SSEC Globe Logo Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC)

Uranus from the Ground—Amazing

Also In the News...


Data and Imagery

Engineering Feats

Weather Research

Education, Outreach

In the Wings


In the News This issue of In the News covers SSEC news and events from November 2004. Use images freely with credit to the Space Science and Engineering Center, University of Wisconsin–Madison.

When the space probe Voyager 2 swept past Uranus in 1986, it didn’t see much. The distant planet, tipped on its side from some ancient cataclysm, was featureless, bathed in midsummer sun. At the time, scientists did not think that Uranus received enough solar energy to have seasons, but recent images taken with the far seeing ground-based Keck telescope seem to indicate otherwise. At the latest meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences, teams from the University of California–Berkeley (Heidi Hammel and colleagues) and the University of Wisconsin–Madison (SSEC’s Lawrence Sromovsky and Patrick Fry) presented images taken with the Keck on the top of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea. Frederic Chaffee, director of the W. M. Keck Observatory said of the two sets of images, “These are the best pictures of Uranus that have ever been produced by a telescope, and they are opening new windows of understanding for this unique and special world.”


Recent Uranus images using the Keck near-infrared camera on 11-12 July 2004 UT. These two images show opposite sides of the planet, with Uranus’s north pole at 4 o’clock. (L.Sromovsky, P.Fry)

News organizations, science Web sites and a handful of blogs around the world are featuring the new images and the work behind them. “In the News” reports where the SSEC images were used, primarily those outlets that have a Web presence. If you see a print or television version not on the Web, please tell us.

University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Office of Communications (Terry Devitt) released the news of the SSEC team achievements on November 10, and Eurekalert posted the release. Also using the Devitt release were Wisconsin Week Wire and Wisconsin Week, online and print campus newspapers; AScribe, the Public Interest Newswire; Germany’s Innovations-Report; the Wisconsin Technology Network; Space Daily; the Black Vault, an online military and government research center; and, providing “The latest physics and technology news.”

On the science blog UKWeatherWorld, “Nile Queen” posted the text of Devitt’s release interspersed with her own comments.

Based on the UW–Madison release, detailed Uranus’s clouds from Larry Sromovsky’s descriptions, noting that “the cloud features are being used to trace and help define wind patterns and predict the motions of the large storm systems that sweep across the pale blue planet.” MSNBC, USA, and Yahoo! News posted the article. It also was posted on Yahoo!’s front page.

Ron Seely, writing on November 11 for the Wisconsin State Journal, described Sromovsky and Fry’s images as “among the clearest and best images of the planet ever” that disclose gigantic, violent storms that can cover about 3 million square miles. The weather operates strangely, and scientists think that its orientation, with its poles tilted toward the sun, is at least partly to blame.

After seeing the State Journal piece, reporter Mark Young of WORT-FM Radio interviewed Sromovsky December 2 on the biweekly science show. The show covers a variety of science topics and runs every other Thursday evening at 7:30. WORT can be found at 89.9 FM.

Astronomy magazine’s Francis Reddy noted that Uranus’s current “wacky weather” is ruining its reputation as being rather dull. Look for the article in the January print version.

New Scientist magazine (on line November 11) noted that Larry Sromovsky, SSEC senior scientist, found “large cloud complexes that may be driven by hurricane-like vortices.” Because Uranus is so far from the Sun, Sromovsky noted that “Uranus’s storms are likely to be much milder than those on Earth. Yahoo News for the UK and Ireland posted David Chandler’s New Scientist article, as did India’s Vigyan Prasar Science Portal.

Emily Lakdawalla, writing for The Planetary Society, focused on how the Keck’s Adaptive Optics system “dynamically changes the shape of the telescope’s main mirror in order to reduce the blurring effect of the Earth’s atmosphere.” Lakdawalla also noted the great amount of change visible on the planet.

Pacific Business News reveled in the technical capabilities of the Keck, while summarizing the Uranus research and noting that much new has been learned about the planet since it “was discovered by William Herschel five years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.” Bizjournals also used this piece.

Sky & Telescope magazine posted Robert Naeye’s article on the Web November 16. He lists all the recent storm and ring discoveries, including Sromovsky’s team’s, noting the extreme increase in detail since Voyager 2. Look for it in the January issue of the magazine.

