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kottke.org posts about Earth

50 Lovingly Restored Photographs of the Earth Taken by Apollo Astronauts

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2021

Earth Restored

Earth Restored

Earth Restored

Earth Restored

For his Earth Restored project, Toby Ord digitally remastered 50 photographs of the whole Earth taken by Apollo astronauts during their missions in the 60s and 70s.

The Apollo photographs are historic works of art. So in restoring them, I sought to bring out their own beauty. I refrained from recomposing the images by cropping, or trying to leave my own mark or interpretation. Perhaps in some cases this would make a more pleasing image, but it was not my aim.

And the Apollo photographs are also a scientific record of what our Earth looks like. In particular, what it would have looked like from the perspective of the astronaut taking the shot. So rather than pumping the saturation or adjusting the colours to what we think the Earth looks like, I wanted to allow us to learn from these photographs something about how it actually appears.

Many of these shots are new to me — the Apollo program and its scientific and cultural output continue to be revelatory 50 years later.

Update: Full resolution images are available when you click through on each photo. You may have to make your browser window wider to see the link. (thx, colin)

Earthrise

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2021

Last month I shared a video of the Earth rising over the surface of the Moon captured by Japan’s Kaguya orbiter. It’s a good clip but quite short and over-narrated. Seán Doran took several Earthrise & Earthset sequences filmed by Kaguya, remastered & upsampled them to 4K resolution, and stitched them together into this wonderful video, set to music by Jesse Gallagher. One of the sequences, which begins around the 5-minute mark, captures a solar eclipse of the Sun by the rising Earth. I hadn’t seen this footage before and had to pick my jaw up off the floor — absolutely spectacular.

A Giant Banana Orbiting the Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2021

What if a giant banana was orbiting the Earth at the same distance as the ISS? What would that look like? Well, it would look something like this.

See also If the Planets Were As Close As the Moon.

What If the Earth Turned to Gold?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 19, 2021

For their latest video, Kurzgesagt ventures into What If? territory with a hypothetical exploration of what would happen if King Midas turned the entire Earth into gold. This video did not go where I thought it was going to. Ten minutes of freefall? Shrinking mountains?

The Earth Rising Over the Moon

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 08, 2021

Captured by the Kaguya lunar orbiter on April 5, 2008, this is an HD video of the Earth rising over the surface of the Moon. Watching stuff like this always puts me in a different frame of mind. (Turn off the sound if you don’t want to hear the super-cheesy narration.)

Earth at a Cute Angle

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 11, 2021

low-angle satellite image of the Hoover Dam

low-angle satellite of Paris

As previously documented, I am a big fan of satellite images taken from a low angle. Planet Labs’ Robert Simmon wrote a post that talks about the history and uses of low-angle satellite imaging and shares many examples (like the two above of the Hoover Dam and Paris).

Earthrise: A Poem About Climate Change by Amanda Gorman

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 22, 2021

At the Biden/Harris inauguration on Wednesday, poet Amanda Gorman, dressed in the yellow of the Sun, realigned the planets with her recitation of a poem called The Hill We Climb. In 2018 for The Climate Reality Project, riffing off of the iconic photo of the Earth rising over the surface of the Moon taken by Apollo 8 astronauts, Gorman wrote a poem called Earthrise about the climate emergency and the action we must take to end it. From the text of the poem:

Where despite disparities
We all care to protect this world,
This riddled blue marble, this little true marvel
To muster the verve and the nerve
To see how we can serve
Our planet. You don’t need to be a politician
To make it your mission to conserve, to protect,
To preserve that one and only home
That is ours,
To use your unique power
To give next generations the planet they deserve.

We are demonstrating, creating, advocating
We heed this inconvenient truth, because we need to be anything but lenient
With the future of our youth.

And while this is a training,
in sustaining the future of our planet,
There is no rehearsal. The time is
Now
Now
Now,
Because the reversal of harm,
And protection of a future so universal
Should be anything but controversial.

