Category Archives: Photographs

Farewell to Cassini, which found wondrous worlds not so far away

I’d like to take a moment to celebrate the discoveries of NASA’s Cassini spacecraft — including the finding of water on Saturn’s moons Titan and Enceladus.

Water vapor escapes from geothermal vents on Saturn’s moon Enceladus. // Photo: NASA

The 13-year mission ended Friday when Cassini, running out of fuel, was directed to self-destruct by burning up in the atmosphere of the ringed planet.

“This is the final chapter of an amazing mission, but it’s also a new beginning,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a story on NASA’s website. “Cassini’s discovery of ocean worlds at Titan and Enceladus changed everything, shaking our views to the core about surprising places to search for potential life beyond Earth.”

Cassini was launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral in 1997 and reached Saturn in 2004. NASA extended the mission for two years and then again for seven years, as new findings continued to emerge, with a later focus on Saturn’s moons. An amazing surprise came when a subsurface ocean was found on Enceladus.

“Cassini may be gone, but its scientific bounty will keep us occupied for many years,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “We’ve only scratched the surface of what we can learn from the mountain of data it has sent back over its lifetime.”

The video on this page reveals some of the feelings that welled up and lingered among the Cassini team after the spacecraft came to its fiery end on Friday.

If you are interested in space discoveries, I recommend a glance at the text, photos and videos shared on NASA’s website. I also enjoyed the “most inspiring, beautiful, and historic” photos taken during the mission and pulled together by Brian Resnick for Vox Media’s website.

As Linda Spilker aptly described it, “Things never will be quite the same for those of us on the Cassini team now that the spacecraft is no longer flying. But we take comfort knowing that every time we look up at Saturn in the night sky, part of Cassini will be there, too.”

Amusing Monday: Satellite captures images that could pass for art

Landsat 8, an American observation satellite, was launched four years ago. Since May of this year, the satellite has recorded more than a million images.

Puget Sound, Aug. 27
Photo: U.S. Geological Survey

As one might expect, satellite images of the same place vary over time, considering that clouds, smoke, vegetation and geological phenomena alter the appearance of the Earth’s surface. You can see some differences in the pictures of Puget Sound on this page. The first was taken on Aug. 27 and the second on Sept. 7. The third picture, taken on Dec. 18, 2016, shows Mount Rainier in the lower portion of the photo with Puget Sound in the upper part.

Puget Sound, Sept. 7
Photo: U.S. Geological Survey

In some areas, the Landsat photos are so intriguing that they have been compared to works of art. Staffers at Live Science, an online magazine, chose 73 images to share with their readers. See their full collection of “Artistic Views of Earth from Above” at Live Science. I’ve picked some of my favorites and shown them below.

Mount Rainier, Dec. 18, 2016
Photo: U.S, Geological Survey

If you are interested, you can go to the source of the Landsat images, managed by the U.S. Geological Survey. I used a program called EarthExplorer to find the images of Puget Sound and Mount Rainier. Another search engine, LandsatLook Viewer, lets you zoom in on an area of North America or other continents to obtain satellite images. A third approach is GloVis, with its multiple filters to narrow your search.

The datasets are a collaboration between NASA, which developed and launched the satellite, and the USGS, which developed the ground systems for processing and sharing the data.

Following are four of the “artistic views” researched and provided by Live Science, which today is offering 73 fascinating photos of Hurricane Irma.

Putrid Sea // Photo: USGS

Putrid Sea: The various colors formed in a cluster of lagoons on the Crimean Peninsula provides an interesting painting, but the area has a reputation for foul odors caused by the algae that gives the water its color. The proper name of the area is Syvash, but some call it the Putrid Sea. The Syvash is part of the disputed area controlled by Ukraine until Russia sent in troops to annex the area in 2014.