In an article based on the release from the Keck Observatory, Astrobiology magazine emphasized the detail that astronomers are able to “see from the ground,” the Keck’s advanced optical capabilities making it possible to “study planets in the outer solar system that once could only be studied from space.” They published UW–Madison images but credited the University of Hawaii. Universe Today used a version of the Keck Observatory’s release, as did SpaceRef in Canada, Red Nova, and, from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. After Laura Craft posted her release on the Science Forum at Science, Ralph Hertle thanked her “for the fine job of science and reporting,” and another writer wondered if imaging Pluto were possible.

NASA’s “Solar System Exploration” page presented the SSEC images when first prepared in July. The Astronomy Picture of the Day Web site, hosted by Goddard Space Flight Center, featured the UW–Madison images on November 18.

The Honolulu Advertiser focused on the storms discovered by the two imaging teams, noting that “the images released at a Mainland conference last week are major scientific discoveries that reveal the workings of Uranus’ atmosphere and ring system.”

The Discovery Channel used the SSEC image but named only the UC–Berkeley research team. News in Science used the Discovery story, but correctly attributed the UW–Madison image.

Thailand’s Vcharkarn, written in Thai, provides (near the end) a pair of animated gifs (with an English caption) showing how a telescope like the Keck can cope with Earth’s atmosphere. Around the world, others covering the imaging discoveries include Germany’s, the Frankfurter Allgemeine’s, The Daily Telegraph’s news.Telegraph, Telepolis, Nouvel, Denmark’s Tycho Brahe Planetarium, Croatia’s “Iskon” portal, the Netherlands’ AstroStart, France’s PGJ Astronomie, Germany’s Wetterfest, Belgium’s Europlanetarium, Japan’s The, Berlin’s Morgenpost, Germany’s Raumfahrt24, and a host of other Web sites, many of them offshoots of print publications.

Paula Dohnal’s article in The Daily Cardinal, one of UW–Madison’s student newspapers, (November 23), dwelt on the differences between the Voyager flyby in 1986 and current research, especially Sromovsky’s work on storms. She also noted Keck’s capabilities, enabling the spectacularly more detailed new images. “Keck’s flexible, 10-meter-diameter mirror bends to correct … distortions” caused by viewing through the atmosphere.


Working—Matthew Lazzara (SSEC’s Antarctic Meteorological Research Center, AMRC) and Jeff Key (team leader of NOAA’s NESDIS Advanced Satellite Products Branch at SSEC) helped WMTV’s Amy Carlson (Madison, Wisconsin’s Channel 15) with two short pieces on working in Antarctica in her Weather 101 series. The two pieces, aired November 17 and 22, covered work in the field, primarily on UW–Madison’s Automatic Weather Stations. The pieces used many pictures taken by Jeff Key at the South Pole. Please credit him as photographer if you use any of the pictures. twin otters

Twin Otter airplanes with skis on the sea ice runway, waiting to take researchers into the field.

(J.Key, NOAA, at SSEC)

Weather—Key and Lazzara are featured in an article on Antarctic weather research and forecasting in the November 7 Antarctic Sun. Key develops applications for satellite data, which the article notes is a powerful tool, along with a specialized Antarctic numerical model. Key was in Antarctica to implement his polar wind product. Lazzara works in the SSEC’s AMRC to provide “imagery of Antarctic icebergs and maintaining automated weather stations” and, of course, Antarctic satellite composites, for which AMRC was founded.

Forecasting—USA Today’s meteorologist Jack Williams used an air rescue of a worker in Antarctica to showcase the difficulty of forecasting weather on the continent. His article appears in Weatherwise, November/December 2004. He mentions “automated weather stations” and satellite composite imagery as tools in the forecasting arsenal, noting that UW–Madison maintains them both. Because it is so difficult to maintain weather stations and gather weather data, satellite imagery fills an important niche. A composite image illustrates Antarctic weather on September 21, 2003, the day the worker was airlifted for medical care.

Data and Imagery

NOAA’s Coast Watch Web site now serves MODIS data from SSEC’s Direct Broadcast Facility. NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Michigan provides the Web site, offering not only MODIS data from SSEC but a variety of other satellite imagery, including some from Canada’s Radarsat. The Great Lakes node of Coast Watch “obtains, produces, and delivers environmental data and products for near real-time monitoring of the Great Lakes to support environmental science, decision making, and supporting research.”

