Al Gore’s Zombie ‘DSCOVR’ Satellite Is Sending Back EPIC Pictures and Science

Not just a pretty planet
The Earth as seen from the DSCOVR satellite. NASA

If a picture is worth a thousand words, data is worth much more. Since July, the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite has been sending data back to scientists on Earth from its stationary orbit one million miles away, and researchers are starting to dig into the data.

That’s noteworthy not only because the instrument is one-of-a-kind, but also because its launch was long delayed. Originally a pet project of then Vice President Al Gore called “Triana”, DSCOVR was proposed in 1998 to serve as an Earth monitoring satellite, but was called into question during the Bush Administration, and put “on hold” for over a decade. The satellite was eventually refurbished and finally launched earlier this year.

The instruments, include Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) which captures all those amazing images of the moon photobombing the Earth, and the Earth photobombing the moon:

“With EPIC, you see cloud structure from sunrise on the left to sunset on the right,” Jay Herman, EPIC instrument lead investigator said in a statement. “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.”

The distant viewpoint is already starting to pay off: Herman’s group is getting amazing images, and is able to watch dust from the Sahara soar across the Atlantic toward the Americas in real time.

They’ll also be able to monitor the movement of particulates like volcanic ash, and smoke. Researchers have been impressed at the level of detail that they can see. So far, they’ve been able to observe the trails of clouds left by exhaust from ships crossing the oceans, and watched sun glinting off relatively calm waters in the middle of the oceans.

Another instrument, the National Institute of Standards and Technology Advanced Radiometer (NiSTAR), is monitoring how much radiation from the sun is reflected back into space by the Earth. Since it was activated in July, the instrument has already noticed some interesting variations, among them the fact that when Antarctica is tilted towards the sun at the start of spring in the Southern Hemisphere, the amount of radiation reflected back into space goes up. It’s still too early for official conclusions, but based on this preliminary evidence, some general trends are clear.

“If there were no ice, the amount of energy loss to space would change dramatically,” said Steven Lorentz, NiSTAR lead investigator, in a press conference.

The instrument will continue monitoring changes over the course of short time spans (like days ) and longer time spans (years).

Watch NASA’s latest video of the DSCOVR satellite below.