All around you, there are tiny particles suspended in the air, known as aerosols. When you zoom out and look at the world as a whole, these aerosols can paint a picture of what’s going on across the earth’s atmosphere, from weather patterns to natural and man-made events.
That sort of picture is what you can see here in these composite images from NASA, representing the world as it was on Thursday. The pretty clouds of blue, purple and red are representations of different kinds of aerosols in the atmosphere, gathered from NASA satellite data and measurements taken on the ground.
According to NASA’s description of the images, the blue is sea salt, the red is black carbon (like you would see from a fire) and the purple is dust. By looking at the patterns of these three aerosols, you can make out some major weather and climate events: hurricanes, where the blues tightly gather; heavy winds and dust storms in the clouds of purple; and red smudges of carbon over wildfires.
“Some of the events that appear in the visualization were causing pretty serious problems on the ground,” the NASA description reads.
“On August 23, Hawaiians braced for torrential rains and potentially serious floods and mudslides as Hurricane Lane approached. Meanwhile, twin tropical cyclones—Soulik and Cimaron—were on the verge of lashing South Korea and Japan. The smoke plume over central Africa is a seasonal occurrence and mainly the product of farmers lighting numerous small fires to maintain crop and grazing lands. Most of the smoke over North America came from large wildfires burning in Canada and the United States.”
To be clear, the colors aren’t actually how these aerosols look from space – certainly dust isn’t purple, and even the worst wildfire wouldn’t look quite so fierce from that far away. It’s just the magic of science. Well, that and a lot of algorithms, imaging, modeling, data collection and so on.