NASA’s OCO-2 Brings Sharp New Focus on Global Carbon

Simply by breathing, humans have played a small part in the planet-wide balancing act called the carbon cycle throughout our existence. However, in the last few hundred years, we have taken a larger role. Our activities, such as fossil fuel burning and deforestation, are pushing the cycle out of its natural balance, adding more and more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
Natural processes are working hard to keep the carbon cycle in balance by absorbing about half of our carbon emissions, limiting the extent of climate change. There’s a lot we don’t know about these processes, including where they are occurring and how they might change as the climate warms. To understand and prepare for the carbon cycle of the future, we have an urgent need to find out.
This animation shows the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, the first NASA spacecraft dedicated to studying carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere. In July 2014, NASA will launch the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) to study the fate of carbon dioxide worldwide. OCO-2 will not be the first satellite to measure carbon dioxide, but it’s the first with the observational strategy, precision, resolution and coverage needed to answer these questions about these little-monitored regions.
OCO-2’s scientific instrument uses spectrometers, which split sunlight into a spectrum of component colors, or wavelengths. Like all other molecules, carbon dioxide molecules absorb only certain colors of light, producing a unique pattern of dark features in the spectrum. The intensity of the dark features increases as the number of carbon dioxide molecules increases in the air that the spectrometer is looking through.
OCO-2 will collect 24 measurements a second over Earth’s sunlit hemisphere, totaling more than a million measurements each day. Fewer than 20 percent of these measurements will be sufficiently cloud-free to allow an accurate estimate of carbon dioxide, but that number will still yield 100 to 200 times as many measurements as the currently observing Japanese Greenhouse gases Observing SATellite (GOSAT) mission. The measurements will be used as input for global atmospheric models.
For more information about OCO-2, visit: https://oco.jpl.nasa.gov


Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s OCO-2 Brings Sharp New Focus on Global Carbon

Simply by breathing, humans have played a small part in the planet-wide balancing act called the carbon cycle throughout our existence. However, in the last few hundred years, we have taken a larger role. Our activities, such as fossil fuel burning and deforestation, are pushing the cycle out of its natural balance, adding more and more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Natural processes are working hard to keep the carbon cycle in balance by absorbing about half of our carbon emissions, limiting the extent of climate change. There’s a lot we don’t know about these processes, including where they are occurring and how they might change as the climate warms. To understand and prepare for the carbon cycle of the future, we have an urgent need to find out.

This animation shows the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, the first NASA spacecraft dedicated to studying carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere. In July 2014, NASA will launch the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) to study the fate of carbon dioxide worldwide. OCO-2 will not be the first satellite to measure carbon dioxide, but it’s the first with the observational strategy, precision, resolution and coverage needed to answer these questions about these little-monitored regions.

OCO-2’s scientific instrument uses spectrometers, which split sunlight into a spectrum of component colors, or wavelengths. Like all other molecules, carbon dioxide molecules absorb only certain colors of light, producing a unique pattern of dark features in the spectrum. The intensity of the dark features increases as the number of carbon dioxide molecules increases in the air that the spectrometer is looking through.

OCO-2 will collect 24 measurements a second over Earth’s sunlit hemisphere, totaling more than a million measurements each day. Fewer than 20 percent of these measurements will be sufficiently cloud-free to allow an accurate estimate of carbon dioxide, but that number will still yield 100 to 200 times as many measurements as the currently observing Japanese Greenhouse gases Observing SATellite (GOSAT) mission. The measurements will be used as input for global atmospheric models.

