

Looks like his time exposure may have caught the ignition of the rocket's second stage, the bright knot of light about halfway up the streak. Not bad amid city lights. 

By lucky coincidence, Bear also spied the International Space Station as it flew over an hour or so before the Minotaur liftoff. Here's his note:

"They were both much brighter than I expected. I would have liked to have caught both with the camera, but they were originally scheduled at nearly the same time, and I set up to catch the launch, so I was not in position to get the ISS flyover.

"Anyway, attached is a photo of the launch from my perch here in Hampden - my first crack at a rocket launch, so it was kind of a test/learning experince. Next time I'll know where exactly on the horizon to focus, and I'll use a longer exposure. I'm not totally satisfied, but if you'd like to, go ahead and use it. I'll bet there are probably some nice shots from the shore you'll be coming across."

What about that? Did anyone else snap some good pictures of the launch? How about all you lucky Marylanders downy ayshun? Ocean City? Assateague? Email your launch photos and I'll post 'em. Bathing beauty pictures I'll keep for myself. 

(PHOTO: William "Bear" Stifler. Used with permission.) 

Continue reading "Wallops Minotaur launch seen from Hampden" »

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:21 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

June 8, 2011

Hot enough to fry an egg on the ... car?

I know, it's supposed to be on "... the sidewalk." But our own Leeann Adams thought she'd try it on a car. Thank god it wasn't mine, after we paid all that money for "Paint Protection."  Oh, that's nasty...


Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:34 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

Int'l Space Station and Endeavour on rare video

Here's the video version of the still images shot of Endeavour recently when it was docked to the International Space Station. The pictures were taken from a departing Russian Soyuz craft. So very cool.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:34 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

Satellite cameras capture spectacular solar flare

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory and other solar observatories have captured video of a spectacular solar flare that erupted from the sun's surface on Tuesday.

The blast was rated a (moderate) M-2 flare, but only a (minor) S-1 class radiation storm. 

The solar particles and magnetic waves hurled across the solar system by the blast - called a coronal mass ejection - are expected to give Earth only a "glancing blow," according to scientists at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. Even so, observers in northern latitudes should be watching for auroral displays tonight and tomorrow night.

Here's how it looked:

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:52 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

June 7, 2011

Fab new photos of the ISS and Endeavour

NASA recently went out of its way to nab some rare, high-quality photos of the International Space Station with a docked space shuttle - Endeavour (top center). They were snapped from a Russian Soyuz ship as it pulled away en route to a landing. Pretty impressive, and perhaps the last of their kind.

ISS Endeavour

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:15 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

May 30, 2011

Cool waterspout video from Australia

How cool is this?

Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:55 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

May 29, 2011

Friday's lightning captured in photo

Here's another terrific lightning photo snapped Friday night by James Willinghan, in Howard County. It shows you don't have to go far from home to get great weather photos. All it takes is patience and a little camera know-how. Thanks once again to James for sharing. This one's going on my desktop background.

James Willinghan photo

Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:36 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

May 25, 2011

You Tube: As close as you want to be to a tornado

If you haven't seen these two videos of the F-5 tornado that struck Joplin, Mo. Sunday, you should take a few minutes to watch. If nothing else, they will teach you the importance of listening to tornado watches and warnings, and having a safe place to take shelter.

These folks sought protection in a convenience store as the warnings went off. They eventually retreated to what appears to be a beer cooler, where they rode out the storm. Somehow, they all survived, but the second video shows how fortunate they really were. The beer cooler protected them, but by daylight it's apparent it was a close call. It had collapsed, and left them a pretty narrow escape route. 

Thanks to Eric the Red for sending me the links. Here's how he describes the scene:

"If you haven't seen this video of the Joplin tornado, it is a must see. Actually, it's more of a must-hear, cos you really can't see anything. But you will note a few things...

- The power being out adds to the surreal feeling

- The waiting had to be excrutiating; the tornado doesn't arrive til 2:00 into the video.

- The glass blowing out from the windows denotes the outer portions of the tornado's wind field, but not the core of the tornado.

- After they all safely get into the Walk-In, you will hear what sounds like machine gun fire; that is the debirs being hurled at the exterior of the "box" they now find themselves in at incredible speeds (200 mph plus). Also puts to rest the idea of the movie "Twister" showing the couple strapped to a pole as an F5 goes overhead and surviving. Throw a pebble thru the air at 200 mph at your head, and you won't be around to talk about it."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:41 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Cool pictures

May 13, 2011

UM Clark School team lofts human-power 'copter

Here's the YouTube video of Thursday's (hopefully) historic liftoff of Gamera, the A. James Clark School of Engineering bid to establish a world record in human-powered flight.

Final adjudication of the record claim will be done by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, in Switzerland. That could take several months. In any case, it's the first time a human-powered helicopter has achieved liftoff with a female pilot, and only the third time anyone has gotten airborne in such a craft. (The other two were not observed or certified for a world record.) 


Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:41 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

May 8, 2011

Thunderstorm brings rainbow, unusual clouds

Received an email message today from Leigh, Matt, Colleen and Patrick McGivern:

Rainbow Mt. Airy 5/6/11"We live in Mt. Airy and on Friday night after the storms we had a beautiful rainbow and these very unusual clouds. We were wondering if you could tell us anything about them. Thank you."

Great shots! That's why I always try to have a camera handy. But I missed this one.

The clouds are called "mammatus," which for obvious reasons derives from the Latin word "mamma," for "breast" or "udder." They indicate especially unstable air, typically appearing across the base of cumulonimbus clouds, often called anvil clouds or thunderheads. When you see them, you know it is a particularly strong storm, and it could produce a tornado. 

Meteorologists have proposed all sorts of theories about what, exactly, is going on to produce this curious effect, apparently with no real agreement on any of them.

The common thread appears to have something to do with surges of cold, moist air (called hydrometeors) descending from the high tops of the thunderstorm and colliding with the warmer, drier air at the base of the cloud, where their descent stops.

Given their appearance, that makes some intuitive sense. But nobody seems to have nailed the science yet. Good Ph.D thesis for someone.

These are terrific images. Thanks for sharing them.

Mt. Airy mammatus 5/6/11

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:53 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

May 3, 2011

Waikiki waterspouts caught on video

Many Hawaiians caught this pair of waterspouts on video Monday as Oahu dealt with heavy rain and thunderstorms. Here, below, is how they looked from one person's vantage point.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:39 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

March 29, 2011

First image from Mercury orbiter: looks like the moon

The first picture taken from a spacecraft in orbit around Mercury has arrived on Earth. And to no one's surprise (it's been photographed from close-up during three previous flybys), the planet looks like the moon. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

The image, taken at 3:40 a.m. Monday as NASA's Messenger spacecraft passed high above Mercury's South Pole, shows hundreds of small craters scattered across a dark gray surface, and a handful of craters that appear to have blasted much lighter material across the landscape. It is a region never photographed before.

Scientists and engineers at the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Lab near Laurel, released the first image from orbit Tuesday afternoon, as they continue to wake up Messenger's instruments. Full science operations are expected to begin April 4.

Launched in 2004, Messenger was maneuvered into orbit around the planet on March 17. NASA plans to support Messenger for at least a year of study of Mercury's surface composition, internal structure, magnetosphere, tenuous atmosphere, origins and evolution.

"The first images from orbit and the first measurements from Messenger's other payload instruments are only the opening trickle of the flood of new information that we can expect over the coming year," said Sean Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, the principal investigator on the mission.

Several more early pictures are to be released Wednesday afternoon during a press conference.

For more, 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:58 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures, Sky Notes

March 21, 2011

Satellite imagery shows power outages in Japan

Air Force satellite imagery is showing exactly how widespread the electric power outages have been in northeast Japan since the March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunami damaged whole towns and cities, and much of the power infrastructure.

The image below compared power usage before the quake and immediately after. Yellow indicates regions where the electric power has remained on. Red shows where outages occured after the quake. Here's more

Japan power outages

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

"Super" moon poses for Howard photographer

James Willinghan took his Canon Rebel XSI and a 6-inch Celestron telescope to Alpha Ridge Park in Howard County Saturday night to snap a portrait of the "super" moon that rose over Central Maryland. It was the "perigean" full moon that combined a very close perigee, occuring very soon after the full moon, with a very clear sky to produce a dramatic moonrise. Here's his shot. For more, click here.

James Willinghan, full moon

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:55 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Cool pictures

March 20, 2011

"Super" moon rising

Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:41 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

February 26, 2011

Weather radar helps with studies of flying critters

The BBC recently did some filming at the National Weather Service's Baltimore-Washington forecast office, in Sterling Va. It was part of a short news segment on the use of weather radar to gather valuable scientific information on birds, bats and insects.

It turns out that weather radar, normally used to track rain drops and snowflakes, can also pick up swarms of flying creatures. Scientists are learning to use the data to learn more about critter behavior, the environment, and how both may be changing over time. Here's the BBC report:


Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:22 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

Windy day in Baltimore

Just back from Cape Canaveral. Our 7:45 p.m. flight on Southwestern was delayed until 11 p.m. Plane landed at 1 a.m., did not get to bed until 2:45 a.m. Don't you just LOVE air travel?

They tell me you all had some wind while I was enjoying the 80-degree Florida weather. Here's some video The Sun asked me to post. Enjoy:


Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:09 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

February 25, 2011

Last launch of Discovery

I remembered the belching, billowing smoke at liftoff. I remembered the towering pillar of smoke as the shuttle climbs toward orbit. And I remembered suppressing the fear that something might go wrong.

But as my son and I watched Discovery's launch Thursday afternoon, from the east causeway at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, I realized I had forgotten the blinding, ferocious flame that followed the shuttle as it hurled six astronauts off the planet. It felt like it would burn a spot into my retinas. Photos don't do it justice.

I have covered three shuttle launches for The Sun, two that actually flew, and a third that was postponed. This was my first with my son and without having to file a story.

Here's the video I shot with my Canon Digital Elph point-and-shoot camera. Notice how long it takes the sound of the rocket to reach us. Time it, do a little math and you'll know how far away we were. We were south of launch Complex 39, so you are looking north as Discovery launches to the east. 

Ty and I had been planning this trip since last fall. But problems with the shuttle caused repeated delays. With each one we had to reschedule our flights - at least six times, as I recall.

This time was the charm. We arrived in Orlando Thursday morning, rented a car and drove east toward Cape Canaveral. We quickly ran into heavy traffic. NASA said this may have been the biggest crowd in history to watch a launch. Hotel and restaurant employees agreed. In addition to being Discovery's last launch, it is the third-to-last shuttle launch ever. When we got our tickets last fall, it was supposed to be the second-to-last. Then NASA added one more flight.

Anyway, traffic was stop-and-go for much of the way. When we got the the Visitors' Center, nearly every grassy vantage point was filled with adults and kids and cameras, waiting hours for liftoff. We managed to snag tickets for a bus ride out to the east causeway and an unobstructed view of the launch.

We found a spot overlooking the lagoon, maybe 5 or 6 miles from the launchpad. Waterbirds waded in the shallows. Fish jumped. Kids annoyed. But it was a terrific place to be. The weather was perfect .. upper 70s or low 80s. Blue skies, with some scattered white cumulous clouds moving in from the south.

NASA launch commentary was broadcast over loudspeakers, so we could follow the last-minute range safety issue that threatened to postpone the launch. The issues were resolved in the final minutes, and Discovery arose from the pad on schedule at about 4:50 p.m. 

Ty was shooting black-and-white film on my old Minolta SLR. You can hear his shutter clicks. I took video on my point-and-shoot digital. Discovery had climbed well into the sky over Cape Canaveral before the crackling roar of its engines and solid fuel boosters reached us.

And in less than a minute, it was over for us. Discovery had been reduced to a white dot against the blue sky. And its smokey trail was twisting and dispersing in the wind. Here's another view, from an airliner.

We were bused back to the Visitors Center, where we retrieved our rental car and began the long trek back. Traffic was awful. It took us two hours to get off Merritt Island - a 10-mile drive - and another hour to reach our hotel.

"I'm really glad I came," Ty said. "But I won't be doing it again."

I'm sure this was my last shuttle launch, too.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:14 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Cool pictures

January 28, 2011

Wednesday's snowstorm seen from space

NASA has released some terrific images of Wednesday's Rush Hour Storm. There's a great still, (clickable) below, snapped at about 9:30 a.m. Thursday after the storm had passed, revealing the snowcover left behind. There's also a nifty animation. Click here for that.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:13 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

January 13, 2011

"Star of David" snowflakes in Baltimore

Moshe Miller has sent us a fun video this afternoon. Snowflakes in the shape of the Star of David, shot in Baltimore in Tuesday. Here's his note:

"The right atmospheric conditions and temperature over NW Baltimore, MD this past Tuesday, allowed this light dusting of solid snowflakes.  Many of these hard crystals were shaped perfectly as Stars of David. Amazing!  It really makes me give praise to the Creator of the Universe for sharing this laser-precision natural gem with us."

"If you're looking for a deeper meaning, I had this thought.  In the Biblical description of the first Six Days of Creation, the third day (Tuesday) was the only day the words "and it was good" was written twice (a positive sign).

"Also, it dawned on me that the one and only Creator chose the Gregorian/Christian calendar date of 1/11/11 to share this with us . . . As the Baltimore motto goes, "Believe . . . Behave".  Y’know, could that be “Believe in One Creator? Behave to all people?”  Maybe Baltimore is on to something . . . Ma Rabu Ma'asecha Hashem!"

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:19 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

January 11, 2011

In lower 48, only Florida lacks snow today

Thanks to the big snowstorm (for them, not us) that swept across the Deep South yesterday, Florida today is the only state in the Lower 48 that is without snow on the ground.

And since I'm told there is currently 7 inches of snow atop the Mauna Kea volcano, in Hawaii, (and plenty in Alaska, of course), that makes Florida the only state in the union without snow. Here's the map:

National Ice Center

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:38 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

January 6, 2011

Md. astrophotog captures Quadrantid meteor

Mike Hankey, an amateur astrophotographer in Freeland, in north-central Maryland, set up his camera Tuesday morning to capture images of some of the Quadrantid meteors.

He only managed to snag one, but it was good one. He stitched a series of stills into an animation that includes the meteor and the glowing trail that he said persisted for more than 10 minutes.

Quadrantid meteor animation

Continue reading "Md. astrophotog captures Quadrantid meteor" »

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:05 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures, Sky Notes

January 5, 2011

Bird deaths: Did NWS radar capture startled flock?

Weather radar in Little Rock, Ark. may have captured an image of a flock of birds as they rose from nighttime roosts near Beebe, Ark. on New Year's Eve. Thousands of redwing blackbirds were later found dead on the ground nearby.

Such radar images of bird flocks are not unusual. Weather radar sites near the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and Delaware sometimes capture the radar reflections of flocks of birds as they rise into the sky at sunrise on summer mornings.

Little Rock radarLast night, Steve Zubrick, the science officer out at the National Weather Service forecast office in Sterling, Va., sent me a link to a radar image recorded beginning at 10:21 p.m. Central Time in Little Rock. That's about a half hour before reports began coming in about dead birds falling from the sky in Beebe.

The loop shows rainstorms moving away to the north and east of the radar. But at a spot about 25 nautical miles northeast of the radar, an unusual reflection appears, expands and moves off to the southeast with the prevailing winds. It's the green blob on the still radar image above.

"Could these returns be birds disturbed from the nightly roosting sites?" Steve asks.

"Given what was on radar...just a few light showers moving NE and examination of surface obs within 30nm of this area showed nothing unusual (no high wind gusts, eg). There were a few positive lightning strikes about 50-55 nautical miles to the SE over Arkansas County around 0430 UTC. Positive lightning strikes carry much more current then negative strikes...and have a much bigger "boom" then negative strikes. Still, they were located 55 miles away...although it would not be entirely impossible other lightning (non-cloud-to-ground) could have occurred.

"But I don't have any data that could show that (i.e., there is no lightning detection network that I know of in that area that would pick up the "total" lightning (e.g., within cloud or cloud-to-air)

"I'd say there is not a meteorological explanation. Exploding fireworks sounds like the most plausible...given the time of year...New Year's Eve...and that many folks like to shoot off fireworks to celebrate the New Year."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:17 PM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Cool pictures

December 29, 2010

Weekend snowstorm, from orbit

NASA has released an image from its Terra satellite showing where the snow fell over the weekend. Central Maryland is quite clearly in the snow-free bubble, between the new snow to our east and south, and the old snow to our west.

Here's more. The bubble reaches from Central Virginia to Central Pennsylvania. Lucky or unlucky? 

And while we're at it, here's Terra's view of snowy Ireland.

Christmas weekend storm 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

December 8, 2010

Midwestern snow cover, from orbit

Midwest snow, early winter



NASA's Terra satellite has snapped a photo of the snow cover that has spread across the upper Midwest in recent days.

Snapped around noon Tuesday, it shows a swath of snow from Lake Superior to Lake Michigan and across the northern sections of Illinois and Indiana and northwestern Ohio. 

Officially, winter doesn't begin until the solstice, on Dec. 21.

But Meteorological winter begins Dec. 1. And around the Great Lakes, it is in full swing. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

November 19, 2010

Tornado radar loop released

The National Weather Service has released the radar loop images from Wednesday morning's storm, which included the brief EF-1 tornado that struck northwest Baltimore and Parkville.

Here's the link:  And here's a link to NWS photos and maps. 

(PHOTO: National Weather Service)Baltimore tornado damage

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:28 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

November 4, 2010

Comet Hartley 2 looks like a peanut

Comet Hartley 2 EPOXI

The Maryland-led EPOXI mission to Comet Hartley 2 has downloaded the first close-up images of the comet's icy nucleus, and the 4-billion-year-old object looks pretty much like a peanut. Or maybe a bowling pin.

Snapped just after 10 a.m. EDT Thursday, the photos were downloaded from the spacecraft about an hour later and displayed for mission managers at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Comet Hartley 2California.

The first photos were greeted by shouts, applause and handshakes all around. The project's principle investigator - UM College Park astronomer Michael A'Hearn - and the comet's discoverer, Malcolm Hartley, were both on hand.

The icy comet nucleus, about 1.2 miles long, can be seen in the images, tossing off gas and dust from its sunlit end. The outgassing can also be seen at other locations, even the night side. That's been seen before at other comets, but this is "by far the clearest demonstration of that fact," A'Hearn said.

Hartley 2 "probably loses a meter to a meter-and-a-half everywhere on the surface every time it comes near the sun," he said. At that rate, "it probably won't be around very long."

Scientists said the gas jets are primarily carbon dioxide, with less water in the mix than other comets have displayed. Earlier observations also found millions of tons of hydrogen cyanide gas were also being released. And as the gases escape, they drag out dust grains that make the comet easier to see in telescopes.

A'Hearn said that, to a person standing on the comet, the jets would be less forceful than a firehose. "You would feel it, but it's probably not enough to lift you off the surface," despite the comet's weak gravity, he said.

"Every time we go to [a comet] they are full of surprises," said A'Hearn. "The big differences between them have sort of surprised us ... There must be some fundamental differences in the way they work."

