An Indonesian province on the eastern side of Sumatra looked more like Mars over the weekend than a tropical island paradise. Why? Forest fires are raging throughout the country, turning skies red.
More than 4,000 hotspots had been flagged in Indonesia as of last week, and the fires have gotten so bad that schools and airports were closed to protect residents from the harmful health effects that could result from breathing in the nasty soot. Farmers set fires at this time of year to clear land for crops and livestock, according to NASA.
Massive forest fires can frequently turn skies red, and the reason is quite simple. Richard Fitzpatrick, a physics professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told Earther that smoke and other particles scatter blue light more than red light because blue light has a higher frequency than red. So instead of seeing our usual blue skies, we see red. The effect is called Rayleigh scattering.
“It’s the same phenomenon that causes the skies around the sun to turn red,” Fitzpatrick told Earther. “It’s a result of the interaction of the light with the smoke particles.”
But while the images may be otherworldly, the impacts can be terrible for human health. Particulate matter can lodge itself into the lungs, causing damage. It can eventually affect a person’s heart, too.
Wildfires have been seemingly everywhere this year from the Amazon Rainforest and to the Arctic. These images are a reminder of yet another part of the world ablaze. I can’t speak for the rest of you, but I’ll take blue skies over red any day. Thank you very much.