For more information about OCO-2, visit: https://oco.jpl.nasa.gov

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Spiral galaxy ESO 137-001

This Hubble image shows ESO 137-001, a galaxy located in the southern constellation of Triangulum Australe (The Southern Triangle) — a delicate and beautiful spiral galaxy, but with a secret. The image not only captures the galaxy and its backdrop in stunning detail, but also something more dramatic — intense blue streaks streaming outwards from the galaxy, seen shining brightly in ultraviolet light.
These streaks are actually hot young stars, encased in wispy streams of gas that are being torn away from the galaxy by its surroundings as it moves through space. This violent galactic disrobing is due to a process known as ram pressure stripping — a drag force felt by an object moving through a fluid . The fluid in question here is superheated gas, which lurks at the centres of galaxy clusters.
This image combines NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope observations with data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

Credit: NASA, ESA, CXC

Spiral galaxy ESO 137-001

This Hubble image shows ESO 137-001, a galaxy located in the southern constellation of Triangulum Australe (The Southern Triangle) — a delicate and beautiful spiral galaxy, but with a secret. The image not only captures the galaxy and its backdrop in stunning detail, but also something more dramatic — intense blue streaks streaming outwards from the galaxy, seen shining brightly in ultraviolet light.

These streaks are actually hot young stars, encased in wispy streams of gas that are being torn away from the galaxy by its surroundings as it moves through space. This violent galactic disrobing is due to a process known as ram pressure stripping — a drag force felt by an object moving through a fluid . The fluid in question here is superheated gas, which lurks at the centres of galaxy clusters.

This image combines NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope observations with data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

Credit: NASA, ESA, CXC

Fire and Ice

Saturn’s largest and second largest moons, Titan and Rhea, appear to be stacked on top of each other in this true-color scene from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.

Titan is likely differentiated into several layers with a 3,400-kilometre (2,100 mi) rocky center surrounded by several layers composed of different crystal forms of ice.Its interior may still be hot and there may be a liquid layer consisting of a “magma" composed of water and ammonia between the ice Ih crust and deeper ice layers made of high-pressure forms of ice.

Rhea is an ice-cold body of weak density (1.236 g/cm3), indicating that the moon consists of a rocky nucleus counting only for a third of the mass of Rhea, the rest being mainly some ice-cold water.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI


Neptune is the eighth planet from the Sun and the smallest of the gas giants. Neptune was the first planet found by mathematical prediction after unexpected changes in the orbit of Uranus were observed. Neptune is named after the Roman god of the sea.
The blue coloring is the result of methane in the atmosphere, though the exact reason for the vividness of the blue is still unknown. The winds that whip around Neptune are on average nine times faster than those on Earth and are believed to be the strongest winds in the solar system.
Storms much like the Great Red Spot on Jupiter have been seen on Neptune. Unlike the Great Red Spot, which has been observed for over 300 years, the storms on Neptune seem to come and go. In 1986 the Voyager 2 discovered the Great Dark Spot, a storm in the Southern Hemisphere. However, later images from the Hubble Space Telescope show that the Great Dark Spot no longer exists and that a new storm formed in the Northern Hemisphere. Also, there is a group of white clouds referred to as The Scooter which races around the planet every 16 hours. The Scooter is thought to be a plume from lower in the atmosphere, though its true origin is unknown.

Image Credit: Steve Albers, NOAA/GSD

Neptune is the eighth planet from the Sun and the smallest of the gas giants. Neptune was the first planet found by mathematical prediction after unexpected changes in the orbit of Uranus were observed. Neptune is named after the Roman god of the sea.

The blue coloring is the result of methane in the atmosphere, though the exact reason for the vividness of the blue is still unknown. The winds that whip around Neptune are on average nine times faster than those on Earth and are believed to be the strongest winds in the solar system.

Storms much like the Great Red Spot on Jupiter have been seen on Neptune. Unlike the Great Red Spot, which has been observed for over 300 years, the storms on Neptune seem to come and go. In 1986 the Voyager 2 discovered the Great Dark Spot, a storm in the Southern Hemisphere. However, later images from the Hubble Space Telescope show that the Great Dark Spot no longer exists and that a new storm formed in the Northern Hemisphere. Also, there is a group of white clouds referred to as The Scooter which races around the planet every 16 hours. The Scooter is thought to be a plume from lower in the atmosphere, though its true origin is unknown.

