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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

Science Pics of the Week: La Niña starts to peek through


May 2016 temperature anomalies in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Credit: NOAA Climate.gov


Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Friday, June 3, 2016, 2:58 PM - Hints of La Niña are now peaking through in the Pacific, NASA satellites reveal the immense deluge over Texas and SpaceX gives us an amazing new view of their latest rocket landing. It's Science Pics of the Week!

La Niña peaking through the heat

It will be at least another month or so before the equatorial Pacific Ocean ramps down completely from the record-hot El Niño that has dominated over the past year. Similarly, we're looking at a wait until at least the end of Summer, or the beginning of Fall, before experts can make the official call for a La Niña.

Right now, however, with NOAA's ocean temperatures tallied for the month of May, we're starting to see our first hints of La Niña peeking through the heat.


Equatorial Pacific Ocean temperature anomalies, Dec 2015 to May 2016. Credit: NOAA Climate.gov

That thin, splotchy band of blue in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean is a region of cooler-than-normal water temperatures. It's caused by cold water below the surface welling up as the warm surface water is pushed back towards the west.

It's not cold enough, or wide-spread enough to qualify as a La Niña, but it certainly shows us what's on the horizon.

A week-long deluge seen from space

As historic flooding impacts Texas and Oklahoma, the view from space has revealed just how much rain has actually fallen over the region in the past week.

According to NASA:

Continuing heavy rain has resulted in dangerous flooding conditions from Oklahoma through eastern Texas. The Brazos, Trinity and Colorado Rivers in Southeastern Texas are at or above flood stage. Flooding resulted in the deaths of at least 6 people in Texas during the past week. Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster in 31 Texas counties. Over 20 inches of rainfall were reported in some areas since May 30, 2016.
Parts of Georgia and the Carolinas were also flooded by a very slow moving tropical depression Bonnie.
This estimate of rainfall totals from May 27, 2016 to June 2, 2016 was made using data from NASA's Integrated Multi-satellitE Retrievals for GPM (IMERG). During this period rainfall totals in parts of southeastern Texas were estimated by IMERG to be over 431 mm (17 inches).

While this view only representing the rainfall up until June 2, showers and thunderstorms are expected in the area today and through the weekend, which will only add to the problem. Numerous flash flood watches and warnings, as well as flood statements, have been issued for the area.

Sticking the hard landing...

One week ago, SpaceX pulled off another amazing landing with their Falcon 9 1st stage booster rocket. This time, it was probably the most difficult landing attempt yet, as the rocket had to fly faster than any other launch to put its payload on the right orbital path.

Despite the difficulties, here's what the droneship camera captured minutes after the launch.

It's a bird, it's a plane...

A video posted by SpaceX (@spacex) on

If the short animation doesn't run on its own, click or tap on the image to start.

The video is sped up, in order to condense a minute or two down into just six seconds, but it certainly captures the magnitude of the event. (To see it at normal speed, follow this link, and fast-forward in either of the embedded videos to around 29 minutes in).

As incredible as this was, the rocket didn't come away unscathed from this landing, however. As the droneship pulled in to Port Canaveral on June 2, with the booster still perched atop, the rocket is noticeably leaning to one side.

Whenever the Falcon 9 booster touches down, an interior component of its landing legs - known as the "crush core" - absorbs the force of the landing, to keep the primary structure of each leg intact. These crush cores only have a certain tolerance, though. They can be used multiple times for soft landings, but one hard landing will use them up. For the successful landings up until now, it seems the crush cores fared well enough. This latest landing was apparently hard enough that they'll need to be replaced if this rocket flies again.

Sources: NOAA | NASA | SpaceX

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