Science educator James Drake assembled this time-lapse video of Earth at night from International Space Station imagery. Pacific Ocean and continues over North and South America before entering daylight near Antarctica. (Credit: Infinity Imagined)
This must-see video condenses the International Space Station's night flight over Earth into 60 seconds, courtesy of science educator James Drake. He downloaded a series of 600 pictures from the Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth — a voluminous archive of a half-century's worth of imagery from the space station and NASA's manned spacecraft. Then he assembled them into the clip you see here using VirtualDub software.
The flight to the sunrise begins over the Pacific Ocean and zooms at an altitude of about 220 miles (350 kilometers) past Vancouver Island and Victoria, the Pacific Northwest and the American Southwest, Texas and Mexico, Central and South America. The highlights to watch for include constellations of city lights, lightning flashes in the clouds, the stars whirling in the night sky above, the faint brown-yellow atmospheric airglow that rims the eastern horizon, and the glorious dawn at the end.
Sylvain Serre took this picture of the northern lights on Sept. 3 from the village of Ivujivik in Quebec.
By Alan Boyle, Science Editor, NBC News
Our planet has managed to dodge the potential ill effects from a string of solar storms over the past couple of weeks ... while still enjoying the wonders.
The region on the sun's disk known as sunspot 1283 has been spouting off with one flare after another, earning it the title of "Old Faithful" among solar physicists. Old Faithful has thrown off several coronal mass ejections, which are outbursts of solar particles that stream through the solar system at speeds of a million miles per hour. If a powerful outburst hits Earth's magnetic field were to hit just wrong, that could cause problems for satellite operations, communication links and electrical grids.
One of the most famous disruptions in recent times was the Hydro-Quebec blackout of 1989, caused by a huge disturbance in space weather. Back in 1859, an even bigger solar storm flashed through daylight skies and set telegraph wires sizzling. Some observers say such an event would blow out civilization's fuses if it happened today, but experts downplay the chances of seeing a solar doomsday anytime soon.
Solar activity is definitely on the upswing toward an expected maximum in 2013, but so far, we haven't seen any direct hits on the magnetosphere. Instead, we're seeing a series of glancing blows that have set off beautiful auroral displays in the upper atmosphere, like the show that photographer Sylvain Serre captured from northern Quebec on Sept. 3.
"For the first time of the season, there was a clear sky in the northern village of Ivujivik (the highest point in Quebec)," Serre wrote in a note to SpaceWeather.com. "So I went outside with a friend to take a little walk and to get more familiar with the landscape around here. Fortunately, the northern lights were very bright, dense and colorful."
For the camera buffs out there, Serre used a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with a 16-35mm lens set at f/2.8 and 4000 ISO, at exposures ranging from 10 to 25 seconds. Check out the SpaceWeather gallery or Serre's website for still more thrilling views of the northern lights.
Ron Garan / NASA via Twitpic
NASA astronaut snapped this picture of an auroral display from the International Space Station and sent it down to Earth via his Twitpic account on Monday.
For a completely different perspective on the aurora, feast your eyes on this view of the southern lights, as seen by NASA astronaut Ron Garan from the International Space Station over the weekend. The space station's Italian-built Leonardo storage module is visible in the foreground.
Garan promises that better pictures of the aurora are "coming soon." But those pictures might have to wait until after he lands back on Earth on Friday aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. "I have thousands of pictures for Twitter when back from space," he wrote on Monday. "You've seen just the tip of the iceberg."
As a parting shot, here's the final installment of Garan's "Cupola Corner" video series with fellow NASA astronaut Mike Fossum:
With the sun rising outside their window, NASA astronauts Ron Garan and Mike Fossum reflect on their 100 shared days on the International Space Station.
NASA's Opportunity rover produced this mosaic view of its own tribute to the victims and the survivors of the 9/11 terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2011. The component bearing the image of the flag was fashioned out of aluminum salvaged from the World Trade Center towers and serves as the cable guard of a tool on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. Two separate cameras on Opportunity recorded exposures that were combined into this view.
The color image at the center came from Opportunity's panoramic camera. It's easy to spot the U.S. flag on the aluminum cable shield that was fashioned out of metal salvaged from the ruins of New York's World Trade Center and attached to the rover's robotic arm. The black-and-white view surrounding the color picture was produced by the rover's navigation camera, which can capture a wider view.
