I’m compiling here a few of my favorite Earth images from my second mission, STS-68, flown on Endeavour, carrying Space Radar Lab 2. This Earth-imaging radar sensor package, combined with a carbon monoxide pollution sensor, was a joint project of NASA and the German and Italian space agencies.
The Bay of Naples, Italy. Oct. 10, 1994: We’re on Endeavour (STS-68) over the Tyrrhenian Sea, west of Italy, looking down on the Bay of Naples and Mt. Vesuvius. That’s Isla Ischia on the left, and Capri, the smaller island, on the lower right. Naples and its 3 million people lie on the left of the bay, to the northwest of Vesuvius. Herculaneum is almost directly below Vesuvius on the coast (where the town was buried by a pyroclastic flow in AD 79). Pompeii lies farther along the bay shore to the right. The circular depressions to the far left of the bay, near the sea, are the Phlegrean Fields, part of the caldera that makes up the bay region, near the town of Pozzuoli. All of the Bay of Naples is part of this half-drowned caldera; Vesuvius is just one active region on the rim. On the peninsula to the right, in the circular bay, is Sorrento (full of lemon trees!). Sorrento has superb views of Vesuvius and the Bay.
Naples is built on layers of history, and the towns buried by Vesuvius are a treasure trove of ancient Roman life. Take the Circumvesuviano commuter rail from Naples over to Herculaneum and Pompeii–it’s a memorable visit.
And here is our complementary radar view of Vesuvius and Naples:
Mt. Vesuvius, one of the best known volcanoes in the world primarily for the eruption that buried the Roman city of Pompeii, is shown in the lower center of this radar image. North is to the left. The central cone of Vesuvius is the dark purple feature in the center of the volcano. This cone is surrounded on the northern and eastern sides by the old crater rim, called Mt. Somma. Recent lava flows are the pale yellow areas on the southern and western sides of the cone. Vesuvius is part of a large volcanic zone which includes the Phalagrean Fields, the cluster of craters seen along the lower left center of the image. The Bay of Naples, on the bottom of the image, is separated from the Gulf of Salerno, in the lower right, by the Sorrento Peninsula. Dense urban settlement can be seen around the volcano. The city of Naples is below and to the left of Vesuvius; the seaport of the city can be seen in the north half of the bay. Pompeii is located just to the right of the volcano on this image. The rapid eruption in 79 A.D. buried the victims and buildings of Pompeii under several meters of debris and killed more than 2,000 people. Due to the violent eruptive style and proximity to populated areas, Vesuvius has been named by the international scientific community as one of fifteen Decade Volcanoes which are being intensively studied during the 1990s. The image is centered at 40.83 degrees North latitude, 14.53 degrees East longitude. It shows an area 100 kilometers by 55 kilometers (62 miles by 34 miles.) This image was acquired on April 15, 1994 by the Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C/X-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR- C/X-SAR) aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. SIR-C/X-SAR, a joint mission of the German, Italian and the United States space agencies, is part of NASA’s
P-45742 July 13, 1995
Endeavour and her STS-68 crew were 118 nautical miles above the Sahara, looking north, when we took this image of the Tifernine dune field on Oct. 3, 1994, using a 40mm lens on a Hasselblad film camera. Except for a few too many clouds, you’d think we were over the ruddy sands of Mars. The orange, arrowhead-shaped Tifernine dunes are one of the major Sahara landmarks visible to orbiting astronauts.
NASA writes: The Tifernine Dune Field is located at the southernmost tip of the Grand Erg Oriental, a “dune sea” that occupies a large portion of the Sahara Desert in eastern Algeria. This astronaut photograph illustrates the interface between the yellow-orange sand dunes of the field and dark brown consolidated rocks of the Tinrhert Plateau to the south and east. The Tifernine at the center of this image is about 800 miles south-southeast of Algiers, the capital of Algeria. The dunes are in excess of 1,000 feet in height.
The oldest landform is represented by the rocks of the Tinrhert Plateau, where numerous channels incise the bedrock; these channels were eroded during a wet and cool climate period, most probably by glacial meltwater streams. As the dry and hot climate that characterizes the Sahara today became established, water ceased to flow in these channels. Winds eroded and moved large amounts of drying sediment (sand, silt, and clay), which piled up in large, linear dunes that roughly parallel the direction of the prevailing winds of the time (image center).
The present climate is still hot and dry, but current wind directions are more variable. The variable winds are modifying the older, linear dunes, creating star dunes, recognizable by a starfish-like pattern when seen from above.
