Space Photos of the Week: For a Red Planet, Mars Has Some Pretty Blue Craters


This week the sun was busy, as usual, spewing out massive volumes of charged particles and plasma at temperatures of over one million degrees. In this video you can see large arches of particles forming around the magnetic field lines of the sun.

This photo snapped by MRO shows a dark sliver down the middle of the Martian surface—a sliver that scientists have no idea how to identify. Sometimes these regions show up due to irregularities in surface material, but for now this shadowed area remains a mystery.

Oh hello there tiny astronauts! The two spacewalkers seen in this photo are NASA astronauts Randy Bresnik and Mark Vande Hai, out on a spacewalk to replace some parts of the the robotic CanadaArm2 on the International Space Station.

It’s easy to forget that Mars once had volcanic activity. But in this MRO image, a pockmarked crater shows signs of volcanic activity like lava flow. You can also see present-day erosion from wind around the rim of the crater.

The blue area of this crater on Mars shows a region that’s being actively eroded away by Martian winds. The small dunes, in the bottom part of the frame, are likely being fed by the eroded slopes of the crater. Scientists are still unsure where the most of the grains of sand are coming from on Mars, and with photos like this from the camera-toting Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, they’re a bit closer to solving the puzzle.

Every space nerd’s dream is to have an asteroid named after them, and this week one space rock was gifted a new namesake. On October 12, European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano got a high space honor by having an asteroid named in his honor, simply dubbed-1993 TD: (37627) Lucaparmitano, this asteroid was found by a fellow Italian in 1993.


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Napa Fire Photo of the Week: Hell Descends on California Wine Country


Driving through scenic Napa Valley is typically a peaceful, relaxing experience. But when photographer Stuart Palley visited Tuesday night, it was hell. Turning a corner on Wooden Valley Road, he saw an entire mountainside ablaze, the orange flames threatening the verdant vineyards below. It took his breath away. “It was just a wall of fire,” Palley says.

Palley was driving toward the Atlas Fire, one of more than a dozen blazes ripping through California’s wine country near San Francisco. Fueled by powerful winds, they have scorched more than 200,000 acres since Sunday and forced tens of thousands of people to flee. At least 31 are dead, most of them elderly. Thousands of homes and businesses—including several wineries—have been burnt to ashes. More than 7,000 firefighters are fighting the blazes with hundreds of fire engines, tankers and aircraft, but it will take at least another week before they’re fully contained.

“It’s by far the most destructive and deadly fire I’ve ever photographed,” says Palley, who has documented more than 70 wildfires over the past five years. “Entire housing tracts have been completely leveled. It literally looks like pictures from Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the atomic bomb was dropped.”

The scene on Wooden Valley Road is by no means the worst of it, but for Palley, the spectacle gave the destruction some much-needed context. “When you think Napa, you think wine,” he says. He immediately pulled over, set his Nikon D5 on a tripod, and took this long-exposure photograph just as lights from passing fire trucks threw the green vines into eerie relief. It’s a surreal, horrifying glimpse of hell’s descent on pastoral beauty.


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Photos Reveal the Nefarious Power of TV News


Maybe you spend all day checking the updates on your phone, but six in 10 Americans still prefer getting their live updates from TV news. Televisions are everywhere—in diners, gyms, laundromats. And wherever they are, newscasters disseminate the latest tragedies, little by little, convincing their viewers the world is falling apart.

Michael Amato explores this inescapable hold the media has on American life in Fear Culture, USA. His carefully staged photographs depict TVs glowing from corners in living rooms, gas stations, and other everyday environments. Sensationalist news stories beam from the screens, charging these otherwise untroubled scenes with a sense of doom. “Cable news projects fear into everyday environments,” Amato says, “and it can be very overwhelming.”

Americans enjoy a lot of safety compared to other people throughout history, but that’s not the message delivered by the nightly news. For years networks have followed the well-worn motto ‘if it bleeds, it leads,’ and they attract audiences with shocking stories and rehash them until the next big thing breaks. A dearth of context and perspective only feeds the hysteria. “Cable news networks play directly to their audiences’ fears,” says Barry Glassner, author of The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things. “Fox News reinforces its viewers’ fears of liberal policies and liberal politicians, MSNBC does the reverse, and CNN features panels of pundits fear-mongering to both sides.”

