Satellite Photo Shows Aftermath of Drone Attack on Saudi Oil Facilities

This photo, taken by a Planet Dove satellite, shows a vast plume of smoke from oil processing facilities in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia after a drone strike claimed by Yemeni Houthi rebels. (Image credit: Planet Labs Inc.)

A small Earth-watching satellite has spotted a vast smoke plume from Saudi Arabian oil-processing facilities after a drone attack on Saturday (Sept. 14). 

The commercial Earth-imaging company Planet used one of its small Dove satellites to capture a striking view of the attack's aftermath from orbit as the oil facilities burned.

"Smoke billows from Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia after drone strikes set fire to the major oil facilities," Planet representatives wrote in a Twitter statement accompanying the photo. "Captured by a Planet Dove satellite today, September 14, 2019." 

Related: Planet Labs Photos of Earth from Space (Gallery)

Each Dove satellite is the size of a loaf of bread and can snap photos at a resolution of 10 feet to 16.5 feet (3 to 5 meters). 

Yemen's Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility for the attack, which hit at least 17 Saudi oil facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais, according to the New York Times. The U.S. government, however, maintains that Iran forces played a role in the strike. Iran backs the Houthi rebels in Yemen's ongoing civil war.

Planet (formerly Planet Labs) is a commercial Earth-observation company that captures high-resolution photos of Earth from space using a network of small Dove CubeSat satellites, as well as larger SkySat satellites.

The company recently used one of its SkySat satellites to spot the aftermath of a rocket failure at Iran's Imam Khomeini Space Center last month. Planet has about 140 satellites in orbit watching the Earth right now.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.