Scientists originally planned for Opportunity to execute a three-month mission at Mars — but more than seven and a half years after it landed, the six-wheeled robotic explorer is still hard at work, studying the 14-mile-wide Endeavour Crater. Neither dust storms nor sand traps have managed to defeat the rover, which is why it's so fitting that a little red-white-and-blue piece of the machine commemorates America's resilience in the post-9/11 world.
The Cassini spacecraft captured this view of five Saturnian moons, plus the planet's rings, in this image from July 29. Janus is on the far left. Pandora orbits between two of the rings near the middle of the image. Brightly reflective Enceladus appears above the center of the image. Rhea is bisected by the image's right edge, and Mimas can be seen beyond Rhea, just to its left. Saturn itself is not visible in this view ... only its rings.
Five Saturnian moons are clustered around the giant planet's rings in this amazing view from the Cassini orbiter, captured on July 29 from a vantage point just above the ring plane. Rhea, which is poking in from the far right side of the frame, is the moon closest to the camera, at a distance of 684,000 miles (1.1 million kilometers). That moon is 949 miles (1,528 kilometers) across. The smaller moon Mimas looks as if it's edging up right beside Rhea, but it's actually more than 400,000 miles farther away. The bright moon Enceladus, which spouts geysers of water ice, shines above and beyond Saturn's rings.
Fifty-mile-wide Pandora, a shepherd moon and the smallest of the five satellites seen in this picture, is nestled within Saturn's rings, between the A ring and the thin F ring near the middle of the image. The irregular moon Janus is at far left. These five are just a small part of Saturn's huge chorus of 62 known moons.
An unusually strong X2.1-class solar flare blasted out from the sun on Tuesday, but experts say the outburst shouldn't impact Earth significantly — unless you're a fan of the northern lights. Auroral displays could be somewhat brighter on Friday, when a wave of electrically charged particles ejected by the blast is expected to deal a glancing blow to Earth's magnetic field.
The flare from sunspot 1283 peaked at 6:20 p.m. ET, according to the science team for NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which observed the event in ultraviolet and X-ray wavelengths. X-class flares are the most powerful types of events, capable of triggering radio blackouts. This flare was associated with a coronal mass ejection, an eruption of a giant cloud of solar material. If such an ejection hits our planet's magnetic field just wrong, it can disrupt electrical grids and satellites. Fortunately, most of the material ejected on Tuesday will go far above the planet, space-weather forecasters say.
A less energetic flare was sighted in the same region of the sun's disk earlier in the day. The recent upswing in solar activity suggests that the sun is on its way toward the peak of its 11-year cycle, after an unusually long quiet stretch. Experts expect the peak to come in 2013.
An Apollo lunar module propellant tank sits on display in Dale Cox III's Seattle-area backyard, alongside a more traditional sculpture. The tank might have been sent to the moon if NASA went ahead with Apollo 18, 19 and 20, as originally planned. Instead, it's been turned into an art installation.
By Alan Boyle, Science Editor, NBC News
Space hardware can be beautiful. Just ask Dale Cox III, a Seattle-area resident who has surplus tanks scattered around his yard. And not just any tanks: Most of these pieces are titanium components that were built for NASA's use on an Apollo lunar module.
Dale's father, Dale W. Cox Jr., picked up all this metal back in 1970, when NASA decided to cut the Apollo moon program short. The Apollo 18, 19 and 20 missions were canceled, and the tanks were no longer needed. The elder Cox, a former astronaut candidate who was familiar with the rainbow look of titanium, spotted the pieces in a California scrap yard.
"Basically, my dad bought everything he could get his hands on," Dale Cox III told me.
His mother, an artist, added metal embellishments to the titanium — and collaborated with another artist, Jae Carmichael, to present an exhibit of the pieces titled "Titanium One" in 1971. Titanium's color depends on the metal's alloy content, surface cleanliness and the temperature at which it's fired. Low-temperature firing produces a golden sheen, while higher temperatures result in shades of green, red, red-violet and blue.
"Titanium never changes color, and it doesn't corrode," Cox said. "It's been outside since my dad bought it, and it's basically never changed."