Snow over the western U.S. taken by SSEC was featured on The Earth Observatory Natural Hazards Web page. The MODIS image from NASA’s Aqua satellite on November 28 showed nearly 18 inches of snow over the western U.S. stopping abruptly at the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Three-D weather viewing—If the picture on page 2 of DRI News (Fall 2004, print version) looks familiar, it should. The large screen “animated three-dimensional image … modeling airflow over the European Alps” is based in Vis5D, the scientific visualization program developed at SSEC by Bill Hibbard. The software, freely available on the Internet, has found its way onto the computers of countless numerical modelers, meteorologists, and other scientists around the world. Vanda Grubišic of Nevada’s Desert Research Institute uses the software to visualize her work in the Advanced Computing in Environmental Sciences Program. Vis5D is also the basis for Display 3-Dimensional (D3D), part of National Weather Service system development “aimed at providing an advanced operational workstation to operational forecasters. It allows users to view model output and real-time meteorological data in a three-dimensional interactive display.”

An international research project is using a version of VisAD in a study of the movements and migrations of elephant seals in the southern ocean. Scientists are using MAMVis-AD to show Argos data of temperature and salinity in 3-D, obtained by seals fitted with Argos transmitters. The research is featured in French and English in the Argos Forum: News from the Deep.

Service Argos, North America’s contact point for the Argos satellite, uses an SSEC sea surface temperature image to decorate its home page.

Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University uses a McIDAS image to illustrate a page in a current annual report. The page introduces a section on Integrated Environmental Sensing and Simulation. Rick Kohrs produced this enhanced GOES image of Hurricane Charley as the storm approached Florida landfall on August 13. The basemap was provided by NASA’s Earth Observatory team., a gigantic Web site providing high resolution aerial photography and satellite imagery of virtually any place in the U.S. and elsewhere, uses SSEC’s global montage on its home page. They now credit SSEC; clicking on the image takes you further into their Web pages.

In October, people really enjoyed watching “the animation of the changing leaves in Wisconsin,” as far away as Chattanooga, TN. Thom Benson of Chattanooga’s WRCB TV Channel 3 Storm Alert Team showed them on his show, and added the compliment, “The gallery images are awesome.”

In an article on the difficulty of forecasting Hurricane Charley, forecaster and teacher Lee Grenci uses many images showing a variety of forecasting tools, including the hurricane track provided by CIMSS’s Tropical Cyclones group. The article is in Weatherwise, November/December 2004.

Engineering Feats

PSL Observer, newsletter of UW–Madison’s Physical Sciences Laboratory, features the Enhanced Hot Water Drill, a project of SSEC’s Ice Coring and Drilling Service. With PSL’s help, the ICDS has developed the special drill for IceCube, a kilometer sized neutrino telescope materializing in the South Polar ice from the smaller AMANDA. The drill is necessary for the very deep holes into which sensing modules will be lowered, forming a grid to detect elusive neutrinos from outer space. PSL facilities in Stoughton, Wisconsin, close to Madison, serve as a test site for IceCube. To “realistically simulate hose and cable pay-out,” a local well-drilling firm drilled a 250-foot dry hole into which the hose could be dropped. As of the Fall newsletter publication date, Mark Mulligan, EHWD program manager, said that the drill tower is to be completed by late November so it and other equipment can be shipped in mid-December. The ship should arrive at McMurdo research station in late January. The tower and related equipment for the drill will be stored until November 2005 when it will be airlifted to the South Pole.

This Fall issue of the PSL Observer includes detailed information on the exacting task of building drill heads. The Physical Sciences Laboratory is building and testing new drill heads for the EHWD that must be painstakingly tested and calibrated. PSL is also building IceCube digital optical modules. The National Science Foundation funds ICDS and IceCube development.