Amato doesn’t scare easy, but three years ago, he was terrified of Ebola. News reports updated viewers on every detail about the virus, from the number of gloves nurses must wear to the nationality of those infected. It got him thinking about fear culture and TV news’ role in propagating it. “It felt like Ebola was coming to get us,” Amato says. “There were a handful of people infected with Ebola in our country, but the media reaction made it feel like the threat was much greater than it was to the average American citizen.”

That experience eventually led to Fear Culture, USA. In February, he began photographing TVs in interior spaces across the northeastern US. Though they were often already switched to the news, Amato hooked up his laptop to play particularly pertinent cable broadcasts about terrorism, immigration, and disease outbreaks. One raised the possibility terrorists might be posing as refugees. Another warned of a SARS-like virus that could spread from bats to humans. Sometimes he also photographed the broadcasts separately and spliced them onto the screens in Photoshop.

At first glance, the scenes look ordinary, even banal. But they grow more unsettling the longer you look, revealing just how pervasive the news onslaught really is. “Fear culture is very much something that is all around us,” Amato says. “We experience it every day, even if we don’t notice it.”


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Space Photos of the Week: NBD, Just a Galaxy Shooting Out Microwave Lasers


Unless there’s an enormous celestial event, like say a total solar eclipse, it’s pretty easy to go about your day and not give the universe a second thought. But there’s so much more to see beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Just take a look at the fantastic images from space this week.

NASA’s Hubble telescope captured two stunning galaxies, one of which is a water megamaser. The sci-fi name comes from two different phenomena. Megamasers are when a celestial object transmits exceptionally powerful radiation called masers (or microwave lasers), the exact same radiation found in household microwaves. The “water” is the murky substance surrounding the galaxy, which is actually energy pulsing from its active galactic nucleus, most likely caused by a supermassive black hole buried deep inside.

Elsewhere, the Cassini spacecraft continues to send back dazzling imagery on its Grande Finale mission around Saturn. This time, its wide-angle camera made a time-lapse video (presented in the gallery as a gif) of a dive between the planet and its rings. And the Atacama Large Millimeter Array telescope snapped a shot of the Cosmic Eyelash, a starburst galaxy that looks like two thanks to gravitational lensing.

Want more examples of this wondrous universe? Then check out the entire collection.


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Inside Texas’ Active Shooter Training Simulations


More than 200 active shooter events have occurred in the United States since 2000, averaging roughly one a month. No one can predict when or where the next one might happen. That’s why law enforcement agencies across the nation participate in realistic training simulations that include gunmen, real bullets, and fake blood.

For his ongoing series Run, Fight, Hide, Spike Johnson shadowed cops, firefighters and other first responders participating in Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training in Texas. The gritty, black-and-white images resemble surveillance feed stills, with cops busting through doors, taking down shooters and carrying the victims to safety. The goal is to make it as real as possible. “They’re not joking around,” Johnson says. “It’s really serious.”

ALERRT is an FBI-endorsed program at Texas State University, training more than 105,000 police officers and 85,000 civilians since 2002, including Fort Hood responders Sergeants Kimberly Munley and Mark Todd. Former police and military officers teach classes around the country as well as on ALERRT’s 40-acre campus just outside of San Marcos. Trainees rush through mock offices, classrooms, and homes where they learn the best way to stop an attacker, treat the injured, and establish control of the perimeter. Props like dummy IEDs, severed mannequin limbs, and medical equipment add to the reality. Most simulations use rubber bullets, but some courses feature real ammunition. “The more realism we can inject into the training, the better they’re going to be prepared for the things they’re going to see and hear and smell and feel during the real deal,” says John Cornutt, assistant director of ALERRT.

Johnson learned about the program after working on a project about a group of amateur survivalists, preppers, and militia near Dallas. ALERRT felt like the professional side of emergency prep. “Rather than it being civilians that can be easily written off as extreme or paranoid it’s a legitimate national organization preparing for a similar event,” he says. He got permission to photograph ALERRT’s annual conference in San Marcos in November 2016, and a training session at the San Antonio Fire Academy in March.