Canyonlands // Photo: USGS

Canyonlands: Yellows, browns and blue characterize Canyonlands National Park in Utah, where the Green and Colorado rivers come together. The rocky and dry area of the park features unique geologic features, including steep canyons, eroded arches and interesting rock formations as well as ancient Native American rock paintings. The blue area in the photo is the peak of Mount Waas. Author Edward Abbey called the Canyonlands “the most weird, wonderful, magical place on Earth — there is nothing else like it anywhere.”

Eye of Quebec // Photo: USGS

Eye of Quebec: One of the Earth’s largest and oldest known craters was formed by the impact of a three-mile-wide meteor some 214 million years ago, experts say. The resulting Canadian lake, Lake Manicouagan, has been called the Eye of Quebec. The original crater was about 62 miles across, but erosion and deposition of sediments has reduced that to about 45 miles today. The island in the center of the lake is known as René-Levasseur Island. I suspect the purple image is produced by selecting one region of the light spectrum.

Green on Blue // Photo: USGS

Green on blue: The swirls of green and blue in the picture are largely phytoplankton floating in the Bering Sea, the body of water that separates Alaska from Russia. The plankton typically grow when there is an abundance of sun and nutrients, often reaching their peak at the end of summer. This photo, taken on Sept. 22, 2014, shows a few scattered white clouds dotting the sky.

Southern Resident orcas make it back to Puget Sound in good condition

Killer whale observers were gleefully surprised this week when all three pods of Southern Resident orcas came into the Salish Sea — and all were in reasonably good shape.

K-25, a 26-year-old male orca named Scoter, is seen breaching Monday when a large group of Southern Residents arrived in the Salish Sea.
Photo: Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research

Remember, these same whales have been missing from Puget Sound for practically the entire summer — a period when they traditionally remain in and around the San Juan Islands while feasting on salmon. This summer has generated concern among those who understand the ways of whales. Some observers have feared that the orcas, wherever they were, might not be getting enough to eat (Water Ways, Aug. 18).

That fear has largely disappeared, said Ken Balcomb, director of the Center for Whale Research who has been studying these animals for more than 40 years.

“There were no fat whales among them,” Ken told me, “but they had to be finding something (to eat) out there.”

Ken’s only concern was with a couple of young calves, 2 and 3 years old. They remain small for their age. (Ken calls them “runts.”) They probably have not received complete nutrition, given that the whales don’t seem to be finding chinook salmon in their regular feeding grounds.

“We know that there is a problem with juvenile and infant survival,” Ken said, but there is hope that these calves will make it.

Before they entered the Salish Sea this week, the three pods must have met up in the Strait of Juan de Fuca if not the Pacific Ocean, as all were together when they were spotted Monday morning near the south end of Vancouver Island by whale observer Mark Malleson.

The Center for Whale Research sent out two boats. Ken and Gail Richard boarded the Shachi and met up with the leading group of orcas just east of Secretary Island. Ahead of the pack was J-19, a female orca named Shachi, who appears to have taken over the leadership role from Granny, or J-2, the elder matriarch that led J pod for decades before her death.

Read Ken’s full report of the encounter on the Center for Whale Research website. For some observations about Granny, check out these Water Ways reports:

On Monday, J-pod whales were clustered in their family groups along the Vancouver Island shoreline, while those in K pod were farther offshore and trailing J pod, according to Ken’s report. Not all of L pod was there, but those in the area were spending time in their family groups, or matrilines, even farther behind and farther offshore.

Some of the whales were sprinting into tidal waters to catch salmon close to shore on the incoming tide of Monday afternoon, Ken said.

“The salmon tend to move into the Salish Sea with the flood tides and hang back in nearshore eddies and bays in ebb tides,” Ken wrote in his report, “so the whales foraging and traveling east suggested that there were at last sufficient numbers of salmon to bring them all of the way in.”

As the whales captured fish, their social interactions with each other increased, at least among the family groups, Ken told me.

