From Space: Huge River of Dust Over Australia

by Nancy Atkinson on September 25, 2009

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A river of dust over Eastern Australia on Sept. 24, 2009. NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC. Caption by Holli Riebeek.

A river of dust over Eastern Australia on Sept. 24, 2009. NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC. Caption by Holli Riebeek.

This isn’t a special effect image from a new catastrophe movie; it is an actual satellite image of the dust storm sweeping over and around eastern Australia, heading across the Tasman Sea toward New Zealand. A dense wall of dust descended upon Sydney on Sept. 23, creating an apocalyptic scene (see these images from Boston Globe’s Big Picture) and the river of dust continues unabated across water. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this image of the storm on September 24, at 11:10 a.m., New Zealand time (23:10 UTC on September 23). The distance between the far northern edge of the plume and the southern edge is about 3,450 kilometers (2,700 miles), roughly equivalent to the distance between New York City and Los Angeles. Below, see how the storm progressed across the Sea later in the day.

Dust storm over Australia during the afternoon of Sept. 24, 2009. NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC.

Dust storm over Australia during the afternoon of Sept. 24, 2009. NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC.


By the early afternoon of September 24, 2009, when the same satellite acquired this image, the thick dust that had covered the eastern shore of Australia previouly, stretched in a long plume from northern Queensland to New Zealand. This image shows the northern portion of the plume off the coast of Queenland. The tan dust is densely concentrated in a compact plume that mirrors the coastline. The gem-like blue-green Great Barrier Reef is visible beneath the plume near the top of the image where the tan dust mingles with gray-brown smoke from wildfires.

Source: NASA Earth Observatory

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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