#AGU15 NASA says the repurposed decades old 'Gore-sat' is actually doing something useful

Readers may recall that the Al Gore inspired satellite called “TRIANA” that was put in storage for over a decade got launched earlier this year, renamed as the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR). At AGU 15, NASA says they are actually getting some useful science out of it. Some great video follows.


NASA Studies High Clouds, Saharan Dust from EPIC View

From a dusty atmosphere stretching across the Atlantic Ocean to daily views of clouds at sunrise, a new NASA camera keeping a steady eye on the sunlit side of Earth is yielding new insights about our changing planet.

With NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), affixed to NOAA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) about one million miles from Earth, scientists are getting a new view of our planet’s clouds, land surfaces, aerosols and more. Science results from the first EPIC images were discussed Monday at a media briefing at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

EPIC captures a color image of the sunlit side of Earth at least once every two hours, allowing researchers to track features as the planet rotates in the instrument’s field of view.

“With EPIC, you see cloud structure from sunrise on the left to sunset on the right,” said Jay Herman, EPIC instrument lead investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “It’s the only view we have like this where everything is at the exact same instant in time, even though the local times are different.”

EPIC takes measurements in visible, ultraviolet and near-infrared wavelengths. With the ultraviolet channels, Herman can watch as dust from the Sahara travels westward across the Atlantic. While other low-Earth orbit satellite instruments can pick this up as they orbit at a fixed local time, EPIC provides a day-long view of the process.

“We can see the progression in real time, as it flows across the Atlantic,” Herman said.

Researchers also can determine the height and location of daytime clouds by comparing EPIC images at two different wavelengths. This measurement is important in calculating Earth’s energy balance for climate studies, as well as for tracking weather. For example, hurricanes show up as a high spiral of clouds surrounding a clearly visible eye.

“Because of the unique location and field of view, every day brings something new and unexpected,” said Alexander Marshak, DSCOVR deputy project scientist at Goddard.

One example Marshak points out is that, even a million miles away, EPIC can see the tracks of ships crossing the ocean. Some of the first images from EPIC show the clouds that result from the ships’ smoke plumes.

A day in the life of Earth, as seen from a million miles away

A day in the life of Earth, as seen from a million miles away through the lens of NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera, affixed to NOAA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory.

Credits: NASA


10 wavelengths captured by NASA's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC)

The 10 wavelengths captured by NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera provide data on Earth’s surface and atmosphere. The 388 nanometer UV channel here allows scientists to study the energy reflected by ice sheets and clouds, an important measurement in climate studies.

Credits: NASA

Researchers also are analyzing EPIC data to better understand vegetation, aerosols, ozone and other features of Earth and its atmosphere.

DSCOVR was launched on Feb. 11 and, after a four-month journey, reached its orbit around the first Lagrange point, where the matching pull of gravity from the sun and Earth allows the satellite to stay relatively stable between the two bodies. The satellite, a joint mission between NOAA, NASA and the U.S. Air Force, also carries instruments facing the sun that will the study solar wind and its magnetic field.

A second NASA Earth-facing instrument on DSCOVR, the National Institute of Standards and Technology Advanced Radiometer (NISTAR), measures the total amount of solar energy that reflects off Earth, as well as the heat emitted from our planet, according to Steven Lorentz, NISTAR instrument lead investigator and president of L-1 Standards and Technology, Inc. Because of this, the instrument fills in a missing piece of energy information not observed by other satellites.

Even with less than a year’s worth of data, the energy reflected off Earth is showing patterns, he said. The instrument picks up fluctuations, with more light reflected from continents and clouds than from oceans.

“Whenever Africa is in view, we get the highest photoreflectance,” Lorentz said. “And, even though it’s the same planet spinning, the amount of cloudiness varies planet-wide every day.”

Earth’s reflectiveness varies throughout the year, as well. As Antarctica tilts towards the sun in November, NISTAR’s signal edges up as the massive ice sheet changes the planet’s energy budget. It’s a measurement that, over time, could help scientists studying how the reflectance of the sun’s energy back into space can impact Earth’s changing climate.

For more information on EPIC, and to view images captured by the instrument, visit:


68 thoughts on “#AGU15 NASA says the repurposed decades old 'Gore-sat' is actually doing something useful

  1. This seems an obviously worthwhile research satellite that got caught up in political strife.
    It is a shame that this observatory was not launched a decade ago, we would have a much better record of our planet’s response to a solar maximum.

    • It is a shame that this observatory was not launched a decade ago
      Its a bigger shame Gore didn’t go with it.

    • I worked on TRIANA back in 2000. At the time it was mission looking for something to do which got it mothballed. Also at the time, sites with camera views around the world were all the rage. TRIANA was an expensive tourist site sitting at a Lagrange point. An idiotic Gore idea giving it the nickname GoreSat. Glad someone came up with something that looks useful.

