NASA Tracks Super Typhoon Haiyan From Space (Photos)

NASA Satellite Spots Super Typhoon Haiyan
This visible image of Super Typhoon Haiyan approaching the Philippines was taken from the MODIS instrument aboard NASA's Aqua satellite on Nov. 6 at 11:25 p.m. EDT. (Image credit: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team)

A NASA satellite has been keeping an eye on Super Typhoon Haiyan as the monster storm pounds the Philippines with torrential rain and the most powerful winds seen in a generation.

The space agency's Aqua satellite passed over Super Typhoon Haiyan as the cyclone neared the Philippines recently. Aqua's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer instrument, or MODIS, snapped a photo of Haiyan at 12:25 p.m. local Philippine time on Nov. 7 (11:25 p.m. EDT on Nov. 6).

The image shows the broad bands of thunderstorms surrounding Haiyan's eye, as well as the weather systems lashing the Philippines in the early morning hours of Nov. 7 (U.S. EDT time), NASA officials said. [8 Terrible Typhoons]

Meanwhile, another Aqua instrument — the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) — gathered infrared data on the typhoon, measuring temperatures at Haiyan's cloud tops and at the surface of the sea.

"The infrared data revealed a sharply defined eye with multiple concentric rings of thunderstorms and a deep convective eyewall," NASA spokesman Rob Gutro, of the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., wrote in a description of the Aqua observations.

Infrared data from the AIRS instrument aboard NASA's Aqua satellite show cloud top temperatures as cold as 210 degrees kelvin/-81.67F/-63.15C/ in the thick band of thunderstorms around the center of Super Typhoon Haiyan on Nov. 7, 2013. Those cold temperatures indicate very high, powerful thunderstorms with very heavy rain potential. (Image credit: NASA/JPL, Ed Olsen)

"The infrared data showed cloud top temperatures as cold as 210 degrees kelvin/-81.67F/-63.15C/ in the thick band of thunderstorms around the center," Gutro added. "Those cold temperatures indicate very high, powerful thunderstorms with very heavy rain potential."

Haiyan has developed into the most intense storm of 2013. It features sustained winds of 200 mph (320 km/h) and gusts up to 230 mph (370 km/h) — the fastest seen since 1979's Super Typhoon Tip, the most powerful tropical cyclone on record.

Haiyan is known as a typhoon (or super typhoon) because it formed in the Northwest Pacific. Such storms are called hurricanes in the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific, and cyclones in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean region, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Super Typhoon Haiyan is equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane, NASA officials said.

"The U.S. National Hurricane Center website indicates that a Category 5 hurricane/typhoon would cause catastrophic damage: A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse," Gutro wrote. "Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months."

Haiyan is moving west-northwest at about 25 mph (40 km/h), whipping up waves with heights of 50 feet (15 m) or so. After passing through the Philippines, the storm is expected to come ashore in Vietnam, NASA officials said.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.