Meanwhile, the second boat from the Center for Whale Research, Orcinus with Dave Ellifrit and Melisa Pinnow aboard, met up with the whales just west of Discovery Island east of Victoria. After a breakaway by the Shachi crew to transfer photos from Mark Mallinson, both boats continued to follow the whales until sunset. At dusk, the entourage ended up right in front of the center’s shoreline base on San Juan Island.

Spurred on by this rare (for this year) sighting of all three pods, the five photographers in the three boats shot more than 3,500 photos in one day, Ken reported. Some of the best portraits and ID photos are shown with notes of the encounter. Other photos and expressions of excitement can be seen on Orca Network’s Whale Sighting Report.

The researchers reported that all the whales in J and K pods were present — except for K-13, who had been reported missing (Water Ways, Aug. 18). Of the 35 orcas in L pod, 22 were seen on Monday. The missing whales are not a concern, Ken said, because the 13 not spotted were all members of matrilines that apparently were somewhere else.

“It is not unprecedented for L pod matrilines to be very widely separated at times — e.g., part of the pod in Puget Sound while others are off California!” Ken noted in his report. “All of the whales today appeared to be frisky and in good condition, though we clearly have a few runts in the youngest cohort of whales – probably having been in perinatal nutritional distress due to recent poor salmon years in the Salish Sea.”

The next day, Tuesday, the whales were spread out in small groups in Georgia Strait on the Canadian side of the border. Yesterday, they traveled back through Haro Strait in the San Juan Islands, then headed on west toward the Pacific Ocean. It will be interesting to see what happens next, as these fish-eating orcas continue to hunt for chinook salmon and then switch this fall to chum salmon when the chinook grow scarce.

The Center for Whale Research’s efforts to keep track of the Southern Residents is funded in part by the federal government, but the center’s other work involving orcas depends on donations and memberships. Go to “Take Action for Orcas” for information.

Amusing Monday: Underwater photos show mysteries of the deep

Underwater photographers are a unique breed of picture-takers. They venture into the mysterious depths of the ocean to discover interesting and unusual things and then capture an image for the rest of us to see.

Each year, thanks to the international Underwater Photographer of the Year contest, we can all share in many adventures by viewing more than 100 artful images of watery environments. All of the amazing winners and acclaimed finalists, along with comments from the photographers and judges, can be seen in the annual yearbook (PDF 27 mb). In this blog post, I’ll show you four of my favorite pictures. (You can click to enlarge.)

“Your Home and My Home” // Photo: ©Qing Lin/UPY 2017

This stunning photo of clownfish, taken by Canadian Qing Lin while diving in Indonesia, is titled “Your Home and My Home.” It shows three clownfish, each with a parasitic isopod in its mouth. Meanwhile, as many people know, clownfish themselves live in a symbiotic relationship with the sea anemone. The fish protect the anemone from small fish that would eat them, while the anemone’s stinging tentacles protect the clownfish from larger predators.

“One of my favorite fish to photograph is the clown,” wrote Martin Edge, one of the judges in the competition. “Now, I’ve seen many individual clowns with this parasite, but never have I seen a parasite in each of three. Add to this behavior a colorful anemone lined up across the image. Six eyes all in pin-sharp focus, looking into the lens of the author. Talk about ‘Peak of the Action’ This was one of my favorite shots from the entire competition.”

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Granny, the orca, was seen in poor condition before her death

About a month before the Center for Whale Research last observed Granny, the killer whale, the elder orca was pictured in aerial photos by researchers from NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center.

Granny shown in poor body condition in September. Photo: NOAA under NMFS permit 19091
Granny, or J-2, shown in poor body condition in September.
Photo: NOAA under NMFS permit 19091

The last aerial photos of Granny showed her to be in “poor body condition,” according to a report from marine mammal researcher John Durban on NOAA’s website.

Granny, designated J-2, was missing for weeks before the Center for Whale Research gathered enough observations to announce her death on the last day of 2016. The oldest whale in the three Southern Resident pods could have been more than 100 years old, according to estimates, as I discussed in Water Ways on Jan. 4.

