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Watch the Oil Spill As It Changes

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Thermal image showing Mississippi River Delta


Some of the most reliable witnesses to the changes in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill have been satellites in orbit. A newly released NASA video traces the changes that have taken place in the spill's extent--and there's more where that came from. Much more, in terms of pictures, as well as petroleum.

NASA's regularly updated roundup of Gulf spill imagery features views from two of the space agency's Earth-observing satellites, Terra and Aqua. Those two polar-orbiting probes are equipped with imaging spectroradiometers that send back data over a wide range of wavelengths. The oil on the surface shows up as a silvery sheen, glinting in the sun.

Other instruments on the satellites pick up thermal imagery of the Gulf. Vegetation shows up in red, and oil on the water has a silvery look. The image acquired on May 24 highlights a mysterious dark patch of water at upper left. NASA says the dark color may indicate the use of chemical dispersants, skimmers or booms. Or it may merely reflect natural differences in turbidity, salt content or organic matter in the coastal waters.

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