Monthly News Summary – March 2000

March 24, 2000 | Abigail Mindock

Clouds, Climate and Satellites

by Terri Gregory, SSEC Public Information Specialist


March 2000

For the third time since 1997, SSEC has brought a major collaborative field experiment to Madison. Hosted by Wisconsin’s Air National Guard 115th Fighter Wing at Truax Field, the Wisconsin Snow and Cloud–Terra 2000 experiment brings into Madison NASA’s ER-2. This high-altitude research plane acts as a platform for developing and proving new scientific instruments used on satellites. Scientists in WISC–T2000 are using the ER-2 instrument measurements to validate science products from NASA’s new earth observing satellite Terra, which began its 5-year mission with its launch on December 18. The ER-2 will generally fly while Terra is overhead so that measurements from instruments on the satellite and on the plane can be compared. Measurements from instruments on the ER-2 will also be used with those from a Department of Energy site in Oklahoma in a cloud study in March. The ER-2 will leave Madison on March 13.

NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center provides the ER-2, pilots and support staff. Besides SSEC, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the University of Colorado and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center are engaged in WISC–T2000.

UW–Madison’s Office of News and Public Affairs released a news tip about WISC–T2000 on February 17, and published it in Wisconsin Week, the campus newspaper, on March 1. NASA’s Earth Observatory Web site posted the WISC–T2000 story on its Field Research page. On the map, touch “Clouds and Climate.” The Wisconsin State Journal, Madison’s morning newspaper, announced the ER-2’s arrival and its role in Terra instrument validation on February 25. A crew from Milwaukee’s WTMJ television station visited scientists and ER-2 crew on March 1. A science overview at the WISC–T2000 Web site explains the experiment.

For more information, follow the links below.

EOS News Tips #9 (for February 29), an online service of the Earth Observing System news office, lists the University of Wisconsin as a participant in SAFARI 2000 (the Southern African Regional Science Initiative). The experiment takes place in several southern African countries this coming July and August. SSEC’s Scanning-High resolution Interferometer Sounder and crew will take part in SAFARI, taking measurements from the ER-2 much as they are during WISC–T2000. The southern African landscape presents a different terrain and climate for comparative measurements with Terra’s instruments, especially the MODerate-resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MODIS) and the Multi-angle Imaging Spectro-Radiometer. In September, the ER-2 flies back to the states where the Scanning-HIS will take part in intensive observations measuring water vapor.

For more information, follow these links.

Astro-E Lost; New X-ray Mission Proposed

It would have been the beginning of a “golden era of x-ray astronomy,” if the Japanese-U.S. satellite Astro-E had made it into orbit. The spacecraft unfortunately crashed shortly after launch on February 10 when the rocket carrying it malfunctioned. Astro-E bore a suite of instruments, including the X-Ray Spectrometer (XRS), developed jointly by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Japan’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science. The XRS, based on new technology, would have measured the heat created by individual x-ray photons, and would have been the coldest object in space, because its detectors needed to be cooled close to absolute zero.

The Adiabatic Demagnetization Refrigerator, developed primarily at SSEC, cooled the detectors. Thanks to its contributions to the XRS, SSEC has been invited to be a team member in a newly proposed replacement for the XRS, called Joule. A unit of energy, the Joule itself is named after the 19th century English physicist, James Prescott Joule, who helped develop the field of thermodynamics. The proposed Joule mission would, according to the proposal, “restore the capabilities of the ASTRO-E XRS.” Joule would try to answer questions about the evolution of the universe—How did the largest structures form and evolve? What happens to material falling into a black hole? When were the elements created? UW–Madison co-investigators on the project are Dan McCammon (Space Physics), Wilt Sanders (Space Physics and SSEC) and Bob Paulos (SSEC). UW–Madison would be responsible for cryogenics and mission operations.

For more information, follow these links.


In Print

For More Information

Scientific Visualization

Bill Hibbard is guest editor for the February issue of Computer Graphics, a SIGGRAPH publication. This issue focuses on new visualization techniques. Bill, who writes the CG column, VisFiles, is, according to Editor Gordon Cameron, one of “a resourceful, driven and talented group of people.” The issue is filled with examples of scientific visualization techniques and applications, some of them based on SSEC’s own projects, VisAD and Vis5D.

ST Science


Larry Sromovsky’s proposal to study a dark spot on Neptune is one of 212 accepted for the 9th cycle of Hubble Space Telescope observing time. Larry will compare archived Space Telescope images with those from ground-based telescopes taken in the 1990s of “bright companion clouds” and Neptune’s Northern Great Dark Spot. He expects to learn more about dark spot dynamics and to predict future positions. According to the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Newsletterfor December 1999, more than 900 proposals were received to use the Hubble Space Telescope in the next year.



New Millennium

The News Researcher, NASA Langley Research Center’s employee and contractor publication, announces GIFTS in its January 14 issue. The reporter notes that NASA’s New Millennium program selected Langley to build the Geostationary Imaging Fourier Transform Spectrometer, and that the “GIFTS measurement concept was developed by William L. Smith” (a recent director of UW-Madison’s Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies) with CIMSS scientists and the Space Dynamics Laboratory of Utah State University. Hank Revercomb, SSEC’s director, is a co-investigator on GIFTS and many SSEC staff are involved in it.

The Dominion, morning newspaper of Wellington, New Zealand, used a GMS image on its front page on Saturday, January 1, 2000. It shows dawn breaking over New Zealand and was specially created by Rick Kohrs of SSEC’s Data Center/McIDAS team who also created SSEC’s Dawn of the Millennium image from GOES imagery. Because the image was so dark, Rick said, he had to pick and choose pixels to show New Zealand which shines a soft golden color in the image. Others in SSEC’s Data Center collaborated with Rick to make both New Zealand and western hemisphere images a reality. The Dominion asked for their image because New Zealand was “the first country in the world to enter the new millennium.”