Image Credit: Steve Albers, NOAA/GSD


Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun and was the first planet to be discovered with the use of a telescope. Uranus’ most unique feature is that its axis sideways in comparison to other planets. Uranus is named after the Greek god of the sky.
Uranus has 27 moons, all of which were named after characters from the stories of Shakespeare and Alexander Pope. The atmosphere of Uranus is composed of 83% hydrogen, 15% helium and 2% methane. Unlike Saturn and Jupiter, two other gas planets, it appears that Uranus does not have a rocky core. Instead, it is thought that Uranus’ mass is evenly distributed throughout the area of planet. One feature that is similar to the other gas planets is the fast moving winds that blow the clouds around in the atmosphere.

Image Credit: Steve Albers, NOAA/GSD

Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun and was the first planet to be discovered with the use of a telescope. Uranus’ most unique feature is that its axis sideways in comparison to other planets. Uranus is named after the Greek god of the sky.

Uranus has 27 moons, all of which were named after characters from the stories of Shakespeare and Alexander Pope. The atmosphere of Uranus is composed of 83% hydrogen, 15% helium and 2% methane. Unlike Saturn and Jupiter, two other gas planets, it appears that Uranus does not have a rocky core. Instead, it is thought that Uranus’ mass is evenly distributed throughout the area of planet. One feature that is similar to the other gas planets is the fast moving winds that blow the clouds around in the atmosphere.

Image Credit: Steve Albers, NOAA/GSD

 The Bolshoi Simulation

What if you could fly through the universe and see dark matter? While the technology for taking such a flight remains under development, the technology for visualizing such a flight has taken a grand leap forward with the completion of the Bolshoi Cosmological Simulation.
After 6 million CPU hours, the world’s seventh fastest supercomputer output many scientific novelties including the above flight simulation. Starting from the relatively smooth dark matter distribution of the early universe discerned from the microwave background and other large sky data sets, the Bolshoi tracked the universe’s evolution to the present epoch shown above, given the standard concordance cosmology. The bright spots in the simulation above are all knots of normally invisible dark matter, many of which contain normal galaxies. Long filaments and clusters of galaxies, all gravitationally dominated by dark matter, become evident.
Statistical comparison between the Bolshoi and current real sky maps of actual galaxies show good agreement. Although the Bolshoi simulation bolsters the existence of dark matter, many questions about our universe remain, including the composition of dark matter, the nature of dark energy, and how the first generation of stars and galaxies formed.
For more information about the Bolshoi Cosmological Simulation, click here.

Credit:  A. Klypin (NMSU), J. Primack (UCSC) et al., Chris Henze (NASA Ames), NASA’s Pleiades Supercomputer

The Bolshoi Simulation

What if you could fly through the universe and see dark matter? While the technology for taking such a flight remains under development, the technology for visualizing such a flight has taken a grand leap forward with the completion of the Bolshoi Cosmological Simulation.

After 6 million CPU hours, the world’s seventh fastest supercomputer output many scientific novelties including the above flight simulation. Starting from the relatively smooth dark matter distribution of the early universe discerned from the microwave background and other large sky data sets, the Bolshoi tracked the universe’s evolution to the present epoch shown above, given the standard concordance cosmology. The bright spots in the simulation above are all knots of normally invisible dark matter, many of which contain normal galaxies. Long filaments and clusters of galaxies, all gravitationally dominated by dark matter, become evident.

Statistical comparison between the Bolshoi and current real sky maps of actual galaxies show good agreement. Although the Bolshoi simulation bolsters the existence of dark matter, many questions about our universe remain, including the composition of dark matter, the nature of dark energy, and how the first generation of stars and galaxies formed.

  • For more information about the Bolshoi Cosmological Simulation, click here.