See more Earth views from STS-68 as I add to my blog, at www.AstronautTomJones.com.
The Front Range of the Rockies from orbit. Here’s the Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, and Denver, seen from STS-68 Endeavour on Oct. 10, 1994. My crew was over the Colorado plains east of Denver when we looked south (toward upper left) and grabbed this shot. Denver is at lower right, with both the old Stapleton International Airport (near town) and the new Denver International airport runways visible at bottom right. Colorado Springs is just to the east of the white blaze of Pikes Peak at center left. The dark green comma east of the Front Range is the Black Forest, and if you look closely you can see the cadet area at USAFA, as well as Falcon Stadium in this 250mm Hasselblad shot (70mm film). The runways at Peterson Field (AFB) are easily visible east of C. Springs. The Arkansas River runs west to east from Canon City to Pueblo, to the left of Pikes Peak. I learned to fly in 1974 at the Academy airfield, barely visible near Falcon Stadium. This area’s population growth has greatly expanded both Colorado Springs and Denver.
Flying over Hawaii was always a highlight, as the island chain is an oasis in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. Because of their volcanic origins, the Hawaiian landscapes are dramatic, beautiful, and dynamic–the volcanoes on Hawaii Island are still building those mountains ever higher above the sea.
In this radar image from our SIR-C instrument of the Space Radar Lab, between Hickam AFB (the Honolulu Airport) at lower left, and Diamond Head at lower right is Waikiki. The crater above Waikiki at the foot of the mountains is Punchbowl, now the National Cemetery of the Pacific, with superb views of Honolulu and the graves of so many servicemen and women.
Kaneohe Bay is at top, a Marine Corps air station (see the dark blue runways on the left of the Kaneohe peninsula). Runway traces of Bellows Field, one of the WWII airfields attacked in the Pearl Harbor raid, are on the coast at upper right. Pearl Harbor is just out of view on the left, west of Hickam. Having worked on the Big Island for my asteroid telescope observations back in the 1980s, I have a long-standing affinity for our 50th state. Looking forward to our next visit to welcoming Hawaii.
JPL caption: This spaceborne radar image shows the city of Honolulu, Hawaii and adjacent areas on the island of Oahu. Honolulu lies on the south shore of the island, along the bottom of this image. Diamond Head, an extinct volcanic crater, is seen in the lower right. The bright white strip left of Diamond Head is the Waikiki Beach area. Further west are the downtown area and harbor. Runways of the airport can be seen in the lower left. The Koolau mountain range runs through the center of the image. The steep cliffs on the north side of the range are thought to be remnants of massive landslides that ripped apart the volcanic mountains that built the island thousands of years ago. On the north shore of the island are the Mokapu peninsula and Kaneohe Bay. Densely vegetated areas appear green in this radar image, while urban areas generally appear orange, red or white. Images such as this can be used by land use planners to monitor urban development and its effect on the tropical environment. The image was acquired by the Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C/X-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR-C/X-SAR) onboard the space shuttle Endeavour on October 6, 1994.
Here’s another STS-68 favorite as we approach the 25th anniversary of the Space Radar Lab 2 mission. We’re over Russia somewhere, early morning there, Oct. 2, 1994, looking down from Endeavour. From the aft flight deck we spotted these mountain peaks riding above a low cloud deck. Earth is such a varied and beautiful world. The location is in the Vitim Highlands, in far eastern Russia. Of course, our radar images cut right through these clouds to capture the terrain and biosphere data below, but radar cannot capture the ever-changing beauty of our home planet.
On the third day of the STS-68 mission, 10/2/94, our crew looked down from Endeavour on Indonesia and captured a rare, nearly clear view of the Tambora volcano, on the island of Sumbawa. North is to the top of our image.
NASA: On April 10, 1815, the Tambora Volcano produced the largest eruption in recorded history. An estimated 150 cubic kilometers (36 cubic miles) of tephra—exploded rock and ash—resulted, with ash from the eruption recognized at least 1,300 kilometers (808 miles) away to the northwest. While the April 10 eruption was catastrophic, historical records and geological analysis of eruption deposits indicate that the volcano had been active between 1812 and 1815. Enough ash was put into the atmosphere from the April 10 eruption to reduce incident sunlight on the Earth’s surface, causing global cooling, which resulted in the 1816 “year without a summer.”