The aerial photos, taken from a small unmanned hexacopter, are used to monitor the health of the orcas, John noted in his report. The photos taken in September show Granny to be thinner than other adult females. The photos on this page show Granny (top photo) to be thinner than J-22, a 32-year-old female named Oreo (second photo) who was reported in “robust condition” and may have been pregnant.

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Amusing Monday: Local photographer captures a moment with an eagle

A Kitsap County photographer, Bonnie Block, has been named the grand prize winner in the 2016 National Audubon Photography Contest.

Bonnie Block's winning photograph in the 2016 National Audubon Photography Contest
Bonnie Block’s winning photograph in the 2016 National Audubon Photography Contest
Audubon Photography Awards

The winning photo shows a bald eagle swooping down on a great blue heron at the mouth of Big Beef Creek near Seabeck. Bonnie, a resident of Kingston, learned that her dramatic photo had been chosen from among 7,000 entries from all 50 states and numerous countries.

Big Beef Creek, not far from my home, is a favorite place for nature photographers and bird watchers, who visit in spring and early summer to observe eagles in action. That’s when the birds come to hunt for fish called midshipman before heading out to find migrating salmon. My wife Sue once counted 58 eagles at one time in that location. See Water Ways, June 18, 2010.

Bonnie describes how she prepared to shoot the critical moment in a story by reporter Christian Vosler published in the Kitsap Sun July 30.

Professional Division winner: Dick Dickinson, osprey, Siesta Key, Sarasota, Fla.
Professional Division winner: Dick Dickinson, osprey, Siesta Key, Sarasota, Fla. // Audubon Photography Awards

Bonnie’s photo was mentioned during a CBS News interview with Melissa Groo, last year’s winner and a judge in this year’s contest. Melissa said a good photograph “freezes that instant that you can’t even see through the naked eye sometimes. Sometimes this behavior happens in a split second, but a photograph captures that unique moment for all of us to see.”

“Which is exactly what this year’s Grand Prize winner is,” commented reporter Brian Mastroianni. “I mean, the shot of the eagle and the heron is pretty incredible.”

“Exactly,” Melissa continued. “It’s that kind of confrontation, that pivotal moment where the eagle is landing and its wings are completely spread out, and you are seeing, obviously, some kind of confrontation. It’s just beautifully captured, technically and artistically speaking.”

A selection of Bonnie’s best photographs are on display this month at Liberty Bay Gallery in Poulsbo. You can also see some photos she has posted on her Facebook page.

Other winners in the Audubon Photography Contest are shown below. Comments from the photographers themselves about their work as well as other photos can be found on Audubon’s webpage.

Amateur Division winner: Steve Torna, eared grebes, Yellowstone Lake, Yellowstone National Park, Wyo.
Amateur Division winner: Steve Torna, eared grebes, Yellowstone Lake, Yellowstone National Park, Wyo. // Audubon Photography Awards
Youth Division winner: Carolina Anne Fraser, great frigatebird, near Española, Galapagos Islands, Equador.
Youth Division winner: Carolina Anne Fraser, great frigatebird, near Española, Galapagos Islands, Equador // Audubon Photography Awards
Fine Arts Division winner: Barbara Driscoll, green violetear, Savegre Hotel, San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica.
Fine Arts Division winner: Barbara Driscoll, green violetear, Savegre Hotel, San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica // Audubon Photography Awards

Amusing Monday: New stamps to mark national parks centennial

UPDATE: April 28, 2016

The U.S. Postal Service today released an image of the “pane” of National Park stamps that will become available for purchase on June 2. (Click image below to enlarge.) People may mistakenly call this group of stamps a “sheet,” but a sheet is actually much larger — usually nine panes as they come off a printing press.