He spent several hours at an ALERRT warehouse crouched on metal walkways above plywood rooms, watching as cops closed in on an active shooter below. The air hummed with intensity and raucous noise as police banged on doors, shouted at each other and the suspect, then unleashed a torrent of gunfire at a photograph representing the attacker. Johnson also documented a corresponding trade show, and listened to talks by survivors and victims’ families. “Everything’s overshadowed with this emotional reality,” he says.

Johnson captured everything with a Nikon FM2 camera and 35mm film. The images feel frenetic, dark, and almost dystopian. None of it is real, but for the officers involved, one day it could be.


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Photo of the Week: A Hellish Vision of Portland, Oregon’s Famous Gorge in Flames


The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is a gorgeous canyon just east of Portland, Oregon. It follows the river some 80 miles through the Cascade Mountains along the Washington–Oregon state line, offering countless scenic vistas and hiking trails. The gorge also boasts 800 wildflower species and at least 70 waterfalls, including the famous 600-foot Multnomah Falls. But this week, the canyon was in flames.

Portland photographer Tristan Fortsch captured this dramatic image of the blaze along the Columbia River late Monday night, as what’s being called the Eagle Creek Fire rapidly spread over 3,000 acres. For Fortsch and many Oregonians who grew up hiking in the region, the sight was heart-wrenching. “It’s overwhelming to see something you love up in flames,” he says.

The fire began on Saturday when a teenager allegedly set off fireworks in the heart of the gorge. Due to strong winds and unusually dry conditions in the area, the fire merged with another wildfire called the Indian Creek Fire on Wednesday, devouring more than 30,000 acres. Hundreds of firefighters poured in to combat the blaze, locals evacuated, and ash rained down for miles around. It’s just one of 853 wildfires in Oregon this year.

Fortsch works as a digital content producer at a local television station in Portland and was slammed all weekend covering the fire. He finally got off on Monday night and decided to check out the fire firsthand. The major route to the gorge along I-84 was blocked, so Fortsch and a reporter drove down the two-lane Evergreen Highway on the Washington side of the river. Around 11 pm, they pulled up to a private dock along the river with a view of the opposite shore in flames. Covering his face with a bandana, Fortsch walked out 20 feet to the edge of the dock and snapped a photo with his Nikon D800E and 70–200mm lens. It felt like the whole Earth was ablaze.

“There was a dull roar from the flames that mixed with the usual gorge wind,” Fortsch says. “The flare-ups were eerie too. There is a dim glow coming across the water, but these huge flames would erupt through the trees and light everything up.”

The image looks like an inferno with the dark silhouette of a boat in the foreground and a mountain of fire beyond. Despite the grim scene, authorities announced today that 5 percent of the fire is contained and several of the gorge’s most beautiful spots, including Multnomah Falls, are relatively untouched. For Forstch, it’s hopeful news. “There’s a chance we can go hiking sooner rather than later,” he says.


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Border Wars: The Great DIY Remote Control Car Race


Minesh Bacrania was at a race track in White Rock, New Mexico last summer when he accidentally wandered into the path of a speeding car. Anywhere else, the impact might have killed him. But this was no ordinary race track. The car weighed just 10 pounds—and thanks to being remote-controlled, it barely nicked him.

Bacrania was at “Border Wars,” an annual event where participants steer miniature sports cars and trucks around a dirt track at speeds up to 40 miles per hour with all the focus and intensity of actual race car drivers. “I imagine if you went to a NASCAR race or something, you would find the same passion, just bigger cars,” Bacrania says.

Remote-control car racing has been around since the toy was invented in the 1960s. Enthusiasts buy a basic frame and DIY from there, adding suspension, a transponder, and a motor powered by batteries or gas. By the time they snazz up the plastic shell with orange flames or colorful wheels, drivers can spend hundreds—sometimes thousands—of dollars, but it’s still more affordable than the real deal. “A lot of us would race real cars if we could, but this is a lot cheaper,” says Tony Hinojosa, president of the Northern New Mexico Remote Control Car Club. “You can do it on a weekend warrior basis.”