"That could mean they formed in different ways, or they came from different parts of the early solar system," he said. "Or, it could be they evolved very differently.'"

Scientists will try to use the differences they see to better understand how the solar system formed, and what materials and physical conditions prevailed in different places.

"Comets are incredibly important," said Edward Weiler, associate NASA administrator for science. "We know that, way back in ancient history just after the Earth formed, the inner solar system was bombarded with comets."

Many people think the water on Earth, and perhaps the organic compounds that formed the building blocks of living organisms may have originated in comets, he said.

The mission to Hartley 2, and the capture of thousands of photos and other data, constituted the "exploration phase" of the mission, Weiler said. "Now we have the fun part. We have to do the science."

The spacecraft is expected to send back a total of 120,000 images. "Sorting it all out ... will take years."

You can read more about the flyby here. The NASA EPOXI web site is here. The University of Maryland site is here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:33 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

October 19, 2010

Moon and Jupiter grace the evening

Moon JupiterThe clouds cleared away nicely late this afternoon, leaving the sky to the waxing moon and, just below, the planet Jupiter.

If you haven't been outside for a look, you're missing a fine evening under the stars. Here's how it looked after work today, looking southeast from the roof of The Sun garage on North Calvert Street.

Jupiter is a month or so past conjunction, its closest approach to Earth this year, and biggest and brightest appearance in the night sky.

If you've never tried looking at Jupiter with binoculars, give it a shot. If you steady the glasses on something solid, you should be able to pick out up to four of Jupiter's Galilean moons, strung out on either side of the planet's disk. Tonight, left to right, they're Europa, Ganymede, Io and Callisto.

The moon will be full Friday night - the Hunter's Moon.

(SUN PHOTO: Frank Roylance)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:18 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

July 19, 2010

Eastern Shore storm creates striking cloud

Thunderstorm 7/19/10 

There was a thunderstorm moving across the upper Eastern Shore this (Monday) evening. With the setting sun on it, it was a terrific photo op. Here (above) is how it looked from my front window, in Cockeysville. Below is a detail.

Eric the Red, our contributing meteorologist from Baltimore, shot a similar picture with his Droid phone. He sent the following commentary:

"Even though the sun had already set at ground level, the reflection from the storm was so bright that it was casting shadows.  You can also see the the beginning of 'mammatus,' which are the bubbly elements protruding down from the top of the cloud... almost look like hanging grapes ...  They got more pronounced, but it also got too dark to really see them clearly.  They are indicative of a strong thunderstorm... one with very strong updrafts."

Speaking of thunderstorms, there was plenty of damage  late Sunday night and early Monday morning  from storms moving south of Baltimore, in Ellicott City, Glen Burnie and Eastport, among other communities. On the link above, be sure to click on earlier versions for more damage reports. The storm produced gusts in excess of 70 mph at BWI-Marshall.

Thunderstorm detail

Here's how Monday evening's storm looked from Parkville. Thanks to Jamie Myers:

Storm cloud











I asked the folks at Sterling to check the radar returns from the storm and help us understand better what we were looking at.

Matt Kramar checked the radar images and described the storm this way:

"It was very much multi-cellular in nature (sequential updraft pulses generated and advected [pushed] eastward, with the latest, most intense pulse on the western flank [the one we were watching from NOAA/NWSBaltimore].

"The updraft was quite strong. From our radar, there is significant echo ... over 45,000 feet ... So, in terms of vertical dimension, the storm likely was at least 50,000 feet tall. At the right of photograph #1 and in the center of photograph #3, the updraft's overshooting top is visible, which illustrates the strength of the updraft."

I mentioned the "mammatus" - the "bunches of grapes" clouds hanging off the upper cloud decks in the photos.

"Mammatus are generally a sign of highly turbulent air," Kramar continued in an email message. "I imagine they would have formed with each updraft pulse and advected eastward with the updraft, and that the multiple layers of mammatus you saw were just the latest iteration, and not residual from prior updraft pulses. There is tremendous turbulence through many layers around a strong updraft, which this clearly was on radar and visually."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:27 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Cool pictures

June 14, 2010

Japanese asteroid probe makes spectacular re-entry

Like a pre-mature 4th of July rocket in reverse, the Japanese Space Agency's Hyabusa spacecraft made a fiery re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere Sunday at the end of a seven-year space journey. While the probe's payload made a planned parachute landing in the Australian outback, its rocket body broke apart in the upper atmosphere, putting on a spectacular show for observers on the ground and aboard a NASA chase plane.

Japanese scientists expected to pick up the capsule today. Inside, they hope, are samples of the asteroid Itokawa, collected in 2005, and clues to the composition and physics of the early solar system. - Japan's Hayabusa capsule re-entry video Video
Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:23 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

June 4, 2010

Pot o' gold on the Eastern Shore

Talbot County rainbow 

As I drove home last evening, and watched the storms move off to the east and the skies clear to the west around sunset, I figured someone would spot a rainbow and grab a picture. And Jim Eastern Shore RainbowDawson, over in Talbot County, was the man.

"The first photo shows a partial double rainbow," he said, "but unfortunately, the secondary bow is hard to see. At its peak, the main bow spanned the whole 180 degrees, from horizon to horizon."

It's a nice shot, but I liked his second shot - the road to the pot o' gold - even better.

Thanks to Jim for sharing his pictures.



Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:20 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

June 3, 2010

Computer simulates Gulf oil flow into Atlantic

Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) have conducted computer simulations to suggest how oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico might flow into the Atlantic Ocean in the coming weeks.

As has been suggested before, the researchers concluded that once the oil is swept up in the Gulf's fast-moving Loop Current, it will move quickly beyond the Gulf, in to the Gulf Stream, up the East Coast to Cape Hatteras, and from there far out into the Atlantic.

The simulations aren't perfect. They're based on the predicted behavior of a dye, not oil. Precisely how oil and its various components would behave in different depths of seawater is not well understood. But the scientists say their simulations do represent an "envelope of possible scenarios."

Whatever, the animations released by the NCAR folks are fascinating, and troubling.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:06 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Cool pictures

June 2, 2010

2009 hurricane season in fast-forward space movie

For those of you who missed the 2009 hurricane season - it only generated three hurricanes (Bill, Fred and Ida) and none struck the U.S. - here's your chance to relive it from the safety of Earth orbit. NASA has assembled its satellite tracking imagery for the entire season and compiled it into a mesmerizing movie. Have a look:

And while we're on topic, the hurricane forecasting team of Phil Klotzbach and William Gray out at Colorado State University has issued a revised forecast for the 2010 Atlantic season, and the news has not gotten better.

The CSU group has increased its April estimates and is now calling for a "very active" season, with 18 named storms, of which 10 are expected to become hurricanes, and 5 would reach "major" (Cat. 3 strength), with top sustained winds of 111 mph or more.

(Their April forecast called for 15 named storms, 8 hurricanes and 4 major storms.)

The new estimate is more in line with what NOAA's Climate Prediction Center called for in its official pre-season forecast a week ago: 14 to 23 named storms, with 8 to 14 hurricanes and 3 to 7 "major" storms.

Klotzbach and Gray also forecast a "well-above-average" probability of U.S. landfalls by Cat. 3 or stronger storms.

"The probability of a major hurricane making landfall along the U.S. coastline is 76 percent compared with the last-century average of 52 percent," Klotzbach said.  He anticipates that the El Nino conditions that prevailed in 2009 will wane and the Pacific cycle will move into a neutral or weak La Nina pattern, a change that reduces wind shear in the Atlantic and makes storm formation easier.

The CSU team put the risk of a major hurricane striking the East Coast, including Florida, at 51 percent. A similar 51-percent strike risk was predicted for the Gulf Coast, from the Florida panhandle west to Brownsville, Tex. The chance that a major hurricane will track into the Caribbean was set at 65 percent.

Klotzbach and Gray said the atmospheric and oceanic conditions in place for the 2010 Atlantic season are similar to those in 1958, 1966, 1969 and 2005. They said this season would unfold in line with the average storm count for those years. The worst of those years was the 2005 season, which generated a record number of Atlantic storms, including Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which ravaged the northern Gulf from Texas to northwest Florida.  

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:15 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

May 28, 2010

Sound and light from plodding T-storms

Lightning Baltimore

It took them a while to get fired up, but last night's slow-moving thunderstorms finally put on quite a sound and light show for Central Maryland.

We watched the lighting lace through the clouds east of the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville for a while before bed, then listened to the boomers and watched the light flickering off the walls well into the night. Beautiful. And very tropical.

Bill Stifler, in Hampden, had the presence of mind to set up his camera, and he captured some terrific images. Here's Bill:

"As I write, there's an even bigger storm getting ready to roll through. (It's about 11 p.m.) Gotta run and see if I can catch anything from this storm. Attached (below) are the two I felt came out the best."

He went outside again and nailed the shot at the top of this post. He said:

"Needless to say, it was a close strike. It's a good thing that the camera was on a long exposure, because the strikes were so close around the time that this picture was taken, that I was flinching every thirty seconds or so because of the intensity of the light and the incredible volume of the thunder."

Here are the other two:

Lightning BaltimoreLightning Baltimore

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:40 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

May 18, 2010

Anyone else think Delmarva looks like a shrimp?

Kinda looks like it to me. The first shot was taken Saturday by NASA's Aqua Earth-Observing Satellite. The second is, well, a shrimp. So where's the cocktail sauce?




Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:00 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Cool pictures

May 17, 2010

Gulf oil gusher - today's view from orbit

NASA/TerraHere's the latest NASA photo from orbit of oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon leak.

It was taken just after noon today (Monday 5/17) by the Terra Earth-Observing Satellite.

The oil slick appears dull gray, stretching from the tip of the Mississippi River delta out into the Gulf.  

This link will take you to a NASA oil slick image gallery.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:26 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Cool pictures

May 11, 2010

What a mess ... Nature's ash, BP's oil from space

NASA image BP oil slick 

Between the leaking BP oil well and the ash-spewing Eyjafjalljokull volcano in Iceland, there is plenty of crud in the air and water to catch the eye of high-flying satellites.

NASA today released new images of both events. The shot of the undulating oil slick off the southeast coast of Louisiana (above) shows a J-shaped smear just south of the Mississippi/Alabama border. It was shot by the space agency's Terra Earth-observing satellite at 12:35 EDT Monday afternoon.

The ash plume from Iceland is shown (below) streaming off the island in a nearly straight line to the south southeast. Farther downstream, NASA says, the ash has now reached North Africa and Turkey. The image was taken at 9:25 a.m. EDT Monday, also by Terra.

NASA image Iceland volcano

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:33 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

May 3, 2010

Maryland snow pile, too, in its last days

BWI snow pileLancaster, Pa. is not the only place in the region with a dwindling remnant of the back-to-back blizzards of 2010.

Officials at the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport say the huge snow pile alongside the hourly garage has not yet melted completely away. But it does appear to be in its final days. It was 80 degrees at BWI this afternoon.

"This snow, still remaining here in early May, reminds all of us of the record storms this winter," said Paul J. Wiedefeld, the airport's executive director, in his eulogy for the 77 inches that fell there this past winter.

"I want to again acknowledge and thank the snow team employees at BWI Marshall who worked extremely long hours this winter to clear snow for airport customers. It was a winter that none of us will soon forget."

Here's how the snow pile looked on March 4:Snow pile at BWI March 4

(PHOTOS courtesy of Jonathan Dean, BWI)



Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:59 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

April 30, 2010

Feb. snow pile survives into May

Charlie Charnigo 

Our Lancaster correspondent reports on Friday afternoon that the remnants of the mammoth Lancaster, Pa. snow pile he first photographed in February is still hanging in there on April 30. But just barely.

"Would you believe it is still there! It will be there tomorrow [May 1], but I think it will be gone by next week," said Charlie Charnigo. He sent us the photo above, taken Friday April 30, to prove it. "We will see what is left, if any, next Friday. But it did make it to May for sure. Thanks for the interest in my little project."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:27 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Cool pictures

April 23, 2010

The snow abides ...

SNow pile in Lancaster, PA 4/23/10

Charlie Charnigo, keeper of the once-mammoth snow pile up in Lancaster, Pa., has made his latest Friday visit to what may be the last remnant of February's record blizzards. And behold! A bit remains, enough, he believes, that a smidge might survive into May. Just eight days to go.

I'm rooting for it, although we may get enough rain in the next 4 or 5 days to send it all into the storm sewer.

In the meantime, if anyone knows of any other snow piles still trickling into history in Maryland, especially in the Baltimore area, please let us know about it, snap a picture of it and send it along.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:00 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Cool pictures

April 22, 2010

Astonishing pix from Eyjafjallajokull

Is it possible to see too many pictures of this eruption in Iceland? If you think so, click on the link to the photo gallery assembled by  I guarantee you will be captivated and scroll Iceland volcanothrough the entire collection.

Sure, the volcanic eruption closed airports and air routes. And millions of people had to spend an extra week in Paris (poor dears), or slum around on the EuroStar train when they'd planned to jet home.

But the real eruption was in the boiling ash clouds and lightning-laced air above Iceland, or in the pastures where Icelandic ponies tried to graze, and farmers shoveled ash off their roofs and worried their farms would be devastated.

Be thankful you live on a calm, stable, coastal plain, where the only real worries are a couple of feet of snow now and then.

(AP PHOTO/Carolyn Kaster/ Icelandic farmer hauls reluctant sheep from field contaminated by ash)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:50 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

April 16, 2010

Lancaster, PA. snow heap is still melting

SNow pile in Lancaster 4/16/2010 

Another day in the 80s and that huge snow pile up in Lancaster, Pa., that Charlie Charnigo has been chronicling for us is still melting today. Here's Charlie's latest shot, taken Friday, 4/16. Looks like the frontloader has been moved. Can the snow survive into May? Stay tuned.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:35 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Cool pictures

April 12, 2010

Somewhere, the snow is still melting

Lancaster, Pa. 2/19/10

Sure, we've already had temperatures in the 90s, and thunderstorms. And the blossoms are already falling off the trees.

But still, in a few places around the region, the snow heaps built up by plows and 'dozers during February's record snowstorms are still melting, even during the second weekend in April. I have no idea whether this is a record. I'm sure the NWS doesn't track such things. But I sure can't remember a year when snow, in any form, has lingered so long.

Anyway, a few faithful readers have been keeping a photographic record of the BIG MELT. Among them is Charlie Charnigo, in Abottstown, Pa., who has been taking snapshots of a pile near his job in Lancaster, Pa. He says:

"Every Friday I eat my lunch near it. I began to take pix on the 19th of Feb. and have been every week since. . . I am thinking it will last until May unless we have some warm rain. It was well over 30 feet tall, about 100 wide I guess and 200 long."

Here's how Charlie's heap looked a month later, on March 19. Keep an eye on the front-loader on the right, which appears not to have been moved since the storm. It provides scale to the pictures. 

Lancaster, Pa.  3/19/10











And finally, here is the snow pile as it looked last Friday, April 9, more than two months after the snow began to fly. Thanks to Charlie for sharing his pictures.

Laancaster, Pa.  4/9/10


Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:21 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

April 8, 2010

Cool 3-D IMAX film showcases Hubble repairs

The new 3-D IMAX film opening Friday (finally!) at the Maryland Science Center is a hoot for anyone who's been captivated by the manned space program, or by the fabulous photos the Hubble Space Telescope has been sending us since its launch 20 years ago this month.

Well, okay, so the Hubble's photos weren't too fabulous for the first few years after its launch. An NASAerror in the curvature of the observatory's main mirror made the $2 billion telescope a trifle nearsighted and an intense disappointment to all who had working since the 1970s to plan, engineer and build the thing.

But the miracle and the genius of the project was that Hubble was built to be serviced. Scientists figured out how to fashion a corrective lens that could correct for the "spherical aberration" in the main mirror, and insert it into the light path leading to the telescope's scientific instruments. It was called COSTAR, and once it was installed in 1993 by a team of brave and skilled astronauts, it worked brilliantly. (All instruments installed on the telescope since then have included built-in corrective lenses, and COSTAR has been removed.)

And that's been the story of Hubble ever since. Beyond the vast wealth of ground-breaking, haunting and eerily beautiful images Hubble has sent us since 1993, the program, again and again, has proven the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the scientists and engineers and astronauts who have worked with the observatory.

And the new 3-D IMAX film brings that all startlingly to life.

Through comically huge 3-D spectacles, viewers are transported to the "clean room" in Sunnyvale, Calif., where Hubble was prepared for launch, and from there to the launch tower at Cape Canaveral as the telescope is blasted into orbit.John Grunsfeld

With 3-D footage shot during the installation of the COSTAR device in 1993, viewers float out into the payload bay as astronauts labor to squeeze the corrective apparatus into the telescope's innards. Later in the film, you're rocketed back into space with John Grunsfeld (at right, now the deputy director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore) as he returns to the telescope in May 2009 to wrestle new instruments into Hubble's science bay, and repair other hardware. It was the final servicing mission to the telescope. 

The breadth of the IMAX screen and the giant glasses give you, perhaps for the first time ever, a sense of what astronauts must see as they venture outside the shuttle and gaze out at the Earth. One of them calls the view "a gift that astronauts have been given." But ours may be even better. The planet fills your field of view, without the limits of a space helmet or the dimming effects of a visor. It's just you, the shuttle and telescope, and the planet, in three dimensions.

There is also some dizzying footage shot inside the shuttle's cabin, as astronauts float about their business. There is the inevitable toying with weightless food, a tiresome quip about how astronauts relieve themselves in zero gravity (the secret is "suction", we're told). And somebody thought ukelele music was about right to accompany parts of this celestial spectacle. But we forgive them.

At least the filmmakers didn't shy away from Hubble's scientific mission. With the magic of 3-D,NASA/Hubble they take viewers gliding (at a simulated 150 trillion miles per second) across the 1,300 light years of space between Earth and the Orion Nebula (photo, right). Using decades of Hubble images and plenty of computer wizardry, they carry us deep into the roiling nebula, where new stars and entire solar systems are being forged.

Later, we're flown out of the nebula, and across our spiral Milky Way galaxy, and then up and away across intergalactic space to our sister spiral galaxy, called Andromeda. Next, we're introduced to the "local cluster" of galaxies ours belongs to, which is in turn part of the larger Virgo Cluster. The mind boggles as the film - still with real Hubble images - expands our horizon to take in more clusters and inter-cluster strings of galaxies that make up the "web" of all matter in the universe, and the swarms of raw, misshapen young galaxies Hubble has found at the edges of space and time. Whew!

None of this would have been possible, of course, without the men and women who built and upgraded Hubble, invented repairs and worked around failures to keep it working and even improved it over the last 20 years. More than hardware and glass and computers, Hubble 3-D makes it clear that the space telescope is its people and their genius. And IMAX puts us among them.

For showtimes and tickets, visit call 410 685-5225.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:38 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

April 7, 2010

You are here ... New weather satellite snaps globe

EarthThe newest weather satellite orbited to keep track of the planet's weather - GOES 15 - has sent back its first picture.

