The Beautiful Earth From Above

January 29, 2019
Black Marble

One of the joys of working with weather is that I also work with satellite pictures—to see our beautiful Earth from above.

We have all seen the local weather forecasters showing satellite pictures of approaching rains and storms. But most don’t get to see some of the other pictures, especially some of the incredible new nighttime pictures, allowing us to follow the weather day and night. These pictures also show the incredible beauty of the city lights.

Check out the recent picture of Europe.

Some of the latest satellite weather pictures are incredible. Source: NASA

Of course to some, these glowing pools of light, don’t look like jewels, they look like ugly “light pollution”. Certainly the lights keep the city inhabitants from enjoying a clear view of the starry sky. Still, for me, just as the daylight pictures of Earth—the “Blue Marble” is beautiful, so too is the nighttime “Black Marble”.

Look at this photo from 2012. It is a patchwork of images from several months and includes a nighttime photo of Hurricane Sandy heading up the East Coast. The twinkling city lights aren’t just pollution, they are ways to track where weather patterns are and what populations they will affect.

The Black Marble and Hurricane Sandy Source: NASA

Of course, city lights are not the only lights twinkling on the nighttime globe. Satellites are also tracing gas flares, auroras, wildfires, and reflected moonlight. They show moon glint and clouds. Lightning strikes flash and the heat from volcanoes flare. Overlying it all is airglow, because satellites are showing that our atmosphere is never without light. The glow is filled with color, most in shades invisible to human color perception but showing as a green bubble in Earth photos taken from orbit. When satellites focus on the airglow, they can see the ripples of wind and weather patterns.

A huge storm sends ripples through the skies of Texas, visible to satellites observing air glow. Sources: NASA Earth Observatory and NOAA

It’s all data for the scientists, but so much of the data is beautiful to look at. It sure beats reading a spread sheet or graph.

So next time you hear the nursery rhyme, remember: it’s not just the stars that twinkle. So does our home planet.           

About This Blog

Are you a weather watcher? Welcome to “Weather Whispers” by James Garriss and until recently, Evelyn Browning Garriss. With expertise and humor, this column covers everything weather—from weather forecasts to WHY extreme weather happens to ways that weather affects your life from farming to your grocery bill. Enjoy weather facts, folklore, and fun!

With heavy hearts, we share the news that historical climatologist and immensely entertaining Almanac contributor Evelyn Browning Garriss passed away in late June 2017. Evelyn shared her lifetime of weather knowledge with Almanac editors and readers, explaining weather phenomena in conversation and expounding on topics in articles for the print edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well as in these articles. We were honored to know and work with her as her time allowed, which is to say when she was not giving lectures to, writing articles for, and consulting with scientists, academia, investors, and government agencies around the world. She will be greatly missed by the Almanac staff and readers.