So, earth, pale blue dot
We will fail you not.

Watch Gorman’s recitation of it above — you might get some goosebumps. (via eric holthaus)

What If the Earth Got Knocked Out of the Solar System?

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2020

The Milky Way galaxy may be home to billions or even trillions of rogue planets (planets that don’t orbit stars). In this video, Kurzgesagt considers how the Earth could go rogue (by following a nearby massive star away from the Sun) and what would happen to our oceans, atmosphere, and lives if it happened.

The first part of the video is pretty bleak — “as the days turn dark, the final winter of humanity would begin” — while the second part is hopeful: we’ll be able to predict our ejection thousands of years before it happens and may be able to prepare. In light of the world’s response to the pandemic and climate change, it would certainly be interesting to see if human civilization could get it together to save itself from a cold death in outer space. I have no doubt that scientist could accurately diagnose the problem and supply solutions, but the politics would be a total mess.

Wild World: a Hand-Drawn Geographic Map of the Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2020

Hand-drawn geographic map of the Earth

You may remember Anton Thomas from the huge hand-drawn map of North America that took him about 5 years to finish. His next effort, already well underway, is Wild World, a geographic map of the Earth.

Commenced in mid-2020, this is a brand new map of the world. Rather than the endless skylines and cultural features of North America: Portrait of a Continent, I wanted the wild character of Earth to shine.

While you won’t find cities or borders on this map, you will find geographic labels. This is important. From mountain ranges to deserts, rivers to rainforests, the labels here offer a detailed, accurate outline of Earth’s natural geography.

He’s aiming to complete the map by mid-2021.

David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 06, 2020

Now streaming on Netflix, David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet, a documentary about the 94-year-old broadcaster, naturalist, and international treasure.

In this unique feature documentary, titled David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet, the celebrated naturalist reflects upon both the defining moments of his lifetime and the devastating changes he has seen. Coming to Netflix October 4 2020, the film addresses some of the biggest challenges facing life on our planet, providing a snapshot of global nature loss in a single lifetime. With it comes a powerful message of hope for future generations as Attenborough reveals the solutions to help save our planet from disaster.

In the trailer (embedded above), Attenborough says “I had the most extraordinary life. It’s only now that I appreciate how extraordinary.” In saying that, he’s speaking not only as a living legend whose long career in television and science has brought him nearly universal acclaim, but also as someone who can look back and see how recognizably and thoroughly the Earth has changed during his lifetime. The depletion of animal populations, the changing climate, the shifting habitats — he’s witnessed firsthand how much humans have fucked up the planet. We should listen to his testimony and suggestions for fixing what he calls “our greatest mistake”. I hope it’s not too late.

Apart Together

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 02, 2020

ISS, Expedition 1

October 31, 2000 was the last day all humans were together on Earth. That day, the rocket containing the crew of Expedition 1 lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and carried them to the International Space Station for a long-term stay. Fittingly, the mission left from the same launchpad that was used to launch Yuri Gagarin into space on April 2, 1961, which was the first time in history that all humans were not together on Earth. Ever since the Expedition 1 crew docked, there’s been an uninterrupted human presence on the ISS, which may continue until 2028 or 2030, by which time there may be humans on the Moon or Mars on a permanent basis. Will humans ever be only Earth-bound again?

BTW, I guess you could argue that the ISS isn’t really separate enough from Earth or that since regular commercial airplane flights began, humans have been separate from the Earth. You could also say that at any given time, thousands of people are in the air while jumping and therefore not on the Earth with the rest of us. I don’t find any of those arguments meaningful. Perhaps someday if space travel is more routine — “just popped up into orbit to visit my daughter” — and the human population is much more distributed, these same distinctions won’t hold, but for now the ISS is definitely apart from the Earth in a way that flying or jumping are not.