      • @ DAV, 3.38pm, I believe that they changed a number of instruments to make it more useful. I doubt that ten years later they’d still use “old” (I wish I had some) equipment!

      • Not much to change out unfortunately. The TRIANA mission was essentially an orbiting GoPro. The interface was built around an 8080 processor so I doubt you’d want it. Remember this was 2000. I don’t think the processor was even rad hardened.

      • “TRIANA was an expensive tourist site sitting at a Lagrange point. ”
        So change its name to DSCVR, and launch it into space at Lagrange point with a camera attached to it ten years later and….?

        • LOL…it spits out this little square of slimy plastic, and then you have to shake it, (shake, shake it like a Polaroid picture) until the image shows up, and then you have to scan the photo….and send it over a dial up connection… 🙂

      • DAV
        December 14, 2015 at 5:26 pm
        “The TRIANA mission was essentially an orbiting GoPro.”
        According to Wikipedia, “The Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC)…will produce 2048×2048 pixel images, but to increase number of downloadable images to 10 per hour the resolution will be averaged to 1024×1024 on board.”
        I searched in vain for the image resolution of the original Triana camera. I seem to recall that it was much lower than any GoPro (1920x1080p), something like QVGA, or 320×240, in order to make streaming video possible.
        I was very disappointed when Triana was mothballed, and I am ecstatic now to see these images of our beautiful planet.
        Totally awesome! ‘Way to go NASA, even if long overdue!

    • Since these are pictures (from what I can see of the available data), the possibilities of the accusation of photographic manipulation will probably be on par with the present lunar photograph allegations of cover ups and obfuscation.

  2. “Earth’s changing climate” looks like a new way of saying “manmade climate change”. They have an agenda to follow.

  3. EPIC captures a color image of the sunlit side of Earth at least once every two hours,
    Huh? two hours? Not two minutes? Not even 15 minutes? At what resolution?
    Refer to: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2015/06/08/the-daily-albedo-cycle/
    It would seem to me that this would be good for high frequency, relatively low resolution, imaging of the entire planet at one time, while a dozen satellites are taking high resolution of the earth at of smaller areas.
    This satellite can fill in the time gaps between passes of higher resolution sats.
    At two hour snap shots, its missing a lot of time dimension detail.

  4. Thank you Anthony: a most interesting article indeed.
    The pictures from the satellite are taken via a lense: that lense is made of carbon.
    The subject in view (earth) is also made of … no, it couldn’t be … could it ?

  5. The satellite’s history is interesting. It was proposed by Gore in part to provide a continuous Blue Marble internet feed for environmental awareness purposes. NASA’s inspector general blew the whistle in 2000 and Bush put the completed $100 million bird in storage. Otherwise it would have been lost on launch in the Challenger disaster. Pulled out of mothballs in 2011 and upgraded, in part to replace a failing solar observing satellite. A happy ending to what began as the Goresat boondoogle.

  6. NASA Studies High Clouds, Saharan Dust from EPIC View

    It’s not even close to observing 0.1% of the planet at it’s surface though and interpolating a tiny fraction of that up to just over thousand of kilometers. Just think what we could have seen with this technique instead. (sarc/off)

  7. I’m curious. If it was a bad idea in 2000, what makes it a good idea now? (it’s a bargain in 2015 dollars? — rimshot).

  8. Don’t you cranks ever have anything good to say? It’s a pretty cool satellite that we haven’t paid for since we’re already $17-18 trillion in the hole, no to mention all of your Social Security benefits. So you get to look at the pictures and analyze the (congressionally modified) data and you can punt of the cost of the whole thing to the next generations. Wait, sounds familiar…

  9. You mean the temperature adjusters at NASA took some time away from their reverse engineering the temp to actually do something with a satellite??
    Wow, if they keep up their space capabilities then one day the National Adjustments to Science Agency might develop the capability to launch a man into low earth orbit!

    • Too late – it is called the High Jump and has been included in Olympic Games competitions for a long time.

  10. Looking at the “video” or whatever you call it, I see that almost at the end there is a note saying “NASA 2014 warmest year on record”.
    Obviously they haven’t adjusted it to take “the Gore effect” into account.

  11. “It’s the only view we have like this where everything is at the exact same instant in time, even though the local times are different.” [Jay Herman, EPIC instrument lead investigator, as quoted above.]
    But the video above shows an image as a collage with several swaths “sewn” together, and the individual swaths would seem to occur at different times. Can someone explain (a) how Jay Herman’s quote can be correct, or (b) why it must be incorrect?

  12. Bonus coverage from Gore satellite –
    Able to invert rotation of hurricane images, for book cover propaganda.
    Allows unlimited addition of fantasy tropical storms to report photos (over two requires massive tax-deductible donation to self-serving charity of Gore’s choice).

