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Xplore wins award for solar observatory concept

Xcraft observing sun
Artwork shows Xplore’s Xcraft probe observing the sun in different spectral bands. (Xplore Illustration)

Seattle-based Xplore has won a $670,111 award from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to look into the feasibility of sending a solar observatory to a gravitational balance point that’s a million miles from Earth.

From that spot, known as the Earth-Sun L1 Lagrange Point, Xplore’s multi-mission Xcraft probe would monitor the sun and provide early detection of solar storms that could disrupt power grids and telecommunications on Earth.

Based on the outcome of Xplore’s study, which is due for completion in December, NOAA would decide whether or not to provide further support for the concept that the company comes up with.

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UW to host institute on climate and oceans

Beluga whales
The beluga whales that make their home in Alaska’s Cook Inlet have been the subject of studies by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Washington’s Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean. (JISAO Photo / Manuel Castellote)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has selected the University of Washington to host a Pacific Northwest research institute focusing on climate, ocean and coastal challenges, supported by a five-year award worth up to $300 million.

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NOAA and Vulcan team up for ocean science

Deployment of Deep Argo float
Elizabeth Steffen, a scientist at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab and the University of Hawaii, deploys a Deep Argo float off Hawaii in 2018. The float was tested in preparation for its use in a data-tracking array in the western South Atlantic. NOAA and Vulcan Inc. have been collaborating in the project. (University of Hawaii Photo / Blake Watkins)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says it has forged a new agreement with Vulcan Inc., the Seattle-based holding company created by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, to share data on ocean science and exploration.

The memorandum of understanding builds on an existing relationship between NOAA and Vulcan.

“The future of ocean science and exploration is partnerships,” retired Navy Rear Admiral Tim Gallaudet, assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and deputy NOAA administrator, said today in a news release. “NOAA is forging new collaborations, such as the one with Vulcan, to accelerate our mission to map, explore and characterize the ocean, which will help NOAA support the conservation, management and balanced use of America’s ocean and understand its key role in regulating our weather and climate.”

Vulcan CEO Bill Hilf said the agreement furthers his company’s mission, which includes developing new technologies for conservation and addressing environmental challenges relating to the world’s oceans. Vulcan’s projects include the Allen Coral Atlas, which uses satellite imagery and other data sets to monitor the health of coral reefs; and Skylight, which provides real-time intelligence about suspicious maritime activity.

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Satellite enters orbit to watch weather and wildfires

Atlas 5 launch
The GOES-S satellite is launched by an Atlas 5 rocket. (NASA via YouTube)

A next-generation GOES-S weather satellite, the second of its kind, rose into orbit at 2:02 p.m. PT (5:02 p.m. ET) today from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket.

NASA assisted with the preparations for launch, but the satellite will be operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as part of a constellation that also includes GOES-R, now known as GOES-16. The acronym stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite.

GOES-16 monitors the eastern United States, much of South America, the Caribbean region and the Atlantic Ocean from NOAA’s GOES-East orbital vantage point, 22,000 miles above Earth.

Once GOES-S is declared operational, late this year, it will occupy the GOES-West position as GOES-17.

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After hottest year, are milder days ahead?

A NASA graphic shows how much hotter temperatures were in the 2012-2016 time frame, compared with the 20th-century average. (NASA Graphic)
A NASA graphic shows how much hotter temperatures were in the 2012-2016 time frame, compared with the 20th-century average. (NASA Graphic)

Today’s outlook for climate trends is a good-news, bad-news situation for the Pacific Northwest.

First, the bad news: NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say 2016 ranked as the hottest year on record in terms of global mean temperatures.

NOAA said the year’s average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 58.69 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 1.69 degrees F above the 20th-century average and 0.07 degrees F above the previous record, set in 2015.

NASA used a slightly different set of figures, including more readings from the Arctic, to determine that last year’s global average was 1.78 degrees above the 20th-century average and 0.22 degrees above 2015. By either measure, the average is the highest since modern recordkeeping began in 1880.

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Hurricane Patricia looks scary from space

VIIRS view of Hurricane Patricia
An infrared image from the Suomi NPP satellite’s VIIRS instrument shows the well-defined eye of Hurricane Patricia as of 9:20 GMT Friday. (Credit: NASA / NOAA / CIMSS)

Even the International Space Station’s commander is worried about Hurricane Patricia, the strongest storm ever tracked by the National Hurricane Center.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who is currently heading the station’s crew during his yearlong tour of orbital duty, passed along a picture showing the monstrous whirl of white clouds as it approached Mexico today:

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