Full-Day Rotation of the Earth Around a Stationary Sky

posted by Jason Kottke   May 27, 2020

Last year I posted a pair of videos showing a sky-stabilized rotation of the Earth around the starry sky. Because the Earth is our vantage point, we’re not used to seeing this view and it’s pretty trippy.

Now Bartosz Wojczyński has created a video showing full-day rotation of the Earth with footage shot in Namibia. The rotation is sped up to take only 24 seconds and is repeated 60 times to simulate about 2 months of rotation. I find this very relaxing to watch, like I’m riding in a very slow clothes dryer.

See also The Entire Plane of the Milky Way Captured in a Single Photo.

Time Lapse Visualization of How 10 Satellites Build a Daily Global Precipitation Map

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 24, 2020

The first 30 seconds of this time lapse video provides a great look into how the 10 satellites that make up the Global Precipitation Measurement Constellation scan the surface of the Earth to provide daily global precipitation maps.

This visualization shows the constellation in action, taking precipitation measurements underneath the satellite orbits. As time progresses and the Earth’s surface is covered with measurements, the structure of the Earth’s precipitation becomes clearer, from the constant rainfall patterns along the Equator to the storm fronts in the mid-latitudes. The dynamic nature of the precipitation is revealed as time speeds up and the satellite data swaths merge into a continuous visualization of changing rain and snowfall.

The Earth Rotating Beneath a Stationary Milky Way

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 16, 2019

In most time lapse videos you see of the night sky, the stars wheel through the sky as the heavens revolve around the Earth. But that perspective is really only valid from our particular frame of reference standing on the Earth. What’s actually happening is that our tiny little speck of dirt is twirling amid a galactic tapestry that is nearly stationary. And in the video above, you see just that…the Earth rotating as the camera lens stays locked on a motionless Milky Way. Total mindjob.

See also the fisheye views of the Earth rotating about the stabilized sky in this video.

Update: Another time lapse of the Earth rotating underneath the stars:

Beautiful Maps of the Solar System’s Asteroids and the Topography of Mercury

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 17, 2019

Remember how last week I told you about Eleanor Lutz’s An Atlas of Space?

Over the past year and a half I’ve been working on a collection of ten maps on planets, moons, and outer space. To name a few, I’ve made an animated map of the seasons on Earth, a map of Mars geology, and a map of everything in the solar system bigger than 10km.

Well, she’s posted her first two projects: An Orbit Map of the Solar System (a map of more than 18,000 asteroid orbits in the solar system) and A Topographic Map of Mercury.

Atlas Of Space

Atlas Of Space

As promised, Lutz has posted the source code for each project to her GitHub account: Mercury topography, asteroid orbits. What a great resource for aspiring data visualization designers. Stay tuned to her site, Twitter, or Tumblr for upcoming installments of the atlas.

Update: Lutz’s third map in the series is out: The Geology of Mars. And here’s the link to the code and how-to on Github.

Atlas Of Space

Update: Lutz’s fourth map has been released: an animated map of the Earth cycling through all four seasons. Link to the code on GitHub.

Also, she’s made high-res wallpapers available for download in a number of different aspect ratios…check out the links at the bottom of the post.

Update: Today’s installment of the atlas presents a view from our solar system: The Western Constellations (source code on Github).

Atlas Of Space

This week’s map shows every single star visible from Earth, on the darkest night with the clearest sky. The map also includes all of the brightest galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters from W.H. Finlay’s Concise Catalog of Deep-sky Objects. I illustrated the familiar Western star patterns — or asterisms — in blue and gold, as well as the scientific constellation boundaries in red.

Update: Holy moly, I think Lutz’s Topographic Map of Mars might be her most beautiful one yet.

Atlas Of Space

Update: I couldn’t keep up with all of Lutz’s additions to her atlas. You can check out all of the installments in the archive, including the last part (for now), The Geology of the Moon.

Actually, Mercury Is Our Closest Planetary Neighbor

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2019

If you look at the orbits of the planets adjacent to the Earth’s orbit (Venus & Mars), you’ll see that Venus’s orbit is closest to our own. That is, at its closest approach, Venus gets closer to Earth than any other planet. But what about the average distance?

