We see clouds so often that it’s easy to forget how amazing they are. Thankfully German astronaut and geophysicist Alexander Gerst is currently aboard the International Space Station where he often spends his free time taking countless extraordinary photos of the Earth as it’s whizzing by 205 miles below.

Gerst is particularly fond of photographing dramatic shadows cast by cloud formations - something that we cannot see down here on Earth. These stunning photos remind how awesome clouds are as they cast shadows that stretch for thousands of miles across the planet’s surface. Shadows so long that they eventually disappear into the black horizon.

Follow Alexander Gerst’s Twitter feed for new photos shared daily.

[via Colossal]

Watch on canadian-space-agency.tumblr.com

NASA Astronaut Reid Wiseman aboard the ISS: “SpaceVine timelapse - @astro_alex (ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst) worked the arm and I pushed the “so long” button on Cygnus.”

Credit: Reid Wiseman/NASA

Sheared clouds

Our planet’s thin airy envelope is made of many layers, each moving in its own direction and speed, whose interaction with the sea and landmasses produce what we call weather. The system is incredibly complex, with exchanges of matter and energy happening at every fuzzy border, shaping the surface of the world in which we live. Ultimately these interactions control erosion and sedimentation patterns and hence the distribution of nutrients and life around the world.

Every now and again, a phenomenon brings a part of this reality to our attention, stimulating human curiosity, spurring us to develop our current understanding of the global paradigm known as Earth system science, an alliance between such disciplines as geology, climatology, oceanography and ecology, with a sprinkling of Gaia theory, (whose inventor, James Lovelock, is credited as the father of this new paradigm) all tied together by the laws of physics and chemistry in an attempt to understand how the world works as an entire entity, protected from the harsh environment of outer space by its atmosphere and magnetosphere. 

The crew of the space station snapped this photo over southern Borneo depicting the effect of atmospheric layering on clouds. Storms are rising as moist air passes over the mountains at the centre of this large island, visible as anvil clouds at the top centre of the image. They rose through the air column until they reached a different layer, in which cold high altitude winds effectively decapitated the storm cells, carrying streamers of newly frozen ice crystals that formed cirrus clouds extending for many hundreds of kilometres downwind towards the viewer. 

Lower down in the air column, cloud streets of cumulus clouds are aligning from left to right in the image with the prevailing wind in that particular layer of air, as are smaller plumes of smoke from the ever present forest fires, making way for palm oil plantations. They say that clouds are physics, drawn in the sky, and this photo provides us a glimpse into the fascinating workings of the dance of matter and energy that make up the beautiful (and only) planet on whose thin outer rind we all live.


Image credit: NASA

2 Companies Will Take Americans to Space Station

Boeing and the Space Exploration Technologies Corporation are the winners in the competition to carry American astronauts to the International Space Station, NASA announced on Tuesday.

The awards reflect a fundamental shift in NASA’s human spaceflight program, relying on private companies rather than the traditional hands-on approach, in which the space agency designed and operated the spacecraft.

The first flights could take off as soon as 2017.

“We have credible plans for both companies to get there by that period of time,” Kathryn Lueders, the manager for NASA’s commercial crew program, said during a news conference on Tuesday. “We will not sacrifice crew safety for that goal.”

Boeing received a $4.2 billion contract. Space Exploration Technologies — better known as SpaceX, of Hawthorne, Calif. — received a $2.6 billion contract.

“Today we’re one step closer to launching our astronauts from U.S. soil on American spacecraft and ending the nation’s sole reliance on Russia,” said Charles F. Bolden Jr., the NASA administrator.


NASA Picks Boeing & SpaceX To Transport Astronauts To International Space Station

Less than a month after NASA gave the go-ahead for construction of its new heavy-lift rocket, the agency announced it has selected SpaceX and Boeing to transport U.S. astronauts to and from the International Space Station aboard private space taxis.

NASA awarded Boeing and SpaceX contracts worth $4.2 billion and $2.6 billion, respectively, to develop their spacecraft as a part of the Commercial Crew Program. The contracts require the completion of at least one test flight with an astronaut on board to confirm the spacecraft performs as expected. Once certified by NASA, each company will be allowed to perform up to six crewed missions to the space station.

