CNN's John Zarrella shares his insights into what's going on with politics and the space program:
Newt Gingrich got a lot of mileage out of his comments on building a moon colony by 2020. Whether you think that should get him a one-way ticket to the moon on the first flight or you believe his vision is an inspiration, he did accomplish one big thing.
Gingrich got the conversation started. What kind of space program do we want? What kind can we afford? Had Gingrich not said what he said, the space program might have been totally ignored, as it has been so often in the past.
But it came up at the CNN debate Thursday night in Jacksonville. And it came up again Friday afternoon.
Eight former space executives threw their support behind Mitt Romney Friday, hoping to boost the candidate in a state with enormous stakes in America's space program.
In an open letter, the leaders said Romney was the candidate best positioned to reignite a program they said had languished under President Barack Obama.
In the first few weeks of 2012, we have certainly seen some strange occurrences throughout the U.S.: Snowmageddon and drenching rains for the Pacific Northwest, wildfires in Nevada and Texas, high temperatures across the central and Southern U.S. ranging between 15˚and 20˚F or more above normal, and snow amounts in Alaska as much as 160 inches above normal for this season.
All this makes me think Mother Nature is trying to take the "Extreme Weather of 2011" and rebrand it as the "Extreme Weather of 2012." Chicago saw one of the slowest starts to its snow season in the past 30 years, and the Northeast hasn’t really seen much snow at all, or even winter weather for that matter.
What in the world could be contributing to this unusually mild winter? There may be a few factors we have to consider: La Nina and the Arctic Oscillation.
First, let’s talk about the effects of La Nina, which NASA so affectionately referred to as “the diva of drought.” On January 18, NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory released sea surface height and temperature data collected from their Jason-1 and -2 satellites. These are altimetric satellites, meaning they can detect sea-level heights and thus determine the temperatures of the water. How can sea surface heights tell us what the water temperatures are? Think about how air expands when it heats up. Water does the same thing, so when these satellites see higher sea levels, it means those waters are warmer.
"Strong winds polished the snow of southwestern Alaska and stretched marine stratocumulus clouds into long, parallel streets in early January, 2012. After crossing Bristol Bay, the winds scraped the clouds across the tall volcanic peaks of the Aleutian Islands. As the wind impacted the immobile mountains, the airflow became turbulent, swirling in symmetric eddies and carving intricate patterns into the clouds on the leeward side of the islands.
At the top of this image, the bright white color indicates a thick layer of snow overlying the land of southwestern Alaska. The pristine white is broken by the rugged Ahklun Mountain Range in the east, which is partially covered by a bank of clouds.
Off the coast of Alaska, sea ice floats in Bristol Bay, cracked and chipped by the flow of the waters which lie underneath. A few cloud streets – parallel lines of clouds – can be seen in the far northwest over land. The clouds increase over the sea ice and become thick over open water, where row upon row of clouds lie close in perfectly parallel formation.
The Aleutian Islands stretch from northeast to southwest across the image. Sea ice, which is bright white here, lies on the windward side of the islands. A few of the tallest volcanic peaks can be seen rising from the icy islands.
The character of the cloud streets change as they impact the Aleutians, especially near the center of the image, where two rows of beautifully symmetric swirls of eddies in the clouds stretch across the sky. These swirling formations are known as von Karman vortex streets. This true-color image was captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Terra satellite on January 11, 2012."Source: NASA