Satellites capture Burning Man festival's fire from space (photos)

The temporary Black Rock City where the annual 'radical self-expression' festival Burning Man takes place seen from space by the European Earth-observing satellite Sentinel-2.
A fire burning in the middle of the main plaza of Burning Man's makeshift Black Rock City as seen by the European Earth-observing satellite Sentinel-2. (Image credit: Copernicus/SentinelHub/kosmi)

Satellites watched as  a temporary city sprang up in the Nevada desert, where the famed Burning Man "radical self-expression" festival kicked off on Monday (Aug. 28). 

One spacecraft even caught a glimpse of some sort of fire burning on the city's main plaza, although it wasn't Burning Man's main fire, which will close the festival next week. 

Satellites of the U.S. Earth-observation company Maxar Technologies took daytime images of the makeshift Black Rock City, showing a circular footprint resembling an ancient Greek amphitheater. In the middle of the city is a round plaza surrounded by a series of concentric circles delineating the city's "streets," around which cars are parked and tents pitched. 

Maxar's spacecraft took those images on Sunday (Aug. 27), one day before the official start of the festival, which will run until next Tuesday (Sept. 5). 

Related: Burning Man 2019 spotted from space (satellite photos)

The European Earth-observation satellite Sentinel-2 flew over the city on the same day, catching a glimpse of some kind of fire burning in the middle of the main plaza. The Burning Man festival is named after an effigy that is ceremoniously burned toward the end of the festival on the night before Labor Day, which this year falls on Sept. 4. The fire caught by the Sentinel-2 satellite therefore couldn't be that big fire just yet. 

"Sentinel2 seems to show some kind of fire 😎🔥. Mix of greyscale visible light and SWIR [short-wave infrared]," an Earth-observation researcher who goes by the moniker kosmi said on X, formerly Twitter, under, in a post on Monday that shared the image. 

Burning Man is an annual event held in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada some 120 miles (193 kilometers) north of Reno. The festival celebrates all forms of "radical self-expression" and "radical self-reliance," which could be described as very unusual forms of art and communal living. Although tickets cost upward of $575, the event lists decommodification and gifting among its main principles.  

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Tereza Pultarova
Senior Writer

Tereza is a London-based science and technology journalist, aspiring fiction writer and amateur gymnast. Originally from Prague, the Czech Republic, she spent the first seven years of her career working as a reporter, script-writer and presenter for various TV programmes of the Czech Public Service Television. She later took a career break to pursue further education and added a Master's in Science from the International Space University, France, to her Bachelor's in Journalism and Master's in Cultural Anthropology from Prague's Charles University. She worked as a reporter at the Engineering and Technology magazine, freelanced for a range of publications including Live Science,, Professional Engineering, Via Satellite and Space News and served as a maternity cover science editor at the European Space Agency.