Jim Birch, Meteorologist at Weather Central at Madison’s WKOW-TV Channel 27 was grateful to SSEC’s Data Center for providing a data stream they were having trouble receiving. The Data Center hosts the ingestor that receives data from Meteosat-8 (Meteosat Second Generation, MSG) stationed over Europe and Africa. When Weather Central discovered they had the wrong antenna, the Data Center stepped in to provide access to the data stream from the SSEC antenna. Birch sent “sincere thanks in helping us get this feed up and going. You and your staff have been a great big help and we really appreciate it. We were up against some incredible deadlines (by no fault of anybody), it took a huge effort and we made them, but with a tremendous amount of effort on your end.”

Weather Research

by Jennifer Ann O’Leary

Reported Progress—In late October, Andy Heidinger (NOAA, stationed in CIMSS) presided over the AVHRR Reprocessing Meeting with scientists from NOAA’s Office of Research and Applications (ORA). They discussed the progress of the AVHRR Pathfinder Atmosphere Extended (PATMOS-x) and the Global Vegetation Index (GVI-x) projects. Using the data from these projects, scientists begin to produce the preliminary data sets that will validate the algorithm and calibrations used to reprocess AVHRR Global Area Coverage (GAC) archive. The reprocessing will begin in the next year.

Collaboration Overseas—CIMSS recently collaborated with the China Meteorological Administration (CMA) to compare measurements from the AIRS instrument with China’s geostationary satellite, Fengyun-2B (FY-2B). To do this, scientists from CIMSS calculated the radiance-to-brightness-temperature conversion coefficients using a sample of data from FY-2B along with both its and AIR’s spectral response functions. The brightness temperatures differed by 2.3 K. CIMSS and CMA plan to collaborate in the same way for FY-2B’s successor, FY-2C.

Where the Polar Winds Blow—Matthew Lazzara (SSEC) and Jeff Key (NOAA, stationed in CIMSS) presented a well-attended lecture at McMurdo Station in Antarctica titled “Unlocking the Secrets of Antarctic Meteorology: Clouds, Fog and Polar Winds.”

Hyperspectral in Honolulu—From November 8–11, the International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE) held its 4th International Asia-Pacific Environmental Remote Sensing Symposium. As a part of this symposium, Jun Li (CIMSS) gave a presentation titled “Vertical resolution study on the GOES-R Hyperspectral Environmental Suite (HES).” Andy Heidinger (CIMSS) also presented at the symposium. Heidinger discussed the new cloud climatology derived from PATMOS-X and how it generally coincides nicely with existing climatologies.

What Will Happen to the TRMM Satellite—The National Academy of Sciences National Research Council formed a panel that will determine the fate of NASA’s Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite. The panel will either decide to extend TRMM operations until a controlled re-entry can occur or to extend its operations until it runs out of fuel and an uncontrolled re-entry occurs. The first option would extend operations by one year and the second would extend it five.

Education, Outreach

Girl Scouts from troops 353, 844, 615, and 635—33 girls in all—just earned their weather badge at SSEC. SSEC’s Margaret Mooney has offered this career-oriented workshop every spring and fall for four years, exposing Dane County scouts and their leaders to the discipline of meteorology while also sharing the pivotal role that SSEC plays in current and historical developments in satellite technology.

Tim Leister, an earth and space science teacher in New Holland, PA wants to make sure that his class continues to benefit from Steve Ackerman’s and Tom Whittaker’s weather lessons. He said, “I use your contouring analysis Web site every year as an introduction to isoplething with my high school meteorology class. Please keep it running.”

Every year, SSEC’s Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) presents scholarships to a few promising, and qualifying, high school seniors on their way to a Wisconsin college or university. The awards are presented in the memory of late SSEC and CIMSS Founder Director Verner Suomi. The Suomi scholars are expected to do well, but are not expected to make news during their college career. Freshman Victoria Vasys has done that. Visiting lecturer Alan Gomez gave his introductory engineering class a hands-on project of designing a device to make navigating small steps easier for people in wheel chairs. Vasys said, “even if I don’t go on to be an engineer, I know what’s involved [in the design project].” Madison city officials eagerly await the project’s conclusion this month.

In the Wings

Watch for the January issue of Madison magazine. It will feature Hank Revercomb, SSEC director, in its technology section.

Thanks this month to Bob Aune, Liam Gumley, Jeff Key, Matthew Lazzara, Margaret Mooney, Larry Sromovsky, and Dee Wade for help with content.


[SSEC Media Page] [SSEC Main Page]

12-8-04 TG, rev.12-23