The black and white photo, taken Tuesday afternoon, shows the Western Hemisphere in sunshine and cloud, including a huge, swirling storm system off the Antarctic coast. 

We don't often get to see fresh pictures of the entire planet. It takes a satellite in geosynchronous orbit - 22,230 miles up - to get it all in one frame. 

And there it is, that fragile sphere where everything we've ever touched, everyone we know, and all our history reside, and whose delicate life-support systems are all that protect us from oblivion.

Here's a link to the high-resolution version.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:41 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Cool pictures

March 25, 2010

Aussies suffer another costly hailstorm

The National Weather Service's Sterling forecast office recorded its first (non-snow) thunderstorms of the year on Monday, and with them came some 1-inch hail.

But that hail pales in comparison with the storms that have pounded parts of Australia during March, as the southern continent transitions from summer to fall. Hailstones as big as 4 inches have been documented in these storms. The damage has been tremendous.

Steve Zubrick, science officer at Sterling, cites newspaper sources down under who quote the Insurance Council of Australia saying insurers there have already received 79,000 claims worth $491 million. But insurance experts believe the total will exceed $700 million and set a new record for the country.

Zubrick tells me the first storm struck March 6 in Melbourne, with stones likened to lemons, near 4 inches in diameter. Another occurred in Perth, in Western Australia on Monday, March 22. Both came with flash flooding, as this video from Melbourne makes plain.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:57 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

March 24, 2010

April nears and we're still melting

We've got flowers, and buds and bugs. The sidewalk tables are set again, and it sure feels like winter is over. But the snows of February (and December) are still with us, here and there, at least Snow pile, BWI, March 24, 2010where they were plowed and dumped into huge piles.

Here's one of them. The photo was taken Tuesday afternoon out at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, and sent to me Wednesday by alert reader Jonathan Dean. Looks like the snow had been plowed off the adjacent garage. Dean said:

"There are still a couple of large snow piles remaining here at BWI ... including this one behind the airport's hourly garage.

"There's also a pile of ugly, dirty snow remaining on the airfield, on the helipad alongside the general aviation runway 15L-33R. We pushed a large pile of snow there during the storms, and it continues to melt away."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:35 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

March 17, 2010

Stowaway on space shuttle likely perished

NASA says its ground crews discovered an apparent stowawayNASA STS 119 on the space shuttle Discovery (STS-119) before its launch on March 15, 2009. It was hoped the intruder would leave before the rockets ignited. But that didn't happen, and the hitchhiker is NASA free tail bat on shuttle tankthought to have died during liftoff.

The stowaway was probably a free-tail bat. It was spotted clinging to the surface of the shuttle's orange external fuel tank. Observers saw it moving around a bit, and they expected it would fly off before the countdown reached zero.

But it didn't, and it was seen on the tank as it began to rise toward orbit. NASA officials figure it was torn off the tank by wind during ascent and incinerated in the shuttle's rocket exhaust.

The bat may have had an injured wing. Here's more.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:35 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

March 16, 2010

Venison on the menu in Ashland


Nothing like a fine breakfast with a group of close friends. These vultures gathered this morning to dine beside Western Run on the carcass of a whitetail deer (barely visible, far left). The animal appeared to have been struck by a car on Ashland Road, then stumbled, or was dragged, to the edge of the woods.

The forecast calls for more sunshine today, and through the end of the week, with temperatures rising well into the 60s as the week rolls along.  

(SUN PHOTO: Frank Roylance, 3/16/10)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:56 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

March 3, 2010

Coastal storm is kicking up the surf

The big low-pressure system riding up the east Coast today is driving northeast winds onto the mid-Atlantic beaches this Wednesday morning. The National Weather Service has posted Coastal NOAAFlood Advisories for the Maryland shore:


For a look at the surf, check out the Kite Loft web cam in Ocean City. Looks like those folks have installed a higher definition camera. First time I've seen it, but it's a much better picture than I've noticed before. Or maybe it's my imagination.

Here's a look at the surf in Rehoboth, Del. I didn't realize they were rebuilding the boardwalk out there. Is that repair work for damage earlier this winter, or routine replacement? Anybody know?

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:54 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Cool pictures

March 2, 2010

Baltimore in snow, from space

The photo is more than seven years old, but still ... A snapshot of Baltimore under a new blanket of fresh snow, shot from the International Space Station as it flew 220 miles above the city? That's a cool picture in my book, even if it was shot in December 2002. Enjoy.

 Baltimore in snow, from space

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:49 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

Virginia well dropped 2 feet after Chile quake

Water in a hydrological monitoring well in Christiansburg, Va. briefly dropped almost 2 feet in response to the Mag. 8.8 earthquake in Chile on Feb. 27.

The Christiansburg site is well-known to hydrologists for its sensitivity to the seismic waves that travel around the globe after major quakes. It had a similar response to the earthquake in Haiti on Jan. 12 and to others as far away as the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean.

Here's the tracing from the Chilean quake. The regular sine-wave variations are due to the effect of lunar tides on the Earth's crust:


Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:28 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

February 25, 2010

Two feet of snow !

Two feet of snow


Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:20 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Cool pictures

February 12, 2010

Snowpocalypse: Our weekend storm in time lapse

Thanks to 3 SonsProductions for this time-lapse animation of the Super Bowl Weekend Storm. The scene: S. Bouldin Street in the Canton section of Baltimore. The time: 3:38 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 5, 2010 through 5:30 p.m. on Saturday. The lead actor: 25 inches of snow.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:04 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Cool pictures

February 11, 2010

Weekend snowstorm, the view from orbit

This satellite image was shot on Sunday - before the latest storm, but after the Friday-Saturday blizzard - by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer aboard NASA's Earth Observing Terra satellite. That snow stopped short of the NYC area. Enjoy.

Feb. 5-6 blizzard from space

And here's another, shot today (Thursday), showing us digging out from under the Feb. 9-10 storm. Smile.

Feb. 9-10 snowfall from space

You can see a closeup of the Chesapeake region here, but the photo, shot on Monday after the weekend storm, is a tad overexposed because of the bright snow cover.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:41 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Cool pictures

January 8, 2010

Biggest wave ever surfed? Riding the monster

Early December 2009 saw some of the biggest surf in decades on the north shores of the Hawaiian Islands. The storm-driven waves dwarfed the crazed dudes and dudettes who took them on. This video needs no further comment from me.


Here's more from

"This week the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center issued an alert confirming that the current El Nino episode had intensified in the last 30 days from "moderate" to "strong," adding that the condition would exert a "significant influence on the global weather and climate in the coming months." And for surfers in the North Pacific basin, that means more enormous waves. According to, major new swell events are lining up in the coming days, impacting the Hawaiian Islands around Monday and the West Coast around Wednesday of next week."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:46 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

January 7, 2010

Astonishing snow photo from orbit

NASA/Terra Earth observing satelliteI know lots of people will point to this as "proof" that global warming is a hoax. But it is such an astonishing image - all of England, Wales and Scotland covered in snow - that I just had to post it. 

With snow and bitter cold over much of the United States this week, and much of the same across northern Europe and northeast China, this is shaping up as a very impressive year for winter weather, and a wonder to behold. Just remember that averages are made up of extremes on both sides of the long-term trend line.

Here's a link to the larger photo file and an article.


And if you're interested, here's a link to the site that tracks the Earth's snow cover daily. You can animate the images and watch the snow line expeand and retreat. Fascinating.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:01 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Cool pictures

December 22, 2009

View from orbit: Snowstorm paints region white

Saturday's record-breaking snowstorm has left a mark on the mid-Atlantic states that is clearly visible from space. Here is the image taken on Monday by NASA's Terra Earth Observing Satellite.

The photo-like image was acquired by the satellite's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument. Here's a link to a better view, snapped on Sunday. Enjoy.

NASA/Terra Dec. 21, 2009

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:18 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

December 8, 2009

Huge El Nino surf dwarfs surfers on Maui

Some of the biggest surf in decades -30 to 40 feet - is rolling onto the north shore of the Hawaiian Islands. And surfers - crazy? brave? suicidal? You tell me - are all over them. Here is some jaw-dropping footage shot today at Pe'ahi and posted on You Tube by Billabong (


Surf News put it this way: "Sean Collins, head forecaster for, said this swell ranks in the top five biggest ever experienced on Oahu's North Shore, comparable to historic El Niño-fueled episodes in 1998 and 1969. The extreme surf is expected to continue for several days with High Surf Advisories issued for all north-facing shorelines of the entire Hawaiian Chain. The swell is so powerful forecasters expect it to significantly impact the West Coast of North America in the coming days, reaching California on Wednesday and Mexico on Thursday, working its way south throughout the Pacific until finally reaching Chile over a week from now."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:40 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

November 17, 2009

Tom Turkey on the road to ... dinner

 Tom, on the road

I was driving to work on I-83 Monday when I pulled alongside this flatbed truck from Locust Point Farm in Elkton, loaded with cages holding dozens of turkeys. It wasn't hard to imagine where they were headed.  Fortunately for these guys, we celebrated early. All turkeyed out. 

Speaking of seasonal critters, anyone else under siege by box elder bugs and ladybugs? They all want to come indoors. Crickets, too.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:50 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Cool pictures

November 9, 2009

NASA posts very cool movie of Tropical Storm Ida

NASA GOESThe NASA Goddard Space Flight Center has assembled a very nifty movie from GOES satellite images of former Hurricane Ida, beginning as the storm entered the Yucatan Channel Nov. 7 and began to threaten the U.S. Gulf Coast, where it is making landfall today.

Have a look here.

From the clip, it becomes clear that the clouds that have overspread our region today formed from Gulf moisture and convection just west of Ida. But that flow of moisture from the western Gulf has now merged with Ida's, and the result is mild, cloudy weather for Maryland.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

October 12, 2009

Space station astronauts snap Yellowstone fire

 Yellowstone fires

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station have snapped a photo of the so-called Arnica wildfire that started burning in mid-September in Yellowstone National Park. It's a striking image, shot Sept. 26 at an oblique (rather than straight-down) angle. It shows several of the late-season fires that were burning in the park, and Snow cover Oct. 12the tremendous area covered by the resulting smoke. Here's more.

By Sept. 30, the Arnica fire had consumed 10,000 acres. Then the weather began to change and parts of the northern Rockies  began to feel the chill of winter in the air.

A weekend snowstorm has pushed the continent's snow cover (left) well into Montana, Wyoming (including Yellowstone), Colorado and Nebraska, at least for now. The Arnica fire is now "under control," and the fire season there has drawn to a close.

Temperatures in the Denver area dropped to 17 degrees on Saturday. Icy roads became a hazard and a section of I-25 was closed after a fatal accident that may have been linked to icy conditions.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:35 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

September 24, 2009

Six Flags Over Ga., Under Water, as seen from orbit

Six Flags Over Georgia, under waterThe flooding in Georgia this week has made for many remarkable photos. But none had the vantage point of orbiting satellites.

Digital Globe, a satellite imaging company, has released an photo of the flooding around the Six Flags over Georgia amusement park, and there's not much amusing about it.

Aside from the still, brown water that had swamped some of the roller coasters and other parts of the park by Tuesday when the shot was taken, what's really amazing is the detail available from cameras gliding by hundreds of miles up.

Can you imagine the detail available from the Pentagon's spy sats? Smile!

Here's the photo. And here's a more detailed version.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:18 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

September 3, 2009

"Coolest" NASA video ever

                          2009 Tour of the Cryosphere                                   

NASA has produced a remarkable video animation of data from Earth-observing satellites that have been monitoring the globe's "cryosphere," especially the polar ice.

You can link to it here. And here is a link to a whole bunch of nifty NASA multimedia stuff.

Also, a study funded by the National Science Foundation has found more evidence that it is the human factor, and not natural cycles, that are behind accelerating polar warming.

In fact, the arctic would likely still be in a 2,000-year-long cooling cycle if it weren't for human activity, the study found. You can read more about that here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:05 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

August 23, 2009

Friday storm photos

Bill STifler/Hampden 

Thunderhead/HampdenBill Stifler has sent in more weather photos, this time from Friday's thunderstorms. He shoots mostly from locations in Hampden, in Baltimore City, proving that you don't need an exotic location to capture some great weather photos. Okay, for some, Hampden is pretty darned exotic.

Still, you can't argue with good photography. Be sure to visit Bill's weather photo page. Says he:

"These were taken in Hampden - from the roof of my place of 
employment. The ... lightning photos were taken later in the evening - 
one from my house and the others from [a parking] lot in 
Hampden ... I was seconds away from 
some really good lightning images, but these turned out ok. The recent 
pattern has provided good conditions for weather photo geeks like me."

The forecast for Baltimore today says we will have only a small chance for more showers tonight or tomorrow as a weak cold front continues to dawdle on its way east and out of the region.

The rest of the week looks sunny, or mostly so, with temperatures in the mid-80s - just a tad above the norms for this time of year. Overnight lows will be in the 60s.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:45 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

August 13, 2009

Bay birds caught on radar

Birds on radar

Steve Zubrick, the science and operations officer at the National Weather Service forecast office in Sterling, sent me a series of radar images shot early Wednesday morning.

They show an odd ring of radar returns (image above) that appears to emerge from the upper Chesapeake, near Pooles Island, and expand across the area.  He thinks it's a flock of birds, rising after dawn and fanning, perhaps Birds on radarto forage for the day. Here's Steve's note:

"For the past several mornings, beginning around 6AM EDT (1000 UTC), our KLWX 88D Doppler radar has shown an expanding ring of higher reflectivity values originating from an apparent point source of the Chesapeake Bay just north of Poole's Island near the mouth of the Bush River.

"I've attached a few images that show this phenomena. It's nothing unusual and happens quite frequently, not only here but in other parts of the country.

"When I've seen these before in this area, they've been mostly originating over land. This appears to originate over water (or marsh?) near the mouth of  the Bush River...or the land areas along eastern Aberdeen Proving Ground.

"Also, the 1021Z images show the reflectivity spike seen by the radar as the sun rises. Interesting."

He may be right. It could be birds. But what kind of birds are massed like that at this time of year? Any watermen or boaters out there who have witnessed anything like this around Poole's Island? What do you think?

UPDATE:  Just received email from Jerome A. Jackson, professor of ecological science at Florida Gulf Coast University. He took a look at the radar images and had this to offer:

"Yes, they are likely birds ... and a good guess would be that they are purple martins. Patterns like this are often produced as purple martins disperse from their communal roosts at this time of year. We are talking about roosts of thousands of martins. It would be very interesting to confirm that they are martins by going to the area shown and watching for them either in the morning as they go out to feed for the day, or in the evening as they return to roost.

"They gather in enormous flocks prior to migrating to the Amazon basin for the winter ... and usually roost near large bodies of water where they then move out to feed on the hordes of insects that are produced in the area."

Thanks to Baltimore Sun photo editor Jerry Jackson, for facilitating the exchange with Dr. Jackson, his dad.

Birds on radar

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:04 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

August 6, 2009

First image from new weather satellite

The new GOES-14 weather satellite launched June 27 has sent back its first picture of the full disk of the Earth. Taken on Monday last week, it shows North and South America, and the entire cloud-spangled western hemisphere.

Once its checkout is complete in December, the satellite will be parked and held in readiness in case one of the three operational GOES weather satellites breaks down or runs out of fuel. The white spot at the center of the picture is the reflection of the sun on the Pacific Ocean off Panama.

The satellite was designed, developed and launched by NASA, the project managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. It will be turned over to NOAA after checkout. It is 22,236 miles above the Earth, in a 24-hour orbit that keeps it over the same spot on the surface. Read more here

 GOES-14 first image


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Categories: Cool pictures

August 5, 2009

Eagle shares brunch with vultures

Eagle dines on Dundee deer 

Let's see ... How can I make this weather-related? Okay, the sun was shining near Dundee Creek on Saturday and the table was set. So this adult bald eagle decided it would be a fine morning to share an alfresco brunch with two turkey vultures.

The menu included just one item - a dead deer they'd all spotted in an open field, about 150 feet off Graces Quarters Road.

Melanie Cellini was on her way to to Dundee Marina when she saw the trio. 

"I stopped the car, brought the passenger window down just far enough so my dog couldn't jump out, and zoomed in with my camera. "I've lived in the Bay Country development for 20 years and other than occasionally seeing an eagle in the air, I've never experienced what I did that morning."

Ms. Cellini mistakenly assumed the smaller birds were fledgling eagles. But closer inspection of her photos shows they're vultures. The red on their faces identifies them as turkey vultures, I'm told.

"The mother was standing on the deer while the fledglings ate. When we came back home about two hours later, the mother was gone, but the two fledglings were still there. Later that evening, all of them had left and, unfortunately, have not returned to that location."

Ms. Cellini believes the eagle may be one of the pair that were removed from an aerie near Martin Airport last winter after being judged a potential hazard to flight operations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reported that those eagles nested again this spring, a short distance away, and are raising a new family. 

In any event, the picture reveals our national symbol as he is - not always the romantic hunter, soaring high and snatching fish from blue waters. He is also a carrion eater, picking lunch from rotting carcasses. That may be why Ben Franklin preferred the wild turkey for our national emblem.  

(PHOTO by Melanie Cellini/ Used with permission)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:59 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

July 8, 2009

Mason-Dixon meteor turns up on security cam

The big fireball meteor that startled residents in Central Maryland and southern Pennsylvania early Monday morning was captured on a security camera video in York Pa. It's about 18 seconds into the 70-second video. Meteorite hunters hope this will be a first clue to guide them to the spot where surviving bits of the meteor - if there are any - may have landed.

The camera was one of about 50 that protect the various facilities of the York Water Company. The president and CEO, Jeffrey R. Hines, said he and his wife live in York and heard the sonic boom touched off by the meteor as it entered the atmosphere at about 1:10 a.m. Monday. But they didn't see anything.

It wasn't until late on Monday that he decided to check the security video to see what the cameras might have seen.

"It didn't take long," he said. The quality isn't great. "It's a security camera, at night."

But the meteor is unmistakable, he said. "You can see the fireball, and see it all ready to burn out, and a number of pieces of meteorite. Probably four or five frames is all it captures."

Even so, Hines said, "It's pretty cool." With two or three more images like this, meteorite hunters hope to be able to triangulate on the meteor's trajectory, and its final seconds before any surviving pieces fell to Earth.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:25 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Cool pictures

June 19, 2009

Funnel cloud photos from June 9 storm

The National Weather Service has begun to receive and pass along eyewitnesses' photos of a funnel cloud that formed in the outer portion of Baltimore Harbor last Tuesday, June 9. The twister formed as a strong gust front passed over the city, along with a thunderstorm and brief, heavy rains.

The same storm was blamed for spawning a small (EF-0) tornado that ripped through a one-mile-long portion of Dundalk shortly after 5 p.m., but it does not appear that the funnel cloud in these funnel cloud Baltimore photos was the same one that caused the damage in Dundalk, according to Steve Zubrick, science and operations office at the weather service's Sterling forecast office.

The funnel cloud that passed over the outer harbor, just north of the southern portal of the Harbor Tunnel, was captured by at least two amateur photogaphers, at around 5:12 p.m. 

