December 13 2017

First Light Image from NOAA-20’s VIIRS Instrument Captures Thomas Fire

NOAA-20 VIIRS First Light Image Captures One of the Largest Wildfires in California History (Image generated by NOAA’s Center for Satellite Applications and Research and the NOAA Visualization Lab)


Twenty-five days after JPSS-1 (NOAA-20) was launched into Earth orbit, NOAA-20 sent back its first Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) science data on December 13, 2017, as part of a series of instrument activation and checkouts that is taking place before the satellite goes into fully operational mode. VIIRS is one of the key five instruments onboard NOAA-20 that will improve day-to-day weather forecast and environmental monitoring, while extending the record of many long-term observations of Earth's climate.

This VIIRS true color image captures the aggressive wildfires in Southern California, which forced thousands to flee their homes. As of Wednesday morning, December 13, 2017, the Thomas Fire was the fourth-largest fire in California history, and it continues to generate smoke and plumes as it enters its second week. The fire spanned more than 370 square miles and remains the strongest blaze for firefighters to battle in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. NOAA-20 VIIRS will help monitor active fires globally for many years to come.

VIIRS is a scanning radiometer onboard Suomi NPP and JPSS satellites that produces global imagery and radiometric measurements of the land, atmosphere, cryosphere, and oceans in the visible and infrared bands with moderate spatial resolutions at 750m and 375m respectively. The operationally produced VIIRS data are widely used globally to monitor hurricanes/typhoons, measure cloud and aerosol properties, ocean color, sea and land surface temperature, ice motion and temperature, active fires, and Earth's albedo. VIIRS has 22 spectral channels covering a broad electromagnetic spectrum from 0.4μm (visible) to 12.5μm (thermal infrared). These include 14 channels measuring reflected sun-light, and seven channels measuring emitted energy from the earth. In addition, VIIRS has a day/night band (DNB) which can measure faint night lights from human settlements, aurora, and other sources (e.g., fires). The VIIRS data are especially useful for weather forecasting in the polar-regions such as Alaska with frequent temporal coverages. The VIIRS data support the operational production of at least 26 Environmental Data Records (EDRs) with global coverage.

To learn more about VIIRS, see our instrument fact sheet.