Both Boeing’s CST-100 crew capsule and SpaceX’s Dragon V2 spacecraft can support up to seven astronauts and are designed to be reusable. The Dragon V2 is a human-rated upgrade on the Dragon capsule SpaceX currently uses, under contract with NASA, to perform cargo resupply missions to the space station. Boeing is no stranger to spacecraft construction either, having been the prime contractor for the ISS.

[Enter The Dragon: Meet SpaceX’s Next Generation Spacecraft]

The first flight of the Commercial Crew Program expected to occur by 2017. It will mark NASA’s first human spaceflight since the end of the Space Shuttle Program. “Today, we’re one giant leap closer to launching our astronauts from the U.S. on American spacecraft,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement Tuesday.

Read more: http://www.penny4nasa.org/2014/09/16/nasa-picks-boeing-spacex-to-transport-astronauts-to-international-space-station/

NASA bringing USA back on top - Boeing and SpaceX to launch astronauts to the ISS

By Charles Bolden -

Today, with the selection of Boeing and SpaceX to be the first American companies to launch our astronauts to the International Space Station, NASA has set the stage for what promises to be the most ambitious and exciting chapter in the history of human space flight.



NASA Ends Russian Reliance as Boeing, SpaceX Win Out

NASA is a giant step closer to launching Americans again from U.S. soil. The space agency has picked Boeing and SpaceX to transport astronauts to the International Space Station in the next few years.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden named the winners of the competition at Kennedy Space Center, next door to where the launches should occur in a few years. The wall behind him was emblazoned with the words “Launch America” and “Commercial crew transportation/The mission is in sight.”

Read more: http://www.laboratoryequipment.com/news/2014/09/nasa-ends-russian-reliance-boeing-spacex-win-out


Viewed From The International Space Station, Clouds Cast Fascinating Thousand-Mile Long Shadows…

photos on Flickr

Since joining the International Space Station, geophysicist  Alexander Gerst  has spent a good deal of his free time taking photographs of the Earth, as it speeds by 205 miles below.

In the process, Gerst has captured hurricanes, floods, dust storms and oil fields among other things.

One of his favorite Earth features to photograph have been the shadows cast by clouds, which sometimes appear incredibly dramatic when viewed from space.

Dense cloud formations can throw long shadows that can stretch for thousands of miles on the Earth’s surface, before disappearing into the horizon.

Source: Alexander Gerst / Flickr

Plankton Found on the Exterior of the International Space Station!

While examining samples taken from the exterior surface of the ISS, scientists discovered something completely unexpected - Marine Plankton living on the surface, despite the harsh condition (Vacuum, temperature, and radiation.)

There was evidence that the plankton had been living there for years, and possibly even developing, too.

This gives more plausibility to the panspermia theory - that life all over the solar system/galaxy/universe is all related thanks to bacteria catching rides on asteroids and comets. We already know it is possible for rocks to be thrown away from a planet by something like an asteroid impact or large volcanic eruption - some meteorites have had their lineage traced back to mars.

So do you believe the panspermia theory to be plausible? what about alien life in general?


The jellyfish-like light show in the animations above shows the life and death of a flame in microgravity. The work is part of the Flame Extinguishment Experiment 2 (FLEX-2) currently flying aboard the International Space Station. When ignited, the fuel droplet creates a blue spherical shell of flame about 15 mm in diameter. The spherical shape is typical of flames in microgravity; on Earth, flames are shaped like teardrops due to the effects of buoyancy, which exists only in a gravitational field. The bright yellow spots and streaks that appear after ignition are soot, which consists mainly of hot-burning carbon. The uneven distribution of soot is what causes the pulsating bursts seen in the middle animation. When soot products drift back onto the fuel droplet, it causes uneven burning and flame pulses. The final burst of flame in the last animation is the soot igniting and extinguishing the flame. Fires are a major hazard in microgravity, where oxygen supplies are limited and evacuating is not always an option. Scientists hope that experiments like FLEX-2 will shed light on how fires spread and can be fought aboard spacecraft. For more, check out NASA’s ScienceCast on microgravity flames. (Image credits: NASA, source video; submitted by jshoer)