A new gravity map of Mars, based on data from three orbiting spacecraft, has been released. “Slight differences in Mars’ gravity changed the trajectory of the NASA spacecraft orbiting the planet, which altered the signal being sent from the spacecraft to the Deep Space Network. These small fluctuations in the orbital data were used to build a map of the Martian gravity field.”
The data enables the crustal thickness of Mars to be determined to a resolution of approximately 120 kilometres. Here’s a short video explaining the significance:
Jason-3 is the latest earth observation satellite tasked with measuring global sea surface height; its data will be used in weather and climate research (e.g., El Niño, climate change). Launched on January 17, it’s now in its six-month checkout phase and has produced its first complete map, which corresponds well with the map produced by the still-operational Jason-2 satellite, so that’s a good sign. [via]
The ocean floor is still very much terra incognita: only 5 to 15 percent of it has been mapped via bathymetry. But using military satellite measurements of the Earth’s shape and gravity field, a new map of the ocean floor has been created. “The result of their efforts is a global data set that tells where the ridges and valleys are by showing where the planet’s gravity field varies. […] Shades of orange and red represent areas where seafloor gravity is stronger (in milligals) than the global average, a phenomenon that mostly coincides with the location of underwater ridges, seamounts, and the edges of Earth’s tectonic plates. Shades of blue represent areas of lower gravity, corresponding largely with the deepest troughs in the ocean.”
According to analyses by NASA and NOAA scientists, 2015 was the warmest year on record, with average surface temperatures the highest they’ve been since 1880. The above video shows the long-term warming trend since 1880 as a five-year rolling average. The baseline average is from 1951 to 1980; orange colours are warmer than that average, blue colours cooler. (Credit: GSFC Scientific Visualization Studio.)
Scientists have been tracking seasonal freeze-thaw patterns for 30 years. This map, produced from data collected by NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite, “shows the freeze-thaw status of areas north of 45 degrees latitude on March 5, 2015, as spring approached. Frozen land is blue; thawed land is pink. The measurement is possible because frozen water forms crystalline structures that can be detected by satellites.” NASA Earth Observatory.
As I predicted, a new global map of Pluto has been released that incorporates the imagery that has been downlinked so far from the New Horizons flyby: with gridlines, without gridlines. If nothing else, the equatorial projection demonstrates how much of Pluto’s surface was not seen during the very brief encounter. From what I understand, imagery downlinks will resume in September and carry on for another year, so this map will almost certainly see many more updates.
The New Horizons spacecraft’s rendezvous with Pluto is next week, folks, but we’re already getting better views of our favourite dwarf planet than we’ve ever had before. NASA has assembled images taken between June 27 and July 3 into the above map, which despite its relatively low resolution shows some intriguing surface features: the so-called “whale” and “donut.” (Of course, low resolution is relative: this is already much better than the Hubble-based maps of Pluto released in 2005 and 2010.)
Today NASA released a set of vegetation maps based on data from the Suomi NPP satellite. Flickr photoset, YouTube video. The maps depict a year’s worth of changes in vegetation. “High values of Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, or NDVI, represent dense green functioning vegetation and low NDVI values represent sparse green vegetation or vegetation under stress from limiting conditions, such as drought.” Image credit: NASA/NOAA.
NASA has released an updated map of the bedrock beneath the Antarctic ice sheet; the map, called Bedmap2, adds considerable detail—a tighter grid and millions of data points—to its decade-old predecessor. The image above exaggerates vertical scale by a factor of 17 to increase visibility. See also this short video.
NASA has released a free-airgravity map of the Moon: “If the Moon were a perfectly smooth sphere of uniform density, the gravity map would be a single, featureless color, indicating that the force of gravity at a given elevation was the same everywhere. But like other rocky bodies in the solar system, including Earth, the Moon has both a bumpy surface and a lumpy interior. … The free-air gravity map shows deviations from the mean, the gravity that a cueball Moon would have.” Gravity data comes from the GRAIL mission, with the digital elevation model provided by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter laser altimeter. Image credit: NASA’s Goddard Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio.
Hotter than usual? Yes. This map shows how much land surface temperatures during the week of June 17-24, 2012 have been above or below the average for 2000-2011. Now this map measures something very specific: land surface temperatures (LSTs) aren’t the same as air temperatures: “LSTs indicate how hot the surface of the Earth would feel to the touch. From a satellite vantage point, the ‘surface’ includes a number of materials that capture and retain heat, such as desert sand, the dark roof of a building, or the pavement of a road. As a result, daytime land surface temperatures are usually higher than air temperatures.” Via Bad Astronomy.
You may have seen this already: a beautiful, painting-like visualization of the world’s surface ocean currents between June 2005 and November 2007, which NASA posted last month. The visualization is based on model data from the ECCO2 project. See also this short video on Flickr (Flash required). Image credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio.
This animated map from NASA (Flash-only, sorry) illustrates global temperatures since 1880: “reds indicate temperatures higher than the average during a baseline period of 1951-1980, while blues indicate lower temperatures than the baseline average.” News flash: the planet’s getting warmer. More information here.