One was Dr. Benjamin Petre, M.D., an orthopaedic surgery resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital. His pictures (one of them is at left)were shot from his home on Bouldin St. in Highlandtown. We use one here with his permission.

He said, "I was taking my dog outside because she is terrified of storms. I saw the clouds doing some funny things and went up to my roofdeck. When I saw the tornado I took some iPhone pictures! It only lasted [about ] one minute. But it was cool to see. I was facing due south towards 1st Mariner [tower]."

Here are Zubrick's comments on the Petre image:

"The pictures Dr. Petre took [were] of a 2nd funnel cloud. It was NOT the same as the tornado that hit Dundalk. Based on a combination of a weak signature in the TDWR/BWI radar and Dr. Petre's image times from his cell phone camera (which I believe to be accurate) ... his images are of a funnel that occurred between [about 5:10 and 5:15 PM EDT (i.e., before the Dundalk EF-0 tornado) ... and this funnel was likely a waterspout."

The second picture sent to Zubrick at the NWS was a video shot from a car that was northbound, approaching the south portal of the Harbor Tunnel. The view is to the east southeast. It was shot by Josh and Jessie Klein. We will post it here when they call us back (or email me at and give us permission. It shows the spinning cloud column over the harbor.

Continue reading "Funnel cloud photos from June 9 storm" »

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:36 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

May 29, 2009

Orioles' rainbow

Amy GoniganOkay, so it was a great night for baseball, after all. Those boys have come alive at last. Here's a shot of the Luke Scott rainbow.

Thanks to reader Amy Gonigam, who caught it as it hung over The Sun building tonight.

Maybe it's a good omen for the newspaper, too.

Anybody else get a shot of the rainbow? Send it along and I'll post it. 

Friday's thunderstorms did some impressive damage down in southern Anne Arundel County, where powerful winds knocked mature hardwood trees onto several homes, dropped power lines and put out the lights for 15,000 thousand BGE customers.

The storm also toppled portions of a steeple on the City Temple Baptist Church on North Eutaw Street in Baltimore. The debris punched through the roof and caused more damage inside.

The thunderboomers dropped more than an inch of rain at BWI airport, bringing the total for May to 8.28 inches. That makes May 2009 the second-wettest since record-keeping began in Baltimore in 1871, and only the second time that May rainfall has topped 8 inches. The only wetter May in Baltimore was in 1989, when 8.71 inches fell at BWI.  

The forecast? Beautiful, at least until mid-week.

Here's another shot of the Luke Scott Rainbow, captured by Sun Photographer Karl Merton Ferron. Amazing! Here's Karl's caption:

"Gorgeous clouds and a faint rainbow hang over the ballpark as Baltimore Orioles designated hitter Luke Scott stands at the plate just before he hit a grand slam against the Detroit Tigers (the scoreboard that hangs in lower center image says two outs in the bottom of the third inning, Scott at bat with the count at 2 balls, one strike, and Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Dontrelle Willis on his 45th pitch) on the night of Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters's debut in front of 42,704 paid fans - over 15,000 sold since the announcement of Wieters being brought up - at Oriole Park at Camden Yards Friday, May 29, 2009. Scott hit his grand slam two pitches later, on a 2-2 count."

SUN PHOTO/Karl Merton Ferron 


Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:56 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

May 19, 2009

Dude! Huge waterspout captured on video

National Weather ServiceTwo buddies down in Louisiana captured a huge waterspout (not the one at left) on video, and chased it down (after Mom reminded them to be careful). They were, sort of. Then they sent their video to CNN, which posted it here:

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:40 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

May 18, 2009

Spectacular photos from Hubble repair mission

I watched most of the repairs mission and spacewalks via NASA-TV, on my computer, and I had no idea how much I was missing. Here is a spectacular set of 31 images from the nearly-completed mission. (They land Friday.) 

There are several pictures of clouds and stuff from 350 miles up - my only excuse for using this on the WeatherBlog. Otherwise, it's just way-cool photography for space nerds and taxpayers. Enjoy.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:25 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Cool pictures

May 13, 2009

Pretty view of the Chesapeake from orbit

NASA/ModisHere's a pretty shot of the Chesapeake in springtime, taken Tuesday by the Modis Rapid Response Project at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.

The region looks very green now as trees reach full leaf and lawns and farm fields green up.

Warm air rising off the land produces lots of fluffy cumulus clouds, but cooler bay water cuts off that warming both over the water and downwind along the western parts of the Delmarva Peninsula.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:23 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

April 16, 2009

Space Station in full flower


The most recent space shuttle mission to the International Space Station included the installation of the fourth and final pair of solar panels on the growing outpost. And that brought the station, finally, to the appearance that we have until now had to rely on NASA artists to provide.

So here it is (above). You can read more about it here. And here (below right) is how the place looked in September 2000.NASA

The ISS is, of course, visible from the ground with the naked eye in the early morning or the early evening after sunset, when the station is in sunlight and the observer on the ground is still in darkness. It's brighter than ever now with its new solar panels. Unfortunately, the next chance to see it from Maryland will be in the early morning hours next week - between 3:45 and 6 a.m. That's too early for my blood. But we will post the next good evening flyovers when they get closer.

Many amateur astronomers love the challenge of capturing recognizable images of the station through telescopes during these flyovers. Some are truly remarkable. Here's one that captured one of the spacewalking astronauts as he worked on the construction project during the recent mission. Amazing.  

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:58 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

April 3, 2009

Hubble snaps galaxy triplets

 NASA/Space Telescope Science Institute

A while back NASA and the European Space Agency invited people to vote on which of a selection of never-before-imaged (by Hubble) celestial targets they'd like the Hubble Space Telescope to photograph. The voters chose something called Arp 274, a system of three galaxies in the constellation Virgo, 400 million light years from Earth.

The stunt was part of NASA's and ESA's celebration of the International Year of Astronomy, commemorating Galileo's early work with the telescope. Although he did not invent the telescope, as many people imagine, nor was he the first to aim it at the heavens, Galileo was the first to publish the findings of his telescopic stargazing, which had a profound effect on science and man's concept of his place in the universe. 

The Hubble photo was shot over the last two days, and it's now been published on the Web. It's a beauty. Enjoy.

Click here for more Hubble photos

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:33 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

April 1, 2009

Astronaut's head replaced with computer


Frustrated by the quirks, flaws and general squooshiness of the human brain, NASA decided to replace an astronaut's head with a computer. It seems to work just fine, although it could use some additional miniaturization. That's astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper performing a spacewalk with her new head during a mission last November.

Sorry. NASA started it. Happy April Fool's Day from the WeatherBlog.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:28 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

March 17, 2009

Hubble captures rare Saturn transit

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope last month captured a rare moment as four of Saturn's moons passed in front of the planet (as seen from Earth) within a short period of time.

The moons - Titan Mimas, Enceladus and Dione - each cast their own shadows onto the planet's gassy cloud tops as they drift past. Here's more on the event and the photos.

NASASaturn's iconic rings appear very narrow. They are approaching a period of edge-on orientation relative to Earth, when they all but disappear from view. They will be precisely edge-on on Aug. 10 and again on Sept. 4. It's something that occurs once every 14 or 15 years, and it's called a ring-plane crossing.

These transits of Saturn's moons across the planet's disk tend to occur during these ring-plane crossings because most of the moons orbit in the same plane as the rings. 

The images were shot by Hubble on Feb. 24, when Saturn was about 775 million miles from Earth. The Hubble folks have assembled views of Saturn into a video of the transits.

Pale yellow Saturn is visible in Maryland skies on clear nights this month. Just past opposition - its closest approach to Earth this year and the best time for a look through a telescope - it is rising in the east around 7 p.m. and is high in the southeast at midnight.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:06 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

March 3, 2009

Map of Monday's snowfall posted


The National Weather Service forecasters at Sterling have posted their map of actual (reported) snow totals from our Sunday/Monday snowfall. It's probably the most detailed tally to date of the storm, which I'll wager will be the deepest of this winter season. And you can compare it with the forecast map posted on Monday.

Or, you can compare it to the real deal, (below) snapped from orbit. Enjoy.

NASA Earth Observatory


Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:34 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

February 17, 2009

High-altitude U-turn ... What was that about?

Betsy Shade photo 

One of the things about people like me who habitually watch the skies is that we see things that we can't explain. It happened again on Sunday afternoon. And I was not alone.

My wife and I were returning from a weekend in Philadelphia. We were headed south on I-95 at about 2 p.m. I was driving and my wife was snoozing in the passenger seat, when I noticed a lot of jet contrails in the skies. That is not particularly unusual along the busy east coast air lanes. But one of the contrails caught my eye.

There was an aircraft that - as near as I could tell - had been headed north, or northeast, probably well east of the Chesapeake Bay. But judging from its contrail, it had just made a wide left (toward the west) turn, leaving a broad arc of vapor that swung around 180 degrees until the plane, by the time I noticed it, was headed south, or southwest. 

It was a complete U-turn, at what looked like a pretty high altitude - maybe 30,000 feet or more.

Now, scheduled airliners don't generally turn around in mid-flight and go back where they came from without first landing and dropping off passengers. It could have been an emergency, but in that case, I would expect the plane to descend and head for the nearest airport. This one did not appear to be doing that.

Another possibility I considered was that it was a military aircraft, on some sort of maneuver, or patrol, or training flight. Perhaps it was an executive jet, and the CEO just realized he forgot his power tie. Or, maybe it was a research, or mapping, or aerial photography flight. That just about exhausted my guesses.

Although my wife slept through the whole thing, I was not alone in my observation. On Monday, I received the following email from Betsy Shade, in Millersville: 

Continue reading "High-altitude U-turn ... What was that about?" »

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:02 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Cool pictures

February 9, 2009

Australian bushfires from space

NASA/ AQUA Earth-Observing Satellite

Bushfires in southeastern Australia over the weekend have killed more than 130 people and destroyed whole towns. It is the nation's worst fire season ever. The devastating fires and their smoke are being imaged by orbiting spacecraft. That's a shot from NASA's Aqua Earth Observing satellite above. The red markings outline active flame.

Here's some video from CNN.

Australian officials have said there have been as many as 400 separate fires, some of them believed to have been set by arsonists. You can read more here. But weather conditions have played a powerful role. That section of Australia is in deep drought, and summertime temperatures have gone as high as 117 degrees, winds to 60 mph, drying the vegetation and turning it to tinder. Lightning strikes and idiots set it off, and the wind drove the flames hard.

Here's another shot, taken on Saturday:




Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:45 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

February 3, 2009

Watch continues on Alaskan volcano

Alaska Volcano Observatory

I know. It has nothing to do with Maryland weather. At least not yet. But the rising seismic activity and eruption watch now underway in Alaska at the Redoubt volcano brings to mind the days before Mount St. Helens blew in 1980, as well as the spectacular eruption at Redoubt almost 20 years ago.

That's the one in the Redoubt photo above. The image was one of a series shot by J. Warren, on April 21, 1990. Looks like a nuclear blast, doesn't it? The ash from a December 1989 eruption of Mt. Redoubt was sucked into all four engines of a 747 airliner bound from Amsterdam to Tokyo. All four were snuffed out. But unlike the recent bird-strike incident in New York, pilots of the KLM airliner managed to restart two engines (after dropping 12,000 feet in eight minutes), and they landed safely. At the airport in Anchorage.

The incident occurred despite the then-new, satellite-based system of ash cloud warnings for aircraft. If Redoubt blows again, all airspace around the volcano and downwind may be closed.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory has a fascinating Web site, where anyone can keep watch over the volcano and track its rumblings.

Here's the Web site. There are details on the current activity here.

You can link to a live Redoubt Web cam here. And, you can follow the activity via Twitter, here

And there is a gallery of photos of the 1990 eruption here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:28 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

January 30, 2009

"Cool" satellite image of Maryland snow cover

NOAA Aqua Earth Observing satellite

The "Smog Blog" out at UMBC has posted this very cool satellite image of the snow on the ground yesterday in the Northeast. With any luck (good or bad), we could see this snow field expand and deepen next week.

For a zoomable version, click here.

And here's an animation of the shifting snow and ice cover over North America for the past month.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:58 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Cool pictures

January 21, 2009

Cool satellite image of inaugural crowd

Sunny skies yesterday allowed a passing satellite to snap a photo of the crowd on the Mall in Washington for the presidential inauguration.

Not sure what time of day the picture was taken. But I was surprised to see that the crowd did not totally fill the Mall, as it appeared on TV. They seem to be clustered around the Jumbo-Tron TVs, with plenty of space in between. Maybe it was very early, and the space was not yet packed.

Nevertheless, it's a very cool image - of a very cold crowd. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:01 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Cool pictures

December 24, 2008

Apollo 8: a moment in space-time

Forty years ago tonight, three NASA astronauts held the world transfixed as they transmitted a Christmas Eve message from the moon.

It was the Apollo 8 mission - the first manned spacecraft to cross the 240,000-mile gulf from low Earth orbit to lunar orbit. On board were Commander Frank Borman, Command module Pilot Jim Lovell and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders.

Their goal was not to land on the lunar surface; that would come seven months later with Apollo 11. Instead, they were to make the first crossing to the moon, enter lunar orbit and spin around the moon 10 times before heading home again. 

NASAOn the evening of Dec. 24, at lunar sunrise, the crew went on live TV and sent back eerie images of the gray, forbidding lunar surface, with the blue-and-white globe of the sunlit Earth hanging over the horizon.

Lovell observed: "The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring, and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth."  The image, and that sentiment, helped to inspire a generation of people to a new kind of thinking about the planet - not as a resource to be exploited, but as a spacecraft on which all of us are passengers, sharing limited food, air and water. Break this, spoil these life-support systems, and we will have no place else to go.

Then Anders said, "For all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you."

He and his mates then took turns reading from the story of the Creation, from Genesis. "In the NASAbeginning. God created the heaven and earth. And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep..."

For those of us who listened that night, the effect was electric. Voices, crimped and distorted by tiny microphones and the vast distance, spoke to us from THE MOON! And they spoke of our home planet, and of beginnings, and possibilities for a great human adventure. All this on a night that, for many of us, symbolized hope and our shared humanity. Who could sleep?!

It was Borman, the commander, who signed off that night: "And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you - all of you on the good Earth."

To watch, and listen to the Apollo 8 Christmas Eve broadcast, click here.

WeatherBlog readers: I will be away from the Weather Control Center for a few days to pray for snow and enjoy the holidays with family and friends. The weather buttons and levers will be unmanned until Jan. 5, although I may look in from time to time to post any comments you may offer. Likewise, my mug will be absent from the print Weather Page on Jan. 1-4. My gift to you. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:31 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

December 4, 2008

Wintry snow globe from Hubble


Cram more than 100,000 stars into a cluster "only" 150 light-years wide and you get something like this - the globular cluster astronomers know as M-13. This image was assembled from Hubble data recorded during four separate observations from 1999 to 2006. It includes ultraviolet, visible and infrared portions of light spectrum.

M-13 is one of the brightest and best-known (to astronomers) globular clusters in the northern sky. If you're far enough from urban light pollution, it's even possible to spot this object with the naked eye, I'm told, only 25,000 light years away in the winter constellation Hercules

Folks at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore say the density of stars at the center of this cluster is about 100 times the density of stars in our sun's region of the Milky Way galaxy. Imagine the night sky on a planet circling one of those stars! The stars are so close together they sometimes smash into each other, creating new stars called "blue stragglers."

The red dots are older, giant stars. The bluish ones are young, hot stars.

Astronomers have counted almost 150 such clusters in a sort of halo that surrounds the Milky Way's spiral disk. They are believed to have formed before the spiral itself, and contain some of the oldest stars in the region.

Photo credits go to NASA, the European Space Agency and the Hubble Heritage Team at the space telescope institute.  

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

November 25, 2008

Cop cruiser cam captures amazing fireball

Global EdmontonA Canadian police cruiser dashboard camera has captured an amazing video of a meteor as it ripped through the atmosphere and exploded last Thursday near Edmonton, Alberta. You can see it, and read more about it, here.

Here's more.

And more.



Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:05 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

November 17, 2008

California wildfires from space

The wildfires in the Los Angeles area are sending a pall of smoke westward on the Santa Ana winds, and the streamers are visible far out into the Pacific Ocean. Here is the latest NASA satellite image, snapped on Sunday:


Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:17 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

October 20, 2008

NE autumn, imaged from space


There is a spectacular image of the Northeastern United States on NASA's Earth Observatory Website. It stretches from Nova Scotia to Buffalo, and south to Virginia Beach, all bathed on sunshine under clear skies. You can see autumn colors spilling down out of the mountains, and creeping southward.

The image was taken on Oct. 12 - a week ago - by NASA's Terra Earth Observing satellite. It is a "photo-like" image taken by the satellite's MODIS spectroradiometer, and it shows fall colors or orange and green, and the gray sprawl of urban areas, including Baltimore and Washington. You can even spot the Texas limestone quarry in Cockeysville.

It's a huge, high-resolution file and may be a relatively slow download, but worth the wait. The version above doesn't do the whole picture justice. Here's the direct link.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:17 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

October 17, 2008

Amazing video of spacecraft re-entry

NASANASA has posted some spectacular footage of the re-entry of the 13-ton ATV-1 "Jules Verne" spacecraft on Sept. 29. The images were shot from one of two aircraft that carried scientists hoping to witness the re-entry over the South Pacific Ocean. Here is the main page for the re-entry observation project, with lots of stills.

And here is the link to the video. Enjoy.NASA

The ATV, or "Automated Transfer Vehicle," is a sort of robotic cargo ship designed to carry cargo to resupply the International Space Station. Designed and built by the European Space Agency, the first was launched last April. When its work is done, the ATV is guided to a safe (for people on the ground) re-entry into the Pacific. Here's more on ATV.  

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:09 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

October 14, 2008

California wildfires from space


NASA's Aqua Earth-observing satellite yesterday afternoon snapped this spectacular image of smoke from the California wildfires as Santa Ana winds blew it out over the Pacific.

Here's how it looked from the ground.

LA Times

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:58 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

June 27, 2008

Baltimore glory

A flash from the Wedding Wormhole! Just received this photo of the June 23 double rainbow over Baltimore. Paul M. Novak Jr. shot it from the 13th floor of his building downtown. Wow!

Pretty sure that's Johns Hopkins Hospital at the end of the arcs. They oughta buy this image for their annual report. On the other hand, I believe the long, low building at lower right is the state's troubled Juvenile Justice building. Maybe there's hope for the place, or at least its residents.

Now, back into the Wormhole...

Paul M. Novak Jr.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:52 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Cool pictures

June 24, 2008

California wildires, from space

Those lightning-sparked wildfires that have been plaguing Californians this week are producing enough smoke to be clearly visible from orbit. NASA's Aqua Earth Observing Satellite has sent back a remarkably clear image showing numerous smoke plumes drifting across the state. The hottest spots are sensed by infrared detectors and outlined in red.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:07 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

Rainbow over Baltimore

Hope. Forgiveness. A beautiful play of refracted sunlight in raindrops. Anyway you look at them, a rainbow is a surprise and a delight whenever you spot one. Sun videographer Karl Merton Ferron captured this colorful and eerie display after a light shower in Baltimore on Monday.


