NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera isn’t known as EPIC for nothing – it transmits stunningly beautiful images of the sunlit part of Earth, offering new insights into the changing planet.
Attached to the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) located around one million miles from the planet, EPIC obtains new views of Earth’s land surfaces, clouds and air particulates with the first produced images discussed on Monday in San Francisco at the American Geophysical Union meeting.
The NASA camera captures a color image of the Earth’s sunlit portion every two hours as the planet rotates in the observatory’s field of view.
EPIC instrument lead investigator Jay Herman said EPIC lends a view of cloud structure from sunrise on the left to sunset on the right.
"It's the only view we have like this where everything is at the exact same instant in time, even though the local times are different,” he explained.
Launched in Feb. 11 this year, DSCOVR made a four-month voyage to reach its orbit. This satellite also carries tools facing the sun, allowing for an analysis of solar wind and its magnetic field.
The polychromatic imaging camera uses visible, ultraviolet, and near-infrared wavelengths for measurements. Unlike other low-Earth orbit satellite tools doing so at a fixed local time, EPIC affords a day-long real-time view of Saharan dust traveling westward across the Atlantic, for instance.
A comparison of EPIC images at two varying wavelengths can also inform researchers of the location and height of day clouds. This measurement is key when scientists are calculating energy balance for weather tracking and climate research, such as hurricanes seens as a high cloud spiral that surrounds a starkly visible eye.
It’s always “something new and unexpected” with EPIC, said DSCOVR deputy project scientist Alexander Marshak, pointing out that from a million miles, the camera can figure out the tracks of ocean-crossing ships. The first few EPIC images show the clouds resulting from the smoke plumes of the ships.
EPIC images also assist in better understanding aerosols, vegetable, ozone, and Earth’s and atmospheric conditions and other features.
Another instrument on board DSCOVR that fills the gap left by other satellites is the National Institute of Standards and Technology Advanced Radiometer (NISTAR), which measures the total rate of solar energy reflecting off Earth and the heat it emits.
Current data from NISTAR, which ably obtains fluctuations with more light reflected from clouds and continents than from oceans, already shows patterns of the energy reflected off the planet.
Lead investigator Steven Lorentz shared that a view of Africa always offers the highest photoreflectance, while cloudiness varies across the board everyday.
Over the long term, reflectance of the sun’s energy back into outer space can affect the changing climate of Earth.
See the video below to appreciate EPIC's observations.