A Hypnotic Visualization Of The Polar Vortex From Space

It might feel cold down here, but the data that drives it is beautiful.

Here on terrestrial Earth, the polar vortex is making all of our lives miserable, from frostbite-inducing chills in the North, to snow and ice blanketing Florida, to drivers in Atlanta getting stuck in traffic for 22 hours and comparing the scene to a zombie movie. As visualized from space, though, the polar vortex is a beautiful, panchromatic cyclone of endlessly flowing eddies and currents. It's mesmerizing.

The animation you see here was generated by an interactive data analyzer called Earth, with each line representing the motion of stratospheric wind as it ripples from the eye of the polar cyclone and churns air down south.

In the full interactive version, you can zoom in and out, observing the winds of the polar vortex as they freeze the planet at different altitudes. The number of lines indicate how fast the wind is moving, which is also heat-mapped—or, rather, cold-mapped—to the color of each wind stream.

The visualization isn't accomplished in real time—it's actually an advanced computer model of the weather we're currently experiencing, rather than a visualization of the weather itself—but it is, yet again, a reminder that the Earth is a 4.5-billion-year-old computer floating in space that is tasked with generating billions of beautiful datasets, just waiting to be visualized.

Check out the fully interactive model of the Polar Vortex here.

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