First Light Photos From NASA Analyze Earth's Energy

NASA has released new images from one of its latest projects, the Clouds and Earth's Radiant Energy System.

First Light(Photo: NASA/NOAA/CERES Team)Thick cloud cover tends to reflect a large amount of incoming solar energy back to space (blue/green/white image), but at the same time, reduce the amount of outgoing heat lost to space (red/blue/orange image). Contrast the areas that do not have cloud cover (darker colored regions) to get a sense for how much impact the clouds have on incoming and outgoing energy.

The instruments entered Earth's atmosphere in Oct. 2011 and was able to capture and produce its first images on Jan. 29. The mission, according to NASA, is "helping to assure continued availability of measurements of energy leaving the Earth-atmosphere system."

Investigator Norman Loeb stated, "Amassing a long record of data is important in order to understand how Earth's climate is changing in response to human activities as well as natural processes."

NASA Scientist added, "It's extremely gratifying to see the CERES FM-5 instruments on Suomi NPP begin taking measurements. We're continuing the legacy of the most accurate Earth radiation budget observations ever made."

The images are part of a 27-year legacy that started with the Earth Radiation Budget Experiment; the first official CERES instrument was launched in 1997. According to Loeb, the instrument uses reflections from clouds in order to analyze the amount of energy radiating in space.

"Clouds both reflect sunlight and block energy from radiating to space," Loeb said. "Which of these two effects dominates depends upon the properties of clouds, such as their amount, thickness and height.  As the Earth's environment evolves, cloud properties may change in ways that could amplify or offset climate change driven by other processes. Understanding the influence of clouds on the energy budget is therefore a critical climate problem."