A pair of instruments aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft captured new images of the growing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on May 1, 2010. The larger image, from NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), shows the spill in the context of its proximity to the Gulf Coast.
The inset image was captured by the highest-resolution instrument aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft, the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER).
On April 20, 2010, an explosion destroyed the Deepwater Horizon oil platform operating in the Gulf of Mexico 80 kilometers (50 miles) offshore, resulting in substantial loss of life and releasing 5,000 barrels of oil per day into the water. The huge oil slick was being carried towards the Mississippi River Delta, and was expected to reach the Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi shores as early as Monday, May 3.
The ASTER image is located at 29.0 degrees north latitude, 88.3 degrees west longitude and covers an area measuring 79.1 by 103.9 kilometers (49 by 64.4 miles), about 32 kilometers (20 miles) west of the mouth of the Mississippi River delta. No land is visible in the image.
The varying shades of white in the image reflect different thicknesses of oil (the whiter, the thicker the oil). The source of the oil spill is visible as the bright white area in the bottom center of the image. The thickest part of the spill extends vertically from it, appearing somewhat like the ash plume of an erupting volcano. The wispy patterns of the oil spill reflect the transport of the oil by waves and currents.
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