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For more information contact:

Gretchen Cook-Anderson
Headquarters, Washington
(Phone: 202/358-0836)

Krishna Ramanujan
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Greenbelt, MD 20771
Phone: (607) 273-2561

Liz Smith
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Greenbelt, MD 20771
Phone: (301) 286-1540

Sheryl Weinstein
New Jersey Institute of Technology,
Newark, N.J.
Phone: (973) 596-3436

Robert Tindol
California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.
(626) 395-3631

Extended Video Slates for Earthshine story

BBSO/NJIT Earthshine Project

NASA's Living with a Star Program

NASA's Sun Earth Connection

Big Bear Solar Observatory

New Jersey Institute of Technology


Viewable Images

Caption for Item 1: A Different Perspective on Climate Change

By reversing their point of reference, researchers change their perspective on climate change. This image was made possible by Earth's albedo. If a portion of the Sun's light was not reflected back into space, this photograph could not have been taken. Credit: NASA

Caption for Item 2: Cloud Cover Plays a Key Role in Climate Change

Clouds are Earth's natural blanket. Clouds trap the Sun's light, helping to maintain a regular temperature range for the Earth; however, some sunlight bounces off the tops of clouds and is reflected back into space. The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) satellites captured these images of atmospheric water vapor, which make up clouds.
Credit: NASA

Caption for Item 3: Researchers Look at Moon for Climate Answers

This composite image of the dark side's Earthshine (left of image) and bright side's Moonshine (right of image) illustrates what scientists are looking at. Researchers used a blocking filter to dim the Moonshine crescent, typically about 10,000 times brighter than Earthshine.

Caption for Item 4: NASA Satellites Study Earth's Reflectance From Space

The MODIS instrument, flying aboard NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites, measures how much solar radiation is reflected by the Earth's surface over the entire planet. Areas colored red show the most reflective regions; yellows and greens are intermediate values; and blues and violets show relatively dark surfaces. White indicates no data were available, and no albedo data are provided over the oceans. This image was produced using data composited from April 7-22, 2002. Credit: Crystal Schaaf, Boston University

High resolution image

Caption for Item 5: The Manned Earthshine Network

This map shows the locations of observatories in the present Earthshine Telescope Network. The telescopes are located at Big Bear Solar Observatory, California (USA), Crimea Astronomical Observatory, Crimea (Ukraine), and Yunnan Astronomical Observatory in Yunnan (China). Credit: BBSO/NJIT

Caption for Item 6: The Robotic Earthshine Network

This map shows the varied locations of the future robotic Earthshine Telescope Network. The tentative placements of the telescopes are at Big Bear Solar Observatory (USA), Hawaii (USA), West Australia, China, Kazakhstan, Crimea (Ukraine), Canary Islands (Spain) and Chile. Credit: BBSO/NJIT

Story Archives

The Top Story Archive listing can be found by clicking on this link.

All stories found on a Top Story page or the front page of this site have been archived from most to least current on this page.

For a list of recent press releases, click here.

May 27, 2004 - (date of web publication)



A view of the Earth from the Moon

Item 1


According to a new NASA-funded study, insights into Earth's climate may come from an unlikely place: the moon.

Scientists looked at the ghostly glow of light reflected from Earth onto the moon's dark side. During the 1980s and 1990s, Earth bounced less sunlight out to space. The trend reversed during the past three years, as the Earth appears to reflect more light toward space.

Though not fully understood, the shifts may indicate a natural variability of clouds, which can reflect the sun's heat and light away from Earth. The apparent change in the amount of sunlight reaching Earth in the 1980s and 1990s is comparable to taking the effects of greenhouse gas warming since 1850 and doubling them. Increased reflectance since 2001 suggests change of a similar magnitude in the opposite direction.


The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) satellites captured these images of atmospheric water vapor, which make up clouds.

Item 2


Researchers from the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), Newark, N.J., and California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Pasadena, Calif., combined NASA cloud data from satellites with records of Earth's reflectance off the moon, called earthshine. The study, funded by NASA's Living With a Star Program, appears May 28 in the journal Science.

"Using a phenomenon first explained by Leonardo DaVinci, we can provide valuable data on the overall reflectance of the Earth, and indirectly, on global cloud cover," said Phil Goode, a physicist at NJIT, one of the paper's authors. He is director of Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO), Big Bear City, Calif. "Our method has the advantage of being very precise, and light reflected by large portions of Earth can be observed simultaneously," he said.


Still of Moon Showing Earthshine

Item 3

Click on image to enlarge.

Recent news reports suggested sunshine reaching Earth declined from the late 1950s to the early 1990s. This new study suggests the opposite. Earth's surface may have been sunnier, or less cloudy, in the 1980s and 1990s. BBSO has conducted precision earthshine observations since 1994. Regular observations began in late 1997.

The research team improved upon an old method for monitoring earthshine. They compared earthshine measurements from 1999 to mid-2001 with overlapping satellite observations of global cloud properties. The cloud satellite record from 1983 to 2001 came from the NASA-managed International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project. By matching these two records, the researchers used the cloud data to extend the record and construct a substitute measure of Earth's albedo, the fraction of light reflected by a body or surface.


Modis images of reflectance

Item 4

Click image to view animation.

The data showed a steady decrease in Earth's albedo from 1984 to 2000. Between 1995 and 1996, Earth dimmed even more sharply. The data were consistent with satellite measurements of changing global properties. From 1997 to 2000, Earth continued to dim. The researchers suggest, during this time period, the decreases in Earth's reflectance may be related to an observed accelerated increase in mean global surface temperatures. From 2001 to 2003, Earth brightened to pre-1995 values. The researchers attributed the brightening to changes in cloud properties.

"At the moment, the cause of these variations is not known, but they imply large shifts in Earth's radiative budget," said co-author Steven Koonin, a Caltech physicist. "Continued observations and modelling efforts will be necessary to learn their implications for climate."


Map of the Manned Earthshine Network

Item 5

Click on image to enlarge.

The research offers evidence Earth's average albedo varies considerably from year to year, and from decade to decade. "Our most likely contribution to the global warming debate is to emphasize the role of clouds in climate change must be accounted for, illustrating that we still lack the detailed understanding of our present and past climate system to confidently model future changes," said Enric Palle, a postdoctoral associate at NJIT, lead author of the paper. Pilar Montan~es-Rodriguez, a postdoctoral associate at NJIT, is another co-author.

"Even as the scientific community acknowledges the likelihood of human impact on climate, it must better document and understand climate changes," Koonin said. "Our ongoing earthshine measurements will be an important part of that process."


Map of the Robotic Earthshine Network

Item 6

Click on image to enlarge.

BBSO, operated by NJIT, is partially supported by NASA. NASA's Living with a Star Program develops the scientific understanding necessary to effectively address those aspects of the connected sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society.

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