When our not-so-distant ancestors wanted to get a bird’s-eye view of the world around them, they climbed the nearest tree, or if they were lucky, a nearby hilltop or mountain. Today, spaceflight, aerial photography and advances in computer graphics have given us some interesting and insightful new looks at our planet. Here are a few videos, maps or simulations of the Earth that are sure to spark your imagination.
5. Earth From Above
This looks like a promotional video that might have been produced by a public relations committee for the planet Earth, displaying its natural wonders.
4. Space Debris Orbiting Earth
This computer simulation by the Institute of Aerospace Systems in Germany shows how Earth’s orbit is becoming increasingly polluted with debris left over from more than 50 years of space flight. This is great cause for concern in scientific circles, because some of this debris in near Earth orbit travels at more than 17,000 mph. Moving at that speed, even something measuring a few centimeters across would hit a satellite — or spacecraft — with the impact of a bomb. In fact, in March 2012, the six astronauts in the International Space Station were set to evacuate when a fragment from a Russian rocket booster nearly collided with the station. As for the colors in the simulation, red represents satellites; yellow is discarded rocket boosters; green represents mission-related objects, such as lens covers, bolts, etc.; blue is solid-rocket motor slag, while white represents fragments from previous collisions between space debris. And by the way, it’s unlikely even the most hard-core astrophysicist would watch this video start to finish — fast forward to the end, to see all the debris in orbit, and ask yourself if you’d really want to take one of those space flights that will supposedly become routine on commercial carriers within a few years.
3. International Space Station Time-Lapse Video
This series of time-lapse photos taken by the crew aboard the International Space Station provides an incredible view of our planet. The green glows seen at the top and bottom of the Earth are the Aurora Borealis and the Aurora Australis, better known as the Northern and Southern Lights, respectively.
(Credit: Image Science and Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center)
2. Satellites Orbiting the Earth
Since anything orbiting the Earth is technically a satellite, there is great confusion and disagreement over the question “How many satellites are in Earth orbit?” If you count everything from space debris measuring only a few inches across (see No. 4 above) to long-dead communications satellites to the largest satellite, the Moon, there are thousands of satellites in orbit. But when most people think of the term “satellite,” they think of communications, military and other satellites. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, there were 999 operational artificial satellites in orbit as of April 2012. The current count shows the United States with roughly 44% of those satellites (an estimated 75 of those are military related), Russia with 10% and China with 8%.
1. Global Incident Map
The website GlobalIncidentMap.com offers a fascinating map showing current or recent incidents of more than a dozen different disasters, threats or other problems, including terrorism, earthquakes, fires, disease outbreaks, aviation incidents, gang activity and more. The site offers both free and paid versions. Many government agencies and corporations around the world monitor the site to stay abreast of problems, but for everyone else, it’s a fun way to spend some time on a slow afternoon at work.
One More: Google Earth Look at Traffic Accidents
A quirky, well-produced video look at traffic accidents caught by Google Maps cameras.