Wild Side: A startling view of North America from spaceIn 1966, the author Stewart Brand lobbied the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to release photos of the Earth from outer space. The crew of the Apollo 8 mission was the first to orbit the moon and to see the whole Earth. They took the famous photo of the partially-illuminated Earth rising over the surface of the moon. That photo graced the cover of Brand’s eclectic Whole Earth Catalog in 1968.
By: Dan Wilcox, Outdoor Columnist, Pierce County Herald
In 1966, the author Stewart Brand lobbied the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to release photos of the Earth from outer space. The crew of the Apollo 8 mission was the first to orbit the moon and to see the whole Earth. They took the famous photo of the partially-illuminated Earth rising over the surface of the moon. That photo graced the cover of Brand’s eclectic Whole Earth Catalog in 1968.
On December 7, 1972, the Apollo 17 crew of the last manned mission to the moon took a photo of the Earth with a Hasselblad camera. That photo of the fully-illuminated Earth, named by NASA the Blue Marble, became one of the most widely-distributed images in history.
Seeing the whole earth lit up by the sun from outer space is not only inspirational but also instructive about conditions on our planet. NASA embarked on a series of satellite projects collecting and compiling Earth imagery data. In 2002, NASA released the first Blue Marble images of the whole Earth. The images were compiled from data sent back by the TERRA satellite orbiting 434 miles above the surface of the Earth. The primary sensing device was the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS. The images were compiled from four months of data with a spatial resolution of one kilometer, painstakingly edited to remove cloud cover.
Today NASA operates a fleet of 18 satellites as part of the Earth Observing System (EOS), providing sophisticated real-time information about our planet’s atmosphere, oceans, land, ice, and vegetation. In January, NASA released “Blue Marble 2012,” an amazing high-definition image of Earth. The composite image is from data collected from the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite. That satellite, shared by NASA and the Department of Defense, was launched in October 2011. The satellite project was named after Verner E. Suomi, a University of Wisconsin professor who NASA considers the father of satellite meteorology.
The Suomi NPP satellite orbits the planet 14 times a day at an altitude of 512 miles. The current Blue Marble images are computer-generated from data received from the satellite’s Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIRRS) of instruments. This state-of-the-art research satellite collects data for forecasting weather and for understanding climate change. The monthly Blue Marble images clearly illustrate seasonal changes in clouds, vegetation, water, snow, and ice. They can be viewed on-line at: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/BlueMarble/BlueMarble_monthlies.php.
The scary thing about the Jan. 4, 2012, Blue Marble image of North America is the lack of snow. By this time last year we had received over 50 inches of snow around here (our average annual total is 42.2 inches) and the Rockies were blanketed by so much snow that the Missouri River flooded through last July. Now we are luxuriating in a wimpy winter complaining about not enough snow to ski on while Europe is getting socked with record snowfall, below zero temperatures and the canals in Venice are ice covered. Last year in this country we had 14 weather-related disasters that cost over $1 billion each. Global climate change isn’t just global warming. Extreme weather has become the norm.
It’s time to stop all the trash talk denying climate change. We should do what we can to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses quickly and reduce the future damage to the only place we have to live, our beautiful planet Earth. We are surrounded by very inhospitable outer space and have nowhere else to go.
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