According to this article in Physics Today by Tom Stockman, Gabriel Monroe, and Samuel Cordner, if you run a simulation and do a proper calculation, you’ll find that Mercury, and not Venus or Mars, is Earth’s closest neighbor on average (and spends more time as Earth’s closest neighbor than any other planet):

Although it feels intuitive that the average distance between every point on two concentric ellipses would be the difference in their radii, in reality that difference determines only the average distance of the ellipses’ closest points. Indeed, when Earth and Venus are at their closest approach, their separation is roughly 0.28 AU — no other planet gets nearer to Earth. But just as often, the two planets are at their most distant, when Venus is on the side of the Sun opposite Earth, 1.72 AU away. We can improve the flawed calculation by averaging the distances of closest and farthest approach (resulting in an average distance of 1 AU between Earth and Venus), but finding the true solution requires a bit more effort.

What the calculation also shows is that Mercury is the closest planetary neighbor to every planet, on average. Also, the authors of the paper don’t explicitly mention this, but the Sun (at 1 AU) is closer on average to the Earth than even Mercury (1.04 AU).

Flat-Earther Proves in Simple Experiment that the Earth Is Round

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 26, 2019

Behind the Curve, now available on Netflix, is a 2018 documentary about the global community of people who believe that the Earth is flat. In this scene at the end of the film (um, spoilers?), a Flat-Earther named Jeran Campanella devises a simple experiment that he claims will prove that the Earth is flat…but very quickly proves the opposite:

Campanella’s reaction: “Interesting. Interesting. That’s interesting.” This is one of two straightforward experiments shown in the film that are devised by Flat-Earthers to prove the planet’s flatness that end up affirming that the Earth is indeed round (or, more accurately, an oblate spheroid).

One of the more jaw-dropping segments of the documentary comes when Bob Knodel, one of the hosts on a popular Flat Earth YouTube channel, walks viewers through an experiment involving a laser gyroscope. As the Earth rotates, the gyroscope appears to lean off-axis, staying in its original position as the Earth’s curvature changes in relation. “What we found is, is when we turned on that gyroscope we found that we were picking up a drift. A 15 degree per hour drift,” Knodel says, acknowledging that the gyroscope’s behavior confirmed to exactly what you’d expect from a gyroscope on a rotating globe.

“Now, obviously we were taken aback by that. ‘Wow, that’s kind of a problem,’” Knodel says. “We obviously were not willing to accept that, and so we started looking for ways to disprove it was actually registering the motion of the Earth.”

Knodel & Campanella are the co-hosts of a YouTube channel called Globebusters (I’m not going to link to it…YouTube’s conspiracy-minded algorithms don’t need any help) where they claim to debunk the Earth’s curvature and heliocentrism as well as discussing how NASA fakes space activities. Their failed experiments don’t seem to have diminished their Flat Earth zeal. One of their recent videos, nearly 4 hours long, is an attempt to “[debunk] the bogus claim that Globebusters proved a 15 degree per hour rotation of the Earth” and another, also almost 4 hours long, is a rebuttal to the “misrepresentation” of their views and experiments in Behind the Curve.

Earth’s Atmosphere Stretches Out Past the Moon

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 25, 2019

Earth Atmosphere Bigger

A recent analysis of data collected by the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory shows that the Earth’s atmosphere is a lot larger than previously known.

A recent discovery based on observations by the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, SOHO, shows that the gaseous layer that wraps around Earth reaches up to 630 000 km away, or 50 times the diameter of our planet.

“The Moon flies through Earth’s atmosphere,” says Igor Baliukin of Russia’s Space Research Institute, lead author of the paper presenting the results.

“We were not aware of it until we dusted off observations made over two decades ago by the SOHO spacecraft.”