Rainbows are so striking, and unusual, that we long remember where we were and what we were doing when we spotted them. I can recall a rainbow that appeared after my wife and I arrived in Bar Harbor, Maine, for our honeymoon. Seemed like a good omen, and we're still hitched after 38 years. I can remember a spectacular double rainbow that astonished our kids (and us) during a summer camping trip in the 1980s. We were driving south from Flagstaff, across the desert, after a visit to the Grand Canyon. We just pulled over and gawked.

Have any special memories of rainbows you'd like to share? Leave a comment.  

There was a double rainbow yesterday in Washington, and has posted a terrific photo gallery. There's a link in the comments below.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:10 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Cool pictures

May 22, 2008

Tornado videos from Colorado, Hungary


A huge tornado (not the one pictured here) struck near Fort Collins, Colo. today, and was captured on video by a local TV crew as it blackened the sky and pelted the camera operator with hailstones. 

Meanwhile, a fledgling storm-chasing organization in Hungary managed to film a tornado there as it formed on May 20 - a comparative rarity in Europe. Click here for that one.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:14 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Cool pictures

May 14, 2008

China quake, Florida fires from space

Satellite imagery can help us visualize large-scale events in ways that TV pictures - even those shot from helicopters - cannot.

Here is a satellite view of the smoke from the Florida wildfires, which is easily seen from space. The smoke can have a serious impact on people living downwind who may have asthma or other breathing difficulties. Here's more on the image.

NASA/Terra Earth Observing satellite

And here is an image developed from radar data gathered from NASA's Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, with an overlay of quake data from the US Geological Survey.

It shows the sharply contrasting topography of the region of China devastated by this week's 7.9 earthquake. The quake was the result of the continuing uplift of the Tibetan plateau - the high country to the west of Chengdu - as the Eurasian continental plate is rammed by the Indian subcontinent in one of the planet's most dramatic manifestations of continental drift. 

The dots represent the main quake (largest circle) and subsequent, smaller aftershocks to the northeast. Read more here.   

NASA/ Shuttle Radar Topography Mission


Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:41 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

May 6, 2008

Burma cyclone from space


The terrible cyclone Nargis that swept in from the Andaman Sea onto  the low-lying coastal territories of southern Burma this week killed tens of thousands and left more than a million homeless. It was an impressive storm, even when seen from Earth orbit. Here's more on the image above.

Here's more from AccuWeather,com. And here are some color images shot before and after the storm.

Cyclones are no different than the hurricanes we see each summer in the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. But the geographic protocol that applies to these storms states that those that affect South Asia are to be called cyclones.

When they occur in the Atlantioc or the eastern Pacific, they're called hurricanes, and when they spin up in the central and western Pacific, they're called typhoons.

Each geographic locale within those larger regions also gets its own list of names. It's a bewildering array. And, each region sets its own rules.

Our hurricane names run in six-year cycles, so that a list repeats in the seventh year, minus any that have been retired because of their notoriety. The names also alternate between male and female, and mix the cultural origins of the region. 

But the other lists draw from their own ethnic name traditions and cycle with different patterns.

Nargis is the sixth name on List 2 under the Northern Indian Ocean category. The next cyclone out there will be Abe, followed by Khai Muk. Go figure.

Our first three storms this season will be Arthur, Bertha and Cristobal.

Continue reading "Burma cyclone from space" »

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:20 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

May 5, 2008

Cool eclipse in a frigid place


                                                                                       Fred Bruenjes - used with permission

Some people will go anywhere to watch a total eclipse of the sun, even to the bottom of the world. The image above was shot Fred Bruenjes, of the Moonglow Observatory, during the Nov, 23, 2003 eclipse in Antarctica.  

Here's more.

The next total solar eclipse that will be visible from the continental U.S. is now just over nine years away, in 2017. Here's more on that one.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:03 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

April 28, 2008

Rain pelts pollen, petals

Rainfall yesterday and today has done a good job of knocking down last week's sky-high pollen counts. Unfortunately, it has also put an end to the spring blossoms we've enjoyed in recent weeks.

For some, like this driver this morning on Harford Road, it also offers an unexpected decoration for the old gray ride. The picture was taken by Kurt Kocher, spokesman for the city's Department of Public Works. Thanks, Kurt!

Kurt Kocher


Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:31 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

April 17, 2008

Offshore storm kicks up surf


One reason we're enjoying this beautiful stretch of dry, sunny weather along the East Coast is that the high-pressure system that's generating our delightful conditions is being held in place by a deep low off the coast, to our east.

From space, the big storm can be seen clearly as it spins in this satellite loop, counter-clockwise, almost like a hurricane. It's also churning up the ocean, and sending strong surf ashore along the Carolina coast, where high surf advisories are up.

The storm is slowly moving off to the northeast, and our fine weather will begin to deteriorate late Saturday as the next low moves our way, with rain due on Sunday and Monday. Sorry.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:47 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

Lighting ordinances can restore the night sky

USNO, FDSC, Lowell Observatory, Dan & Cindy Driscoe 

Fifty years ago, in 1958, Flagstaff passed the nation's first lighting ordinance designed to protect the night sky from the ravages of "light pollution." In truth, it was an effort to protect the view into space from the neaby Lowell Observatory. The pioneering work in Flagstaff has subsequently preserved the riches of the night sky for a growing list of observatories situated in the nearby mountains, and thereby encouraged the growth of an important local industry.

This photo shows in a very dramatic way (aided by both a truly light-pollution-free sky and a time exposure) just how glorious the night sky over Flagstaff can be now that outdoor lighting has been shielded - so that it points down, where it's needed, instead of up at the bellies of passing birds. It also happens to save energy and money, since you don't need as much candlepower if you're not sending light where it's not needed.

Here in Baltimore (below), and in most other cities, we delight in urban lighting programs that illuminate our buildings from below, with most of the glare shining up into the sky and erasing the stars ! When was the last time YOU saw the Milky Way?

You can learn more about outdoor lighting ordinances, from the International Dark Sky Association.

The Flagstaff image, credited to Dan and Cindy Durisco, the US. Naval Observatory, the Lowell Observatory and the Flagstaff Dark Skies Coalition, shows the San Fransisco Peaks beneath the Milky Way and a stationary "lenticular cloud," formed as moist air flows up and over a mountain range, condensing as it cools. Here's an amazing gallery of lenticular clouds.

Thomas Graves

Credit: The Sun, Thomas Graves, 1998

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:17 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Cool pictures

April 2, 2008

Midwest snow photographed from orbit

Midwesterners might have wished it were spring, but Monday's snowstorm disabused them of any notion that it actually WAS spring for them. The storm whitened the ground across a broad swath, from Nebraska and South Dakota to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. When the skies cleared, NASA's Aqua satellite snapped this picture of the results.

That broad brushstroke across the image is snow on the ground. The white patches on the right are clouds. Lake Superior is at upper right.  Here's more.

NASA Aqua 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:38 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

April 1, 2008

Ice leaving Lake Erie, St Lawrence River

That's spring in my book. Lake Erie is now largely ice-free for the first time in months. And the ice pack has broken up and left the St. Lawrence River at Quebec City.  Satellite data still shows a snow cover in upstate New York, but Pennsylvania looks mostly green (or brown, at least) again.

You can watch the snow retreat on this snow-cover loop for the last month. Time to set up the Tiki bars along the Niagara River (below)!

Niagara River - NY Power Authority


Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:38 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

March 18, 2008

A windy day in Texas

I have no idea what this TV news interview today was all about. CNN does not provide any context. But we can say one thing for sure: it was taped on one heckuva windy day in Texas. Have a look.

I wonder who the roofing contractor was on that job. Yikes!

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:09 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

March 11, 2008

Rainbow spectacle over Baltimore

Back doing the NEW journalism this morning after a day doing the OLD journalism and chasing the Goob down in College Park. Got back to Calvert Street and had a chat with Kurt Kocher, the spokesman for the city's Department of Public Works, about the easing drought conditions.

Kurt sent me this terrific photo he shot of a rainbow that appeared over Baltimore during Sunday's wild weather transitions. The location is Belair Road, near the county line.

Kurt Kocher

 The rainbow appeared as a cold front swept across Maryland. A broad gap in the cloud cover allowed sunshine to beam through the departing rain showers, producing the rainbow. Then another bank of clouds and showers moved in.

Here's what the gap in the clouds looked like from space.


Continue reading "Rainbow spectacle over Baltimore" »

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:08 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

February 21, 2008

Eclipse was a hit

Sounds like plenty of Marylanders got a look at last night's eclipse, and many have left their impressions as comments on last night's post.

I was as surprised and delighted as anyone when I spotted the full moon on my drive home last night. Somehow there were still some flakes in the air, but the the clouds had cleared out beautifully, providing us with one of the best nights for a lunar eclipse that many of us can remember. Except for the 22-degree cold.

Feb. 20, 2008 lunar eclipse - Hal Laurent, BaltimoreBaltimore's Streetcorner Astronomer Herman Heyn was on station in Charles Village. He reports something close to 100 people stopped by to see the eclipse through a friend's telescope, and Saturn through his. "People were thrilled by both," he said. "It revived my enthusiasm about lunar eclipses." After a series of them obscured by clouds here, "I'd sort of given up on them."

That's stargazing for you. You have to put up with clouds, and cold, and no-show meteor showers. But when everything aligns, as they did last night, the show is spectacular and unforgettable. I hope lots of kids got to see the eclipse last night. Mine are in their 30s now, and they both remember me waking them up one night when they were little, and shooing them to the back door to see a lunar eclipse. Spooky and exciting. 

Anyway, here's a photo shot last night by Hal Laurent from East Baltimore as the eclipse got underway. If anyone else has any good shots, send them to me and I'll post them.

In the meantime, here's a gallery of eclipse photos from around the world.

Continue reading "Eclipse was a hit" »

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:26 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Cool pictures

February 6, 2008

Windshield art by Jack Frost

Jon Goldberg awoke to a frosty morning in Elkton on Dec. 31. went out to his car, and captured this image of Jack Frost's handiwork on the windshield. Amazing what water vapor, cold glass and ice crystals can do.  Thanks to Jon for sharing it. 

Frost on windshield - with permission, Jon Goldberg, Elkton

Here are two more.

Jon Goldberg 

 Jon Goldberg


Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:59 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Cool pictures

January 19, 2008

So long, Earth. The Movie


On August 2, 2005, NASA's Maryland-built Messenger spacecraft flew past Earth at the start of a series of planetary flybys needed to send it sunward to the planet Mercury. The flybys of Earth, Venus and Mercury are designed to use the planets' gravity to slow Messenger down enough to enter orbit around Mercury in 2011.

The Messenger Web site includes this movie assembled from still images taken during the Earth flyby in 2005 - a year after Messenger's launch. It shows an astonishingly beautiful blue planet, rotating in the sunshine as we - aboard Messenger - speed away from our world, and everything - and everyone - we've ever known. Amazing.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:16 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

January 15, 2008

First Messenger image from Mercury flyby


Scientists and engineers at Johns Hopkins' Applied Physics lab have released the first closeup image of Mercury from Monday's flyby by the Messenger spacecraft. The photo includes some never-before-seen terrain that looks just like, well, the rest of Mercury, first (and last) photographed by the Mariner 10 spacecraft in 1974-1975. It also looks a lot like our moon.

That's okay. There's plenty more to come, and you can be sure there will be some surprises. Here's the release from APL. And here's an approach "movie" assembled from stills shot as Messenger neared Mercury on Sunday and Monday.

More to come. Here's Messenger's home page.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:06 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

January 10, 2008

Big storms, huge waves, tiny surfers

Robert Brown/

All those big rain, snow and wind storms crashing ashore on the West Coast have been producing some titanic surf. And a few brave - nay, certifiably crazy - surfers have paddled out to take them on. For a gallery of stupefying photos from this past weekend, click here.

The waves at Cortes Bank, pictured above, occur 100 miles offshore, but surfers take long boat rides out there to get their jollies. Yikes!

Want video? Click here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:52 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

January 4, 2008

Cool pictures we missed

Vacation is good for the soul, but you miss stuff while you're away. Here are some images that have come across my desk in the last couple of weeks, which need to be shared.

Here's a NASA satellite one of the snow left behind by the New Year's storm that swept across the Midwest and Northeast, missing us.


Continue reading "Cool pictures we missed" »

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:10 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

December 7, 2007

Our snow cover, seen from orbit

Photo by NASA's Terra EOS 

Here's a way-cool photo, shot yesterday by one of NASA's Earth Observing satellites, of the northeastern United States in the wake of the Dec. 5 snowstorm that swept across Maryland's northern counties. It was a sunny day, so the white you're seeing on the ground is snow cover. The white streaks out over the ocean are clouds.

I'm guessing the white on Lake Ontario is clouds, too - lake-effect snow in the air? Too early in the season for ice there.

My only complaint about these images is that NASA always feels compelled to superimpose the states' boundaries. I'd rather see it the way visiting aliens see the place. Here's more.

Continue reading "Our snow cover, seen from orbit" »

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:22 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

November 26, 2007

Malibu is burning. Again.

Malibu fire - NASA

There's another big wildfire burning in the Malibu area in Southern California. A NASA satellite has snapped some dramatic pictures of the smoke drifting far off the coast in the northeast Santa Ana winds. Here's more.

And here's the AP story on the fire, with links to photos and video.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:53 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

November 20, 2007

Watch the Earth rise, from the moon

Earthrise from the moon - JAXA 

The Japanese research satellite Kaguya, now orbiting the moon, has sent back some remarkable movies showing the Earth rising over the lunar surface on Nov. 7. There are some other links from this page to other, very eerie movies taken as the satellite simply cruised above the barren moonscape. (When it asks you to install software for Japanese characters, just click on "cancel." You don't need them.)

These may be the first motion pictures we've seen of such things since the last Apollo astronauts returned from the moon in 1973. Credit goes to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the Japan Broadcasting Agency.

The text accompanying the images reminded me of something I'd forgotten:  Astronauts on the moon never see an Earthrise or Earthset. That's because the same side of the moon always faces the Earth. If you can see the Earth from where you are on the moon, that's pretty much where it will always be. It will go through moon-like phases, but it won't set unless you drive far from your base, and keep going until the big blue marble drops below the horizon.

Astronauts in orbit around the moon, of course, will see multiple Earthrises and Earthsets as they fly. And that's how Kaguya managed to get these videos.

But just look at that little orb rising above the lunar horizon. All life, all history that we know (aside from the spacecraft we've hurled off the planet) is contained on that speck. All our differences, all our hatreds, everything we love, everything we hope for in the future, rides on that same fragile sphere. And it is our life-support system. Screw it up, and we can't just pack and go home. That is home.

And here's yet another view of our planet, in true color, snapped last week by the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft during a swing past Earth en route to land on a comet.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:24 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

November 15, 2007

Hubble zooms in on Comet Holmes

Scientists have turned the Hubble Space Telescope toward Comet Holmes in an effort to learn more about what caused the once-dim speck to blossom suddenly on October 23 into a naked-eye object in the evening sky. Here's the Web site that explains all, with lots of pictures of the comet and its nucleus - the size of Central Park.

UPDATE: Friday morning. When skies cleared last night I grabbed the binoculars and had another look at Holmes. I was amazed by how much bigger the cloud of dust and gas around the comet's nucleus has grown since my last look a week or more ago. Scientists say it is now about the same size as the sun, although it's a whole lot less substantial.

Holmes has become almost invisible to the naked eye - at least where I was observing - as it's expanded and dimmed. But it was easy to find in the binoculars. I also noticed how much Holmes has moved since my last look. It's rising higher in the northeastern sky in the evenings, closer to the apex of the triangle of stars I used to find Holmes a week ago.

Comet Holmes - Hubble Space Telescope

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:31 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

November 14, 2007

Spacecraft visits Earth, takes pictures

 Earth - by ESA's Rosetta

A visitor from deep space paid a brief visit to Earth yesterday, snapping pictures and then flying off for a landing on a distant comet. The visitor was the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft.

Launched in March 2004, Rosetta was programmed to fly to a comet named 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, arriving in 2014. There, it will land - the first spacecraft ever to make a controlled landing on a comet.

Getting to the comet, however, will require a series of planetary flybys to pick up a gravitational speed boost, including two swings past the Earth, and one past Mars.

On Tuesday, Rosetta zipped by our home planet, and scientists used the opportunity to switch on Rosetta's navigation camera and take some pictures. They show Earth and the moon as a visitor from outer space might see them. Looks pretty barren. Not much chance for life there, right? 

Or maybe there is. Here are some Rosetta shots of the nightside of the planet, city lights blazing. Who left the porch light on?

And finally, here is a pair of images taken through a telescope on the ground as Rosetta sped by. One shows the spacecraft as a faint streak across the starry background. The other tracked Rosetta, which appears as a white dot, while the stars are streaked by the long exposure.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:49 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

November 7, 2007

Omigod! These are East Coast waves!?

Outer Banks, NC Nov. 3  

After a disappointing summer for East Coast surfers, Hurricane Noel last weekend finally delivered some of the best, most sustained surfing waves in recent memory, from New England to the Carolinas.

 Here's a link to some astonishing photos. Hang 10 surfer dudes and dudettes! (Click the "next" button to flip through the gallery of 38 photos.) Here are more. Yikes! And here's some kickin' video from YouTube. Those are Outer Banks waves, folks.

The first link provides some pretty savvy discussion of the offshore weather conditions that produced these epic (for the East Coast) waves.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:24 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

October 30, 2007

New images of Comet Holmes

 Comet Homes - Sean Walker, Chester, NH

New pictures are coming in of Comet Holmes, this one an animation comparing the comet's appearance on successive nights, and showing its size relative to the size of Jupiter at a similar distance.

Here's a link to the Holmes photo gallery at

If you haven't seen it yet, step outside after dinner tonight, and look for a narrow triangle of stars below the (sideways) W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia, but above (and slightly to the right of) the bright star Capella - the brightest in that part of the sky. Holmes is the "star" on the left side of the base of that triangle.

But trust me - it's easier just to scan the sky below Cassiopeia with your binoculars. Holmes stands out because it is NOT just a pinpoint of light like a star. It's a striking gray blob, a fuzz ball. And it really is hard to miss. Or at least it has been all this week.

The Sun will run a story on the comet in Wednesday's paper. The forecast looks fairly good for continued opportunities all this week to see the comet. Don't miss it. And be sure to come back here afterwards and let everyone know what you saw and how you liked it. 

For a telescopic view of the comet, consider the Maryland Science Center's Friday open house, beginning at 7 p.m. Or, try the observatory at Johns Hopkins. Here's more from Chris Merchant:

Hi - I read your article on comet Holmes.  We are actually having a public viewing of the comet ... Wed. Oct. 31st and Thursday Nov. 1st at the Johns Hopkins observatory.

The viewings will be held from 9 p.m. until about 10:30 PM on both nights.  We'll be observing with our 20" telescope.

