Monthly News Summary – November 1998

November 29, 1998 | Abigail Mindock

Planetary Science Impresses All Comers

by Terri Gregory, SSEC Public Information Specialist


November 1998

The American Astronomical Society’s Division of Planetary Science held its annual meeting in October at Madison’s Monona Terrace Convention Center. SSEC’s Sanjay Limaye and Rosalyn Pertzborn ably coordinated both the scientific meeting and the planetary exhibition held with it. About 5000 children came to visit the exhibition from schools throughout Wisconsin, as far away as LaCrosse, Mosinee, Plymouth, Kieler (near the Iowa border), and Denmark (near Green Bay).

About 600 scientists attended the scientific sessions, with a program committee chaired by SSEC’s Larry Sromovsky. All major local and some regional news media covered the meeting and exhibition. Ron Seely, the Wisconsin State Journal’s science reporter, covered the meeting in four stories, including a front page article and color picture of Sanjay demonstrating a model of the Mars Rover, on October 7. The Capital Times and Badger Herald ran articles before the meeting, and Capital Timesreporter Gwen Carleton covered the public exhibition. Gwen peppered her piece with children’s reactions, including some to CIMSS researcher Bob Aune who demonstrated Vis5D to some very impressed youngsters. All three local television stations covered mainly the exhibition, WMTV visited twice. The Isthmus listed all the public events in its calendar.

Still to come, Peter Jung interviews Sanjay Limaye and Rosalyn Pertzborn for WORT Radio, 89.9 FM. This Thursday, November 5, the science news segment runs from 7:30 to 8 p.m. WOLX and Wisconsin Public Radio have also interviewed Sanjay and meeting attendees.

For more information, follow the links below.

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UW-Madison News

At the DPS meeting, Larry Sromovsky released a movie and images of Neptune that he and Pat Fry created from observations Larry made with the Hubble Space Telescope. They compare 1998 observations with those made in 1996, showing considerable differences. Perhaps you remember that CBS used the first Neptune movie in 1996 on Dan Rather’s news program. A news release by Terry Devitt of University News and Public Affairs started this year’s coverage. Several television outlets requested the Neptune movie—NASA-TV, the Discovery Channel, CNN, NBC, and ABC. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s John Fauber featured Larry’s research on October 16. Outside the U.S., the BBC World Service requested the movie for its science TV program,Science World. The Economist, a British magazine, published a piece using Larry’s research as well as that of other planetary meteorologists who spoke at the DPS meeting. Imagery from the Neptune movie was also used on line, by Kenneth Chang at on October 14, and on the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Web site with Terry Devitt’s press release.

This composite color image of Neptune shows weather on one side of the planet on August 11, 1998. It was made from images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2. The predominant blue color comes from the absorption of red and infrared light by methane gas. High dense clouds appear white, while very high thin clouds tend to be colored yellow-red.

The dark blue band in the middle of the image is just south of Neptune’s equator where wind speeds reach almost 900 mph, blowing opposite to the planet’s eastward rotation. The southernmost band of white clouds is at 45 degrees S, where winds are only 10% as strong. The green band around the south pole arises from local excess absorption at blue wavelengths, for currently unknown reasons. (adapted from caption by L.Sromovsky)



Hurricane Season Refuses to Fizzle

Hurricane BonnieDave Santek’s color composite of Hurricane Bonnie was used on the front page of the Richmond, Virginia Times-Dispatch and was given to the editor of Vaisala News. Vaisala is a Finnish company that makes weather measurement instruments. Dave has produced a series of color composites including Hurricane Georges and Mitch.

Georges in 3 Colors

GOES Gallery

Science magazine used Dave’s Hurricane Georges composite image in its October 9 issue, both in print and on line (accessible only through paid subscription). NetWatch editor Jocelyn Kaiser also described the Tropical Cyclones Web page, and pointed to the GOES Gallery, a cool place to visit. (Informative, too!)

Hurricane Georges Montage

Gary Wade created a unique montage of Hurricane Georges, combining images from several days of the hurricane’s life into one picture. The montage was published in NOAA Report for September 1998. Look for it to appear elsewhere.

An Ill Wind

The Why?Files, UW-Madison News and Public Affairs’ premier Web site, featured hurricanes and the CIMSS Tropical Cyclones group in its October 14 issue. Writer Dave Tennenbaum saved CIMSS research for the page on prediction and the Satellite Pics page.

USA Today used a color-enhanced image of Hurricane Mitch on its front page for October 28 to dramatize the horrific story of devastation. USA Today also linked to the CIMSS Tropical Cyclone page in its online issue for that day.