As you might imagine, the atmosphere gets preeeeetty thin farther from the surface of the Earth — at the Moon’s distance, the density of hydrogen atoms is 0.2 atoms per cubic centimeter.

ISS Time Lapse Video of Two Complete Trips Around the World

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 28, 2018

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first module of the International Space Station being put into orbit, ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst shot a 15-minute time lapse video of the Earth from the ISS, long enough for two complete orbits of the planet. Landmarks along the journey are annotated right on the video and the location of the ISS is also plotted on a map in the top right corner. Love the nighttime thunderstorms over the Pacific.

See also An Incredible Video of What It’s Like to Orbit the Earth for 90 Minutes.

The Moon Is Flipped Upside Down in the Southern Hemisphere

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 21, 2018

How old were you when you learned that the Moon in the Southern Hemisphere is upside down? I was today years old…this is my head exploding —> %@*&!$. Ok, the Moon isn’t upside down (that’s Northern-ist) but its orientation changes depending on if you’re north or south of the equator.

Moon Flipped

“From our perspective, the Moon and the night sky is actually rotated 180 degrees compared to our Northern Hemispherical friends,” Jake Clark, an astronomer from the University of Southern Queensland in Australia, explained to ScienceAlert.

“In the south we see the Moon’s dark ‘Oceanus Procellarum’ sea in the south-east corner compared to in the north-west corner for a northern observer.”

But why does it look like this? Well, because physically, we’re actually upside down compared to someone standing in the opposite hemisphere.

That makes perfect sense & the explanation is quite simple but it’s still messing with my head. How did I not know this? Here’s how the Moon appears in the Northern Hemisphere (from Wikipedia):

Moon Flipped North

And here’s a photo from Brendan Keene in Australia:

Moon Flipped South

An Infinite Icosahedral Puzzle of the Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 13, 2018

Earth Puzzle

Nervous System designed this puzzle of Earth so that it can be put together in a variety of different ways.

This puzzle is based on an icosahedral map projection and has the topology of a sphere. This means it has no edges, no North and South, and no fixed shape. Try to get the landmasses together or see how the oceans are connected. Make your own maps of the earth!

An Incredible Video of What It’s Like to Orbit the Earth for 90 Minutes

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 07, 2018

This is easily the most awe-inspiring and jaw-dropping thing I’ve seen in months. In its low Earth orbit ~250 miles above our planet, the International Space Station takes about 90 minutes to complete one orbit of the Earth. Fewer than 600 people have ever orbited our planet, but with this realtime video by Seán Doran, you can experience what it looks like from the vantage point of the IIS for the full 90 minutes.

The video is in 4K so find the largest monitor/TV you can, turn up the sound, watch for awhile (even if it’s only for a few minutes), and see if you don’t experience a little bit of the Overview Effect, what NASA astronaut Kathryn Sullivan described as a life-altering experience:

I first saw the earth — the whole earth — from the shuttle Challenger in 1984. The view takes your breath away and fills you with childlike wonder. An incredibly beautiful tapestry of blue and white, tan, black and green seems to glide beneath you at an elegant, stately pace. But you’re actually going so fast that the entire map of the world spins before your eyes with each 90-minute orbit. After just one or two laps, you feel, maybe for the first time, like a citizen of a planet.

We could use more global citizenry these days.

Remembering Apollo 8’s Iconic Earthrise Photo

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2018

Earthrise Apollo 8

In 1968, the crew of Apollo 8 became the first ever humans to leave the cozy confines of Earth orbit. From Wikipedia:

The three-astronaut crew — Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders — became the first humans to travel beyond low Earth orbit; see Earth as a whole planet; enter the gravity well of another celestial body (Earth’s moon); orbit another celestial body (Earth’s moon); directly see the far side of the Moon with their own eyes; witness an Earthrise; escape the gravity of another celestial body (Earth’s moon); and re-enter the gravitational well of Earth.