Info on getting here, etc., can be found from this page:

Chris Merchant"

Sky & Telescope map

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:25 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Cool pictures

October 29, 2007

Smoke and rain from outer space

NASA satellites have been snapping pictures today of both the California wildfires (yes, they're still burning) and Tropical Storm Noel, now soaking Haiti and eastern Cuba and menacing the Bahamas. They're very cool and worth a look.

Notice how the winds have shifted over the California fires. Last week they were Santa Ana winds, blowing from the Great basin to the Pacific and carrying the smoke out to sea. Now, they've reversed, and onshore winds are carrying the toxic smoke inland to parts of Arizona, Nevada and Utah. Here's another shot, taken on the next orbit, 90 minutes later.

Here's the Noel image. And here's the latest advisory, the forecast storm track and another satellite view.



Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:30 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

October 24, 2007

Latest wildfire images from orbit

Wednesday's smoke - NASA 

The California wildfires continue to send huge plumes of smoke out over the Pacific today. Satellite images (below) also show how near relief might have been, had Tropical Depression Kiko taken another course. But the storm, just off the tip of Mexico's Baja California province, is headed west, out to sea. Here's more.

TS Kiko - NASA



Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:28 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

October 23, 2007

California wildfires - from space


NASA's Earth-observing satellites have been snapping pictures this week of the devastating wildfires that have scorched southern California and burned hundreds out of their homes.

Here's one showing the smoke plumes streaming out over the Pacific Ocean.

Here's another showing how the fires blossomed in just a few hours on Sunday afternoon.

Here's one shot Monday. Amazing. The red dots show where infrared imagers spotted intense heat on the ground - fire.

And here's one shot today.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

October 11, 2007

Wow! Saturn photographed from Baltimore

Baltimore's OTHER streetcorner astronomer, Darryl Mason, continues to do some marvelous astrophotography from well inside the Beltway. Here's what he describes as his most detailed picture ever of Saturn. The ringed planet is currently visible to the naked eye, in the eastern sky just before dawn. You can find it just to the left of brilliant Venus about an hour before dawn.

Darryl, who grew up off Liberty Road in Baltimore and began stargazing as a young boy, bought his first telescope from KMart when he was in high school, and has since graduated to some very impressive gear. He was elected president of the Baltimore Astronomical Society in 2002.

Saturn from Baltimore - Darryl Mason



Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:48 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Cool pictures

October 10, 2007

Spectacular portraits of our planet

Using a variety of satellite data and imagery, NASA scientists and graphic artists have assembled two striking portraits of our little blue planet. It truly is a jewel. Read more here.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:58 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

October 2, 2007

Stellar "jewel box" is Hubble's latest


A striking cluster of diamond-like young stars, nestled in a colorful gaseous nebula first discovered in 1834, is featured in the latest "Hubble Heritage" photo released by NASA and the European Space Agency.

The cluster, designated NGC 3603, is a relatively close neighbor of ours, located just 20,000 light years away in the Carina spiral arm of our own Milky Way galaxy. The crowded, star-forming region of the galaxy was photographed by Hubble in 2005, and the image was released this week as part of the Hubble Heritage project, a collection of the best images from the 17-year-old observatory.

For more, click here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:57 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

October 1, 2007

Dawn launch spectacular


Last week's launch of NASA's Dawn mission to the asteroid Vesta and "dwarf planet" Ceres came, coincidentally, at dawn on the East Coast. The weather was perfect and the liftoff made for some spectacular photography. This mosaic image is a good example. 

Dawn is now en route to the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Mission managers plan a 2011 rendezvous with Vesta, where Dawn will pause and orbit for six months. From there, it will push on to Ceres. Scientists hope to learn more about the chemistry, minerology and natural history of the two tiny worlds, and from that they expect to learn more about the formation of the solar system.

The flight - 4 billion miles around the solar - system is being powered by an ion propulsion engine. The fuel consists of solar power and 72 gallons of xenon gas. Amazing. Somebody asked me this morning why NASA can't provide that kind of gas mileage for the rest of us here on Earth. It would be nice, but you wouldn't like the acceleration - zero to 60 in four days.



Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:45 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

August 13, 2007

Very cool waterspout video

Waterspout - Dr. Joseph Golden, NOAAA feelance videographer has shot some really nifty video of a waterspout that appeared off the beaches of Pensacola, Fla. It's posted at  Here's a link.

Some waterspouts form when tornadoes form, or move over water. But most have different origins. Here's more.  

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:43 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

August 10, 2007

Why light pollution matters

As you head outdoors this weekend to watch the annual Perseid meteor shower, compare the starry sky you see (assuming skies are clear) with this photo of the night sky at Yellowstone Park in northwest Wyoming.

A Perseid meteor - NASAThe difference is light pollution. We have it. They don't. Just as trash obscures the beauty of our landscape, and air pollution obscures the view through our air, light pollution - unshielded electric lighting that is needlessly projected up instead of down where it's needed - obscures that night sky, and nearly all the stars and planets and the Milky Way that our ancestors knew so well.

It's our heritage, and it's been stolen from us. For more information, click here.

The Perseid shower has actually already begun, although the peak won't arrive duntil 1 a.m. Monday morning. Here is a gallery of Perseid photos that have already come in. Watch the gallery site for more. You can read more here. Here's the Saturday Sun story with more on the meteor shower.

And, if you do go out to watch the shower, come back here afterwards and let us know what you saw. Share the experience with those poor slackers who slept in.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:31 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

July 25, 2007

Mars weather threatens rovers

Okay, so it's a long way from Maryland. But the weather on Mars is pretty interesting, and we sometimes have better imagery to look at. In this case, it's raging dust storm, and it threatens to Mars dust storm - NASA photoobscure the sunlight long enough to rob NASA's twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, of their solar electric power.

That elecricity is vital to keeping the rovers' batteries charged and their innards warm and functioning. Deprived of sunlight long enough, and the two robots, now in the middle of their fourth year on the Martian surface, will die. Read more about it here.

Here are a pair of images from a Mars orbiter showing how the global dust storm has obscured the surface. 

And here is a satellite shot of a dust storm on Earth, over Pakistan and Afghanistan..

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:18 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

July 13, 2007

Sunset on "Manhattanhenge"

Today is a special day in Manhattan. It is one of just two days each year on which the sun sets directly in the center of all the island's east-west street canyons. The other date is on or about May 28.

Some call the event "Manhattanhenge," suggesting the solar alignments of Britain's Stonehenge monuments. But Manhattan is different. It's tilted.

If the borough's street grid had been laid out precisely north and south, and east and west, the dates of the urban canyon sunrises and sunsets would coincide with the Vernal Equinox and the Autumnal Equinox, the dates when the sun rises and sets due east and west.

But, the city's designers pitched the grid 30 degrees east of due north, more closely aligned to the island's central axis. And that produces these two canyon sunsets a year, and two canyon sunrises (Dec. 5 and Jan. 8).

 photo by Neil deGrasse Tyson, American Museum of Natural History

Baltimore's downtown street grid is aligned more precisely along the north-south, east-west map grid. Streetcorner astronomer Herman Heyn made a study of it all a few years back.

He found that the city's original surveyor, Philip Jones, Jr., used his magnetic compass to determine where north was. He got that right, but he did not correct for the difference between magnetic north and true north (the direction of the North Pole).

Because magnetic north at the time was 3.9 degrees west of true north in 1730, when Jones did his work, (magnetic north moves as the molten metal innards of our planet slosh about, and that shifts the magnetic field.), our streets are not perfectly aligned with true north.

In fact, Heyn found, the original north-south streets run between 2.9 degrees and 3.5 degrees west of true north. Still with me?

But 3 degrees is a far cry from 30 degrees, so our "Baltimorehenge" dates are more nearly matched up with the fall and spring equinoxes. (Because the angle of the sunrises and sunsets change so slowly, a day or two before or after these days would probably still yield a good photo opportunity.) Here are Heyn's calculations:

Sunrises: Sept. 18 and March 25

Sunsets: Sept. 29 and March 12

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:34 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

July 3, 2007

"We're going in!" - NASA

NASA photo

In the risk-taking spirit of its human pioneer forebears, the Mars rover Opportunity is about to plunge into a crater from which it may never return.

NASA's Mars rover program has been so phenomenally successful over the past 3 1/2 years, with both rovers surviving years beyond their original mission profiles, that the space agency has decided to risk half the fleet by sending one of the robot explorers into a steep crater.

Opportunity is preparing to crawl over the lip of Victoria crater, a deep divot in the bleak Martian plains, in the hope that it will survive to plumb the geological history that's written into the crater walls.

"The rovers are getting older," said one mission leader. "It's kinda like sending your grandmother down the steep slope. You think she can make it, but you're a little concerned she might slip and fall and injure herself."

Click here for more. And here's some video about the decision.

You can see MArs with your own eyes if skies are clear and you're willing to step outside in the wee hours of the morning. The red planet is rising in the southeast this week just before 2 a.m. Tomorrow, the 4th, marks the winter solstice on Mars.

For more stellar fireworks in the sky, check this out. It's the latest from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:54 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

July 2, 2007

Pax River NAS, from space

The crew of the International Space Station in April captured an interesting shot of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Southern Maryland. The astronauts like to use the airbase's crossed runways as a sort of test pattern for fine-tuning their cameras. Have a look.

There's another orbital photo of Maryland out this morning. It was taken Sunday by one of NASA's Earth-observing satellites. Click here. It was a beautiful day whether you were looking up from Maryland, or down on it. Here's one more, taken Monday by NASA's Terra satellite. Clear skies all around the state.

Speaking of looking up, here's one of the most amazing pictures ever taken of the International Space Station - from the ground!  It was snapped a couple of weeks ago while the shuttle Atlantis was docked to the station. 

Continue reading "Pax River NAS, from space" »

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:31 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

June 26, 2007

Another "rare" S. Asian cyclone

Satellites have captured images of yet another cyclone brewing in the Arabian Sea, off the Indian coast. Muscat, Oman - China DailyThis one comes in the wake of Cyclone Gonu, which formed in the same region earlier this month and swept Oman, crossed the Gulf of Oman and struck Iran. The new storm formed in the Bay of Bengal, crossed India and is reforming in the Arabian Sea. Click here for more on Cyclone O3B.
Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:39 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

June 14, 2007

First Messenger pix from Venus

The folks at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics lab have made their first image release from the data collected during last week's flyby of the planet Venus by NASA's Messenger spacecraft. They're photos only a space nerd can love. Venus is shrouded in clouds, and looks pretty much like a billiard ball in visible wavelengths. But scientists have much more than visible-light cameras in Messenger's tool box, and we should learn much more in the weeks ahead.

That said, the images of a receding crescent Venus as Messenger sped away are beautiful, almost cinematic. To a space nerd. Have a look for yourself. And here's more info on Venus. You can see the planet with your naked eye on any clear evening this month. It's the brilliant star-like object in the western sky after sunset.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:08 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

May 21, 2007

A fine Sunday, more to come

NASA's Terra Earth-observing satellite snapped a fine picture of the Southeastern U.S. just after noon on Sunday, showing why most of the region enjoyed clear, sunny skies and mild, dry weather. The snapshot shows some broken cloudiness over Maryland, and the persistent smoke from wildfires in northern Florida and southern Georgia. Click on the photo to enlarge it.

And the picture just gets better as the week progresses. The official forecast looks a lot like the forecast for Honolulu. Maybe better. It calls for mostly sunny skies through Friday, with daytime highs in the 70s and overnight lows in the 50s. (Cooler than Honolulu, for sure, but drier.) 

Enjoy it. This is the weather you'll pine for come July.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:45 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

May 11, 2007

Amazing pall of smoke from SE fires

NASA's Terra Earth-observing satellite has captured an astonishing photo of the smoke from wildfires that have been burning for weeks in Georgia and Florida. The smoke has blown south and west, over Florida and out across the Gulf of Mexico. It is quite a sight. Have a look.  Thanks to the folks at Goddard Space Flight Center for the tip.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:28 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

May 7, 2007

Greensburg tornado video

The quality is not so great - it was dark, after all. But tornado chasers at managed to capture several glimpses - in lightning flashes - of the huge, F-5 "wedge" tornado that leveled Greensburg, Kan. over the weekend. And their reactions to what they were witnessing convey something of the awe and fear they felt in the face of one of the most powerful tornados to strike the U.S. in years. Click here.

For more on the Fujita Scale of tornado intensity, click here. Here's a list of the F-5 twisters that have struck the U.S., the most recent in 1999. And here's a list of the top-10 killer tornadoes in our past.

The miraculous thing about this F-5 tornado in Greensburg was that it killed so few people - fewer than 10 in a community of 1,500. Modern forecasting and warning systems have reduced the number of tornado deaths in recent years, despite increasing populations and exposure. But the devastation in Greensburg was enormous. Here are some still photos.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:46 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

May 1, 2007

HubbleSite wins a Webby

One of the key public Web sites operated by the Space Telescope Science Institute to disseminate news and discoveries generated by the Hubble Space Telescope, has won a Webby. HubbleSite was named the best science Web site for 2007. Webbies are the top international honors for Internet sites.

Here's the release from the HubbleSite. Here's a link to the Webby folks. And here's a link to the HubbleSite itself. And be sure to visit their amazing Gallery of Hubble images.

Congratulations to all the folks at STScI in Baltimore who have a part in putting HubbleSite together each day. It's a winner!

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:40 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

Georgia fires smoke Southland

The wildfires down in Georgia continue to burn and they're sending palls of smoke wafting across portions of Georgia, Florida and out over the Atlantic. The plumes are easily visible from orbit

There are actually three fire complexes. The newest is the Roundabout fire, which began Friday and has already charred 3,500 acres of land, threatening nearby homes. The Sweat Farm Road fire to the southeast has been burning for weeks across 50,000 acres. It has already destroyed many homes, and is threatening scores more, although most of the damage has been to timberland and swamp.

The Sweat Farm Road blaze has nearly merged with the Big Turnaround Complex fire, which has burned more than 26,000 acres. 

Fire fighters say there is no end in sight to these fires. The best news would be an extended period of rain. But as this Drought Monitor Map shows quite clearly, southeast Georgia is suffering through a period of extreme drought. The woods are tinder dry. Dare we wish them an early tropical storm? Here's a story on the grim fire weather outlook.

The direction the smoke takes is dependent on the wind direction, of course. Here's a photo taken yesterday by NASA's Aqua Earth-observing satellite. A pair of shots made the day before shows the smoke plume blowing out over the Atlantic.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:07 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

April 26, 2007

A mild, sunny day on Gliese 581 c

Astronomers say temperatures on their newly-discovered planet Gliese 581c are within the range in which water would be liquid. It's circling an unremarkable red dwarf star called Gliese 581, and close enough so that even the star's relatively weak light would be enough to keep the planet mild - in the star's "habitable zone."

No evidence available yet to determine whether anything's breathing in Gliese 581c. But you can bet scientists will be doing everything they can think of to tease any hint of life from any candidate planet they find. Anyway, here's what Gliese 581 - the star - looks like from here. Pretty nondescript. I would imagine we look almost as obscure to anyone - or anything - looking back at us. Here's what the place might look like. Here's an artist's view from the surface. Very cool.

For their sake, I hope it's warmer and sunnier there today than it is here. It's 54 degrees at Calvert & Centre this morning, barely a degree warmer than the overnight low. Gray skies and cool weather will continue. Our forecast high today is only 58, quite a comedown from the 80-degree weather we were enjoying earlier in the week.

Look for rain later today, tonight and tomorrow as the next cold front stomps through. We can use it. Hasn't rained in any measurable amounts in 10 days. Here's the official forecast from Sterling. We'll live for the weekend - sunny and 70s.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:03 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

April 24, 2007

The sun in 3-D

As a cool front inches down on us from central Pennsylvania today, the sun will be less and less in evidence. We could even see some showers or thundershowers. But the sun is still up there somewhere, and thanks to NASA's STEREO mission we can now see it in 3-D.

Here's a photograph of the sun as it appears in ultraviolet light, which captures emissions from the hottest regions of the sun's upper atmosphere, or corona - more than 2 million degrees. You'll need red-and-cyan (blue) 3-D glasses to get the threee-dimensional effect. So dig deep into the family junk drawer, find those old 3-D glasses and have a look.

You can find even more 3-D images of the sun at NASA's STEREO site. And you can read today's story in The Sun. Just click here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:31 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

April 19, 2007

Nor'easter batters New England

Were it not for the Virginia Tech story, the top national news this week might well be the beating they're taking in New England from the nor'easter that tromped through here Monday. Here's the Boston Globe story. Be sure to click on the "readers photos" link. There's video linked from this storm coverage page.

The intense low at the center of this storm continues to spin offshore, and we remain under its influence. Early Monday it brought us the lowest barometer reading at BWI in 15 years, and our cool, gray skies since then are coming to us from the north as winds sweep counter-clockwise down the west side of the circulation. Here's the radar loop. Here's the view from orbit.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:13 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

April 18, 2007

Ga. wildfire clouds Fla. skies

There's a big wildfire burning in Georgia, and the smoke plume extends clear into northern Florida. Get a load of this satellite image. Here's how it looks close up. And here's how the Florida Times-Union, in Jacksonville, covered it.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:21 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

March 30, 2007

Chamber of Commerce weather

Not a lot to write about when the weather is like this. Sunny, in the 60s, with trees in blossom Clearsky everywhere. Thought you'd like to see what a beautiful day in Maryland looks like from the other side of the atmosphere. Here's a shot (click on the photo at right), snapped at midday Thursday by NASA's Terra Earth Observing Satellite, showing the eastern United States from orbit. Clear skies prevailed over Maryland. Looks like a bit of ice remaining in Lake Erie. Clouds to our south and west. You can even see the spring green-up moving our way from the South. For a closer look, click here, and then on the image. Rest your cursor over the picture when it pops up, then click on the enlarger button that appears at lower right.

The forecast shows some showers moving in for much of the weekend. The barometer has been falling sharply since late this morning. But temperatures will remain pleasant.

Forecasters looking ahead well into next week, however, see a new invasion of cold air from the Canadian arctic. That's got a few prognosticators watching computer models that suggest a storm system running along the edge of that cold air could bring an Easter snow to the Midwest, or Tennessee, the Appalachians or the Middle Atlantic states. Here's AccuWeather's Henry "Always-Ready-to-Predict-Snow-for-the-East-Coast" Margusity on the prospects. But all that's a long way off. Lots can change.

On the other hand, if you think snow is impossible in Maryland in April, here's something from the NWS you should read:

"April 27-28, 1928:  A late season heavy snow storm struck western Maryland. A nor'easter brought heavy snow, sleet and rain to Frederick, Washington, and Allegany Counties with rain and gale force winds east of there. The Allegheny Mountain highlands received 25 to 30 inches of snow. Oakland reported 16 inches. It all melted within two to three days causing the upper Potomac River to flood. Telegraph, telephone and electric services were completely knocked out. Damages to these services were estimated at $200,000 (1928) dollars. High winds accompanied the storm. In Middletown, Frederick County, a number of houses were unroofed and many trees were uprooted, signs and outbuildings blown down, and the baseball park grandstand was demolished. In Baltimore, the press stand at the stadium was unroofed, several plate glass store windows blown in, signs and billboards blown down, and trees were uprooted."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:04 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

March 29, 2007

The finger of God

Ever wonder about the difference between a tornado and a dust devil?  Well, as we've seen on TV and in The Sun this morning, tornadoes are much larger and more destructive, and they arise from entirely different weather phenomena.

