Original post, July 14, 2015:
Growing up in what used to be called the Space Age, I got to see lots of cool stuff that previous generations hadn't dreamed of. Televised rocket launches. Televised splashdowns. Televised images of astronauts doing spacewalks. Televised pictures of the moon's surface gliding beneath a spacecraft as voices read passages from the Book of Genesis. And then, yeah, the biggest televised moment of them all: "That's one small step ..."
Anyway -- that's all ancient history. But scientists and engineers the world 'round are still doing cool space stuff. That probe that just went racing by Pluto, for instance.
For my money, the coolest Space Age phenomenon of all was (and is) the discovery (and continual rediscovery) of how beautiful the Earth is from out there. Down here on the surface, sure, the planet has its moments. Sunrise, sunset, dawn and dusk, and anytime you see Yosemite Valley, to name a few. All that's almost enough to make you forget about things like Chernobyl, mountaintop removal and the Pacific Garbage Patch.
But from orbital outposts, the place looks perfect, a poet's dreamscape. No one could have guessed that the mere happenstance of our weather -- from the deadliest tropical storm to the most innocuous clear sky -- could be imbued with such grace or could inspire such awe.
The latest reminder of the majesty of the home planet -- gee, I guess I might be a little bit of an Earth chauvinist -- comes from the Japan Meteorological Agency's Himawari-8 weather satellite. Like the U.S. GOES satellites and dozens of communications satellites, Himawari-8 is in a geostationary orbit. That means it's stationed at such a great distance over the equator -- about 22,200 miles -- that it orbits at the same speed the Earth rotates. Thus it appears to stay in place over a single spot on the surface.
Himawari-8 has better imaging equipment than previous weather satellites and makes a new image every 10 minutes -- a relatively rapid-fire rate for a weather satellite. The resulting images are, like the headline says, the best Earth selfies you'll see today. The movie above was put together by my colleague, Olivia Allen-Price, from a series of 48 images taken every half-hour on Sunday and Monday San Francisco time.
If you want to see more, the Japan Meteorological Agency posts current Himawari-8 images every half-hour.