That’s a substantial list of firsts. But before setting out on the mission, neither the crew or anyone else at NASA gave much thought to perhaps the most significant and long-lasting achievements on that list: “see Earth as a whole planet” and “witness an Earthrise”. In this gem of a short film by Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee, Anders, Borman, and Lovell recall what it was like for them to be the first of only 24 people to see, with their own eyes, the Earth from that distance, a blue marble hanging in the inky blackness of space.

What they should have sent was poets, because I don’t think we captured the grandeur of what we’d seen.

The day after Apollo 8 orbited the Moon, a poem by Archibald Macleish published on the front page of the NY Times tried to capture that grandeur: Riders on Earth Together, Brothers in Eternal Cold.

Men’s conception of themselves and of each other has always depended on their notion of the earth. When the earth was the World — all the world there was — and the stars were lights in Dante’s heaven, and the ground beneath men’s feet roofed Hell, they saw themselves as creatures at the center of the universe, the sole, particular concern of God — and from that high place they ruled and killed and conquered as they pleased.

And when, centuries later, the earth was no longer the World but a small, wet spinning planet in the solar system of a minor star off at the edge of an inconsiderable galaxy in the immeasurable distances of space — when Dante’s heaven had disappeared and there was no Hell (at least no Hell beneath the feet) — men began to see themselves not as God-directed actors at the center of a noble drama, but as helpless victims of a senseless farce where all the rest were helpless victims also and millions could be killed in world-wide wars or in blasted cities or in concentration camps without a thought or reason but the reason — if we call it one — of force.

Now, in the last few hours, the notion may have changed again. For the first time in all of time men have seen it not as continents or oceans from the little distance of a hundred miles or two or three, but seen it from the depth of space; seen it whole and round and beautiful and small as even Dante — that “first imagination of Christendom” — had never dreamed of seeing it; as the Twentieth Century philosophers of absurdity and despair were incapable of guessing that it might be seen. And seeing it so, one question came to the minds of those who looked at it. “Is it inhabited?” they said to each other and laughed — and then they did not laugh. What came to their minds a hundred thousand miles and more into space — “half way to the moon” they put it — what came to their minds was the life on that little, lonely, floating planet; that tiny raft in the enormous, empty night. “Is it inhabited?”

The medieval notion of the earth put man at the center of everything. The nuclear notion of the earth put him nowhere — beyond the range of reason even — lost in absurdity and war. This latest notion may have other consequences. Formed as it was in the minds of heroic voyagers who were also men, it may remake our image of mankind. No longer that preposterous figure at the center, no longer that degraded and degrading victim off at the margins of reality and blind with blood, man may at last become himself.

To see the earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold — brothers who know now they are truly brothers.

Family snapshots of ancient Earth

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 09, 2018

Earth 240 Million Years Ago.png

This is fun to play with: Dinosaur Pictures has a Google Earth-style globe that shows the state of the planet at various intervals 20 million, 200 million, or 750 million years ago, with plenty of stops in between. You can watch India collide into the rest of Asia, or jump to the birth (and death) of dinosaurs, the first flowers, the first hominids, etc. And you can watch the whole planet or zero in on an individual contemporary address.

One point of view that I found oddly soothing: the middle of the Pacific Ocean. All over the planet, millions of years are passing by, transforming the land-bound flora and fauna through tectonic and climatic upheavals, and the ocean just… stays the ocean. Big things are happening below the surface, but the biggest part of the planet just continues to be this deep blue, undisturbed marble.

The dinosaur-killing asteroid that struck Earth was unbelievably huge and fast

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2018

Humans are so small compared to the size of the Earth, it’s sometimes difficult to comprehend the scale of things like, say, the massive meteorite that struck the Yucatan peninsula about 66 million years ago, an event that triggered the mass extinction of plants and animals, including the dinosaurs. In his recent book, The Ends of the World, Peter Brannen takes a crack at explaining just how big the meteorite was and how quickly the event occurred.

