Smoky-Red Sun, Orange Moon

September 08, 2015

Smoky-Red Sun, Orange Moon

Photographer: Ray Boren
Summary Author: Ray Boren

Destructive — even deadly — wildfires wreaked havoc this summer in California, British Columbia and the American Northwest, from Washington and Oregon inland to western Montana and Idaho. At one point, news reports indicated fire crews were battling almost 100 large drought-fueled blazes, or fire complexes, in forests and on rangelands. As August neared its end, about 2 million acres had been scorched, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

SkylineBut the fires’ smoke also choked states downstream, as weather patterns carried smoky particulates to mountain ranges and valleys hundreds of miles away, where an intensifying haze settled in for a long stay.

In relatively fire-free Utah, on days that would otherwise have featured beautiful summer-blue skies, we instead endured a pall of smoke. The only visual plus in all this was that, for most evenings during the smoke siege, the setting Sun transformed into an impressively large orange-red orb as it descended toward the horizon. And on several nights the waxing gibbous Moon looked like a Blood Moon.

In the top photo above, taken on Aug. 22, 2015, the Sun is dropping through smoke beyond Great Salt Lake’s Antelope Island — which wasn't even visible until the day’s last light turned the island’s high ridges into silhouettes. In the bottom photo, taken on Aug. 23, 2015, the half-Moon looks like a fruity orange segment beside Utah’s State Capitol dome, in Salt Lake City. In both cases, the Sun and the Moon have slipped into the forest fire’s haze, and the low blanket of smoke is filtering out most of the light spectrum, emphasizing such colors as orange and red.

In the daytime, the smoke degraded valley air quality — and turned Utah’s mountainous spine (inset photo) into a Western version of the Great Smoky Mountains. This view is from a little over 9,000 ft (2743 m), high above Sanpete Valley.

Photo Details: Top - Camera Model: NIKON D3200; Lens: Sigma 150-500mm F5-6.3 DG OS APO HSM; Focal Length: 150mm (35mm equivalent: 225mm); Aperture: ƒ/5.0; Exposure Time: 0.077 s (1/13); ISO equiv: 3200. Bottom - Same except: Focal Length: 500.0mm (35mm equivalent: 750mm); Aperture: ƒ/11.0; Exposure Time: 0.0025 s (1/400); ISO equiv: 400. Inset - Same as Top except: Lens: AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED; Focal Length: 140mm (35mm equivalent: 210mm); Aperture: ƒ/11.0; Exposure Time: 0.0020 s (1/500); ISO equiv: 250.


  Note: Today marks the 15-year anniversary of the Earth Science Picture of the Day.