Tropical Cyclones

The Weather Channel’s Steve Lyons regularly uses satellite products, including satellite wind images, for his on-air hurricane forecasts. He will also use those products in a new development potential graphic. This kind of graphic includes parameters which are thought to lead to storm development such as warm sea surface temperature and weak wind shear (CIMSS provides the wind shear product). Sam Houston of NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division thanks the Tropical Cyclone group for the “GOES vis winds.” Sam adds, “That is probably the most useful product that has been added to our wind analyses to date!” Topping off the group’s accolades, Chris Velden will provide the scientific graphic for the program cover for the next tropics meeting at the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society in Dallas, in January.

In Print

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The American Meteorological Society has accepted Matthew Lazzara and others’ article on the 25 years of McIDAS for publication in itsBulletin. The article could appear as early as January. McIDAS, the Man computer Interactive Data Access System, conceived and developed in the Space Science and Engineering Center, was 25 years old in October. We believe it to be the only interactive computer system used continuously for 25 years, certainly the only one in use for the earth sciences. A display commemorating its growth and use can be viewed in the third floor hallway of the building SSEC occupies, next to The Schwerdtfeger Library.

GOES Biomass Burning Monitoring

In an article on new technology for monitoring fires from space, CIMSS researcher Elaine Prins compares future and present technology. In The Earth Observer, July/August 1998, Elaine said that MODIS, the MODerate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer scheduled to launch in 1999 on NASA’s first Earth Observing System satellite, improves upon previous satellite sensors. MODIS does not become saturated as quickly when viewing hot, bright fires, and has more channels that are sensitive to fires. All four channels can monitor fires at night. Two can also monitor fires during the day.


At the June MODIS science meeting, Steve Ackerman reviewed flight history of the MODIS Airborne Simulator. He presented images from this spring’s Alaskan Arctic Cloud Experiment, including stratus clouds over open water. Data presented from the WINDS experiment suggested that the MODIS Cloud Mask works well to clearly differentiate cloud from clear sky. The cloud mask also compares well with lidar data. Those results and others are presented in meeting minutes in the July/August 1998 issue of The Earth Observer.


Science magazine quoted Ed Eloranta in “News of the Week” for 11 September, about a new plane that the NSF plans to add to its fleet. Known as the High-Performance Instrumented Airborne Platform for Environmental Research, the plane will be able to explore the tropopause, “the area between the upper and lower atmospheres that features a vital exchange of solar energy and contains the tops of thunderstorms and hurricanes.” This is a little known region of the atmosphere. In response to worries that not enough is budgeted for upgrades, Ed said that “an experimental airplane has to keep evolving.”

On the Air

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On November 2, Weather Guys Steve Ackerman (SSEC) and Jon Martin (Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences) appeared for the third time on Larry Meiller’s call-in show on WHA-AM radio. Again they fielded numerous weather-related calls and answered Larry’s questions on topics from La Niña to the wooly bear caterpillar as climate predictor.

The NASA Shuttle Web

Bob Paulos appeared on Kathleen Dunn’s afternoon talk show on October 30, fielding calls on the Discovery Space Shuttle mission. This mission carried John Glenn back into space and has caused some interest from folks who have not attended to the manned space program since the Apollo program. Kathleen’s show broadcasts from Milwaukee on WHA Radio. Bob also appeared on WYOU Public Access TV on UW Journalism 351’s news program. As the reporter said, “program manager Bob Paulos was skeptical but not completely dismissive,” and so he seemed on Kathleen’s show, which became an animated conversation about NASA’s manned space flight program.

Prior to the Discovery Shuttle launch, the Weather Channel featured weather analysis and forecast teams at Johnson and Kennedy Space Centers. The segment included interviews of chief meteorologists and shots of activity in their weather control rooms. A display screen showed McIDAS imagery animations.


From the Web

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*this is a web-archived version*

NASA’s Observatorium features TiSDat (Timely Satellite Data) in its Planet Earth section, under the subhead, “This is not your father’s farming.” TiSDat is funded by NASA and provides useful agricultural products based on measurements from GOES-8 images and surface weather observations.

The Smithsonian Institution uses several images from the SSEC Web site in its new exhibit, “Earth Today.” We don’t know how they got there, but SSEC was given credit. It’s an honor to be included in a Smithsonian activity.

Lidar Movies

The Fox television network showed Lost World-Jurassic Park II on Sunday, November 1. The movie uses an animation on a computer screen in the scientists’ trailer on the island. The animation, produced by Ed Eloranta’s lidar group, is clearly visible on the computer screen till the tyrannosaurus rex pair demolishes the trailer.