Why the Upper Midwest is getting crazy sunsets

Sunset
CC BY 2.0 Fred Moore/Flickr

Residents of Montana, North and South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin have been told to expect extra vivid skies.

There is nothing good about the fires ravaging the parched western part of the United States right now. They are too dire to be cute in an every-gray-cloud-has-a-silver-lining kind of way. But the effect they are having on other parts of the U.S. is fascinating.

Smoke that is given off by any type of fire – be it forest, brush, crop, structure, tires, waste or wood burning – is a mixture of particles and chemicals produced by incomplete burning of carbon-containing materials, notes NASA, which knows a thing or two about what happens in the sky. And it contains carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and soot.

Midwest smoke© Natural-color satellite image collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Aqua satellite on Aug. 21, 2015. (NASA/Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team)

The Aqua satellite above shows smoke from the western fires drifting eastward on the jet stream. You can see the smoke covering parts of Montana, North and South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

As it turns out, the size of smoke particles from the fires is precisely right for filtering out some colors while letting others through; the others being red, pink and orange. Meaning that the sunset’s signature colors will have little competition from other colors in the spectrum, allowing them to present themselves in all of their red, pink and orange glory.

And on a final note, while the sunsets may be beautiful to behold, NASA reminds us that exposure to high levels of smoke should always be avoided.

Tags: California | Forestry | United States | Water Crisis

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