Notes from the Field

MABEL Collects Snow Data!

April 6th, 2011 by Kelly Brunt

MABEL: Flying on a high-altitude aircraft at the brink of space, the MABEL instrument is helping scientists to simulate measurements from NASA’s next ice-observing satellite, ICESat-2.

April 5, 2011

We had another highly successful mission, this time to Colorado (4/1/2011).

Specifically, we targeted a field that usually holds snow late in the season. Additionally, we targeted SNOwpack TELemetry (SNOTEL sites), where we have good control with respect to snow cover. One last site we targeted was a SNOTEL site situated within Loveland Ski Area, which was reporting one new inch of snow in the past 24 hours.

The weather looked slightly spotty to the north, but the pilot reported that there were clear skies over our targets!

We can actually receive limited information from the instruments during flight. So during the flight we knew that MABEL was operating properly. Additionally, we can get a very good sense of the cloud cover by looking at real-time data from an instrument that is flying along-side MABEL. It’s called CPL, or Cloud Physics Lidar. CPL records a smaller volume of data and has very mature software, relative to MABEL. So it’s easy to use CPL as a real-time assessment of atmospheric conditions during the flight. So we tend to fly CPL regularly with MABEL.

Because our pilot had a ton of transit time between Dryden and our targets in Colorado, we asked him for a huge favor: We asked him to take photos for our project. Keep in mind that he is in a pressurized suit, so everything he does, he does wearing bulky gloves. So we were very happy when he returned these amazing photos. Phenomenal.

The pictures (above and below) were taken from 65,000 feet above sea level. At this elevation, you can clearly see the curvature of the earth. Additionally, you can see the thinning of the atmosphere (apparent in the change in color of the sky from light blue to dark blue).

12 Responses to “MABEL Collects Snow Data!”

  1. SinnersWin says:

    Great shots thanks!

  2. Tasha Cherish says:

    Yeah Boi

  3. Teresa (@PDXsays) Boze says:

    Amazing, indeed!

    So amazing, I want to know every detail of the story with in the pictures !

    Could you guys caption the pics, and include information? For example, geotag locations and features. And explain what parts of the craft we are seeing in the pic at times? ( Like is that a rearview mirror in the third shot?)

    Maybe describe a bit about the pressure suit in the first shot. And is that a reflection of his gloved hands holding the camera at an upwards angle that is reflected in the helmet?

    Basically, images are a big YES!, but help us see more of what we are seeing. Squeeze all the sweet juice of the story out the implied subtext of the story from the pictures and put a straw in it so we can suck it up. #drooling!

    You’re on your way to a true transmedia gem here.

    Thanks guys, for being there and being you!

  4. Sherri says:

    Fantastic photos,
    65,000 feet is amazing and thanks for sharing! I thought MABEL was a rear view mirror which would be kinda funny. The curvature of the earth is amazing and I thank you for posting these, as from my view at the beach in San Francisco I don’t get that view! Thanks!

  5. Jean-Pierre Dareys says:

    These pictures, right out of the movie “the right stuff”! Apparently, you still don´t need to be an Astronaut to go into outer space. The pictures show you can still fly there and back, a la Chuck Yeager.

  6. Kumar Abhishek says:

    one can say.great pictures.!dream pictures.!

  7. Angel Canann says:

    THAT is tremendous! What fantastic images! Thank you so much for sharing those; it’s a sight most of us will never see. ;D

  8. Larry says:

    one of my goals in life; to see blacktop and the curvature with my own eyes!

  9. Aye says:

    That’s wonderful amazing pics and wonderful pilots we have (dreaming to marry a pilot;)

  10. Stefan says:

    Stunning – wish I was able to see this kind of view first hand.

  11. Kelly Brunt says:


    I can’t tell you exactly where the images were taken. They were not geolocated at the time that they were taken.

    But the snow photo was probably taken somewhere between Aspen and Leadville, CO.

    As you correctly guessed: a) you can see the pilot’s gloves in one frame and b) a rear-view mirror in another.

    For a detailed description of the pressure suit, see this link:


  12. Linês Felinto de Oliveira says:

    Parabens Mabel muito sucesso, que o Bom Deus te proteja, eu não sou corajosa. Beijo