This Is What a Volcanic Eruption Looks Like from Space

This Is What a Volcanic Eruption Looks Like from Space
NASA
NASA

Iceland's Bardarbunga volcano, situated under a massive glacier in the central part of the country, has been gradually erupting over the past few weeks. This led authorities to ban air traffic in parts of the country and to announce a "red alert" warning, the highest on the country's five-point scale, indicating "significant emission of ash into the atmosphere."

Experts say the Badarbunga volcano won't be nearly as disruptive as the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption that disrupted air travel across Europe. And another positive? It looks awesome from space. 

On Sept. 6, NASA's Landsat 8 captured remarkable photos of the ongoing eruption. The terrain between the Bardarbunga and Askja volcanoes has split open, spewing lava and hot gas into the Holuhraun lava field. The photos have been "spectacular from the ground and from low-flying aircraft," NASA researchers wrote. "Infrared imaging makes the view spectacular from space, too."

According to the Iceland Review, it's the nation's biggest lava eruption since the 19th century.

Source: NASA Earth Observatory
Source: NASA Earth Observatory

What's with the color in these images? The Landsat satellite doesn't always capture a 'naked eye' view of Earth's surface. "The Landsat sensors read light from 11 different 'bands' of the electromagnetic spectrum, and only five of those are visible to the unaided eye," explained the Atlantic's Robinson Meyer. "Of its six other bands, three measure infrared light and two measure heat. These images combine two infrared bands and the 'green' band. This makes the incredible heat and energy of the lava flows visible, while also allowing us to see greenery and other common land features nearby."

So what are we looking at? "Ice and the plume of steam and sulfur dioxide appear cyan and bright blue, while liquid water is navy blue," explain researchers at NASA's Earth Observatory said. "Bare or rocky ground around the Holuhraun lava field appears in shades of green or brown in this band combination. Fresh lava is bright orange and red."

Source: NASA Earth Observatory
Source: NASA Earth Observatory

These views from space are fascinating and informative, but the views from the ground are just as spectacular:

Source: AP
Source: AP
Source: AP
Source: AP
Source: AP
Source: AP

Nature is amazing.

h/t The Atlantic