Centennial sheet photo

Four of the images on the 16 National Park stamps were provided by the National Park Service. They are the oil-on-canvas painting “Scenery in the Grand Tetons” by Albert Bierstadt (first row, second from right); the chromolithograph-on-canvas “Grand Canyon of Arizona from Hermit Rim Road” by Thomas Moran (second row, far left); the three-masted, steel-hulled, square-rigged ship Balclutha, which can be seen at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park (third row, far left); and the pastel-on-paper “Administration Building, Frijoles Canyon” by Helmuth Naumer Sr. (fourth row, far left).

Images on the other stamps are the work of independent photographers, and the center of the pane comes from a 1-cent stamp of Yosemite National Park issued in 1934.
—–

To celebrate the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary, the U.S. Postal Service has commissioned 16 new Forever stamps with scenes from 16 different national parks.

Rainier

The first-day issue ceremony will take place June 2 in New York City as part of the World Stamp Show NY-2016, an international event for stamp collectors held once every 10 years. Related events are planned in or near the national parks depicted on the stamps.

“These stamps celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Parks and depict the beauty and diversity of these national treasures,” Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan said in a news release. “They serve as an inspiration for Americans to visit, learn and to write cherished memories of their trips to these incredible wonders.”

Jonathan B. Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, added, “This set of stamps will take people on a journey to some of the most amazing places in the world. We are thrilled that the 16 national park stamps issued in ’16 for the centennial depict the variety of parks that collectively tell the story of our country.”

The star-trail photo of Mount Rainier, the first stamp on this page, was taken by Matt Dieterich of Pittsburgh, Penn., who worked as an intern in the National Park Service’s Geoscientist-in-the-Parks program.

“This night was one I will never forget,” said Dieterich, quoted in a news release. “After working with visitors at the Mount Rainier astronomy program on June 22, 2015, I noticed there was an aurora, so I drove down to Reflection Lake to capture it. The location was perfect as it contained a view of Mount Rainier and water for reflections.

“To create this star trails image, I took 200 photos in a two-hour window between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. with my Nikon D750 and 24mm lens set at F/1.4 and ISO 5000. Since the Earth is rotating, each 8-sec. exposure shows stars at slightly different locations. When the photos are combined into one image, the stars create a circular pattern around the North Star, which is just out of view at the top of the image.

“The pink aurora spread throughout the background sky. Mountaineers can be seen with their white headlamps climbing Mount Rainier on the right side of the volcano.”

Glacier

The photo of Glacier Bay was taken by Tom Bean of Flagstaff, Ariz. Glacier Bay National Park encompasses 3.3 million acres of mountains, glaciers and coastlines in Alaska.

To see the full set of stamps, go to the National Park Service page for Centennial Stamps. The following list will take you to a description of each stamp by the Postal Service. For a better image of the stamp, click on “PDF” in the upper right corner of the page below the headline.

Amusing Monday: I’m learning my ABCs and something about Earth

Adam Volland of NASA’s Earth Observatory program came up with an interesting idea. Looking over satellite images, Adam has found every letter of the alphabet formed by Earthly features, mostly land-based formations.

Letter B

He calls it “Reading the ABCs from Space.”

Whoever knew that Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas forms the letter “B” if you include a nearby section of the Arkansas River?

He found the letter “C” in a man-made island in the southern part of Bahrain, an island country in the Persian Gulf.

What I also like about Adam’s project is the narrative he has written about each letter, describing the names of relevant features, animals and objects that start with the particular letter, including links to learn more about those features.

Letter C

Here’s what he wrote for the letter “Z”: “What begins with Z? Zenith and zooplankton. Zillions of smoke particles zipping, zooming and zigzagging above Canada!”

And it all ties together, since Adam’s Z is an image of wildfire smoke over Canada. As the caption explains (and all images are explained), the image for “Z” was captured with a “moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer” (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite.

Letter Z

Considering all the associated links, this was a big project to create. It is also a great way to organize a lot of educational material. It reminds me of when I was in junior high school and decided to read the entire “World Book Encyclopedia.” I started at the beginning of the first book, a thick one that contained all the “A” words. I read for an hour or two each night after doing my regular homework. After many weeks, I was about halfway through the “A” words before I shifted my attention to other reading materials.