Bacrania, who lives in Los Alamos, knew nothing about remote control cars until July 2016, when he stumbled on Hinojosa’s maze-like dirt track at Overlook Park. He started chatting with a few drivers testing out their cars for an upcoming regional tournament, and they invited him to come back in a few weeks for Border Wars. The race pits drivers from New Mexico, Texas, and Colorado against each other on a 1/8 scale track for state bragging rights. Bacrania couldn’t resist. “You could tell people were really passionate about what they were doing, and I like photographing people who are passionate,” he says.

About 100 people converged on the track over a three-day weekend in August for the race. They arrived as early as Thursday night, setting up RVs, trailers, and barbecue grills in the parking lot. On Friday morning, drivers tested and tweaked their cars, geeking out over engine temperatures, fuel necks, and tire tread. The parking lot transformed into a body shop. “People wash their cars, clean them, baby them,” Bacrania says. “It’s not a toy. It’s like a regular car.”

Races began early on Saturday, classified according to the type of car (buggy or truck) and the driver’s skill. Before the start of each race, the pit crew scurried out onto the track to position the cars and top off the tanks. Drivers controlled the cars from six feet up in a stand, trying to get more laps in a given amount of time than anyone else, a wire underground registering each pass. Marshalls stood out on the track during the race, ready to rescue any car that stalled out or flipped on a jump. The cars took a beating, but it was all worth it in the end for the prize: “Pride,” Bacrania says. And a $2 styrofoam plaque.

Bacrania’s sun-drenched photographs capture the quirky intensity of the event and the love these people have for their cars. He shot them with a couple of Canon DSLRs, braving heat and sun and often crawling through the mud, trying his best not to get hit by one. He failed. But hey, the thing only weighed 10 pounds.


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Space Photos: On Mars, Clues About the Origin of Life


Scientists are still trying to understand what Mars looked like in its early days. This new image from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows evidence of deposits that were likely formed by volcanic activity below a water source—conditions similar to those on Earth, when early life was evolving here.

It’s a bird AND a space station! A group of astrophotographers with the European Space Agency astronomy club pulled off this incredible photo a bird and the International Space Station flying in front of Earth’s parent star. The station speeds around Earth at 18,000 mph, and yet the bird and the ISS both took 1.2 seconds to cross the sun’s face.

This eerie image shows galaxy NGC 4874—the bright object to the right of the frame—surrounded by star clusters. Astronomers recently studied the region more closely and found that what they thought were star clusters were in fact dwarf galaxies made up of older stars, causing their appearance to resemble the haze of stellar clusters.

The wonky, potato-shaped object pictured here is Phobos, one of Mars’ two moons. NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter finally got its chance to record the misshapen satellite’s surface temperatures by observing it in infrared wavelengths. Mission researchers combined that data with visible-light observations to produce the image you see here, which color-codes the moon’s surface temperatures.

The European Space Agency snapped this gorgeous photo of the red planet from its Mars Express spacecraft on May 16th. This no-named crater serves as a collection site for material swept around on Mars. The winds blow miscellaneous material into these depressions, forming dunes and patterns similar those seen on Earth.

This massive orange star is V766 Centauri, seen here with its partner star passing just in front, creating a lighter patch in the image. At 1400 times the diameter of our sun, it’s one of the ten largest stars ever discovered. This photo, taken by ESO’s Very Large Telescope confirmed that this beast of a fusion reactor is currently an evolved red supergiant, but will soon become a yellow hypergiant.


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The Lush Billion-Tree Spectacle of China’s Great Green Wall


A desert doesn’t sound like the most promising place to plant a tree. Yet, since 1978, China has planted at least 66 billion of them across its arid northern territories, hoping to transform its sandy steppes and yellow dunes into a Great Green Wall.

Ian Teh documented this epic undertaking while traveling through northern China last year. His expansive photographs show workers tending saplings, filling irrigation tanks, and blasting young trees with water. “Planting trees sounds great on paper, but you can feel skeptical,” Teh says. “But in person, it was impressive.”

The tree-planting strategy is a massive attempt to help fight desertification. Roughly a million square miles of China—a quarter of the country—is covered in sand. Drought, deforestation, overgrazing and other problems threaten an additional 115,000 square miles, fueling brutal sandstorms that regularly blast cities like Beijing and Dunhuang. Many scientists are skeptical planting trees will make a difference in the long run. But China’s State Forestry Administration claims the measure has reduced sandstorms by 20 percent and desertification by nearly 5,000 miles in recent years.

