A series of wildfires erupted across California's wine country on Oct. 8, and the flames have been spreading faster than firefighters have been able to put them out.
NASA's fleet of Earth-observing satellites has been watching the flames and smoke from space. That fleet includes the Terra and Aqua satellites, Landsat 8, and the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite. [Satellite Photos of California's Devastating Wildfires]
Images from the Terra satellite's Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) instrument show not just the locations of fires and clouds of smoke, but also the distribution of vegetation in those regions.
"With its 14 spectral bands from the visible to the thermal infrared wavelength region and its high spatial resolution of 15 to 90 meters (about 50 to 300 feet), ASTER images Earth to map and monitor the changing surface of our planet," NASA officials said in a statement.
Another Earth-observing satellite, Landsat 8, got an even closer look at how the fires are affecting California. Landsat 8 created composite images of the area, combining shortwave infrared, near-infrared and green color bands with a thermal infrared signature. "These combinations make it easier to see through the smoke to the burn scars and the still-active fires," NASA officials said in the image release.
The Landsat 8 images revealed some of the most prominent wildfires in the area, including the Tubbs fire between Santa Rosa and Calistoga, the Atlas fire near Lake Berryessa, and the Redwood/Potter fires near the Mendocino National Forest.
While much of the northwestern U.S. has seen and smelled smoke in the air since California's wildfires began, the Suomi NPP satellite offers a broader perspective on how the smoke affects the rest of the world. "Intense blazes are lofting up so much smoke that huge plumes have been blowing across the country — and even turning up in Europe," officials with NASA's Earth Observatory wrote in a blog post.
As hot, dry winds continue to fan the flames, these catastrophic wildfires will continue to spread throughout the weekend, the National Weather Service said in an advisory, adding that the fires should be easier to contain and put out once winds die down after Sunday (Oct. 15).