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OUT OF THIS WORLD | Science Pics of the Week - a weekly collection of the best images from science, space and beyond

2015 produced a whole new kind of El Niño


Galaxy GN-z11, which existed just 400 million years after the Big Bang, is the farthest galaxy ever detected and the furthest look back in time Hubble has ever given us. Credit: NASA, ESA, and P. Oesch (Yale University)


Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Friday, March 4, 2016, 1:23 PM - NASA tracks a whole new kind of El Niño, Hubble shatters records of time and space, and a panoramic look back to the Mars Pathfinder mission. It's Science Pics of the Week!

El Niño 2015-2016 is different

Given how nature works, it's normal to expect things to play out differently from one incidence to the next, even with El Niño.

The current El Niño, however, is pushing that expectation to the limit, by shaping up as something quite a bit different than what we've seen in the past.

According to NASA:

The visualization shows how the 1997 event started from colder-than-average sea surface temperatures – but the 2015 event started with warmer-than-average temperatures not only in the Pacific but also in in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
The water temperature variations typical of El Niño are not only at the surface of the equatorial Pacific, but below the surface as well. And these variations were also different in 2015, compared to 1997. At the height of the El Niño in November, colder-than-average temperatures in the Western Pacific and warmer-than-average temperatures in the Eastern Pacific were stronger and extended deeper in 1997 than in 2015.

These differences are not only fueling different responses from weather systems around the world, but they will impact what's to come as well.

"In the past, very strong El Niño events typically transition to neutral conditions and then a La Niña event," Robin Kovach, a research scientist with NASA's Global Modeling and Assimilation Office (GMAO), said in a statement. "This current El Niño has been different so it will be interesting to see what happens in the next forecast and the coming months."

Based on the latest projections from NOAA's Climate Prediction Center and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, while the pattern is weakening from a strong El Niño towards neutral conditions, there doesn't seem to be any indication that it will transition into a La Niña before the end of the year.


SPRING IS HERE: How will El Niño affect your spring? Find out on The Weather Network’s Spring Forecast.


Hubble breaks the record for cosmic distance and time

Watch below as the video zooms in on galaxy GN-z11, currently the most distant galaxy viewed, and thus the furthest back the Hubble Space Telescope has ever looked back into time.

"We’ve taken a major step back in time, beyond what we’d ever expected to be able to do with Hubble. We managed to look back in time to measure the distance to a galaxy when the Universe was only three percent of its current age," Pascal Oesch of Yale University, who is the lead author of the paper that describes GN-z11, said in an ESA/Hubble press release.

According to the ESA/Hubble site, this galaxy was imaged by pushing Hubble beyond its limits, to "a distance that was once thought only to be reachable with the upcoming NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)."

This limit is based on exactly what wavelengths of light Hubble can detect (this Tweet from the Hubble Telescope contains an animation that explains).

Based on its "red shift", which gives the astronomers a sense of its distance and thus its age, GN-z11 is seen here when the universe was just 400 million years old, which means Hubble has now looked roughly 13.4 billion years into the past!


A timeline of the universe, with Hubble's current most distant (and thus youngest) targets observed. Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI)

According to the ESA/Hubble site, the space telescope was able to see this particular galaxy due to a specific property of the target:

The combination of observations taken by Hubble and Spitzer revealed that the infant galaxy is 25 times smaller than the Milky Way and has just one percent of our galaxy’s mass in stars. However, the number of stars in the newborn GN-z11 is growing fast: The galaxy is forming stars at a rate about 20 times greater than the Milky Way does today. This high star formation rate makes the remote galaxy bright enough for Hubble to see and to perform detailed observations.

Step back to Mars of 1997

Nearly 20 years ago, NASA landed their very first rover mission on the planet Mars. It was a combination lander/rover, actually - the dynamic duo of Mars Pathfinder and its sidekick, the tiny rover, Sojourner.

Pathfinder sent back numerous images of its surroundings, and now you can explore its landing zone in amazing detail, thanks to the 360 degree panorama embedded below.

Although the above embedded frame is from the YouTube channel of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and it certainly has the appearance of a 2-minute-long video, it's actually not.

Press the "Play" button and then pause it. Use the settings "cog" to increase the resolution up as high as your computer or device can handle (it goes all the way up to 4K!) and then interact with the view as you would any 360 degree panorama. Click or tap and drag left, right, up or down (or use the convenient controls at the top left of the view).

If you can go full screen and 4K resolution, I highly recommend it! It's the next best thing to actually being there!

Sources: Hubble | NASA | NASA JPL

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