NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring
Western Hemisphere Feb. 24, 2012 -- We at Discovery News are loving the new photos of Earth coming in from VIIRS, the biggest and most important instrument of the five aboard NASA's Earth-observing satellite - Suomi NPP. These composite images are put together using a number of swaths of the Earth's surface taken with the Visible/Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) over the course of a day as the Suomi NPP satellite orbits the planet from pole to pole. Here we see the western hemisphere from swaths taken on Jan. 4, 2012.
NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring
Eastern Hemisphere The Suomi NPP satellite flew over the eastern hemisphere six times during an eight hour time period on Jan 23, 2012. NASA scientist Norman Kuring took those six sets of data and combined them into this image shown here.
NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring
Australian View Here NASA scientist Norman Kuring has done the same with the VIIRS data sets taken on Feb. 8, 2012.
Arctic View The newly launched Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (S-NPP) satellite, which was blasted into space on Oct. 28, 2011, circled the Earth 15 times to capture the visual data used for the stunning picture.
BIG PIC: White Marble View Over Arctic
Hot and Cold Here we see the results of the Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System (CERES) instrument at work on the Suomi NPP satellite. "In the longwave image, heat energy radiated from Earth (in watts per square meter) is shown in shades of yellow, red, blue and white. The brightest-yellow areas are the hottest and are emitting the most energy out to space, while the dark blue areas and the bright white clouds are much colder, emitting the least energy. Increasing temperature, decreasing water vapor, and decreasing clouds will all tend to increase the ability of Earth to shed heat out to space," the NASA CERES team explained.
Image by NASA’s NPP Land Product Evaluation
Keeping Up with the Sun From its vantage 824 kilometers (512 miles) above Earth, the Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) satellite gets a complete view of our planet every day. This image from Nov. 24, 2011, was the first complete global image from VIIRS. Rising from the south and setting in the north on the daylight side of Earth, VIIRS images the surface in long wedges measuring 3,000 kilometers (1,900 miles) across. The swaths from each successive orbit overlap one another, so that at the end of the day, the sensor has a complete view of the globe. The Arctic is missing because it is too dark to view in visible light during the winter. The NPP satellite was placed in a Sun-synchronous orbit, a unique path that takes the satellite over the equator at the same local (ground) time in every orbit. So, when NPP flies over Kenya, it is about 1:30 p.m. on the ground. When NPP reaches Gabon—about 3,000 kilometers to the west—on the next orbit, it is close to 1:30 p.m. on the ground. This orbit allows the satellite to maintain the same angle between the Earth and the Sun so that all images have similar lighting. The consistent lighting is evident in the daily global image. Stripes of sunlight (sunglint) reflect off the ocean in the same place on the left side of every swath. The consistent angle is important because it allows scientists to compare images from year to year without worrying about extreme changes in shadows and lighting. PHOTOS: Sunsets and Other Sky Wonders
Final Checks Electro Magnetic Interference testing of the Suomi NPP satellite at the Ball Aerospace facility.
Behind the Scenes By stitching six swaths together, NASA scientist Norman Kuring takes the Suomi NPP satellite perspective from its polar orbit around Earth at an altitude of 512 miles (about 824 kilometers), and changes it to a 'Blue Marble' view as though it were seen from 7,918 miles (about 12,743 kilometers).
NEWS: Earth's Mugshot Explained
You might not have hundreds of thousands of dollars for a seat on Richard Branson’s private shuttle, but one enterprising outfit is about to offer the next best thing: the chance to see the Earth from space, from the comfort of your couch.
With the aid of Russian space authorities, Vancouver-based UrtheCast (pronounced “earthcast”) will launch two cameras into orbit today (Nov. 25) with the immediate goal of streaming images of the Earth back home in near-real time.
For free, Internet users will log on to UrtheCast.com anytime to see the beauty of the big blue ball we live on, as the cameras make the 90-minute revolution around Earth, 16 times a day. It's a sight few have ever seen before.
“Ten years ago it would have been incredibly difficult to do this,” Scott Larson, CEO of UrtheCast, told FoxNews.com. But after three years of raising money and working with Russian and Canadian engineers and developers, the project is about to lift-off -- literally. The cameras will ride a Russian Soyuz rocket on Monday at 3:53 p.m. EST from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. You can watch it live on FoxNews.com.
“I’ve never seen a launch before -- we’re all excited, there's no doubt about it,” Larson said.
The cameras will orbit for a few days before docking at the Russian portion of the International Space Station (ISS). The largest artificial body in orbit, the ISS serves as a research laboratory and testing facility for future space missions. It will add streaming media to its long list of functions.
Once calibrated – and this could take several months, Larson said – the cameras will start beaming down images. For the first time, ordinary web surfers will see the Earth in space with a delay of only 45 minutes to a couple hours at the most (this accounts for the near-real time nature). The crisp resolution will let them see not only the Earth -- with all the accompanying weather patterns and seasonal changes -- but moving vehicles, large crowds, boats and buildings.
Not only will viewers get the greatest panoramic view of all but they’ll be able to customize it too, locking on to their country, their state, their neighborhood when the cameras pan over that part of the world on rotation.
“Streaming video is a large amount of data that will have to reach Earth somehow, which will require a lot of bandwidth,” noted Austin Bradley, a Washington, D.C.-area space enthusiast who hopes one day to hitch a ride to Mars. Until then, he says that accessible video from space will definitely whet his appetite.
“For a lower cost than training as an astronaut and taking a weeklong vacation on the , it’s amazing that UrtheCast is bringing the opportunity to see Earth from the perspective that the few lucky astronauts in this world get to experience,” Bradley told FoxNews.com.
Larson said the company will be sending 200 gigabytes a day down in “big chunks,” which of course will create a bottleneck and thus the delay. But considering that the only other option for free space viewing – Google Earth – carries a delay of months if not years (Google superimposes pictures gleaned from various satellites), this “near-real time” opportunity is quite unprecedented.
And not inexpensive. to pay the bills, UrtheCast went public last July and raised $45 million in private funding. The company is striking numerous deals through partnerships too, including media companies like the Discovery Channel, which will have access to distribution once the cameras are up and running. UrtheCast is also marketing the images to private companies, and has already sold rights to the United Nations Institute for Training and Research’s operational satellite applications program (UNOSAT), which will use the pictures to track natural disasters and humanitarian crises.
This is all in line with promoting the webcast on social, educational, environmental and commercial fronts, said Larson.
An engineering firm based in British Columbia helped to build the cameras for about $15 million. The Russians will not only help deliver and stage the equipment, but will transmit the images too. This saves the project a lot of money. In return, UrtheCast will share the data with their Russian partners, who in the meantime get a payload of positive publicity for their space program.
Larson, who is Canadian, said it was the Russians that approached him several years back. They wanted to put cameras into space.
"It landed on my desk,” he recalled. “It was their idea frankly.”
Aerospace engineer and author Robert Zubrin said NASA should have been doing this kind of thing years ago. Currently, only major corporations and government agencies can afford to buy satellite images from space, and it's very expensive. A project like this not only makes space accessible to regular people, he told FoxNews.com, but it re-ignites a fascination with space travel that has been dormant in recent years.
Private programs like SpaceShipTwo, the shuttle owned and developed by Virgin Galactic billionaire Richard Branson, which is selling tickets on board future spaceflights at $250,000 a pop, are tickling the imagination, but still represent a view that space is only for an elite segment of the population.
“We have all these instruments up there, so why didn’t we have the opportunity to log on to the Internet to see the Earth spinning? Why not? It’s about time,” Zubrin said.