Our planet is a dynamic place. The surface of the Earth is constantly changing, and sometimes, these changes aren't even our fault. NASA, having no shuttles to play with anymore, has been keeping track of the spots where these changes are the most obvious, and it's got a website dedicated to satellite images showing differences over time.
One thing that never gets old is watching a time lapse of Earth from space. NASA's just released a new four minute long time lapse featuring 14 different sequences of our planet taken from the ISS by the Expedition 30 crew and set to Howard Blake's "Walking in the Air." This is emotional stuff.
Space Shuttle Discovery, the eldest of NASA's surviving space-worthy orbiters, helped build the ISS and carried the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit. It was brought into service after the tragedies that claimed Challenger and Columbia, and went on to complete 39 missions during which it logged 365 days in space, 5,830 orbits around the Earth and 148,221,675 miles traveled. Discovery completed its final mission on March 9, after STS-133. Below, Discovery goes for one last victory lap before being consigned to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. You'll see Discovery mated to its 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, buzz a few monuments in the nation's capital and finally give travelers at Dulles International Airport in Washington D.C. one of the coolest photo ops ever. It's all down below.
NASA has its eyes in the sky keeping track of all kinds of climate and weather happenings. One interesting (and kind of scary) thing the agency tracks is where lightning strikes around the world. NASA has kindly put the data in maps that show the trends so we know where and why lightning is likely to hit next.
On March 28, the ISS's Expedition 30 crew took this lovely shot of Earth's horizon. This nighttime view over the eastern North Atlantic shows the cities of Ireland and the colors of the Aurora Borealis.
It wasn't a Darwin Award alert, but serious science as NASA recently trialed a rocket sled in the California desert. Cameras were strapped on to the apparatus so we can feed our need for speed while NASA uses the sled to test the forces felt by supersonic spacecraft when landing.
The Space Shuttle program might be long over, but the spacecraft still needed to be readied for retirement. They need to be cleaned of toxic space goo, have their main engines replaced with replicas and have all types of technical folk poke at them to keep them from flying off into space in the middle of the night. We've already showed you the 21 critical steps to getting a space shuttle ready for launch, now follow the shuttle through to see how it's decommissioned and carted off to museums across the U.S. for a hard-earned rest.
Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers snapped an amazing photo of a glowing copper crater as the ISS passed over Africa recently. The shot is so otherworldly it would be easy to mistake this giant geological formation as something you'd find on Mars or Jupiter. The mysterious crater is known as the Richat Structure.
Beyond the boundary of space, some 62 miles above the surface of the Earth, the wind is blowing like a hurricane. Too high for weather balloons and too low for satellites, we don't know much about this region, which is why NASA sent five sounding rockets up there in under five minutes this morning.
NASA's Opportunity rover has been on Mars for nearly 3,000 days out of its originally scheduled 90-day mission. It's currently on its fifth Martian winter, and its solar panels are getting so dusty that the reduced daylight and low sun angle are threatening to starve the rover for power. Since a helpful rain shower seems like a long shot, Oppy is hoping to instead get hit by a tornado.