For a taste of what they're like up close, check out this mesmerizing YouTube video of tornadoes. And compare it with this video, my favorite shots of an amazing dust devil in Japan.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:10 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

March 28, 2007

Weird hexagon on Saturn

There's no life as we know it on Saturn. The giant, ringed planet doesn't even have a surface. It's composed almost entirely of gas. Hexacassini But NASA's Cassini spacecraft has spied a strange geometric shape at Saturn's north pole. It's a hexagon, and a big one - twice as wide as the Earth. It has formed in the planet's atmosphere surrounding the pole. Here's the story on

It's been spotted before. The Voyager spacecraft sent back photos of the same phenomenon back in 1980. HexagonHere's the Voyager image (left), alongside a Hubble photo (right).  But the thing still has scientists baffled. It could be some sort of polar vortex, like Earth's. Except that ours is a circle. The best explanation so far relates the hexagon to a phenomenon noticed in spinning buckets of water. Spin them fast enough, and the water sloshes to the sides of the bucket, leaving an air space in the center which, at increasing speeds, assumes a regular geometric shape.

Just how that relates to Saturn's spinning atmosphere isn't clear yet, but it seems like they ought to be related somehow. Starfort One thing seems safe to say: It's not a Saturnian star fort.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

March 23, 2007

Purple haze

Marchhaze On Thursday morning, NASA's Terra Earth Observing Satellite captured this nice shot of Maryland the the other mid-Atlantic states as we basked in 70-degree weather under hazy skies. You can see today's rainy weather, headed this way, from the west. But notice the gray haze of tiny airborne particles called aerosols smeared across Maryland and the rest of the Piedmont.

Rainfall today, tonight and tomorrow will clear the air. Here's the Northeast radar loop. We're stuck under a stalled cold front, but it should move on Saturday night. We'll see a nice Sunday, and a better week ahead. Look for a very chilly Monday, followed by rapid warming as the week unfolds.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:50 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

March 21, 2007

Cool movie from the sun

Hinode Japan's new Hinode ("Sunrise") solar observatory - sometimes called a Hubble for the sun - is sending back some spectacular, and scientifically important movies of action in the sun's chromosphere. Click here to go to the NASA page that links to the movie. Click once on the photo on the NASA page, then be patient. It took about 30 seconds for it to load on my home computer (DSL).

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:57 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

Cheap, but at what cost?

Sure the stuff we buy from China is cheap. Low wage rates, plentiful labor, skimpy benefits and rudimentary environmental controls keep prices down. But look at the environmental costs. This is a satellite image, taken this week, of the haze over a part of China on the Yellow Sea. Much of the haze is industrial pollution. You may have lost your union job to a Chinese factory. But at least you don't have to breathe this stuff en route to your job at Wal-Mart. At least, not until their air drifts over here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:31 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

March 12, 2007

A 10-hour day on Jupiter

And you thought adjusting to an hour's time change was tough? Imagine adjusting to a day that lasted just 10 hours - five hours from sunrise to sunset, and just five hours of darkness.

That's life on Jupiter, if there is any. And now NASA's New Horizon's spacecraft has photographed a single day in the life of the solar system's largest planet. The animation was assembled by scientists working for the $700 million mission, using a series of stills taken as the spacecraft approached the gas giant this winter. It shows one full rotation. (Click on the image to set it spinning. If it's sort of jerky, let it play out, then run it a second time. It should smooth out, depending on your Internet connection speed. Be patient during the download.)

New Horizons is on its way toward a 2015 rendezvous with the dwarf planet Pluto, and last month passed within 1.4 million miles of Jupiter's center. The flyby gave it a gavitational speed boost needed to trim three years from the journey.

Jupiter's diameter is 11 times that of Earth, but its 10-hour rotation is less than half as long as Earth's 24-hour day.

The New Horizons mission is being managed by the Johns Hopkins University's applied Physics Lab near Laurel, and the spacecraft itself is being controlled from the Mission Operations Center at APL.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:44 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

March 9, 2007

Volcanic spectacle

The Maryland-built and Hopkins-operated New Horizons spacecraft snapped a spectacular photo of the Tvashtar volcano last week as it soared past Io, the innermost of Jupiter's Gallilean moons. It Tvashtar1 caught the Texas-sized volcano in the middle of a huge eruption, shooting debris more than 150 miles into space. The material - much of it sulfur - from Io's volcanic eruptions coats the little moon. Some of it flies off into space, orbiting Jupiter, falling into its atmosphere and creating aurorae, or getting swept up by the solar wind.

To read more, click here. For a New Horizons photo gallery, click here.

New Horizons, launched in January 2006, is en route to the (dwarf) planet Pluto in 2015, and then off into the icy Kuiper Belt beyond. The $700 million mission is mankind's first to Pluto. It is being managed by the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory near Laurel.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:30 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

February 22, 2007

This is so cool ...

Febsnow Here's a God's-eye view of the results of last week's snow and ice storm in the Northeast, from Virginia to Maine, including the Chesapeake Bay and Lake Ontario. You'll have to scroll some to find Maryland, but the satellite photo shows very clearly who got white stuff and who didn't. Click here and enjoy.  Thanks to the Goddard Space Flight Center and to Bruce Sullivan, of COCORAHS.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:02 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

February 9, 2007

Ridiculous snow

AccuWeather has posted a small gallery of photos from upstate New York, where persistent lake-effect snows have buried a swath of countrside downwind of Lake Ontario. It's worth a look. Maybe it will get you in the mood for next week's snow here! Ha!  Click here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:21 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

February 7, 2007

Lighting! Fireworks! Comet!

Australians who turned out recently for a fireworks display on a beach in Perth were treated to a multi-media show they may never have expected. Comet McNaught appeared through the clouds on the far horizon, and a spectacular burst of lightning provided a striking addition to the display. Click here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:26 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

February 2, 2007

Our dry winter, from space

In addition to the lack of snow, Baltimore saw a quite a bit less rain than normal in December and January - about 2.5 inches short of the 30-year average.

That, it turns out, is consistent with the pattern that typically emerges during an El Nino event, the periodic, abnormal warming of surface waters in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. Using its Earth-observing satellites, NOAA has documented the scarce precipitation in the East, as well as surpluses in other parts of the country as a consequence, in part, of the El Nino event, which is now waning. To see, and read, more, click here.

Rain_1 On the map, yellow corresponds with dry weather, green with wet.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:20 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

January 26, 2007

Why we don't drive on ice

Common sense says, when it's slippery, stay home. If it's slippery underfoot, it's probably slippery under tire. Don't drive. Curl up with the newspaper. Take a snooze. Wait for the salt trucks to pass. If you don't, this could happen to you: Click here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:33 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

January 22, 2007

The most beautiful comet we'll never see

Comet McNaught is putting on a fabulous display for the Southern Hemisphere. If you have deep pockets, it would be worth spending the money to fly to Australia for a look. Check this out.Mcnaught1_1

McNaught was visible from the Northern Hemisphere a few weeks ago, and some people in Maryland managed to catch a glimpse. Others tried and couldn't find it (me). But no one saw a display like this. Some say it's even visible in daylight. Wow. Here's a gallery of McNaught photos.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:52 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

January 10, 2007

A Hubble spectacular

The Heritage team at the Space Telescope Science Institute has released a beautiful image of a cluster of young stars in the Small Magellanic Cloud - a small galaxy in the southern sky that orbits our own Milky Way Galaxy. Here's the image. Click on it to enlarge.


Here's the caption that explains what we're looking at. And here's the Hubble Heritage Web page. Enjoy.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:21 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

New headshot for column

Several readers have complained about the little photo of me that accompanies this blog. Several said I need to get my glasses out of my mouth. Unsanitary, they said. I admit it's not much to look at. So how about this one, instead?  Seems fitting.


(With apologies to Frank Zamfino and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:34 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

January 4, 2007

Space junk re-enters on live TV

This is so cool. A morning TV crew in Denver broadcast live images today of a spent Russian rocket body as it re-entered the Earth's atmosphere. Surprised and startled, the anchors and a traffic 'copter pilot described it as a "meteor shower." But it was way too slow and dense to be a meteor shower. Click here to link to the video. Then, click on the thumbnail image at the bottom.

Since then it has been identified as the spent booster from a Russian rocket used to launch the French COROT space telescope on Dec. 27.

The debris train reminds me of the images of the shuttle Columbia as it broke up on re-entry Feb. 1, 2003. Meteor showers are never this dense and always much faster. There were no reports of any injuries from the falling debris. It's possible little if any reached the ground, but authorities are looking for some pieces in Wyoming. Here's the ground track for the rocket's final orbit.


Click it to enlarge.

Observers in New Mexico saw it, too. Here's one of their reports, from a satellite observers' list serve:

"The decay was visible from Albuquerque as well. My husband viewed it on his way to work this morning at 6:15 and said it was spectacular and unlike anything he's ever seen before. Other traffic stopped to watch it along I-40. - Becky Ramotowski"

And speaking of stuff falling from space, click here for more.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:16 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

December 21, 2006

A rosey Minotaur dawn

OK, here's a second chance for everyone who slept through the dawn launch of that Minotaur 1 rocket last Saturday from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, on Wallops Island, Va. Geoff Chester, of the U.S. Naval Observatory, was in Alexandria, Va. when he shot this amazing photo (click on it to enlarge)


of the rocket's wind-tossed contrail seconds after liftoff. The rocket itself is a barely visible smudge above and to the left of the top of the smoke trail. That's the crescent moon at upper right.

The view is essentially the same as I had from the front window of my house in Cockeysville (except that I was too dumbstruck to grab my camera). The Minotaur, carrying two experimental satellites, for the Air Force and NASA, jumped up from the southeastern horizon atop a column of smoke. We were able to watch one staging event - the shutdown of one stage, a pause, and then the ignition of the next. As the wind began to contort the contrail, the rocket itself remained visible for a time as a spot of bright light, and a comet-like tail, before disappearing. It took a half hour or more for the contrail to dissipate and vanish amid the morning clouds and bright sunshine. Both satellites made it to orbit and are functioning as planned.

Boosters of the regional spaceport are hoping the success will attract more launch business,  and bigger rockets, to the NASA Wallops Flight Facility, where the spaceport is located. If they realize their dream, we should be able to watch many more such launches from Baltimore and Washington. As it is, the next Minotaur is scheduled for liftoff from Wallops in April. Another is planned for October. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:32 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

November 30, 2006

New Horizons mission spots Pluto

Still more than 8 1/2 years from its encounter with the planet - er, make that "dwarf" planet - Pluto, NASA's New Horizons mission has captured its first image of the tiny world. It's not too impressive, barely a dot in a dense field of stars. But because the dot moved against that starry backdrop as astronomers predicted Pluto should, they're convinced they've gotten their first glimpse of their mission's target, still some 2.6 billion miles away.

New Horizons was designed and built at the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Lab near Laurel. It was launched last Jan. 19, and is already approaching a February flyby of Jupiter. Its scientific encounter with Pluto is expected in July 2015. I plan to watch from my rocker.

No point trying to spot Pluto from the back yard. It's way too small and distant to be visible without a good telescope. And besides, it's currently in the daytime sky.

But Venus, Jupiter, Mars and Mercury are slowly emerging from the sun's glare, and will soon be visible again - Venus low in the west after sunset, and Jupiter, Mercury and Mars in a tight cluster in the east before dawn. Saturn is rising after 10 p.m. More on this as they become easier to see.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:52 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

November 29, 2006

Jet contrails and weather

One of the most striking effects of the events of Sept. 11, 2001 was the rapid grounding of all air traffic over the United States. For a day or two, the skies were absolutely clear of jet contrails, and a remarkably clear blue. Some data suggested that overnight cooling increased measurably after 9/11 as the clear air allowed more heat to radiate back into space. Daytime solar heating also increased.

Last Saturday, NASA's Terra earth-observing satellite captured an image of Midwestern skies, as holiday air traffic crisscrossed the region leaving a web of lingering jet contrails. It's easy to see in the photo how persistent and spreading contrails could impact temperatures - either by trapping heat beneath them, or reflecting incoming solar radiation.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:18 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

November 27, 2006

Peekskill meteor remembered

High school football games under the lights remind me of the night, just before 8 p.m. on Oct. 9, 1992 when a huge meteor swept across the Middle Atlantic states. The spectacular fireball was noticed and captured on video tape by many people who were attending local football games from Virginia to New York State.

Better still, a fragment of the meteor the size of a bowling ball was recovered - after it smashed into the trunk of a parked car in Peekskill, N.Y., doing more than a little damage. The video record - and the recovered meteorite fragment - were a bonanza for scientists. Fourteen years later the video images remain some of the best documentation of a large meteor's entry into the Earth's atmosphere ever captured. If you ever see one of these "bolides" in person, you'll never forget it.

Here is a description of the event. And here is a collection of amazing video clips of the meteor in flight. I recommend the ones from Anne Arundel County, Md., Johnstown, and Saltsburg, Pa.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:01 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

November 17, 2006

Whitecaps on the JFX

That was one amazing photo from yesterday's powerful rainstorm - cars sloshing up the JFX in Baltimore, through deep water even on the elevated section of the highway near Monument Street. You hear about flooding on the JFX and you wonder, "Where the devil does the high water come from?" Now you know. It just piles up in heavy downpours, and doesn't drain fast enough.


Anyway, it was a heckuva lot of rain in barely two hours. We clocked 2.07 inches here at The Sun. Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport saw 2.35 inches. We're now running 2.8 inches ahead of the normal pace for 2006, and more than 1.5 inches above the average for November - with two weeks to go.

Here is the link to the National Weather Service storm reports. Just click through all the little numbered reports at the top of the page. It's quite a record of flooding, stranded motorists, downed trees, drowned intersections and other disruptions.

And get a load of these tides: (Click on the graph it if you can't see it all.)


Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:27 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

November 10, 2006

Can you find Mercury?

Rain clouds over Maryland blotted out the transit of Mercury on Wednesday, but telescopes elsewhere captured the event. Here's a terrific image of the sun during the transit. Can you find Mercury's tiny silhouette?  Here's a whole gallery of transit images.

I read a description today from a Messenger scientist (Messenger is the Hopkins-run NASA mission now en route to Mercury), who said that during the five-hour passage of the solar system's innermost planet across the face of the sun, we all stood in Mercury's shadow. The sun's light was dimmed by some tiny but measurable amount. Like a partial eclipse. Here's the rest of it :

A MESSENGER Science Team Member recounts Preview of Discoveries to come (A report on Mercury transiting the Sun, by Clark R. Chapman, of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colo.) Mercury is a very difficult planet to see in the twilight or dawn skies, because it stays so close to the Sun. This innermost planet, and the smallest one (if you accept the recent demotion of Pluto), is occasionally easy to see, by special means, when it passes directly between the Earth and the Sun. These events, called "transits of Mercury," occur about a dozen times a century. They are visible from somewhere on the Earth, but require a small telescope, equipped with special filters, so that the observer isn't blinded by the Sun. They can also be viewed by projecting an image of the Sun onto a white card.

I had the good fortune to be in Tucson, Ariz., on November 8, when the most recent transit occurred with the Sun high in the cloudless Arizona skies. This was the best Mercury transit opportunity in North America since I saw my first transit of Mercury in 1960. My wife and I visited famed comet discoverer David Levy

Levy is one of the co-discoverers of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which famously split into about 20 fragments — each of which crashed into Jupiter — during a one-week period in 1994. Although he has discovered many comets in earlier years (21 to be exact) professionally operated search programs are claiming most of the comet discoveries these days ... 

On Wednesday, Mercury started to cross the face of the Sun around mid-day, Tucson time. We arrived mid-afternoon to find the planet already two-thirds of its way across the Sun. Looking through a telescope equipped with a hydrogen-alpha filter, I was startled by the deep red color of the Sun's chromo sphere, mottled by the gas jets called spicules. Then I noticed the solid-black disk of Mercury, perfectly round in shape, silhouetted in front of the Sun. From minute-to-minute, it slowly crawled from spicule to spicule ...

Levy provided commentaries during the five-hour event while live images of the transit were being net cast on AOL. As Mercury approached the end of its transit, he interviewed me about MESSENGER. I told the audience about MESSENGER's recent pass by Venus

One of the most beautiful features of the Sun, when viewed through a hydrogen-alpha filter, are the enormous, wispy "prominences" projecting beyond its edge. The looping structures visible on November 8, confined by the Sun's magnetic field, were larger than Earth. As Mercury slowly approached the edge of the Sun, it became apparent that it might pass in front of a particularly large prominence just after leaving the edge of the Sun.

Levy described to listeners the optical illusion called the "black-drop effect," just before the leading side of little Mercury's disk reached the edge of the Sun. And then, suddenly, Mercury became a notch in the solar profile, rather than a complete disk. The notch dwindled in size and, at about 5:10 p.m. MST, the transit was over. 

Or was it? Maybe we could watch the planet's disk faintly framed by the prominence. But, unfortunately, the Sun was lowering toward the horizon, and the telescope was now peering through branches of a desert Palo Verde tree, so the viewing was obscured.

A few minutes later, we watched for the "green flash" as the top edge of the Sun finally blinked out behind a distant mountain range, but I saw nothing special as the light began to fade and the air quickly cooled. Later, as the group enjoyed supper at the Levy's home, we talked about the miracles of shadows. In a sense, we had just been in Mercury's shadow, as cast on Earth. But, like the "shadow" of a stratospheric jetliner, Mercury's shadow only infinitesimally dimmed the sunlight on Earth. But by using the proper telescopic equipment, we were rewarded with a good view of the entire circumference of the planet, which will soon to be orbited (in 2011) by the MESSENGER spacecraft.       

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:30 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

November 9, 2006

Monster hurricane ... on Saturn

Imagine a hurricane 5,000 miles across - two-thirds of the diameter of the Earth - with top sustained winds of 350 mph. That's just about what NASA's Cassini spacecraft spotted as it flew over the ringed planet's South Pole. Here's the news release.

But it's not exactly a hurricane, because it's not driven by heat from an ocean below. Saturn is a frigid gas planet and has no land, much less oceans. And whatever it is that's fueling its circulation, the storm does not appear to be going anywhere. Scientists say it's stuck over the pole.

Here's a link to a movie (click here, then on "play movie"), made by animating a series of still photographs. It shows the weird storm's clockwise circulation (the opposite of Earth's hurricanes).

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:30 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

November 3, 2006

WeatherDeck Photo test

OK boys and girls, we are going to try something new here today. I am going to attempt to insert a photograph directly into the WeatherBlog. No need to link.