Teh lives in Malaysia but works throughout Asia, documenting humans’ impact on the landscape. Over six days in May 2016, he photographed tree-planting schemes in the Gobi Desert in northern China. They seemed successful in places like Duolun County, some 220 miles north of Beijing, where the government has planted 2.6 million trees over the past 17 years. The place felt pastoral, almost lush. Teh had to stop his car on the side of the highway and hike several minutes over dunes just to see where the wind-blown grass ended and the sand began. “To be honest, it was hard to imagine it was ever a desert at all,” he says.

For contrast, he also flew some 800 miles southwest to the Tengger Desert, one of the places in China most affected by desertification. Outside the city of Wuwei, farmers struggled to work the dry soil. “It’s incredible to see them tilling land and everything around is dusty,” he says.

His images capture the two extremes, showing the immensity of China’s problem and the unlikely, grand solution it’s concocted to solve it. They’re as surreal and otherworldly as China’s Great Green Wall itself.


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That Flag-Burning Seattle Seahawks Photo Isn’t Fake News. It’s a Meme


Last Thursday, a member of the Facebook page “Vets for Trump” posted a photo of Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett. In it, Bennett—one of several professional football players who has remained seated during the national anthem at games—dances in a locker room, gleefully holding a tattered American flag. The caption read, “#Seattleseahawks – no more NFL.” The photo was fake, but that didn’t seem to matter; within a day, it had racked up more than 10,000 shares, likes, and comments from furious people all over the country. “Maybe he’ll burn his damn leg off,” one woman wrote, “for sure he’ll burn in hell.”

There are plenty of signs the image is Photoshopped. For one, the pixelated flames look like Bennett actually is burning his left leg off. His right hand appears weirdly small and misshapen. There’s no smoke; the fire sprinklers aren’t going off. Sure, people quickly scrolling through Facebook might not notice this stuff and think it’s real—but even when other commenters pointed out the obvious fallacies, others insisted the photo was still fundamentally true. “Fake or not, when they take the knee it’s the same difference,” one man said.

So, what makes this clearly ‘shopped photo so powerful? Simple. It’s a meme in disguise.

Memes cannibalize existing source material everyone knows in order to tap into ideas or sentiments people connect with. Someone takes a photo, GIF, or drawing and alters it with words, Photoshop, or other images to send a message. That message resonates with other people, who spread it around and adapt it. Often it’s a joke; the Leonardo DiCaprio cheerily strolling through bizarre situations, say, or Kermit the frog giving into his darkest desires via a hooded version of himself. Other times, it’s more political, like the photo of New Jersey governor Chris Christie man-spreading on a beach he closed to the public over 4th of July weekend. Instantly, people began Photoshopping Christie into all sorts of off-limits scenarios, from the Abraham Lincoln’s lap to the Enterprise’s control room.

“They tap into high-arousal emotions, like disgust or anger. That helps them spread,” says Benjamin Lyons, communications expert and postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Politics at the University of Exeter. “And because by nature they’re so reductionist and binary, they tend to draw in those types of reactions.”

It’s impossible to know the intentions behind the Bennett photo, but it’s built exactly like a meme. The creator appropriated an obscure photo of a post-game victory dance—taken by Seahawks photographer Rod Mar nearly two years ago—and altered it. But the manipulation didn’t suss out a meaning that was already there; it created it. Michael Bennett sitting during the national anthem, the photo is saying, is equivalent to Michael Bennett burning the American flag. The event never happened, but that doesn’t matter. The inside implication is still true.

“That resonance ended up being truer to them than the actual facts of the case,” says Ryan Milner, a meme expert at the College of Charleston. “They shared it because it was a representation of what they think about NFL players. So when the facts go against that, they can just go back to what originally resonated.”

This hybrid of fake news meme isn’t necessarily new—a digitally altered photo of a shark swimming down a flooded city street gets passed around every hurricane season. But its power is only becoming more sinister as it gets harder to know what’s real. At best, people may get tired puzzling out the truth. At worse, they might stop worrying about it altogether. “In that way, it’s an exemplar of a new normal,” Milner says.

The problem is no longer just fake photos. It’s the fact people don’t care they’re not real.


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