Credit: A. Klypin (NMSU), J. Primack (UCSC) et al., Chris Henze (NASA Ames), NASA’s Pleiades Supercomputer


Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and is the largest planet in the solar system, like the other four outer planets Jupiter is a gas giant. Jupiter is named after the king of the Roman gods – Jupiter has also been known as Zeus the Greek god of thunder and Marduk the Mesopotamian god and patron of the city of Babylon. 
Jupiter has been described as its own little solar system because of the vast number of moons orbiting the planet. There are 63 moons around Jupiter, the most of any planet in the solar system. Four in particular, Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, are planet sized. In 2003 alone, 23 new moons were discovered. Reasons for this incredible number of moons include the strong gravitational force of the planet at 20.87 m/s2, more than double the gravitational force on Earth, and also the large magnetic field of the planet, which extends into Saturn’s orbit. Like Saturn, Jupiter also has rings, though they are only visible when backlit by the sun and believed to be comprised of dust kicked up from meteor collisions with the four biggest moons.

Image Credit: Steve Albers, NOAA/GSD

Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and is the largest planet in the solar system, like the other four outer planets Jupiter is a gas giant. Jupiter is named after the king of the Roman gods – Jupiter has also been known as Zeus the Greek god of thunder and Marduk the Mesopotamian god and patron of the city of Babylon. 

Jupiter has been described as its own little solar system because of the vast number of moons orbiting the planet. There are 63 moons around Jupiter, the most of any planet in the solar system. Four in particular, Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, are planet sized. In 2003 alone, 23 new moons were discovered. Reasons for this incredible number of moons include the strong gravitational force of the planet at 20.87 m/s2, more than double the gravitational force on Earth, and also the large magnetic field of the planet, which extends into Saturn’s orbit. Like Saturn, Jupiter also has rings, though they are only visible when backlit by the sun and believed to be comprised of dust kicked up from meteor collisions with the four biggest moons.

Image Credit: Steve Albers, NOAA/GSD


An X-class solar flare erupted on the left side of the sun on the evening of Feb. 24, 2014. This composite image shows the sun in ultraviolet light with wavelength of both 131 and 171 Angstroms.
Additional imagery from NASA Goddard’s Scientific Visualization Studio

Credit: NASA/SDO

An X-class solar flare erupted on the left side of the sun on the evening of Feb. 24, 2014. This composite image shows the sun in ultraviolet light with wavelength of both 131 and 171 Angstroms.

Credit: NASA/SDO

Yesterday’s Mammoth Solar Flare Is The Biggest Of 2014 So Far

You can see the first moments of a huge flare belching off the sun in the pictures above. The so-called X-class flare erupted yesterday (at 7:25 p.m. EST Feb. 24, or 12:25 a.m. UTC Feb. 25) and was captured by several spacecraft.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory saw the flare growing in at least six different wavelengths of light. This eruption is classified as an X4.9-class flare, which shows that it is pretty strong. X-flares are the most powerful kind that the sun emits, and each X number is supposed to be twice as intense as the previous one (so an X-2 flare is twice as powerful as X-1, for example).

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Credit: Elizabeth Howell, NASA/SDO Elizabeth Howell


Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun. Named after the Roman god of war, and often described as the “Red Planet” due to its reddish appearance. Mars is a terrestrial planet with a thin atmosphere composed primarily of carbon dioxide. Pictures of Mars.


Image Credit: David Himes, NOAA/GSD

Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun. Named after the Roman god of war, and often described as the “Red Planet” due to its reddish appearance. Mars is a terrestrial planet with a thin atmosphere composed primarily of carbon dioxide. Pictures of Mars.

Image Credit: David Himes, NOAA/GSD


Earth is the third planet from the Sun and is the largest of the terrestrial planets. Unlike the other planets in the solar system that are named after classic deities the Earth’s name comes from the Anglo-Saxon word erda which means ground or soil. The Earth was formed approximately 4.54 billion years ago and is the only known planet to support life.
NASA is responsible for this dataset made from a compilation of satellite images throughout 2001.

