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Beirut explosion devastation spotted from space (satellite photos)

This view of the destruction caused by an explosion in the port of Beirut was captured by a SkySat satellite operated by San Francisco-based company Planet on Aug. 5, 2020.
This view of the destruction caused by an explosion in the port of Beirut was captured by a SkySat satellite operated by San Francisco-based company Planet on Aug. 5, 2020.
(Image: © Planet Labs Inc.)

The devastation wrought by the massive explosion in Beirut yesterday (Aug. 4) is viscerally apparent in satellite photos.

A SkySat spacecraft, operated by San Francisco-based company Planet, captured detailed imagery of the port of Beirut both before and after the blast, which killed at least 135 people and wounded about 5,000, according to The Guardian.

Planet posted the photos on Twitter today (Aug. 5). Colorado-based space technology company Maxar did the same, sharing pictures snapped by its satellites. 

Related: Photos of Earth from space by Planet satellites

The bird's-eye views show numerous buildings flattened by the explosion and a semicircular chunk gouged out of the port infrastructure, as if a monster rose out of the waves and took a giant bite.

The blast occurred after a fire reached a warehouse containing 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, an explosive compound often used as a fertilizer, Lebanese authorities have said. The ammonium nitrate had reportedly been stored in the warehouse since 2013, when it was offloaded from an impounded ship, the BBC reported

Investigation into the tragic accident continues, as does the search for its victims.

These photos highlight how effectively private Earth-observation satellites can monitor the goings-on here on terra firma.

For example, Planet's fleet of orbital assets, which numbers in the hundreds, has also identified new earthquake-created ruptures in Earth's crust, spotted the aftermath of a failed Iranian rocket launch and imaged the damage left behind by an Iranian missile attack on Iraqi military installations, among other things. 

And the many contributions of Maxar's WorldView satellites include helping humanity assess the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on a global scale.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. 

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