Astro Bob blog: A billion artists at workSee spectacular photos of a plankton bloom from orbit and the space station passing in front of the sun.
By: Bob King, Duluth News Tribune
A billion artists at work
This is small area in a much larger photograph of a phytoplankton bloom off the coast of Ireland taken by NASA's Terra satellite. The green coloration is due to chlorophyll inside the bodies of the organisms. Phytoplankton form the basis of the oceanic food chain and help produce much of the oxygen in our atmosphere. Credit: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team
We've featured many photos looking down on planets and moons taken by orbiting satellites. Lunar boulders, Jupiter's swirling cloud belts and crater-pocked Mercury come to mind. Now and then we see the Earth as a planet, too, either through the eyes of astronauts aboard the space station or taken by one of the many Earth observing satellites. Most recently, you've seen pictures of the Gulf oil spill from NASA's Terra satellite. Today I thought it might be more uplifting to share this image of phytoplankton blooms off the west coast of Ireland captured last Saturday May 22.
Diatoms are one of the most common forms of phytoplankton. They live in the ocean, fresh water and even in soil. A simple microscope easily reveals their jewel-like forms. Credit: NOAA
Phytoplankton are microscopic plants that live in the upper layers of the ocean. During their spectacular seasonal "blooms" the tiny creatures cover hundreds of miles of open water and are easily visible from orbit. Just look at those vividly-colored swirls and vortices and think for a moment how many billions of individuals it must take to create this iridescent emblem of earthly life. When we one day resolve distant exoplanets as disks, will we see similar patches of blue and green staining their globes?
The International Space Station (ISS) and Atlantis (on left side between the two sets of solar panels) passes in front the sun on May 22. The ISS took only 1/2-second to cross the sun's face. Credit and copyright: Thierry Legault
Let's turn around now and direct our gaze back up into space. I thought you'd like to see Thierry Legault's incredible photographs of the International Space Station with space shuttle Atlantis in tow transiting the face of the sun. He took the photos through a 6-inch refracting telescope with a Canon 5D Mark II and 1/8000-second exposure on May 22, the same date as Terra aimed its camera at the plankton bloom. Thierry's photos are nothing short of spectacular and show fine details of the space station -- check out those eight big solar arrays -- as well as the granulated texture of the sun. Each of the small granules is about the size of the state of Texas and represents a column of hot gas rising from beneath the sun's surface. The dark gaps between the granules are the gaps where cooled gas descends back below the surface again. The sun churns like an enormous pot of oatmeal on the stove.
This is the full frame of the ISS crossing the sun. A sunspot group is also visible. More photos. Credit and copyright: Thierry Legault