Science: Canadian Wildfires Smoke Out Large Sections of North America

This past month a number of major fires have broken out in Alberta, Canada; these fires have grown to become among the largest wildfires ever observed in North America. The smoke from the fires is causing severe health crises in Edmonton, Alberta and in every location downwind of these fires, from Montana all the way to the east coast of the US and out into the Atlantic Ocean. If these streams of smoke haven’t already reached the coast of Europe and North Africa by now, they will by the end of this week.

Here in Chicago we were made aware of this awesome phenomenon over this past week due ironically to our attempts to observe the awful results of one of multi-billionaire Elon Musk’s vanity projects: the initial deployment of 60 highly-reflective communications satellites of a proposed 12,000 satellite network called #Starlink.

Initially we noticed unusually hazy skies as we attempted to observe Musk’s recently launched #SpaceX #Starlink satellite “train” that has aroused the anger of ourselves and professional and amateur astronomers all over the world. This is what the initial #Starlink launch of 60 satellites looked like before the smoke from the Alberta wildfires made observation of them all but impossible in the eastern 2/3rds of North America:

If we continue to allow billionaires to launch vanity projects like this for-profit-for-military-use-only 12,000-satellite #Starlink boondoggle, pretty soon no one on Earth will be able to enjoy a night under the stars without seeing the endless distractions of literally hundreds of satellites passing overhead every hour. Look at how badly a mere 60 of a planned 12,000 #Starlink satellites interfered with a simple observation of Mars:

So we set out to observe how bad the #Starlink satellites would interfere with astronomical observations over Chicago, completely unaware of the vast column of smoke from the Alberta wildfires that had been blown across North America and were concentrated right over Chicago on the night of May 30/31. Looking up into a cloudless sky that night we could only see Mars clearly; major constellations like Cassiopeia and Ursa Major were completely unidentifiable even with binoculars! The entire sky had a milky appearance that looked like fog; but when we tried to use binoculars to identify major northern constellations like Cassiopeia or Ursa Major we could clearly see only a handful of the brightest stars. Fog this was not. Nor was this phenomenon  caused by clouds. We initially attributed it to an unusually heavy form of the usual haze that forms over major cities like Chicago thanks to car and truck exhaust and which is then illuminated by the horrible lighting systems in major US cities that stream light up into the sky instead of down on the ground where it’s needed.

Smoke from the wildfires in Alberta (upper left corner of red circled area) were already seriously impacting states and cities far southeast of that Canadian province by 31 May 2019. Grey area encircled shows the extent and density of the smoke; Chicago is the red dot in center of circled area. Source: NOAA.gov Enhancement by IWPCHI

When we were unable to even see Cassiopeia or Ursa Major on a clear, moonless night we knew something else was happening. The milky white appearance of the midnight and even post-midnight sky when satellite imagery showed little if any cloud cover over Chicago led us to search for the cause. We soon found out about the Alberta fires.

These photos taken from Des Plaines, IL show how profoundly the smoke from these fires in Alberta have been impacting the Chicago area.

Barely visible jet contrail over Des Plaines, IL_dusk, 31May2019. Photo by IWPCHI

31may2019 Clear sky over Des Plaines, IL looks cloudy due to smoke from Alberta, CA wildfires. Photo by IWPCHI

Sunset as viewed from Des Plaines, IL 31may2019 The only clouds were over far NW IL at least 85 miles away when this photo was taken. Photo by IWPCHI

Smoke density analysis by NOAA 31may2019_selection is right over Chicago, IL

Tonight, June 1st I observed one of the most astounding phenomena I’ve ever seen: a rainstorm was passing over Des Plaines heading north as the sun was setting in the west and coming out from behind a cloud bank 25-30 degrees above the horizon – a perfect setting for a rainbow in the east. But there was no rainbow because due to the intense scattering of light from the Sun caused by the heavy smoke over the Chicago area, even though there were no clouds obstructing the sunshine the diffusion of the sunlight prevented even a partial rainbow from forming! The shadows cast by the direct sunlight through very light rain showers reminded me of the kind of light given off by the Sun during an annular eclipse.

Direct sunlight so weakened by dense smoke from Alberta wildfires it can barely cast shadows and can’t create rainbow under optimal conditions_1 Photo by IWPCHI

1 June 2019, Des Plaines IL – Direct sunlight unable to cast sharp shadow on wall due to dense smoke from Alberta, Canada wildfires. Photo by IWPCHI

At the present time it is impossible to even observe the night sky over Chicago because of the dense smoke from the wildfires in Alberta, Canada – approximately 1800 miles away! That’s a huge fire!

We won’t be able to make an observation of Elon Musk’s Starlink vanity project until these wildfires are extinguished and the smoke clears out of our skies. In our estimation, it will be at least a week to two weeks before this occurs.

—IWPCHI

 

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