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The Sciences

Fleuve avec glace de l'espace

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitJanuary 20, 2010 6:21 PM


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It's been weeks since I've seen clear ground here in Boulder; we've had snow and ice for a long time. You'd think I'd be sick of it and wouldn't want to see any more, but then you either don't know me well, or you haven't seen this beautiful image from NASA's Aqua satellite:


[Click to embiggen.] This image, taken on January 17, 2010, shows thin ice forming in the St. Lawrence river in Quebec. I love the swirls of ice, forming along the eddies and flow of the water. Aqua is an Earth-observing satellite designed to monitor our planet's water cycle as it orbits at an altitude of 700 kilometers. The camera used in this image is the MODIS, or Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer. It can observe in a whopping 36 different wavelengths, from visible to infrared. It has a maximum resolution of 250 meters per pixel -- I find that a bit funny, given that we have probes orbiting the Moon and Mars with resolutions a thousand times higher. But each was designed to do a specific job, and for Aqua, 250 meters is good enough. Clearly, it's enough to produce stunning images like this one.

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