Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2000 November 21
See Explanation. Go online for the highest resolution available.

Fire on Earth
Credit: John McColgan (AFS, BLM)

Explanation: Sometimes, regions of planet Earth can be seen lit up with fire. Since fire is the rapid acquisition of oxygen, and since oxygen is a key indicator of life, fire on any planet would be an indicator of life on that planet. Most of the Earth's land has been scorched by fire at some time in the past. Although causing many a tragedy, fire is considered part of a natural ecosystem cycle. The year 2000 fire season in the continental United States has been one of the most active on record, burning an area similar in size to New Jersey. Large forest fires on Earth are usually caused by lightning and can be visible from orbit. Above, stunned Elk avoid a fire sweeping through Montana's Bitterroot Valley by standing in a river.

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Official: Phillip Newman. Specific rights apply.
A service of: ASD at NASA/GSFC
& Michigan Tech. U.

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