UW Lidar

The campus newspaper Wisconsin Week (March 1) lists Ed Eloranta, leader of the UW Lidar group, as one of three UW–Madison scientists who received U.S. Department of Defense support, “primarily through state-of-the-art equipment.” The grant, from the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program, funds specific improvements to the Volume Imaging Lidar so that it can scan the atmosphere more quickly. The Lidar group’s research advances Earth Science through three-dimensional imaging of the atmosphere.

UW Newsmakers

As noted in University News and Public Affairs’ online Newsmakers column andWisconsin Week (February 16), the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (February 5) noted that some scientists are pushing for a new, more accurate wind chill index. Wisconsin researchers John Norman (Soil Science; Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences) and Steve Ackerman (Director, CIMSS) agreed that the index could be improved, but pointed out that any index will have some imprecision to it. Whether it feels like 40 degrees below or 30 below, Steve added, “it’s really cold.”

Highlights, newsletter of UW–Madison’s Facilities, Planning and Management department, mentions SSEC in its January/February 2000 issue. An article on the university’s Paint Shop notes some of the group’s more extraordinary jobs. The satellite dishes on the roof of the Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences Building made the article, right next to the Halloween pumpkin banner for Students for a Democratic Society. Of the dishes, Bruce Sullivan, Craftsworker Supervisor said, “We had to position them down so we could stand inside them and paint them white with a special coating to prevent weathering. We were 18 stories up, and it was very windy.”

Scientific American for March used a three-color composite GOES satellite image of Hurricane Dennis to illustrate an article on NOAA’s use of aircraft in hurricane studies.


On the Net

For More Information

Sun, Java

Sun’s Java Web site features SSEC’s VisAD in its lead story for February 10, with Unidata and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, in “A Smaller, More Manageable Universe.” Bill Hibbard, VisAD developer, said, “If you look closely at the little spheres under the headline, they are global satellite composites on globes with red lat/lon grids. The satellite images were pulled from Unidata’s McIDAS ADDE server and displayed in VisAD by Don Murray’s (Unidata) ImageViewer application.” The article details at length the collaboration between the three organizations and gives several examples. Of course, the use of Java and its 3D capabilities is stressed.


GOES Gallery

UW-Madison’s Why Files featured the infrared spectrum in February. Where else to go for information but the people who receive and analyze GOES images? Why Fileswriter David Tenenbaum visited Scott Bachmeier, keeper of the GOES Gallery on the CIMSS Web page. Scott explained the chief strength of GOES, workhorse of the U.S. weather satellite fleet. Its ability to “peer down into the atmosphere, and obtain data from various levels,” allows scientists to “understand the 3-D nature of the atmospheric fluid.”

SSEC Home Page

A meteorologist at Aeromet in Tulsa, Oklahoma, said this about SSEC’s Dawn of the Millennium image: “I was (am) incredibly impressed with both the quality and the concept. The idea of a satellite photo taken the morning the odometer turned over is a great one, and should be advertised more widely. I will have mine framed.” The image of North and South America uses a combination of GOES 8 and 10 imagery to show dawn breaking on the year 2000. An order form is available on SSEC’s home page. Just click on the little Dawn image and follow the directions.

Tropical Cyclones



Western hemisphere residents, particularly of coastal and island areas, tell us often how they depend on the CIMSS Tropical Cyclones Web site for up-to-date information during hurricane season. Recently, Nelson Wille, who surfs the Web from Germany, thanked the Tropical Cyclones group “very much for your excellent site” for information he found for the Indian Ocean. Using Europe’s Meteosat, the group tracked cyclone Connie, bearing down on the islands of Mauritius and Reunion, where Nelson has friends. He was pleased that “the images and tracking info are being updated every few hours.” The Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation linked directly to the Tropical Cyclones page, and on February 15, as Cyclone Eline neared the island, almost 50% of Web site visits were from Mauritius, around 20,000 requests.

Elsewhere in the eastern hemisphere, Melbourne, Australia’s Museum Victoria will use an image of Super Typhoon Oliwa in a new science exhibition.


Outreach and Education

For More Information

SSEC EarthKam

Spring Harbor


SSEC’s Office of Space Science Education supported local middle schools in an EarthKam mission in January and February. Their Web page received rave reviews.Wisconsin State Journal’s Ron Seely covered the project on February 22, close to the end of the mission. Ron told how seventh graders in Madison’s Spring Harbor Middle School use the Internet to take pictures of the earth from the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Students relay commands to the digital camera on the Shuttle through the University of Southern California at San Diego, where they’re sent on to the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, who sends them on to Mission Support in Houston, who finally relays the students’ commands to the Space Shuttle. Back down on Earth, the commands are converted quickly to digital images of various geographical locations which students use in geology, social studies, geography and other disciplines.

Sanjay Limaye (SSEC) and Jim Lattis (Space Place) appeared March 2 on WORT-FM Radio. The Science Show featured Mars, including the possibility of finding life on the planet. Producer Scott Delaruelle’s smooth-flowing format, said Sanjay, “allowed me to wander from Mars to Venus to Earth and back…”

When Sanjay wandered to India in October, he gave several talks about Mars, including one covered by the large Indian newspaper, Sakhal. This morning newspaper’s circulation rivals that of the London Times, and is printed in marathi, an Indian language. Sanjay’s Mars expertise was also featured in The Sunday Times of Mumbai, India, for October 24.

SSEC’s teacher enhancement proposal, Earth Science Component for Academic Professional Enhancement (ESCAPE), was funded through NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise Education Program. It was one of 26 proposals funded out of 163 proposals received.