  13. The title of this post gave me visions of Slim Pickens riding the bomb in Dr. Strangelove.
    Gore riding the satellite waving a cowboy hat, with apologies to cowboys.

  14. We have become jaded, have we not?
    This is science. This is real-time, and though I agree it would be better to have our pics more often, I do not know the physical limitations that dictates one every two hours.
    But… if I were a meteorologist, or even the local weather guy, I’d be downloading these pics automatically. And I’d be comparing, and analyzing, and I’ll bet even learning.
    We make the assumption that because the head honchos at NASA have gone to the dark side, no science is done there anymore. I doubt that. They had, at one time, the best and the brightest. Even accidentally, the law of averages say they still have some of the best and the brightest.
    Am I naive?

  15. I’m all for a new or out-of-the-storage camera at L1(or L2).
    I was at the “Super Duper” mid-day welcome and SpaceX announcement.
    But I am curious.
    Question 1: How fast can a submersible “pod” transverse the Earth’s oceans, Atlantic — Pacific — take your pick at 1000 m or 4000 m depth?
    Answer: 5 knots per hour is DAMN SLOW!
    Question 2: Why are USA tax payers fronting $1 million dollars, from NOAA, to fund the SpaceX “Prize”. Where is the Congressional Oversight on this? Or Did Elon throw a ~$1 million dollar check to NOAA and NOAA donated it to SpaceX?
    Dang! Something just ain’t right here!
    Besides, We have high-resolution bathymetry of the ocean basins by multi-satellite geodesy/gravimetry to more than “good enough” for the USA Navy! Why does SpaceX and Shell need to zip a autonomous rover at 1000 m and 4000 m depth at MACH 1000?
    Reminds me of an 6th grade joke about the NASA monkey in the rocket going so fu**’n fast that he did not see a fu**’n thing.
    Ha ha

    • is that the spacex guy is worried that life on earth might extinct but wants to set off nuclear explosions in mars’ atmosphere to make it warmer. How deluded do these people get when they get a bit of power ?

    • is that the spacex guy is worried that life on earth might extinct but wants to set off nuclear explosions in mar’s atmosphere to make it warmer. How deluded do these people get when they get a bit of power ?

      • I guess compared to the cosmic radiation levels on Mars, a little more from nuclear detonations won’t be a big deal. But you’d think if they wanted it warmer they’d try to manufacture greenhouse gasses to supplement the trace of atmosphere Mars has (considering how powerful they claim these gasses to be).

  16. “Some of the first images from EPIC show the clouds that result from the ships’ smoke plumes.”
    Great! Now the nutters can claim that ships are spreading government chemicals because there were no smoke plumes on any rotating images of the planet when they were younger!!!! (sarc…please don’t banish me to the room where the trail people live….)

  17. Having lived in hurricane alley and still having folks down there this is meterology gold we may finally get w/ the IR and UV images some answers on what exactly generates hurricanes not all saharan dust storms generate hurricanes it would be nice to know how they develope or fail I would love once a minute or so images but this should help a bit I will snicker when NoAboutSpaceAnymore finally notices the TSI is nozediving into a Dalton or Maunder minimum

  18. Pictures of the always sunny side of Planet Earth are cool. But I am interested in the details of how the satellite stays in place with an orbit a million or so miles closer to the sun.
    Would it be correct to say that the satellite will need to lead the earth in their respective orbital trajectories? If so, how much?
    Will adjustments need to be made to maintain position with respect to the earth during earth’s elliptical orbit or will things just work out?
    These questions come to mind as a lasting result of a post by Willis a couple of years ago over which I lost a lot of sleep; Canute Ponders The Tides http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/02/14/canute-ponders-the-tides/
    If you are a tech newbie here you may want to check it out. Heavy stuff there but real brain candy.
    Anyway, it seems to be quite a remarkable accomplishment to place a satellite in the fixed position relative to the earth and communicate with earth every 2 hours. That’s like the old time NASA. Please keep the reporting/results honest on this.

  19. With regards to my comment above, I’ve got this satellite’s ‘orbit’ on my mind. It will need to vary in distance from the earth over the course of a year. Will this require a ‘wobble’ type of unusual orbital trajectory to do so (I have no idea how to express that thought that is in my mind)? Will the view of the earth at times be observing some dark edges (dusk or dawn) and thus appear similar to the moon just before of after full moon? Similar case at the poles?
    Maybe I’m getting lost in my initial thoughts but someone at NASA put a lot of thought into this accomplishment.

  20. Something not right here,a satellite 4x the distance from Earth as the Moon supposedly taking ‘Hi Res’ pictures of Earth that can give a resolution better than satellites much closer?
    100% Bull.

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