I got some money for Christmas, and naturally my geek-girl thoughts turned to software. I can't quite recall how I came across it, but I found DesktopEarth Pro, and I was immediately blown away by it. I tried it out for a couple of days, then blew some of my Christmas money on it — money well spent, I think. At its most basic level, it's a very fancy screen saver, which allows you to display an image of the earth, overlaid with updated images of the real cloud pattern, and the pattern of night and day across the globe. You can see my desktop above, with the elevation map, and showing the real cloud cover and circadian period as of about 1700h GMT today. Of course, you really need a more or less full-time broadband connection to make the best use of this application.
The blue disc at the upper right of the screen is an image of the sun at the extreme ultraviolet end of the spectrum, which is updated every day with the live image captured by the Extreme ultraviolet Imaging Telescope 171 (EIT 171). I have to confess that I chose this wavelength because it looked cool (literally and metaphorically). The pale disc below that is the moon (which should be fairly obvious even in a small image), and that also gets updated with the current phase of the moon every day. This also means that I can solve my dilemma of whether to display the moon phase or the date on iPulse, which is the final disc on the right, and nothing to do with DesktopEarth.
One side effect is that I'm now reluctant to leave stuff on the desktop as littering most of Asia with files seems a bit disrespectful. It's quite calming looking at the image periodically over the the day. You can see night come and the city lights start to twinkle in Australasia and Asia, and then watch dawn come to the east coast of the Americas. On the day I installed it, there was a wonderful swirly depression over the UK, which almost made it worth putting up with the wind and torrential rain. It's pretty and informative, which is exactly what I like.
Whenever I look a the image (which I do frequently, by hitting the 'Show desktop' Exposé keystroke), the song "Hello Earth" by Kate Bush1 comes into my mind:
Watching storms Start to form Over America. Can't do anything. Just watch them swing With the wind Out to sea.
1 If I'm ever lucky enough to get into space, this will be the track I take — my 'Outer Space Disc' (obviously, you only get to choose one for reasons of weight reduction!) — and play as I look back on the tiny blue Earth, hanging in space.