NASA Satellites See Santa’s North Pole

NASA image acquired June 30, 2011

On June 30, 2011 the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Terra satellite made multiple passes over the Arctic, capturing a true-color image of the summer lands and sea-ice near the North Pole on each pass. Individual images were then pieced together to create a large mosaic of the area, which gives a broader, circumpolar, view that would not be possible with individual images.
In this mosaic of the Arctic, the polar ice cap appears blue-white, while the ice covering land appears bright white. The ice of Greenland, in the lower left (southwest), is especially bright. Clouds also appear bright white, and can be difficult to separate from ice in true-color images. Most of the clouds in this image appear in billowing swirls, while ice tends to be smoother. This can only be confirmed in the false-color images that were also generated by MODIS that same day.
The North Pole is found northeast off the coast of Greenland, in the middle of the ice-covered Arctic Ocean and roughly near the center of this image. This is the northernmost point on Earth, and defines the geodectic latitude of 90 degrees north. From the North Pole, all directions are south.
The lands surrounding the Arctic Ocean belong to several countries. Russia extends from the northeast section of the image all the way to the southeast corner, where the White Sea is ice-free and the green land of Russian summer can be seen. Moving westward, the land belongs to Finland, Sweden and Norway. The Gulf of Bothnia lies between Finland and Norway.
In the southwest section of the image, the small island of Iceland is only half-covered in ice. The large ice-covered island of Greenland lies to the west. Greenland is an autonomous country belonging to the Kingdom of Denmark.
The western section of the image is filled with the archipelago of islands belonging to Canada, as well as the Canadian Mainland. In the northwest, the state of Alaska, United States, is blanketed with clouds.
Because Terra is in a polar orbit, MODIS captures many images of Arctic throughout the day. To select the data used in the mosaic, the Rapid Response System chooses the data that are closest to the center of each swath, where edge distortion is minimized. This mosaicing technique creates the diagonal lines that give the image its “pie slice” appearance.

Credit: NASA/GSFC/Jeff Schmaltz/MODIS Land Rapid Response Team

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission.

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