Some people have all the fun
Some people have all the fun
Our planet’s thin airy envelope is made of many layers, each moving in its own direction and speed, whose interaction with the sea and landmasses produce what we call weather. The system is incredibly complex, with exchanges of matter and energy happening at every fuzzy border, shaping the surface of the world in which we live. Ultimately these interactions control erosion and sedimentation patterns and hence the distribution of nutrients and life around the world.
Every now and again, a phenomenon brings a part of this reality to our attention, stimulating human curiosity, spurring us to develop our current understanding of the global paradigm known as Earth system science, an alliance between such disciplines as geology, climatology, oceanography and ecology, with a sprinkling of Gaia theory, (whose inventor, James Lovelock, is credited as the father of this new paradigm) all tied together by the laws of physics and chemistry in an attempt to understand how the world works as an entire entity, protected from the harsh environment of outer space by its atmosphere and magnetosphere.
The crew of the space station snapped this photo over southern Borneo depicting the effect of atmospheric layering on clouds. Storms are rising as moist air passes over the mountains at the centre of this large island, visible as anvil clouds at the top centre of the image. They rose through the air column until they reached a different layer, in which cold high altitude winds effectively decapitated the storm cells, carrying streamers of newly frozen ice crystals that formed cirrus clouds extending for many hundreds of kilometres downwind towards the viewer.
Lower down in the air column, cloud streets of cumulus clouds are aligning from left to right in the image with the prevailing wind in that particular layer of air, as are smaller plumes of smoke from the ever present forest fires, making way for palm oil plantations. They say that clouds are physics, drawn in the sky, and this photo provides us a glimpse into the fascinating workings of the dance of matter and energy that make up the beautiful (and only) planet on whose thin outer rind we all live.
Image credit: NASA
The Moon and Stars
28 images combined, each with a 15 second exposure. Taken around 8:30pm at Caspersen Beach, Florida. Stacked using Waguila’s star stacker program and the star spikes program for the diffraction effect.
Photographed by: Paolo Nacpil
Space Eyes, based off the Helix Nebula and Ring nebula
The Fireworks Galaxy | NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center
Theoretical physics: Complexity on the horizon
A concept developed for computer science could have a key role in fundamental physics — and point the way to a new understanding of space and time.
When physicist Leonard Susskind gives talks these days, he often wears a black T-shirt proclaiming “I ♥ Complexity”. In place of the heart is a Mandelbrot set, a fractal pattern widely recognized as a symbol for complexity at its most beautiful.
That pretty much sums up his message. The 74-year-old Susskind, a theorist at Stanford University in California, has long been a leader in efforts to unify quantum mechanics with the general theory of relativity — Albert Einstein’s framework for gravity. The quest for the elusive unified theory has led him to advocate counter-intuitive ideas, such as superstring theory or the concept that our three-dimensional Universe is actually a two-dimensional hologram. But now he is part of a small group of researchers arguing for a new and equally odd idea: that the key to this mysterious theory of everything is to be found in the branch of computer science known as computational complexity.
from-dust-of-stars: Who doesn’t love complexity? Hehe
Behold the planet Earth on September 14, 1966, as seen during the Gemini 11 mission. (NASA)
An Interacting Colossus
This picture, taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2), shows a galaxy known as NGC 6872 in the constellation of Pavo (The Peacock).
Its unusual shape is caused by its interactions with the smaller galaxy that can be seen just above NGC 6872, called IC 4970. They both lie roughly 300 million light-years away from Earth.
From tip to tip, NGC 6872 measures over 500 000 light-years across, making it the second largest spiral galaxy discovered to date. In terms of size it is beaten only by NGC 262, a galaxy that measures a mind-boggling 1.3 million light-years in diameter!
To put that into perspective, our own galaxy, the Milky Way, measures between 100 000 and 120 000 light-years across, making NGC 6872 about five times its size.
Spiral Galaxy NGC 1232
This spectacular image of the large spiral galaxy NGC 1232 was obtained on September 21, 1998, during a period of good observing conditions at the European Southern Observatory. The colors of the different regions are well visible : the central areas contain older stars of reddish color, while the spiral arms are populated by young, blue stars and many star-forming regions. Note the distorted companion galaxy on the top side, shaped like the greek letter “theta”.
NGC 1232 is located 20º south of the celestial equator, in the constellation Eridanus (The River). The distance is about 100 million light-years, but the excellent optical quality of the VLT and FORS allows us to see an incredible wealth of details. At the indicated distance, the edge of the field shown corresponds to about 200,000 light-years, or about twice the size of the Milky Way galaxy.
We see clouds so often that it’s easy to forget how amazing they are. Thankfully German astronaut and geophysicist Alexander Gerst is currently aboard the International Space Station where he often spends his free time taking countless extraordinary photos of the Earth as it’s whizzing by 205 miles below.
Gerst is particularly fond of photographing dramatic shadows cast by cloud formations - something that we cannot see down here on Earth. These stunning photos remind how awesome clouds are as they cast shadows that stretch for thousands of miles across the planet’s surface. Shadows so long that they eventually disappear into the black horizon.
Follow Alexander Gerst’s Twitter feed for new photos shared daily.
"How must our wonder and admiration be increased when we consider the prodigious distance and multitude of the Stars?"
—Christiaan Huygens, Cosmotheoros, 1698