NASA’s Terra (left) and Aqua Earth-observation satellites captured these views of the fires in California on Oct. 9 two hours apart. Strong winds from the dry deserts to the northeast blow large clouds of fire smoke out over the Pacific. Credit: Joshua Stevens, using MODIS data from LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response.
California’s a tinderbox. We feel for the people who are suffering through some of the worst wildfires the region has even seen. The TV drone footage of entire blocks of homes ravaged by fire makes us gasp. We can imagine it happening in our neighborhood as natural catastrophe knows no limits in the long run.
The scope of the fires is plain from Earth orbit as these photos show. They were taken by NASA’s Earth-surveying Aqua and Terra satellites which circle the planet every 99 minutes from an altitude of 438 miles (705 km). Unlike the space station, which orbits from west to east, Earth surveillance satellites orbit from pole to pole, moving from south to north — or north to south, depending on which side of the globe you live.
A sun-synchronous orbit crosses over the equator at about the same local time each day (and night). This orbit ...