New NASA Map Shows Our Cloudy World

Two-thirds of planet usually covered
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 12, 2015 5:25 PM CDT
Updated May 16, 2015 8:19 AM CDT
New NASA Map Shows Our Cloudy World
NASA's new map shows a cloudy world.   (NASA Earth Observatory)

Blue Marble, yes. Cloudy Blue Marble? Most definitely. The NASA Earth Observatory is out with another compelling image of our planet, one that shows it's a cloudy place. Specifically, about two-thirds of Earth's surface is covered by clouds at any given moment. The map is based on data collected between 2002 and 2015 by a satellite called Aqua, whose mission is to study the planet's water cycle, reports Discovery. Some observations:

  • Where it's cloudiest: "There are three broad bands where Earth’s skies are most likely to be cloudy: a narrow strip near the equator and two wider strips in the mid-latitudes," says NASA. "The band near the equator is a function of the large scale circulation patterns—or Hadley cells—present in the tropics."
  • Much to take in: "A lot jumps out even at a glance," writes Phil Plait at Slate. "The Sahara and Middle East are obvious dry spots, as is Australia and western Chile. But note Antarctica: A lot of people don’t know just how dry it is there along its interior."

  • Deserts: "It's easy to see where all the deserts are," writes Daniel Martins at the Weather Network. "Africa is dominated by darker hues, even beyond the legendary Sahara, as well as the Middle East and Australia. In the Americas, the US southwestern states, including drought-stricken California, stand out with their darker blues, while in South America, the near-zero cloud cover of Chile's Atacama Desert is a stark contrast to the whiter hues of the rest of the continent."
  • Tracking mountains: "On a more local scale, you can see cloud patterns that closely match mountain formations," notes Joseph Stromberg at Vox. "In the US, for instance, clouds regularly form along the ridges of the Rocky Mountains (and to a lesser extent the Appalachians) because of the air masses that get blown eastward and pushed up the mountains. When that happens, they cool, and can't hold as much moisture—so their water vapor condenses to form clouds."
  • But mainly: Science aside, this map is simply a "beautiful visual," notes a post at Gizmodo.
In other NASA news, click to read about the strange sounds recorded at the edge of space. (More clouds stories.)

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