The huge caldera—6 kilometers (3.7 miles) in diameter and 1,100 meters (3,609 feet) deep—formed when Tambora’s estimated 4,000-meter- (13,123-foot) high peak was removed, and the magma chamber below emptied during the April 10 eruption. Today the crater floor is occupied by an ephemeral freshwater lake, recent sedimentary deposits, and minor lava flows and domes from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Active fumaroles, or steam vents, still exist in the caldera.
In 2004, scientists discovered the remains of a village, and two adults buried under approximately 3 meters (nearly 10 feet) of ash in a gully on Tambora’s flank—remnants of the former Kingdom of Tambora preserved by the 1815 eruption that destroyed it. The similarity of the Tambora remains to those associated with the AD 79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius has led to the Tambora site’s description as “the Pompeii of the East.”
NASA: Kliuchevskoi Volcano’s major eruption began September 30, 1994 (launch day) for STS-68. It got almost immediate coverage by the astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. The eruption cloud reached 60,000 feet above sea level, and the winds carried ash as far as 640 miles southeast from the volcano into the North Pacific air routes. This picture was made with a large format Linhof camera. While astronauts used handheld camera’s to keep up with the Kamchatka event, instruments in the cargo bay of Endeavour recorded data to support the Space Radar Laboratory (SRL-2) mission.
Our wide-angle 90mm lens on the Linhof camera captured the view above. The Linhof produced a 4×5-inch film negative, with incredible detail. Each magazine held 100 frames, and we refilled magazines with fresh film inside a light-tight bag, stowing the exposed film in canisters and manually spooling a new roll into the magazine. The film reloading was part of our nightly housekeeping routine. But it was hard to tear ourselves away from the windows!
Mt. Rainier, Washington (NASA caption)
This is a radar image of Mount Rainier in Washington state. The volcano last erupted about 150 years ago and numerous large floods and debris flows have originated on its slopes during the last century. Today the volcano is heavily mantled with glaciers and snowfields. More than 100,000 people live on young volcanic mudflows less than 10,000 years old and, consequently, are within the range of future, devastating mudslides. This image was acquired by the Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C and X-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR-C/X-SAR) aboard the space shuttle Endeavour on its 20th orbit on October 1, 1994. The area shown in the image is approximately 59 kilometers by 60 kilometers (36.5 miles by 37 miles). North is toward the top left of the image, which was composed by assigning red and green colors to the L-band, horizontally transmitted and vertically, and the L- band, horizontally transmitted and vertically received. Blue indicates the C-band, horizontally transmitted and vertically received. In addition to highlighting topographic slopes facing the space shuttle, SIR-C records rugged areas as brighter and smooth areas as darker. The scene was illuminated by the shuttle’s radar from the northwest so that northwest-facing slopes are brighter and southeast-facing slopes are dark. Forested regions are pale green in color; clear cuts and bare ground are bluish or purple; ice is dark green and white. The round cone at the center of the image is the 14,435-foot (4,399- meter) active volcano, Mount Rainier. On the lower slopes is a zone of rock ridges and rubble (purple to reddish) above coniferous forests (in yellow/green). The western boundary of Mount Rainier National Park is seen as a transition from protected, old-growth forest to heavily logged private land, a mosaic of recent clear cuts (bright purple/blue) and partially regrown timber plantations (pale blue). The prominent river seen curving away from the mountain at the top of the image (to the northwest) is the White River, and the river leaving the mountain at the bottom right of the image (south) is the Nisqually River, which flows out of the Nisqually glacier on the mountain. The river leaving to the left of the mountain is the Carbon River, leading west and north toward heavily populated regions near Tacoma. The dark patch at the top right of the image is Bumping Lake. Other dark areas seen to the right of ridges throughout the image are radar shadow zones. Radar images can be used to study the volcanic structure and the surrounding regions with linear rock boundaries and faults. In addition, the recovery of forested lands from natural disasters and the success of reforestation programs can also be monitored. Ultimately this data may be used to study the advance and retreat of glaciers and other forces of global change. (P-44703 October 3, 1994)
added Aug. 20, 2019
My Endeavour crew was awed by our night-time flights through the shifting curtains of the Aurora Australis, off the southern coasts of Australia and New Zealand. We felt like we were riding on the tip of a needle, piercing the vertical curtains of glowing green light. Our low altitude of 120 nm meant the auroral curtains rose high above us as we soared through one after another. NASA: This time exposure of the Southern Lights was photographed with a 35mm camera from 115 nautical miles above Earth by the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavour during the Space Radar Laboratory 2 (SRL-2) mission. Due to the long exposure time, stars in the background appear smeared or elongated.
For more of my mission information, see www.AstronautTomJones.com