“The meteorite itself was so massive that it didn’t notice any atmosphere whatsoever,” said Rebolledo. “It was traveling 20 to 40 kilometers per second, 10 kilometers — probably 14 kilometers — wide, pushing the atmosphere and building such incredible pressure that the ocean in front of it just went away.”

These numbers are precise without usefully conveying the scale of the calamity. What they mean is that a rock larger than Mount Everest hit planet Earth traveling twenty times faster than a bullet. This is so fast that it would have traversed the distance from the cruising altitude of a 747 to the ground in 0.3 seconds. The asteroid itself was so large that, even at the moment of impact, the top of it might have still towered more than a mile above the cruising altitude of a 747. In its nearly instantaneous descent, it compressed the air below it so violently that it briefly became several times hotter than the surface of the sun.

“The pressure of the atmosphere in front of the asteroid started excavating the crater before it even got there,” Rebolledo said. “Them when the meteorite touched ground zero, it was totally intact. It was so massive that the atmosphere didn’t even make a scratch on it.”

Unlike the typical Hollywood CGI depictions of asteroid impacts, where an extraterrestrial charcoal briquette gently smolders across the sky, in the Yucatan it would have been a pleasant day one second and the world was already over by the next. As the asteroid collided with the earth, in the sky above it where there should have been air, the rock had punched a hole of outer space vacuum in the atmosphere. As the heavens rushed in to close this hole, enormous volumes of earth were expelled into orbit and beyond — all within a second or two of impact.

“So there’s probably little bits of dinosaur bone up on the moon,” I asked.

“Yeah, probably.”

I don’t know if your eyes are as wide as mine are about now but…

Satellite images taken at an angle

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 03, 2018

Satellite Side View

Satellite Side View

Satellite Side View

Planet Labs has published a selection of satellite images taken at an angle rather than the more familiar straight-down view.

Once a matter of debate, we know today the Earth is not flat. But the satellite imagery we’re most familiar with — taken straight down — flattens and obscures the visual cues we get from perspective, making the imagery appear like maps, not photos.

Take for example this nadir view of Monte Fitz Roy. You might not appreciate that these are mountains unless you spot the clue in the jagged shadows coming off the mountain’s serrated summits.

When you take an image of Monte Fitz Roy from an angle, the view becomes altogether different: the mountains rise to their commanding height, valleys regain their depth, and background features recede into the distance. It’s like getting a view out the window of an airplane 450 kilometers high.

21st Century Landscapes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2018

21c Landscapes

21c Landscapes

21c Landscapes

The turn of the century doesn’t seem all that long ago, but here we are starting our 18th year of the 21st century already.1 The pace of human activity since the Renaissance is itself increasing. For instance, David Wallace-Wells pointed out:

Whatever you may think about the pace of climate change, it is happening mind-bendingly fast, almost in real time. It is not just that December wildfires were unheard of just three decades ago. We have now emitted more carbon into the atmosphere since Al Gore wrote his first book on climate than in the entire preceding history of humanity, which means that we have engineered most of the climate chaos that now terrifies us in that brief span.

Likewise, the pace at which humans have visibly altered the Earth has been growing as well. Planet Labs has collected a bunch of satellite photos of landscapes that have been transformed by humans in this century.

  1. Numbered decades, centuries, and millennia all start on years ending in “1”. This is because the first century AD starts on Jan 1, 1…there was no year 0. So, the first day of the 21st century is Jan 1, 2001, not Jan 1, 2000 like the article states. This is confusing because the 1800s and the 19th century are almost, but not exactly, the same thing.

Alongside mass extinction, humans are also the cause of “a great flourishing of life”

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 07, 2017

In her book The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert warns that we are in the midst of the Earth’s sixth mass extinction of life, this time caused by humans.

Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us.

This is a mainstream view of humanity’s effect on the Earth flora and fauna…for evidence, you don’t need to look any further than all of the large mammal species that have gone extinct or are endangered because of human activity.

