On the afternoon of December 5, 2017, NASA research pilot Donald “Stu” Broce shot photographs of smoke streaming from intense wildfires burning in Southern California. They were taken from the cockpit of NASA’s high-flying ER-2 aircraft, at an altitude of roughly 12 miles (20 kilometers). The ER-2 is based at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California and was conducting an engineering flight test of the Cloud-Aerosol Multi-Angle Lidar (CAMAL) instrument when the photos were taken.
A day later, an astronaut on the International Space Station took a photograph (below) of smoke streaming west from the fires. The space station orbits roughly 248 miles (400 kilometers) above the surface.
The largest fire, Thomas fire in Ventura County, had charred 96,000 acres (39,000 hectares or 150 square miles) and destroyed 150 structures as of the morning of December 7, 2017. Forecasters warn that extreme and rapid fire growth could occur through Saturday because of powerful Santa Ana winds raking the region.
- Cal Fire (2017, December 7) Current Incidents. Accessed December 7, 2017.
- Los Angeles Times (2017, December 6) Southern California Fires Live Updates. Accessed December 6, 2017.
- Los Angeles Times (2015, October 29) Infographic: Where do the Santa Ana winds come from? Accessed December 6, 2017.
NASA photographs by Donald “Stu” Broce, provided courtesy of Armstrong Flight Research Center. Astronaut photograph ISS053-E-317752 was acquired on December 6, 2017, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a 140 millimeter lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 53 crew. The image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by Adam Voiland.
- ISS - Digital Camera