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Earth Day at 40: Home From Space

It’s Earth Day, a day set aside for focusing on taking better care of our home planet.

The first Earth Day in 1970 was very much a grassroots campaign, driven by activists sending a wake-up call to governments that we need to clean up our polluted air, water, and soil.

That initial event 40 years ago led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and it brought concern for green issues into the mainstream.

Now, NASA may be best known for moon landings and gorgeous pictures of galaxies, but the space agency has long been in the green game, offering humans some of the first portraits of Earth and helping scientists study Earth systems via satellite monitoring.

(Of course, NASA isn’t guilt-free when it comes to environmental practices… for one thing, thanks to the space race, humans have littered the planet with junk all the way up into low-Earth orbit.)

But on the positive side, the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland has been particularly involved in watching Earth from space—Goddard satellites are trained on ice sheets and ocean temperatures, weird clouds and daily weather, and aurorae and the upper atmosphere, to name just a few targets.

Goddard is also managing the newly launched Solar Dynamics Observatory, which has as part of its mission to help us better understand how stormy conditions on the sun can affect life on Earth.

If you’re celebrating Earth Day by unplugging yourself from the matrix and getting outdoors, I’m jealous.

But you may envy me when you get back to your computer, cuz I beat you to the sight of some gorgeous images from Goddard’s selection of the best views of Earth from space.

The NASA center has a sweet new Flickr set especially for Earth Day 2010. Here’s my favorite of the bunch, to tantalize you to click through:

cloud-earth-day-2010.jpg

Click here to gigantify.

Once you’ve picked your jaw up off the floor, go read more about the image here. In short, that atmospheric Frisbee is a cumulonimbus cloud over Africa, as seen from the International Space Station. These are the types of clouds that bring severe thunderstorms and occasionally tornadoes.

It’s visions like this, imho, that can really inspire people to want to know more about how Earth works, which in turn reminds us that we need to protect the environment, since this is the only home planet we’ve got.

Happy Earth Day!

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