Antarctic Mysteries

An article in today’s New York Times describes new websites from NASA and from USGS, showing high-resolution imagery of Antarctica. Check it out now before it all melts away!

I have some quibbles with the operation of the USGS site (the Java applet behaves a little oddly, provides effectively no information about the location displayed, and shows a map of Antarctica surrounded entirely with white), but it holds promise. And the NASA site has some spiffy stuff…

The image above comes from the “Antarctic Mysteries” game, which presents several unidentified photos for the viewer to identify. As a “game,” well, it’s not the most compelling, but I imagine I’m not the only person who looks at the grid of pictures, wonders what such-and-such might be, then clicks on the link to find out. Abstract and unusual, the images seem quite compelling.

What I truly admire, however, is the little extra info that the site provides about each image. For example, the feature above is about 25 kilometers across, located at 79°S, 80°W. Even better, the description includes a note: “This image appears darker than bright white snow because it has been enhanced to make slight contrasts in the snow more visible.” Excellent! Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it? One itsy-bitsy little extra line of text? Good work, NASA!


How can one resist clicking on something called a “ShakeMap”? The lovely, simple image above showed up on a quick search of United States Geological Survey (USGS) information about the recent earthquake in Hawai’i. I’m left curious about the little circles and triangles that dot the map—presumably they represent measurements of some sort, but I can find nothing to corroborate that hypothesis. Like any good netizen, I read the figure’s accompanying text, and although it told me quite a bit about the purpose of a “ShakeMap,” it didn’t reveal the purpose of the tiny icons. Furthermore, they seem to have shifted from when I looked at the map earlier in the day. Fascinating but opaque.

It’s also interesting to compare the “decorated” version with the “bare” version offered up on the site. The former includes a graphical scale in kilometers (nice enough) while the latter features latitude and longitude markings along the edges. A puzzlingly minute difference. But I find it heartening that both include some sense of scale! Seems like geologists are well ahead of planetary scientists on this count.