Earth Looked Like Hell From Space This Year

Smoke is visible off the West Coast on Sept. 9. The image was captured by NASA’s DSCOVR satellite at a distance of 883,291 miles (1,421,519 kilometers) from the Earth’s surface.

Smoke is visible off the West Coast on Sept. 9. The image was captured by NASA’s DSCOVR satellite at a distance of 883,291 miles (1,421,519 kilometers) from the Earth’s surface.
Image: Brian Kahn/NASA

The image above may appear your standard Blue Marble shot. But look closer, and you can see smoke from the peak of the western U.S. firestorm. Reminder this image was taken from hundreds of thousands of miles away.

To round out the fiery hell that was this year, we look the western U.S. California had an unfortunately banner year for fires, including the most acres ever burned and its first “gigafire” in modern history. The fires were so intense, they created their own weather that could be seen from space and wiped out a chunk of a vital wildfire monitoring network on the ground. The first image in this story also shows an unnerving pyrocumulus cloud from this year. Particularly intense fires essentially create their own weather, and we saw that all too often in 2020.

The wall of flames also engulfed Washington, Oregon, and Colorado. In Oregon, an entire town was wiped off the map and right wing extremists used the fires to spread conspiracy theories about antifa lighting the fires and push the boundaries of what’s permissible. Colorado saw two of its three largest fires ever recorded, including one that jumped the Continental Divide. These types of large, destructive fires are becoming the norm due to rising heat. It’s incumbent on policymakers to both prepare forests and those that live in or near them for a hotter, drier future. If 2020 is any indication, part of that will also involve combatting extremism as well.

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