What on Earth is That? #1

(Please post your guesses and your name in the comments, and we’ll give the answer next week…)

Here at What on Earth, we’re constantly stumbling across interesting photos, videos, and audio clips from NASA’s exploration of our planet (be it from space, the field, or the lab.) Whether it’s a satellite montage captured from thousands of miles up, the roar of our B-200 research aircraft, or a microscopic view of a cloud droplet, there’s literally always something strange and wonderful passing across our desks.

To have a little fun (and spare all that fascinating stuff from the circular file), we’re going to post snippets of it every now and then, usually on Fridays. What we post will change, but the question to you all will always be the same: “What on Earth is that?

Our only hints:

  • Our picks will always be related to Earth science in one way or another, and…
  •  It will have some relation to what we do at NASA.

We’ll give you a week to post your guesses, and we’ll post the answer the following Friday.

***********************

Updated 7/16/2010

So, what on Earth was that? We received a barrage of thoughtful—and creative—responses that ranged from pollen, to DNA, to carbon nanodiamonds embedded in Antarctica ice. Ant-related answers were surprisingly common. (Nope, it isn’t an ant eating salt, spitting up acid, or laying eggs.) It is, drum roll please, a microscopic view of soot from wildfire smoke in Africa. Congratulations to posters MicroMacro (comment 121), Arbeiterkind (comment 124), Mike (comment 125), Michael & Marion Dreyer (comment 130), and Rosemary Millham (comment 141), who were correct or on the right track. A more complete description of the aerosols from this particular fire, including the image above, was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research (account required).

Here are a few more details to impress your pals: Bits of soot (a type of aerosol particle) tend to clump together into the chain-like structures visible above. Wildfires, diesel trucks, factories—anything that partially burns the carbon locked away in fossil fuels and organic materials can produce soot and release it into the air. Soot makes doctors nervous as it can cause health problems when it lodges in our lungs and works its way into our bloodstream. And climatologists are wary of the particles as well because they absorb the sun’s energy and hasten global warming and climate change by heating the atmosphere directly or coating the surface of glaciers. In recent years, black carbon is an active area of research in climate science, and it’s a target of study for a number of NASA’s Earth science projects, including the forthcoming Glory satellite


Image(left) from Peter Buseck, Arizona State University. Image(right) from Jim Ross, NASADryden Flight Research Center.

–Adam Voiland, NASA’s Earth Science News Team

146 thoughts on “What on Earth is That? #1”

  1. isnt it the creatures at the bottom of Loch Ness with the Loch Ness Barney in the top right corner ?

  2. These are salt particles in Zero G? Experiment to demonstrate coalescence in the early gas surrounding the young sun?

  3. Looks like a map of Europe! Seriously the part on the left looks like England and Wales.

    Or maybe its pollen?

  4. DNA Helix i guess, check out the sack to the top and some juice seems like …… lol

  5. These are salt particles in Zero G? Experiment to demonstrate coalescence in the early gas surrounding the young sun?

  6. I think it is the starting process of making a “deep space image”…with galaxies and nebulae appearing slowly in the pic…and the colours haven´t been added yet…

  7. An electron micrograph view of oil in water used for study of the related oil spill catastrophe

  8. Anaerobia bacteria from the depths of the Earth, a lifeform that exist in very extremes conditione. You study it because you suppose something similar might exist on another planet…

  9. Anaerobia bacteria from the depths of the Earth, a lifeform that exist in very extremes conditione. You study it because you suppose something similar might exist on another planet…

  10. Those newly discovered HIV antibodies?

    Although I dunno. These look more mineral-like, so perhaps not.

  11. 1.-There are no discernible parts of a cell, so i would dare say it’s not organic
    2.-It can’t be hair, cotton, or anything really tiny, since the shape doesn’t match.
    3.- The shape of all the stuff resembles geometrical patterns, so i think it must be a crystal or a rock (most likely crystal)
    4.-Since the image is in black an white, i can conly assume two things: either it was taken with a scanning electron microscope; or it was deliberately modified from it’s original colour.

    Conclusion: lol?
    My guesses: amplified crystal or mineral.

  12. Wow, there he is – the Loch Ness monster is in the upper right hand corner. Looks kinda cute.

  13. I can’t work out exactly what it’s supposed to be, but it looks like a crystalline structure taken inside a scanning electron microscope.

  14. Is it some kind of bacteria, found in the deep ocean? Or maybe in ice, like in Antarctica or in the North pole?

  15. ‘snow crystals’ per my wife, to me, it looks like crystals, but more permanent than ‘snow’

  16. I’m going with wild guess to say this is a hydrocarbon molecule like one would find doing aircraft fuel research.

  17. I looks like an electron microscope photo micrograph of sodium or calcium chloride, silicon dioxide, or some such crystal. It obviously is a three dimensional object since the object varies in focus in the depth of field.

  18. I guessed sugar crystals before but the more I look at it, the more “uncrystalline” it looks.
    Mabey its the powder used to polish telescope mirrors?

  19. Our guess is that it is an electro-micrograph of a structure of a carbon-chained molecule.

  20. I see a hand throwing out these jelly like substance or may be crystals which has been analyzed in infrared mode. but i cant figure out what substance is it.

  21. No idea! May be some kind of crystal structure from Earth? I like this kind of challenges! Best regards

  22. The icon is in solid form, I strongly agree. Its my foremost hypothesis. When it has to do with solids, binoculars can’t really pass on through to its background neither it has to penetrate the rays of projection within.

    Initially, I had arrays of clouds but I settle up to any solid of no specifics at all.

    It must be a beads of stones piled up, something that is solid.

  23. The icon is in solid form, I strongly agree. Its my foremost hypothesis. When it has to do with solids, binoculars can’t really pass on through to its background neither it has to penetrate the rays of projection within.

    Initially, I had arrays of clouds but I settle up to any solid of no specifics at all.

    It must be a beads of stones piled up, something that is solid.

  24. Particles of chalk like geographically known to have originated from chalk rock during early formation.

  25. I guess its white crystals, chalk like known as cretaceous formed during the early formation of chalk rocks in old days.

  26. Upon further reflection, I withdraw my former proposed answer (i.e., an electron-micrograph of a methane-related carbonate). I now propose that the image is an electron-micrograph of a methane hydrate.

  27. I would venture a guess that they are particles collected by the Japanese Hayabusa asteroid probe.

  28. hello sorry my english is not so good but i try to explane . when i see this picture fell/think like same as a one of millons univers Cell Arrays structural! or some like let me see again ! or dna? same structural but more luce (4 dimension structural) . everyday when i see some pictures ithink when the human understand the human body (System function) he now about the system of the univers. the human body have the same structural like the univers . but the human body is the littel copy version construction(4 dimension structural) plan ?.

    Or are you to kid us and this are a air-to-space dust.

    thanks and sorry for my English

  29. IS IT AN ANT SPITTING FORMIC ACID OR FLUID FOR STICKING STUFF FOR APIARY NEST.(ASSUME IN SPACE STATION).

  30. Seems to be a hive of some sort; judging by its’ structural aspect of dependency, it looks like a single entity. That rules out a lot.

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