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NASA Photo Tournament premieres, with an underwater volcanic eruption as winner

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For its first ever NASA photo tournament, the agency set up a publicly voted bracket-style competition, in reference to March Madness, between 32 of last year’s most popular satellite images.

From the series of eliminatory matchups, an unexpected photo came out on top, a natural color shot depicting an underwater volcanic eruption, off the southern coast of El Hierro, Spain.

March Madness is no longer reserved only to basketball fans

March Madness is each year’s popular college basketball tournament. The competition is an essential platform for young players to get noticed for NBA drafts, so, naturally, basketball fans go bonkers with predictions over who’s going to be picked.

NASA wants to make sure that during this month, space exploration enthusiasts have an equally engaging activity to attend.

Voters were most curious about how underwater volcanic activity creates an island

Similar to NASA’s recent “best of” video, all of the images were processed by the Earth Observatory satellite system throughout 2012, either as true color photographs, or as computer assisted visualizations. The tournament gathered 32 of the most popular images, as suggested by site visits and page hits.

Voting took place across the entire month of March. The “competitors” list was split in 4 sections: Events, Data, True Color and Earth at Night. Out of a diverse selection of images, the true color photo depicting an underwater eruption of the Spanish, El Hierro volcano, was selected by voters for top spot.

At the beginning of 2012, the volcanic debris didn’t even reach above the water surface. It gradually garnered attention, due to the fact that marine eruptions had never been covered in detail, and the public was very curios of how islands are formed. The photo’s appeal had more to do with context than looks.

underwater-vulcano-el-hierro NASA Photo Tournament premieres, with an underwater volcanic eruption as winner News and Reviews

True color satellite image of underwater volcanic eruption, off the coast of El Hierro, Spain. Brighter portions indicate higher concentrations of volcanic material.

Other notable subjects from the list include Hurricane Sandy, an equally frightening solar flare, an Aurora Borealis grazing Canada, and a map of forests covering the U.S.

You can study them in detail at the tournament’s official website.

NASA promises to continue the March Madness theme

With an equally surprising result, NASA’s first tribute to the March Madness was called Mission Madness, and took place in 2009. In a series of six rounds, 64 NASA missions were voted down to a winner – the pumpkin-shaped Super Pressure Balloon, which made three orbits around the South Pole.

These “contests” are meant to be taken light-heartedly though. A multiple round, elimination tournament is the best way to go for sustaining public interest, which is NASA’s goal.

We can expect to hear from the agency more often in the near future, which will hopefully mean increasing support for long-term space exploration.

At the very least, the NASA photo tournament will be returning for next year.

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