A new satellite can see through forest fires from space

September 3, 2014
September 3, 2014

Where there’s fire, there’s smoke, and that makes getting a birds-eye view of a forest fire—in this case, a blaze in a California national forest—extremely difficult:

Before.

Hard to see what’s going on under there, right? Now look at this:

After.

Both of these pictures come from Digital Globe’s WorldView 3 satellite, launched in August. The company has been taking a victory lap as the satellite’s sensors have come online, showing off its capabilities—the company says it can “see” across the most spectrum of any commercial satellite, and it takes pictures with a resolution of 31cm per pixel, making it possible to see fairly small objects.

In this case, short-wave infrared sensors have allowed the satellite to penetrate the smoke and generate an image of the fire. While that’s an attractive display, it’s not as useful as this picture, also generated by short-wave infrared, which actually shows where the fire is burning the hottest:

Tap image to zoom

DigitalGlobe promises a host of applications for its satellite constellation—mapping underwater coral reefs, finding mineral deposits, studying wildlife habitat, monitoring shipping activity, tracking refugees, even urban planning.

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