NASA Unveils Stunning Image Of Aerosol Plumes Swirling Over Earth

NASA Earth Observatory

A spectacular photo released this week by NASA’s Earth Observatory reveals what out planet’s atmosphere looked like on August 23.

Compiled from data collected by multiple sensors that scoped out the air composition both from the ground and from space, the image unveils “the mishmash of particles that dance and swirl through the atmosphere,” said space agency officials.

Known as aerosols, these particles “can be found in the air over oceans, deserts, mountains, forests, ice, and every ecosystem in between,” NASA explains in the photo release.

The image represents a colorized aerosol map in which the “millions of solid particles and liquid droplets” that we inhale each time we breathe in are depicted as dazzling aerosol plumes swirling above Earth’s continents.


In the snapshot, each of these plumes glows a different color depending on the type of aerosols it hosts. For instance, particles of sea salt suspended in the air are pictured in blue, while dust particles are shown in purple. At the same time, black carbon aerosols produced by actively burning fires are portrayed in red.

Although mesmerizing given their sparkling colors, this is not what aerosols actually look like from space. In fact, the map doesn’t reflect direct satellite observations, explains NASA, but rather a composite of data from various sources, including the Terra, Aqua, Aura, and Suomi NPP satellites.

The tiny spacecraft that orbit our planet are fitted with sensors which pick up aerosols from far above Earth’s surface. Together with measurements taken on the ground, the data was fed into a modeling system called the Goddard Earth Observing System Forward Processing (GEOS FP), which “used mathematical equations that represent physical processes to calculate what was happening in the atmosphere on August 23,” notes the space agency.

Fire, Water, Wind

These stunning aerosol plumes churning over our planet are produced by weather events, such as cyclones, hurricanes, and dust storms. In addition, wildfires and controlled agricultural blazes, deliberately set to cleanse the land and stimulate pasture and crop growth, also kick up particles in the air, spreading through the atmosphere as smoke.

As LiveScience points out, western North America and south-central Africa both bear the red signature of black carbon aerosols, which seem to be drifting over the Atlantic Ocean as well.

All this smoke rising over North America is coming from the wildfires currently plaguing the continent. Meanwhile, Africa is experiencing a very large concentration of agricultural burns, the Inquisitr reported earlier today, after NASA released a separate satellite image revealing all the actively burning fires on the planet.

The aerosol map also shows bright blue plumes spiraling over Hawaii and off the coast of Japan. These plumes are the result of sea salt aerosols sprayed into the air by the wind, which is coming from three different tropical cyclones churning in the Pacific Ocean: Hurricane Lane, in the case of Hawaii, and typhoons Soulik and Cimaron — near Japan.

The purple signature representing raging dust storms can be seen predominantly over the Sahara Desert in northwest Africa, as well as over the Taklamakan Desert in northwest China. Here, landlocked winds have blown large dust clouds upwards on August 23, according to NASA’s aerosol map.