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OUT OF THIS WORLD | Earth, Space and Everything In-Between - a daily journey through weather, space and science with meteorologist/science writer Scott Sutherland

Earth Day 2018: See six amazing views from above the clouds

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Saturday, April 21, 2018, 9:40 AM - Happy Earth Day 2018! To celebrate this year, enjoy these six amazing views of our beautiful planet from space!

"It is not a perfect world, but it is ours. Sometimes you have to leave home to truly see it." 

Chris Hadfield, retired Canadian Astronaut and Commander of the International Space Station, wrote those words to close out an article he penned for Wired, back in November of 2013, months after his return to Earth from his final trip to space.

By the time Hadfield had set foot back on solid ground, he had accomplished something that no one who had been up to the International Space Station had ever done before. He effectively brought an excited population of Earth up to space with him, by engaging with them via social media, and treating them to the incredible views of our planet that he was witness to on a daily basis.

His sentiment is nearly universal for those that have been privileged enough to leave the Earth. Seeing the planet from above the clouds erases borders, presents the planet in all its beauty and wonder, and ultimately brings to the forefront how important it is for us to protect our remote, fragile home.

So, to celebrate Earth Day this year, we present some of the best views of our planet from space, courtesy NASA and NOAA's fleet of Earth-observing satellites in orbit - both near and far.

In close, Suomi NPP satellite circles Earth once every 100 minutes or so, snapping a continuous strip of images as the planet rotates underneath its orbit. Farther out, in the ring of geostationary satellites, 36,000 km from the planet's surface, GOES-13 was still capturing amazing, and critical imagery, up until it was replaced by its newer cousin, GOES-16, late last year.

GOES-16, the next-generation weather satellite put into service in 2017, has been returning imagery the same vantage point as GOES-13, however its high-resolution cameras are capable of 'bridging the gap', to take not only complete, 'full-disk' views of our world, all at once, but also picking up so much detail that the views nearly rival those taken from the space station.

GOES-16 'Full Disk' animation from September 8, 2017.

This animation presents a full day on Earth over North and South America, from Sept 9, 2017.

Image Credit: NOAA NESDIS. Animation by Scott Sutherland.

Nor'easter impacts New England and Eastern Canada, March 13, 2018

This amazing, serene view of the Atlantic Ocean and east coast of the United States and Canada belies the chaos that is occurring on the ground, as this was the third nor'easter to impact the US Northeast and eastern Canada in just 10 days. Image taken on March 13, 2018. Click or tap to enlarge.

With the combination of melting Arctic sea ice and warmer waters off the east coast of North America, nor'easters are getting stronger - strong enough to rival hurricanes. The first of the three nor'easter storms, which swept through at the beginning of March, was wider than 2012's Hurricane Sandy, and packed sustained winds as strong as those of a category 1 hurricane, and wind gusts in the range of a category 2 hurricane!

Image Credit: NOAA NESDIS

Suomi NPP spots 'Cloud Streets' over the Great Lakes

When the Suomi NPP satellite flew over the Great Lakes on Christmas Day 2017, this is what it spotted. These lines of cloud, streaming off the Lakes, are known as 'Cloud Streets' for fairly obvious reasons. Click or tap to enlarge.

According to NOAA:

Long, parallel rows of clouds over the Great Lakes are common in early winter, when frigid arctic air from Canada crosses the relatively warm lake water. As winds from the west or northwest blow over the lakes, the cold air picks up warmth and water vapor from the lake surface, giving rise to columns of heated air called thermals. When the rising, warmer air hits the colder air above, it condenses into cumulus clouds, then cools and sinks on either side, creating parallel cylinders of rotating air that line up in the direction of the prevailing winds over the lakes. At times when there is a large temperature contrast between the surface air and lake water, these cloud formations can deliver heavy lake effect snows on the downwind shores of the lakes.

Lake temperatures are rising, and lake ice amounts are on the decline, both due to climate change. With more open water on the Great Lakes, longer into the winter season, and then earlier in the spring, this situation is already resulting in these more occurrences of cloud streets, and greater impacts from the snow bands they produce.

Image Credit: NOAA NESDIS

GOES-13 sees the Solstices

The solstices are significant times during our year, as they denote the start of perhaps the most extreme weather seasons, regardless of which hemisphere you're in. Here, GOES-16's predecessor, GOES-13, presents - side by side - its views from space of the northern summer solstice, on June 21, 2017, and the northern winter solstice, on December 20, 2017. Both images were taken at the exact same time on each day - 23:45 UTC - to "illustrate the stark contrast in daylight over a six-month period." Click or tap to enlarge.

Image Credit: NOAA NESDIS

Spider Lightning crawls across the US Midwest

According to NOAA:

The video above is from a storm system last October that produced extensive stratiform (or spider) lightning behind the main convective line.  This lightning connected vast regions of opposite charge within the thunderstorm clouds. These extensive lightning flashes often simultaneously strike the ground in multiple places miles apart. They also are known to trigger upward lightning from tall objects.The imagery in this video was created using snapshots from the satellite taken over the same location every five minutes.

As our planet warms, storms of this kind may actually happen less often than we've seen in the past, however, when they do occur, they are projected to be stronger and more potentially damaging.

Imagery Credit: NOAA NESDIS

Hurricane Irma casts menacing shadows on approach to the Caribbean Islands

Hurricane Irma, pictured here on the morning of September 5, 2017, shortly after being upgraded to the first Category 5 Hurricane of the 2017 season. The storm's swirling, layered clouds and distinct eye are quite beautiful when viewed from afar, but it also fills one with a sense of awe at the raw power of our planet's weather systems. Click or tap to enlarge.

This powerful hurricane is now in the record books as the strongest storm ever seen in the open Atlantic, and the second costliest hurricane in the Caribbean (after Maria, the storm that immediately followed Irma). While climate change did not cause Hurricane Irma to form, it did cause the unusually warm ocean waters that the storm passed over, which fed the storm's growth to record strength so early in its track, it did raise the temperature of the air, and thus the amount of humidity the air can hold, which increased the amount of rainfall the storm could then drop on the islands in its path, and it did produce the sea level rise that made Irma's storm surge so bad.

Image Credit: NOAA NESDIS

"The International Space Station is a phenomenal laboratory, an unparalleled test bed for new invention and discovery," Hadfield wrote in Wired. "Yet I often thought, while silently gazing out the window at Earth, that the actual legacy of humanity’s attempts to step into space will be a better understanding of our current planet and how to take care of it."

Sources: Wired | NOAA | CNN

NASA kicks off Earth Day 2018 with a look at how they keep tabs on our planet

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