A more controversial take is offered by Chris Thomas in his recent book, Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction. Thomas allows that there’s a “mini mass extinction” happening, but he also argues that the extreme evolutionary pressure brought by our increasing dominance of our planet’s ecosystems will result in a “sixth mass genesis”, a dramatic increase in the Earth’s biodiversity.

Human cities and mass agriculture have created new places for enterprising animals and plants to live, and our activities have stimulated evolutionary change in virtually every population of living species. Most remarkably, Thomas shows, humans may well have raised the rate at which new species are formed to the highest level in the history of our planet.

Drawing on the success stories of diverse species, from the ochre-colored comma butterfly to the New Zealand pukeko, Thomas overturns the accepted story of declining biodiversity on Earth. In so doing, he questions why we resist new forms of life, and why we see ourselves as unnatural. Ultimately, he suggests that if life on Earth can recover from the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs, it can survive the onslaughts of the technological age.

Vox’s Ferris Jabr recently interviewed Thomas about his views. When asked about the “sixth mass genesis”, Thomas answered:

The history of life on Earth is a history of extinctions and ecological failures, but it is also a story of formation of new forms and spread of those new forms around the world. The net result has been a gain in diversity. In the human era we are seeing great losses, but we are also seeing all these biological gains of new animals and plants spreading around the world, new hybrids coming into existence. I am not saying there is yet a balance between the two. I accept the losses, but it is also scientifically, and in terms of our human attitudes to nature, extremely interesting to contemplate the gains simultaneously.

If the processes that are going on at the moment continue for a very long time, it is my expectation that the number of species on Earth will grow enormously. We are moving species of existing animals and plants back and forth across the world, so that they are all arriving in new geographic regions. We know when species have done this in the ancient past, they have turned into new species in those different regions. If you fast-forward a million years or a few million years, all of these introduced species that leave surviving descendants will have turned into new species. And that is going to generate many more species. We have effectively created a massive species generator.

That certainly does put an interesting spin on extinction and invasive species.

Blue Planet II

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2017

Having achieved spectacular success with Planet Earth II, the BBC and David Attenborough are revisiting another of their previous nature documentaries, the 2001 series The Blue Planet, “a comprehensive series on the natural history of the world’s oceans”. Blue Planet II, Attenborough promises, will use new technology and our increased understanding of the natural world to great advantage in telling the story of the animal and plant life — dancing yeti crabs! dolphins spitting to trick prey! TurtleCam! — that dwells in our oceans.

The score is by Hans Zimmer, who also collaborated with Radiohead to rework an old song of theirs for the series. Bloom, off of King of Limbs, was originally inspired by the first Blue Planet series, so it’s come full circle with its inclusion in the new series. Vox examines how Zimmer and the band adapted the song:

If you listen closely enough to Radiohead and Hans Zimmer’s rework of “Bloom” for Blue Planet II, you can hear a really fascinating orchestral trick at work. They call it the “tidal orchestra” — it’s a musical effect created by instructing each player to play their notes only if the person next to them isn’t playing. The result is a randomly swelling and fading musical bed for the entire series that captures the feeling of ocean waves. It’s a captivating way to score a soundtrack for the ocean — but it also fits in with a long history of capturing randomness in music composition.

The “tidal orchestra” technique was inspired by pointillism and randomness: using small individual sounds to build a soundscape rather than starting with a specific tune. For some reason, it also reminds me of Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing 797. (No idea what inspired Yorke’s pants though. MC Hammer? Wow.)

Planet Earth II was probably my favorite movie/show/media from the past year, so I am really looking forward to Blue Planet II.

What would happen if you brought a tiny piece of the Sun to Earth?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2017

Kurzgesagt asks and answers the question: what happens if we bring the Sun to the Earth? Since the density and makeup of the Sun varies, they go over scenarios of sampling a house-size chunk from four different spots of the Sun: the chromosphere, the photosphere, the radiative zone, and the core. The answers range from “not much” to “well, that was a terrifically bad idea”.