On June 19, 2007, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured both a vortex street and a glory visible amid the lattice of clouds over the Pacific Ocean off Baja California.
In this image, the swirling clouds known as vortex streets appear along the left edge of the image, stretching southward from Isla Guadalupe. Another NASA satellite captured an earlier example of vortex streets in June 2000. These atmospheric vortices, known as Von Karman vortex streets, often occur in the wake of an obstacle to air flow, such as an island. Stratocumulus clouds—low-lying, sheets of puffy clouds— over the ocean show the impact of the island on air flow visible though their alternating pattern of clockwise and counter-clockwise swirls.
Southeast of the vortex street, a glory, which resembles a rainbow, hovers above the cloud cover. The glory is faint but large, 200 to 300 kilometers long, along a north-south orientation. This phenomenon can occur when the satellite passes directly between the Sun and a bank of clouds below. (People also observe them while looking down on clouds from airplanes.) Not just any kind of cloud can produce a glory; only clouds composed entirely of water droplets (as opposed to ice crystals) can make them. The droplets that form glories generally have diameters of less than 50 micrometers (a micrometers is a millionth of a meter). The water droplets bend the light, showing its different wavelengths, or colors. In this glory, reds and oranges are most visible.
NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center.
- Terra - MODIS