AstroBob: Wildfire smoke smudges our starry skies

At occasions, you’ll be able to even odor it within the air, although not all the time as a lot of the haze circulates a number of miles overhead. The smoke particles from the fires permit daylight’s longer wavelength colours like pink and orange to get via whereas blocking the shorter wavelengths of yellow, blue and inexperienced. We’re used to this proper at sundown and dawn, when the solar shines by means of the best thickness of the environment. However this summer time, we have seen excessive reddening with the solar a pallid, purple ball with mild so weak, it barely casts shadows.

If you have not but been touched by hearth haze, the fireball solar and a common haziness within the air are your tip-offs. A 2017 Georgia Tech research confirmed the smoke from wildfires spew methanol, benzene, ozone and different noxious chemical compounds into the environment. If the smoke stays within the jet stream and does not descend, the well being dangers are minimal, but when the winds convey the smoke down low, it could trigger unhealthy air high quality.

Because you and I have an interest additionally in how the smoke impacts the night time sky, I can inform you, I’ve by no means seen an extended hearth haze season than this one. Relying on how thick the smoke is the place you reside, I’ve seen nights when solely stars of magnitude three or brighter are seen towards a smoggy, grey — however “clear” — sky. Most nights, stars of 4th and even fifth magnitude are seen within the higher third of the sky, however as you decrease your gaze, the smoke piles up. Within the backside third, the restrict is nearer to magnitude three.

The moon, brilliant double stars and planets aren’t affected as a lot as deep sky objects like star clusters, galaxies and nebulae, however I’ve gone out on a number of hearth-haze nights hoping to search for comets and easily needed to pack it in. One night, the primary after weeks of smoke, started crystal clear, however inside an hour, the haze oozed in from the west and blanketed the a lot of the sky inside an hour.

Usually, in fall, temperatures drop, rain returns and the hearth hazard drops. Let’s hope that occurs quickly. Whereas it is no enjoyable for skywatchers, everyone knows it is worse for householders who reside within the affected areas and people in danger for respiratory issues.

To maintain monitor of lively wildfires throughout the U.S., go to and NASA’s Hearth and Smoke website at

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