As much fun as it's been writing this part of, the page does look a little gray. So, I am going to try to brighten things up here this afternoon by inserting photos of the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville. That's the Davis Instruments Vantage Pro 2 weather station we installed on the back deck almost two years ago. I snapped a few shots of the thing after a snowstorm last winter, and thought I'd try to share a couple of them, if I can figure out how to pull this off. Let me know how it looks. Here goes:

Here's the rain gauge, solar cell, wireless transmitter and the housing for the temperature, humidity and barometric pressure sensors.


And here's the anemometer and wind vane.


Woo hoo! Sort of jammed up down here, but I'd say score one online TD for an old print guy.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:05 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

October 31, 2006

Halloween spooks from space

Here's a Halloween treat from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:49 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

October 27, 2006

California wildfires from space

NASA's Earth-observing AQUA satellite is providing impressive photos of those deadly wildfires now burning east of Palm Springs. Here's the link to the image. (Thanks to the folks at the Smog Blog out at UMBC.) Here's one to the story.

And here's a high-resolution version of the fire image.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:40 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

October 19, 2006

Wow! Giant space bubble

This photo of the great Bubble Nebula is a real eyeful. And here's the latest from the Hubble Space Telescope - the sharpest photo yet of the Antennae Galaxy - actually two galaxies in collision. Here you can get a sense of what this galactic train wreck looked like before we had instruments like Hubble. There's also a very cool animation showing what happens when spiral galaxies collide, and how the Antennae Galaxy came to look the way it does.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:20 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

October 16, 2006

Amazing view from Saturn

NASA's Cassini spacecraft, still circling the planet Saturn and its moons, has sent back a spectacular new image of the ringed planet. It was shot from the "back" side, looking back on Saturn and its rings just as they passed in front of the sun in a kind of eclipse.

The result is an astonishing view of a back-lit Saturn. It's translucent rings glow with the sunlight behind them, and they scatter much of that light back onto the "dark" side of Saturn, giving it a dim, glow of its own.

The unique lighting in this image also reveals several faint "new" rings outside the familiar inner rings. And barely visible - to the left of Saturn and at about 10 o'clock just outside of its main ring systems - is a tiny dot of light. That's Earth - you and me and everything we've ever touched - hundreds of millions of miles in the background.

We can look back the other way, too, and without any fancy equipment. Saturn is rising in the early morning these days - shortly before 3 a.m. By 6 a.m. it's high in the eastern sky, bright and pale yellow, just east of the twin stars of the constellation Gemini - Castor and Pollux.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:33 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

September 27, 2006

Inhabited planet spied

The Cassini spacecraft, now orbiting the ringed planet Saturn, has spotted an inhabited planet orbiting a distant star. Here's the image.

OK. Don't freak. It's Earth, of course, a pale blue dot, 917 million miles away and barely visible in the Cassini photograph, just to the left of Saturn's outer rings. That one small cluster of pixels captures all the life we know of in the universe, everyone and everything we love, all of human history, and all the hopes we have for our children and grandchildren.

An enlargement of the photo shows a fuzzy extension on the little planet. That's the moon, nearly merged with its parent planet by the blurring and merging of their light at such a distance.

Looking back the other way, we can see Saturn this month, briefly, in the early morning sky, rising in the east between 3 and 4 a.m., a few hours ahead of the sun.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:02 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

September 25, 2006

Gorgeous. And not California

Hard to beat this weather. The forecast calls for a few clouds, but mostly sunny skies, growing even sunnier as the day wears on. And the nice weather continues for most of the week. Highs in the 70s, lows in the 40s and 50s - great for sleeping. And the AC and the furnace are both silent.

Best of all, we don't live in Los Angeles, where smoke from the big Day Fire to the north of the city is dimming the sun and messing with everyone's air. Here is a shot from orbit of the smoke as it was blowing out to sea a week ago. And here's another, taken last Wednesday, with the wind blowing it straight into L.A.

Our air got a good scrubbing yesterday afternoon as the cold front passed through. Not much rain on the gauge - just 0.04 inch here at the paper, and 0.03 at BWI-Marshall.

But the temperature sure took a plunge, and it got a whole lot drier, too. Out on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville, the mercury dropped from 80 degrees to 70 degrees in the hour between 2 and 3 p.m. The overnight low was 53.

The Sun's new weather station recorded a drop from 84 degrees to 72 degrees between 3 and 4 p.m. The low early this morning was 62.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:17 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

September 21, 2006

Objects passing across the sun

A very clever, well-informed, well-equipped and lucky photographer in Normandy, France, has captured an extraordinary photo of the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle Atlantis Sunday as they passed in front of the sun as seen from his vantage point. The shuttle had just undocked from the space station and moved a few hundred yards away.

Tomorrow, a somewhat larger object - the moon - will pass in front of the sun in the year's final solar eclipse. This one will be an "annular" eclipse - one in which the moon is slightly farther from the Earth than during a total eclipse. That makes it appear smaller than the sun's disk, leaving a ring of sunlight shining around the edges of the moon's dark silhouette. The bad news is that unless you are reading this while on board a ship in the South Atlantic, you won't get a chance to witness the event. Here's more on the eclipse, and the path of the moon's shadow across the Earth.

The next total eclipse of the sun will occur Aug. 1, 2008. Unfortunately, the path of totality will begin in the high Arctic reaches of Canada and Greenland, then cross to Russia and China. Your best shot at seeing a total solar eclipse from the good ol' USA?  Live another 11 years, until Aug. 21, 2017. Here's the map. Make your reservations early.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:04 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

September 19, 2006

Just another sunny day...

... at Beagle Crater. Here's a very cool 360-degree panoramic photo of Mars' Beagle Crater, shot by NASA's Mars rover Opportunity. Hit the enlarger button and scroll around. Here's a link to caption material. Kinda like hanging out at the neighborhood rubble dump.

Speaking of amazing pictures, ever wonder what happens to the smoke from those California wildfires we keep seeing on TV? Have a look here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:31 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

September 6, 2006

Green aurora over Michigan

Just about the only reason I can think of for wanting to live in the far northern regions of the United States (and I've lived there, so I know) is the opportunity to watch the Northern Lights. One of these day's I'll sweet-talk an editor into sending me and a photographer to Minnesota, or Alaska, or Iceland to do a story on the Aurora Borealis. Here's why: a photo of an eerie green aurora last week over Lake Superior and the upper peninsula of Michigan, complete with a few clouds for atmosphere, and a gorgeous dark-sky splash of stars. It's the kind of scene you never forget if you see it in person.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:20 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

September 4, 2006

The Mississippi on the move

Here's a cool image - actually a map, coupled with a photo - that has little to do with the weather, unless you consider that nearly every raindrop that falls between, like, Waterford, Pa. and Yellowstone Park, has to drain, eventually, down the Mississippi River. It shows the results of a 1944 geological study of river sediments on the Mississippi to identify a variety of ancient river beds, reflecting the constant movement of that bed over the centuries, until man-made levees began to rein it in. The photo was taken from orbit in 1999.

Anyway, it's very cool, and I thought you'd enjoy it.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:38 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

August 4, 2006

Heat, haze, humidity - from space

Here's a terrific photo of the Mid-Atlantic coastal states, snapped from orbit Wednesday morning by NASA's Terra Earth observing satellite. It was the start of another day of 100-degree heat and suffocating humidity. Clear skies, but lots of haze and air pollution blowing off the urban centers and out over the Atlantic. Here's the caption material.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:18 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

August 2, 2006

Rain on Titan is mainly methane

Scientists scouring photos sent back by the Cassini spacecraft now circling Saturn have spotted what they believe are lakes of liquid methane on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. They also believe the methane may run into those lakes after falling as rain. Naturally, a space artist has ginned up a picture to illustrate what that might look like to an astronaut on the surface. It's pretty cool.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:59 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

July 21, 2006

Cool "ice halo" in torrid AZ

As Arizonans broiled in 100-degree-plus heat, ice crystals hovered just five miles over their heads. Sunlight refracted through the crystals created an eerie, rainbow-like halo, which was captured by photographer Peter Strasser, in Tucson. Here's the link.

Here's an explanation for the phenomenon, and here's another shot, by Alan Tasky. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:16 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

July 13, 2006

Amazing NASA footage

Ever wonder what it would be like to parachute from the edge of space to the ocean? Me neither. But NASA strapped a camera to the side of one of the solid rocket boosters that helped launch the shuttle Discovery into space last week, and has posted the results for all to see. Just click on the link, and then on the "cool movies" link in the text.

The video begins at launch. We're looking down the booster as the launch pad and the ground drop away. We're on the starboard booster - one of the two reusable rockets on each flight - as it separates from the shuttle, and falls away while the orbiter continues on toward orbit. Then we ride with the booster as it falls back toward the Atlantic Ocean, tumbling at first before it pops its parachute. And we're there when it splashes into the water and bobs around in a tangle of parachute lines waiting for the recovery ship. So cool.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:03 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

July 10, 2006

Vacationing in Delaware?

Here's a little geography lesson on the nation's second-smallest state, with a neat view from orbit. Now, go back to the beach and amaze your family with your knowledge. And be a mensch; take them a cool one.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:53 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

June 30, 2006

Week's rains pour into Chesapeake

NASA's Terra Earth-observing satellite captured a striking image of the Chesapeake Bay at noon yesterday (Thursday) as it received the silty runoff from the heavy rains that began last Friday and persisted into Wednesday. (To enlarge, hold your cursor over the image, then click on the expander box when it appears.)

All that silt seems sure to cause severe problems for the bay grasses and all the species that rely on them for habitat and shelter. The influx of nutrients from the runoff will likely worsen the summer's "dead zones," as well. Sun Outdoors writer Candy Thomson writes about the impact on the bay in today's editions.

UPDATE: July 1: Baltimore County public health officials have issued some warnings about contamination in Bay waters due to the runoff. Click here.

And here's a link to the satellite image, with caption material.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:54 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

May 26, 2006

Aleutian volcano erupts

Astronauts on board the International Space Station have captured a striking photo of the Cleveland volcano, in the Aleutian Islands, in Alaska, just as it belched a plume of ash into the sky earlier this week. The space station returns to Maryland skies late next week. At least two very nice, high and bright passes will be visible for early risers. If anyone plans to be up between 4 and 5 a.m., leave a comment and I will post the details.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:49 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

May 18, 2006

Glaciers vanish from Glacier Nat'l Park

Someone told me recently that I should see Glacier National Park before the glaciers are all gone. I see now I'm nearly too late. A warming climate has erased more than 80 percent of the 150 named glaciers mapped in 1850. Most of the survivors are barely one third the size they were then. Scientists expect they'll all be gone by 2030.

Since 1997, US Geological Survey officials in Montana have undertaken a project to photograph glaciers that were documented on old pictures of the park. Carrying copies of the archival photos, photographers have found the spots where the original pictures were taken. Their images provide a dramatic comparison, and hard evidence of the glaciers' disappearance.

Here is a link to the project's results so far. And here is a brief outline of the program. Since 1997, more than 60 photographic pairs have been assembled showing 17 glaciers. Hurry, while they last.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:33 AM | | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

May 10, 2006

Cool comet photos

Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 is nearing its closest "brush" by the Earth this week. Parts of the disintegrating comet's nucleus will fly by as near as 5.5 million miles. That's a very close by comet standards - the nearest in 23 years, astronomers say. But asteroids routinely blow by much closer.

In fact, there's one - 2006 JY26 - slipping past the Earth today at just a smidge farther than the moon's orbit. It's the blue circle on the diagram.

Approaching clouds and rain will likely obscure our view of Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 for the rest of the week, and into next week as well. But amateur astronomers have been snapping photos like crazy. And some of them have been amazing. Here is a sampling:

Stefan Seip, of Stuttgart, Germany, snapped this one of the comet's largest fragment as it swept in front of the Ring Nebula. In Bavaria, Thorston Boeckel assembled a time-lapse sequence of the same fragment and the Ring Nebula. has more images.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:07 AM | | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

May 9, 2006

Rock slab emerges from Mount St. Helens

Like toothpaste squeezed from a tube, a huge slab of rock is rising more than a meter per day from an active crater on the  summit of the Mount St. Helens volcano in Washington. Geologists have made a time-lapse movie of the event. (Click here, and after you reach the link, click on "time lapse movie.") It's short, and the movement is a little hard to detect at first. But keep playing it over and over and you'll begin to see the rock rising, and the loose debris to the right being shoved aside. This is mountain-building - or in this case rebuilding - in fast-forward.

Here's the volcano-cam view, weather permitting, from the Johnston Ridge Observatory.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:04 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

April 21, 2006

Cool blizzard photo

I know it was 38 months ago. But I've just stumbled across a terrific satellite image of the Northeast snapped right after the skies cleared in the wake of the historic, four-day February 2003 snowstorm. It was the biggest snowfall on record at BWI. Here's how the aftermath looked from orbit, on Feb. 20, 2003, as we dug out.

Rest your cursor over the image and the zoom box will appear in the lower right-hand corner. Click it for more detail. I love the sweep of the Appalachian valleys to our north and west - evidence of the collision of North America and Africa that created the mountain chain eons ago. And look at the ice in Lake Erie. There was almost none this past winter.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:55 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

April 18, 2006

Amazing Maryland lightning

So I come back from vacation today and find we've received some astonishing lightning photos from reader James Willingham while I was away. They were taken during the thunderstorm on April 3.  He didn't say where he was during the storm. Wish I'd seen them when they first came in. Here's my personal fave. But here is the link to all four. Thanks to Jim for posting them to the Readers' Photos feature.

Remember, anytime there's unusual, or beautiful, or amazing weather happening near you, see to your personal safety first. But then think about pictures for our Readers' Photos page. Please provide information on the time and place the photo was taken, what sort of equipment you used and how you made the shot.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:45 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

March 24, 2006

Clear skies on Mars

NASA has received the first test images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and they demonstrate not only how clear the thin Martian atmosphere is, but just how detailed the pictures from this new space probe's high-resolution camera will be when it begins full science operations next fall.

Here's a wide-angle shot. The little white box shows the location of the second shot. There doesn't seem to be any loss of resolution. Here's the full story.

MRO was launched last August, and arrived in orbit around Mars on March 10. It is now in a very elongated orbit, ranging from 250 miles from the surface, to more than 27,000 miles. For the next 6 or 7 months, controllers at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California will be easing the spacecraft into a more circular orbit just 200 miles above the Martian surface. These images were shot from more than 1,500 miles up, so by next fall, MRO's pictures will show even smaller detail.

The spacecraft will study the geology of the Martian surface, monitor its weather and search for signs of past or present-day water. Later, it will serve as a communications relay station for future Mars landers.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:37 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

February 28, 2006

Hubble's galactic spectacular

The Space Telescope Science Institute and its affiliates this morning released the latest blockbuster from the Hubble Space Telescope. It's an image of the giant "Pinwheel Galaxy," or M101. It was assembled from 51 Hubble images taken over a decade, and a number of ground-based images to fill in the gaps.

The image totals an astonishing 16,000 by 12,000 pixels, making it the most detailed image of a spiral galaxy ever released by the Hubble folks. The galaxy - 25 million light years from Earth - is twice the diameter of our own Milky Way galaxy. It contains an estimated one trillion stars, of which 100 billion are comparable to our sun.

It lies in the constellation Ursa Major, the "Great Bear," which includes the Big Dipper. The dipper is currently visible in the evening sky, standing on its handle in the northeast. The Pinwheel Galaxy lies just to the left of the last two stars at the end of the handle. You'll need a telescope to see it, but you'll never get a view like this one.

It's already become the background for my Windows desktop.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:38 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

February 20, 2006

Sunday in the sky, with jets

Ever wonder how much of the sky is clouded by the condensation trails (contrails) that aircraft engines etch across the blue? Here's a satellite view of the Middle-Atlantic states, taken yesterday, showing offshore clouds where cold air meets warmer Atlantic waters, and clear skies over the coastal states - except for the web of jet contrails over our region.

University of Wisconsin scientists recently studied the effects of contrails on average temperatures by examining what happened after 9/11, when all flights were grounded for several days. They found the days were warmer, as more sunlight reached the ground, and the nights were colder, as more heat radiated back into space through the clear skies. Read more about it here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:30 AM | | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

February 14, 2006

Lincoln's Birthday Storm from space

Here is a look at our recent snowstorm as it appeared from orbit on Saturday.  The picture was snapped by NASA's Aqua earth-observing satellite.  You can see how the storm had evolved by Sunday, when the satellite shot this photo.  And here is another graphic representation of the snow accumulations, this one assembled by the National Weather Service. I think AccuWeather's map works better.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:54 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

January 30, 2006

Where is New Horizons?

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft - en route toward mankind's first reconnaissance of the solar system's most remote planetary outpost - is speeding away from Earth at about 36,000 mph following its launch on Jan. 19. It passed the Moon's orbit less than 9 hours after liftoff, and is now more than 7 million miles from Earth. It is expected to pass Mars' orbit on April 6 and Jupiter's by the spring of 2007 - all in record time. The high speed - this is the fastest spacecraft ever launched from Earth - is needed to reach Pluto by 2015.

If you'd like to follow its progress as we all grow older during this mission, you can do it here.

And while we're on the subject of cool Web sites, here's a link that provides a remarkable sound-and-video glimpse of NASA's Stardust mission as its return capsule streaked in through the atmosphere recently. It was shot from a NASA chase plane. The capsule was carrying bits of interstellar dust and comet dust it had collected for planetary scientists. The package landed safely by parachute in the Utah desert. It is now being studied at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

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Categories: Cool pictures

January 24, 2006

Scattered clouds and rocket exhaust

Here's a great shot of last week's successful launch of NASA's New Horizon's mission to Pluto. Weather played a spoiler's role in the launch. Liftoff was delayed one day by high winds at the launch pad, at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. A power outage at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab near Laurel, Md. - likely related to a morning rainstorm - postponed the launch for a second day.

And a low "broken" cloud deck that obscured the view of tracking cameras delayed launch on the third day of the launch window. But the clouds finally parted enough to be rated "scattered" by the Air Force meteorologists, and NASA pushed the button. The Atlas V rocket tore through the clouds and boosted the spacecraft to 36,000 mph - the fastest craft ever hurled into the cosmos from Earth. Controllers at APL will guide New Horizons past Jupiter next spring, and hope to reach Pluto by 2015.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:14 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

January 5, 2006

Two New Years' portraits

Here's a pair of astonishing New Year's portraits of two celestial neighbors. One was taken up close, and shows the weather to be hazy and, well, yellow. The other was shot from too far away to reveal what sorts of weather prevailed.

And here's a bonus - a view from orbit of a New Year's Day dust storm in Texas. Anybody ever see the old 1928 silent film, "The Wind?"  It starred Lilian Gish. The poor pioneer wife in the film just couldn't sweep enough to keep the dust from seeping in under the doors and around ther window frames.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

December 20, 2005

Solar telescope captures mystery craft

The National Solar Observatory, on Sacramento Peak in New Mexico, has captured an image of an odd-looking craft crossing in front of the sun's disk. The U.S. Space Command should scramble to explain the phenomenon. For more, click here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:59 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures