NASA images tend to generate feelings of awe when you see them. The latest image gives us a shocking snapshot of the ongoing conflict in Libya. Shelling of an oil terminal near Sidra, Libya sparked fires earlier this month.

Here’s what the region looked like on January 7.

libya oil fire

And again this week.

Libya oil fire spread

NASA writes:

The stream of black smoke that emanates from the refinery has grown tremendously as the fires caused by the initial shelling have spread to giant storage tanks.

See the red outlined areas on the second image? Look at the middle left and towards the very bottom. Those are areas identified by the MODIS camera aboard NASA’s Terra satellite as actively burning.

Terra and MODIS

MODIS stands for Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer and is one of five instruments onboard NASA’s Terra satellite.

MODIS is an impressive instrument. Every 1-2 days, it sweeps across every point on Earth and images it in 36 spectral bands. It can determine how much of our planet’s surface is covered with clouds nearly every day. That’s just one of several ways scientists use MODIS.

The instrument also keeps track of aerosols, which range from natural causes to human. From forest fires and volcanic eruptions to oil fires like the one seen above. It’s so sensitive it can even see changes in phytoplankton in the Pacific. Scientists use this information to help determine if El Niño/La Niña is starting.

TERRA is part of the broader NASA Earth Observing System (EOS). 25 missions (satellites) are currently underway with another 25 future missions scheduled in the years ahead. As current satellites finish their missions, NASA plans to send new ones up. The goal? Continuous long-term global observations of Earth’s land surface, oceans, atmosphere and biosphere.

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Image credits:NASA/MODIS

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