Someday, the Coxes hope their titanium treasures will be put on display in a sculpture garden, as a tribute to Apollo and to art. In a telephone interview from California, Dale W. Cox Jr. told me that the hardware would have been "pretty dull" if it weren't for his wife. "She transformed them into space junk as an art form," he said.
Half of a titanium tank that was once destined to go inside a lunar module now sits beside a 600-year-old yew tree in the front yard of Dale Cox III's house.
Alan Boyle / msnbc.com
Dale Cox III points to the area on NASA's Apollo lunar module where one of the titanium tanks would have been installed. The diagram is taped to the tank itself, sitting in Cox's backyard.
Alan Boyle / msnbc.com
Dale Cox III points to sheets of titanium with pieces cut out, cookie-cutter-style. The cut-out pieces were used in hardware construction. The leftovers were assembled into an abstract gate ornament. The half-moon hanging to the right is part of a titanium tank, artistically embellished with additional squares of metal. A blue-colored fuel line, also made of titanium, rises from the ground.
ARLINGTON, Va. — Night after night this summer, troops from the Army's historic Old Guard have left their immaculately pressed dress blues, white gloves and shiny black boots at home to slip into Arlington National Cemetery in T-shirts and flip-flops to photograph each and every grave with an iPhone.
The sometimes eerie task to photograph more than 219,000 grave markers and the front of more than 43,000 sets of cremated remains in the columbarium is part of the Army's effort to account for every grave and to update and fully digitize the cemetery's maps. The Old Guard performs its work at night to escape the summer heat and to avoid interrupting funerals.
Soldiers from the Army Old Guard photograph headstones, in Section 15, as they take part in Task Force Christman to photograph and catalog more than 219,00 grave markers and the front of more than 43,000 sets of cremated remains at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Wednesday, Aug. 24. Night after night this summer, troops have left their immaculately pressed dress blues, white gloves and shiny black boots, photographing each and every grave with an iPhone.
Cliff Owen / AP
A soldier of the Army Old Guard uses an Apple iPhone to photograph a niche at the Columbarium in Arlington National Cemetery.
Cliff Owen / AP
Soldiers of the Army Old Guard Task Force Christman use Apple iPhone's to photograph and catalog more than 219,00 grave markers and the front of more than 43,000 sets of cremated remains at Arlington National Cemetery.
Cliff Owen / AP
Army Spc. Matthew Caruso, 24, of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., shows the Apple iPad and spreadsheet which is used to keep track of which headstones the Army Old Guard has photographed at Arlington National Cemetery.
Pardon my skepticism, but I'm still waiting for my flying car. Full story.
Denis Sinyakov / Reuters
A model of a craft, part of an orbiting hotel, is displayed during the MAKS International Aviation and Space Salon in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, August 18. A hotel in orbit, lunar sightseeing flights and luxury rides into the cosmos -- all are part of Russia's vision to ensure it is not left behind in the growing space tourism industry.
Denis Sinyakov / Reuters
A participant stands inside a model of a craft, part of an orbiting hotel, during the MAKS International Aviation and Space Salon in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, August 18.
Mother Nature always has the best ideas. Full story. See video below to see how this amazing thing flies.
Win McNamee / Getty Images
David Sharp, an engineer with Lockheed Martin, displays the "Samarai Flyer", an aviation design inspired by the maple seed, during the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Conference August 16, 2011 in Washington, DC. Lockheed Martin unveiled the new design and demonstrated vertical takeoff and landing, stable hover, and on-board video streaming of the aircraft during their demonstration.
Price Chambers / AP
Craighead Beringia South biologist Bryan Bedrosian prepares to net a nestling osprey as Lower Valley Energy lineman Dave Renbarger positions a lift near the top of the nest on the southern border of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Bedrosian is trying to capture the osprey as part of a larger effort to track the park's migrating animals.
Space Shuttle Discovery (R) awaits its turn to approach shuttle Endeavour outside Orbiter Processing Facility-3 (OPF-3) at Florida's Kennedy Space Center in this NASA photo dated August 11, 2011.
Discovery, which temporarily was being stored in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), is switching places with Endeavour, which has been undergoing decommissioning in OPF-1. Discovery will be rolled into OPF-1 and Endeavour into the VAB.
Discovery will undergo further preparations for public display at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. Endeavour will be stored in the VAB until October when it will be moved into OPF-2 for further work to get it ready for public display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.