I was only 10 years old when Mt. Saint Helens erupted in 1980. I remember the newspapers with pictures of the volcano spewing ash and smoke. I remember seeing pictures of cars in Spokane covered in the ash from that angry mountain. I remember the little cylinders of ash enterprising business-people sold to people who wanted a little piece of that natural history. And this was while I was living with my family in the High Desert in Southern California.
But I don’t recall ever seeing any pictures of the active volcano from space. Wired.com posted this article, which shows not just pictures, but two videos (kind of) of Mt. Saint Helens as it’s blowing its top. The first one shows the impressive ash cloud, but the ash cloud is somewhat obscured by regular clouds (clouds in the Pacific Northwest? Go figure.)–the bane of all regular imagery. The second video, however, the one using infrared, shows just how far the ash cloud spread and how quickly.
The satellite that took these images was the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) GOES-1 weather satellite. It was a fairly old satellite already, launched in 1975 when computers were probably still the size of continents. It continued to collect environmental data until it was deactivated in 1985. While the images of Mt. Saint Helens’ eruption are pretty nifty, the analysts and scientists who worked on analyzing the data probably took some time to put the images together (if anyone knows different, please let me know), so they weren’t available in real-time or near-real-time.
Literally a blast from the past, coming from space. Wired’s article is definitely interesting, if only to watch the videos.
One thought on “1980: Mt. Saint Helens from Space”
My mom had a friend that brought back some ashfall from that eruption in a clean mayonnaise jar. I took some to my classes at the local community college, and took a look at the ash under an oil-bath microscope. I scratched/ruined 4 slides and slide covers before I got it thin enough to see.
The ash was like looking at tiny Goat’s Head burrs. All sharp angles and pointed tips. That was when I realized why I ruined all those slides and covers. The ash was incredibly sharp and would abrade anything it touched. Imagine breathing that stuff…
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