I’m sure it won’t take nearly as long to read through Adam’s letters and all the linked materials. I’ve begun reading “The ABCs from space” with the letter “A” and expect to learn a lot about things on Earth.

A unique view of Earth, as seen from the moon

Photo: NASA
Photo: NASA

When I saw this amazing photo of our water planet, I knew I had to share it with readers of this blog. NASA is offering a high-resolution image (click to enlarge) on its website.

The composite photo was taken from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which orbits the moon and can see the Earth rising and setting above the moon’s horizon.

“The image is simply stunning,” said Noah Petro, deputy project scientist for LRO at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The image of the Earth evokes the famous ‘Blue Marble’ image taken by Astronaut Harrison Schmitt during Apollo 17, 43 years ago, which also showed Africa prominently in the picture.”

His comments and other information are provided in a NASA news release.

LRO experiences 12 Earthrises every day, but its instruments are normally focused on the lunar surface. Images of Earth are captured rarely when LRO’s camera is turned away from the moon to study the extremely thin lunar atmosphere or to make calibration adjustments, according to the news release, which explains the entire process.

The image above was composed from a series of photos taken Oct. 12, when the spacecraft was about 83 miles above the farside of the moon.

Astronauts on the moon can never see the Earth rise or set. Since the moon revolves around its axis at the same rate as its rotation around the Earth, it always appears in the same spot in the moon’s sky. That location varies by where the observer is standing on the moon’s surface, and there is no Earth visible from the farside of the moon. Where the Earth is visible, the view of the planet is constantly changing, as continents rotate into view — unlike the view of the moon’s surface from Earth, which never changes.

NASA’s first Earthrise image was taken with the Lunar Orbiter 1 spacecraft in 1966. Perhaps NASA’s most iconic Earthrise, according to NASA, was taken by the crew of Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve in 1968.

Amusing Monday: Photo contest shows variety
of wildlife images

Winners in this year’s National Wildlife Photo Contest range from an image showing a vast school of fish dwarfing a human swimmer to a picture catching the gaze between a female gorilla and her baby.

Fish

Now in its 45th year of competition, the contest garners thousands of entries from throughout the world as well as from people’s own backyards. I am always pleased to feature the winners of the contest, which is sponsored by “National Wildlife” magazine and National Wildlife Federation.

Judges base their selections on originality, technical execution and true-to-nature accuracy.

The first picture on this page, taken by Chris Schenker of Hopkinton, Mass., took first place in a category called “Connecting people with nature.” Schenker caught the image of the swirling mass of bohar snappers off Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. The diver, who was taking pictures of the fish, added an appropriate perspective to the scene.

“The fish come to these waters in massive schools every year to mate,” said Schenker, a college student who was quoted on the “National Wildlife” website. “It was an absolutely thrilling experience.”

Bird

At the other end of the size scale, a black-capped chickadee was caught getting a drink from a garden hose by photographer Linda Krueger. Krueger was washing her car when she noticed several birds flying in. She propped up the hose and grabbed the shot when the bird landed on the end of the hose. The photo took second place in the “Backyard habitat” category.

Krueger and her husband Kevin participate in the Certified Wildlife Habitat program, sponsored by National Wildlife Federation. They own 20 acres with native plants, bird feeders, nest boxes and a backyard pond in Hastings, Minn.

Lois Settlemeyer’s photo of the Aurora Borealis shining among the trees in northern Alaska won first place in the “Landscapes and plant life” category.

Aurora

“It was a night I’ll never forget,” said Settlemeyer, a retired corporate technician who lives in Camas, Wash. “As the clouds parted briefly, I was able to take one good shot of the dancing light.”

The gorilla mom and baby I mentioned above along with other contest winners can be viewed on the website of the “2015 National Wildlife Photo Contest Winners.”