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Striking NASA Images Show Extent of California Wildfires

Yellow and red patterns representing smoke over the US
NASA Worldview, Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS)

NASA frequently shares images of our planet from space. Sometimes those images are inspiring. Sometimes, not so much, as is the case with recently released images of the devastating California wildfires taken by the organization’s Terra satellite.

With lots of electronic eyes circling our planet, NASA is often the first agency to spot wildfires, especially in less populated regions. They regularly communicate this information with local authorities soon after a satellite picks it up.

Smoke and fire as seen from space over California
NASA Worldview, Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS)

The image above was shot by Terra, a satellite that just celebrated its 20th anniversary in orbit. It’s mission is to explore “the connections between Earth’s atmosphere, land, snow and ice, ocean, and energy balance to understand Earth’s climate and climate change and to map the impact of human activity and natural disasters on communities and ecosystems,” says NASA.

The red dots show areas of active fire, which, when this image was taken on August 24, numbered more than 650. The large smoke plume being emitted by all these fires is also clearly visible.

The image at the top of this article was taken by a satellite from NASA and NOAA’s Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership, and it shows the aerosol index, a rating of particles in the air, as the smoke extends its reach across the country.

“The Aerosol Index is a unitless range from < 0.00 [clear] to >=5.00, where 5.0 [deepest red] indicates heavy concentrations of aerosols that could reduce visibility or impact human health,” says the agency. “The Aerosol Index layer is useful for identifying and tracking the long-range transport of volcanic ash from volcanic eruptions, smoke from wildfires or biomass burning events and dust from desert dust storms, even tracking over clouds and areas of snow and ice.”

This particular image shows that the air is not only bad above California, but that the smoke from the fires has also begun to degrade air quality as far east as Minnesota, where red areas can be seen.

You can keep up-to-date with fire-tracking images on the agency’s website, while the video below explains more about how NASA collects and uses information about fires.