Webcams have been all the rage for quite some time now. The thrill of sitting at home — or wherever you are — and being able to watch a live video feed of another place is a guilty pleasure of many (and I will readily admit that I tune into my favorite scuba place on Roatan with frightening regularity).
There’s the sheer curiosity of what’s going on elsewhere, or reminiscing about a place you’ve been to, or longing to be there. There’s also the anonymity and safety of being able to spy on a place on your laptop or even your phone or tablet. It’s voyeurism without the seedy aftertaste: most webcams are in well-known locations, allowing people a glimpse from all over the world. For example, http://www.earthcam.com lets you look at places like Times Square in New York or Teahupoo in French Polynesia, and what it’s like there right now.
Along with those terrestrial cams there are a few others WAY up there — some Eyes in the Sky that give you a very unique view that you couldn’t get any other way.
Check out the webcam at SDO - the Solar Dynamics Observatory. We’ve discussed this great telescope before, and its ground-breaking solar science mission. For most of us this means incomprehensible scientific papers that require quite literally a PhD for basic comprehension. But SDO is also way cooler than that: it carries a webcam so you can watch the sun in real time.
Whoa. Won’t that burn your eyeballs to a crisp? Nope, because SDO has some fantastic filters on board that reduce the sun’s glare to a dull red glow and make the turbulent surface of our local star visible. It’s mesmerizing to watch — the roiling lines of convection movement as material from inside the sun bubbles to the surface. Sun spots appear and disappear and move across the surface ever so slowly. And if you’re lucky you can catch a solar flare or even a coronal mass ejection (CME) happening live before your eyes. Check it out at http://sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov/
Another stunning view is brought to you by the live webcam aboard the International Space Station. There are actually several cams up there, constantly filming every little thing, but the one that points down to Earth is probably the most fascinating one (it may be fun to watch an astronaut run on a treadmill for about 5 minutes, but then the novelty wears off).
It’s almost like being there. With a few sections of the ISS clearly visibly you get a good idea just how fast the station is going. Earth rotates by — clouds, deserts, oceans, snow-covered mountains … When the ISS transits to the night side of Earth the cam shows the almost impossibly fast change from daylight to night. And then it’s mostly black, but if you look closely you can see hundreds of thunderstorms flicking faintly in the dark picture. Large cities glow like tiny jewels, and then just as quickly the sun rises and we’re back over the daylight zone. You go once around the Earth every 90 minutes, and if you’re ever in a meditative mood it’s worth taking the trip.
Lose yourself in the beauty of our Blue Planet at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/live-iss-stream
Beate Czogalla is the Professor of Theater Design in the Department of Theatre and Dance at Georgia College & State University. She has had a lifelong interest in space exploration and has been a Solar System Ambassador for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory/ NASA for many years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org