Located just outside Washington, D.C. in Greenbelt, MD, the Goodard Space Flight Center, operated by NASA is our country's largest organization of scientists, engineers and technologists.
According to the agent’s website, this group builds spacecraft, instruments and new technologies to study the Earth, the sun, the solar system and the universe.
The center was established in 1959 at NASA's first space flight complex. It was named after rocket pioneer Dr. Robert Goddard. In addition to the highly technical work being done at Goodard, it also plays an important role in weather prediction and importantly these days in global climate change.
A group of scientists, video producers, and animators to rival those at Disney or Pixar Studios, create some of the most visually-stunning, cutting-edge work to help us understand our changing world.
In one darkened, second-floor conference room in a nondescript government building at Goodard, planet Earth is the star. Standing in front of what's known as a hyperwall, Dr. Peter Hildebrand, the Director of the Earth Sciences Division, shows off 15 simultaneous images to a group of visiting television meteorologists and news executives.
"You can see a whole bunch of different things here. This is an infrared scan. This is a microwave scan looking at the Earth," Hildebrand said.
Using information beamed from satellites, through observations by telescopes and from modeling scientific data, NASA imagers create a virtual kaleidoscope of Earth views and weather conditions. Data visualization, the scientists explain, is done in service of public outreach and education.
From activity on the sun to the track of Hurricane Sandy, from sub-Saharan dust storms to ocean currents, NASA scientists use these images to help predict and plan actions in a fast changing world. The images and visualizations prove to scientists like Hildebrand the following: "First of all the Earth is warming. We understand that from measurements of the Earth's surface temperature, ocean temperature and we can also look at things like snowpack."
You could say this is the non-Orwellian version of "big brother is watching.” Scientists as animators, to help explain and educate.
While untrained viewers may not fully understand what they are seeing, the visualizations are definitely eye-candy. Dr. Horace Mitchell, the lead of the Scientific Visualization Studio Group asks his visitors,
"I always ask the kids when they come in, ‘what's missing from this visualization? Anyone know?’ Someone answers; ‘day and night?’ There you go, day and night."
Each animated visualization has an important purpose to help explain scientific concepts and ultimately to potentially change government responses and individual behaviors.
The visuals and information the NASA scientists create is widely available to other agencies, television weathercasters, and anyone interested in the one thing that affects us all: the weather.
For more information on the Goddard Flight Space Center, click on http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/about/index.html#.UgADDdLVDko