A volcano erupted on the island of Paluweh last month, and NASA has hung around to witness it.
Paluweh’s volcano became active in October. NASA’s Landsat Data Continuity Mission satellite was able to capture the volcanic action from 438 miles above Indonesia’s Flores Sea. Images of the activity were recorded by two of the satellite’s instruments: the Operational Land Imager (OLI) and the Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS).
The OLI’s viewpoint is the more obvious and appealing. The imager can detect visible light, infrared, and short-wave electromagnetic radiation. Regarding Paluweh, the OLI picked up on the clouds of ashy smoke that drifted northwest from the volcano’s origin point to the Indonesian forests and beyond. Likewise, the imager’s infrared capabilities honed in on the volcano’s five-mile wide heat signature.
Meanwhile, the TIRS instrument mapped the lava flow and was able to distinguish it from the surrounding areas without a pixilated bleed. The sensor is capable of gauging differences in temperature from one-tenth of a degree Celsius. Betsy Forsbacka, who is the TIRS instrument manager at Goddard Space Flight Center, explained that the sensor displays thermal activity by imaging the lava as white and the surrounding ash as grey and black, depending on how cool it is.
“Each instrument by itself is magnificent,” said Forsbacka. “When you put them together, with the clues that each give you on what you’re seeing on Earth’s surface, it’s greater than either could do by themselves.”
This particular Landsat satellite is eighth in a long line of Landsats ranging as far back as 1972, when the program originally began. It launched in 2013 with the aid of NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey and is now orbiting alongside 1984’s Landsat 5 and 1999’s Landsat 7.
The Landsat 8 orbits Earth completely around 14 times a day. It, along with its fellow Landsats, takes images of the Earth (NASA has gathered 1,670,082 such images since May of this year; 1,189,393 of those are from the International Space Station). Landsat 8’s instruments are particularly noteworthy for their sensitivity, utilizing a two-thermal band approach to cut through the atmosphere for a more accurate reading of Earth’s temperature.
The official NASA statement for the purpose of the Landsat program is that it plays a “critical role in monitoring, understanding and managing the resources needed for human sustainment such as food, water and forests.” The satellites have been collecting an unbroken stream of data for the past 40 years that aids researchers in studying “climate, carbon cycle, ecosystems, water cycle, biogeochemistry and changes to Earth’s surface.”
Volcano activity has also been recently seen in Papua New Guinea (Ulawu), in Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula (Tolbachik), and in the Kuril Islands (Aldaid).