Earth from space
Earth from Space.

What appears to be a paisley pattern stitched by nature has been observed by NASA's Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer.

Newly-released images, which capture perhaps the longest cloud vortex, or "cloud street," ever viewed by a satellite, are available at:

Marine stratocumulus clouds frequently form parallel rows, called "cloud streets," along the direction of wind flow. When that flow is interrupted by an obstacle, such as an island, a series of organized eddies can appear within the cloud layer downwind of the obstacle. These patterns are known as von Karman cloud streets, for the late fluid dynamicist Theodore von Karman. He was a professor of aeronautics at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and one of the founders of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, also in Pasadena. JPL is a division of Caltech.

The impressive, eye-like cloud pattern continues for over 300 kilometers (about 186 miles) south of Jan Mayen Island in Norway. Jan Mayen is an isolated territory, located about 650 kilometers (about 404 miles) northeast of Iceland in the North Atlantic Ocean. Jan Mayen's Beerenberg volcano rises about 2.2 kilometers (about 1.4 miles) above the ocean surface, providing a significant impediment to wind flow. The cloud-covered island is on the left of the image; the volcano top appears in the center.

Fifteen open vortex centers and at least three closed vortices trail behind the island in this view captured on June 6, 2001. The entire cloud street, which covers an area of about 365 kilometers (about 227 miles) by 158 kilometers (about 98 miles), can be seen in the top panel, a natural-color view from the instruments' nadir (downward-looking) camera. The bottom panel should be viewed with 3-D glasses; it is a stereo anaglyph of a portion of the vortex street, compiled from data from the instrument's 28-degree forward and 70-degree backward viewing cameras. Scientists use such images to determine properties of the lower atmospheric marine boundary layer. Similar disturbances occur downstream of wind flow passing over airplane wings.

The Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer, built and managed by JPL, is one of several Earth- observing experiments aboard Terra, launched in December 1999. The instrument acquires images of the Earth at nine angles simultaneously, using nine separate cameras pointed forward, downward and backward along its flight path. More information about the radiometer is available at .

News Media Contact

JPL/Colleen Sharkey (818) 354-0372