Image Credit: NASA

Earth is the third planet from the Sun and is the largest of the terrestrial planets. Unlike the other planets in the solar system that are named after classic deities the Earth’s name comes from the Anglo-Saxon word erda which means ground or soil. The Earth was formed approximately 4.54 billion years ago and is the only known planet to support life.

NASA is responsible for this dataset made from a compilation of satellite images throughout 2001.

Image Credit: NASA

Coronal Mass Ejection as viewed by the Solar Dynamics Observatory

The Sun unleashed an M-2 (medium-sized) solar flare, an S1-class (minor) radiation storm and a spectacular coronal mass ejection (CME) on June 7, 2011 from sunspot complex 1226-1227. The large cloud of particles mushroomed up and fell back down looking as if it covered an area of almost half the solar surface.

Credit: NASA/SDO


Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun and due to its proximity it is not easily seen except during twilight. For every two orbits of the Sun Mercury completes three rotations about its axis and up until 1965 it was thought that the same side of Mercury constantly faced the Sun. Thirteen times a century Mercury can be observed from Earth passing across the face of the Sun in an event called a transit, the next will occur on the 9th May 2016.
This dataset was created using data from the MESSENGER mission. It is a global mosaic that covers 99.9% of Mercury’s surface, and image details are available here.

Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun and due to its proximity it is not easily seen except during twilight. For every two orbits of the Sun Mercury completes three rotations about its axis and up until 1965 it was thought that the same side of Mercury constantly faced the Sun. Thirteen times a century Mercury can be observed from Earth passing across the face of the Sun in an event called a transit, the next will occur on the 9th May 2016.

This dataset was created using data from the MESSENGER mission. It is a global mosaic that covers 99.9% of Mercury’s surface, and image details are available here.

Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Flare star

A flare star is a variable star that can undergo unpredictable dramatic increases in brightness for a few minutes. It is believed that the flares on flare stars are analogous to solar flares in that they are due to magnetic reconnection in the atmospheres of the stars. The brightness increase is across the spectrum, from X rays to radio waves. Most flare stars are dim red dwarfs, although recent research indicates that less massive brown dwarfs might also be capable of flaring.
This movie taken by NASA’S Galaxy Evolution Explorer shows one of the largest flares, or star eruptions, ever recorded at ultraviolet wavelengths. The star, called GJ 3685A, just happened to be in the Galaxy Evolution Explorer’s field of view while the telescope was busy observing galaxies. As the movie demonstrates, the seemingly serene star suddenly exploded once, then even more intensely a second time, pouring out in total about one million times more energy than a typical flare from our Sun.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Flare star

A flare star is a variable star that can undergo unpredictable dramatic increases in brightness for a few minutes. It is believed that the flares on flare stars are analogous to solar flares in that they are due to magnetic reconnection in the atmospheres of the stars. The brightness increase is across the spectrum, from X rays to radio waves. Most flare stars are dim red dwarfs, although recent research indicates that less massive brown dwarfs might also be capable of flaring.

This movie taken by NASA’S Galaxy Evolution Explorer shows one of the largest flares, or star eruptions, ever recorded at ultraviolet wavelengths. The star, called GJ 3685A, just happened to be in the Galaxy Evolution Explorer’s field of view while the telescope was busy observing galaxies. As the movie demonstrates, the seemingly serene star suddenly exploded once, then even more intensely a second time, pouring out in total about one million times more energy than a typical flare from our Sun.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


XZ Tauri is a binary system approximately 450 light-years away in the constellation Taurus. The system is composed of two T Tauri stars orbiting each other about 6 billion kilometers apart (roughly the same distance as Pluto is from the Sun). The system made news in 2000 when a superflare was observed in the system.

Image credit: NASA, ESA and J. Schmidt

XZ Tauri is a binary system approximately 450 light-years away in the constellation Taurus. The system is composed of two T Tauri stars orbiting each other about 6 billion kilometers apart (roughly the same distance as Pluto is from the Sun). The system made news in 2000 when a superflare was observed in the system.

Image credit: NASA, ESA and J. Schmidt