Earth Matters

EO’s Satellite Puzzler: Inside Our New Caption Writing Contest

June 11th, 2012 by Adam Voiland

Here at the Earth Observatory, we sift through a constant stream of data and imagery that flows in from a range of satellite, airborne, and ground-based sensors. As a result, the images we share on our website really run the gamut.

Many are true-color images that look like what your naked eye would see if you happened to be strapped to an Earth-observing satellite. Others are false-color views based on data from parts of the electromagnetic spectrum invisible to the naked eye.  (Here’s one  image of a burn scar that will give you a sense of the difference.)

Some EO images come from instruments that view broad horizontal swaths of Earth’s surface (see this example from MODIS); others come from instruments that observe thin slices of the atmosphere (see this example from CALIPSO). Some stills capture just a moment of time, while other images represent long stretches of it. Some even offer glimpses into simulated worlds derived from computer models (see this example from the GEOS-5 model).

Sometimes we find the images inspiring, sometimes disorienting, sometimes sobering, and sometimes heartbreaking. Occasionally, they’re simply bizarre. But if we’ve learned anything over the past 13 years, it’s that every image has a unique story behind it.  Sometimes the story is obvious; but other times it takes us months to years to piece together.

The fun part — for science junkies like us, at least — is the hunt for information. We figure that you might enjoy the hunt, too, so we’re adding a contest — EO’s Satellite Puzzler — that will allow you to give it a try. Every month or so, we’ll offer up a mystery image on Earth Matters. The first offering will come on June 12, 2012.

Your challenge is to use the blog comments section to tell us what part of the world we’re looking at, when the image was acquired, and what’s happening in the scene.

How to answer. Your answer can be a few words or several paragraphs.  (Just try to keep it shorter than 300-400 words).  You might simply tell us what part of the world an image shows. Or you can dig deeper and tell us what satellite and instrument produced the image, what bands were used to create the image, and what those tiny specks of tan are in the corner. If you think something is interesting or noteworthy about an image, tell us about it.

The prize. We can’t offer prize money for being the first to respond or for digging up the most interesting kernels of information. But, we can promise you credit and glory (well, maybe just credit). Roughly one week after a “mystery image” appears on the blog, we will post an annotated and captioned version as our Image of the Day.  In the credits, we’ll credit the person who was first to correctly ID an image. We’ll also recognize people who offer the most interesting tidbits of information. Please include your preferred name or alias with your comment.

A brush with fame. We’re not exactly TMZ, but our readership isn’t small either. Winners will contribute — and be recognized for doing so — to an article that we’ll share with our more than 100,000 subscribersFacebook friends, and Twitter followers.  And that’s just the bare minimum. The caption you help us write might just be the next one that goes viral.

Good luck!

6 Responses to “EO’s Satellite Puzzler: Inside Our New Caption Writing Contest”

  1. Jim Armstrong says:

    NASA already has a “Where on Earth?” quiz that has challenged many people for several years.
    Does this replace that feature? If so, some explanation would be nice.

  2. John Charles says:

    Oh! Happy day!!

  3. israel grande says:

    Mexico is in the country, and observe the reflection of the sun through the state of Baja California Sur.

  4. AMOL S KULKARNI says:



  5. Yiannis Raftopoulos says:

    Jim Armstrong,
    I agree with you. I hope it´s not a replacement. I have been trying to win the ¨Where on Earth?” for quite some time…

  6. Nancy Tucker~Jackson says:

    The burn scar is photo verified here above, as the oil accident in the Gulf. Nancy Jackson~Tucker