Photo: Zuni Shofi Yatun Nisa/Twitter

The Sky Over Indonesia Turned Blood Red This Weekend

by Eben Diskin Sep 23, 2019

At first glance, you might think this is a NASA image of Mars. Actually, it’s a picture of the skies over Indonesia, which turned red over the weekend due to widespread forest fires. The fires, eerily reminiscent of last month’s Amazon fires, caused a unique phenomenon called Rayleigh scattering wherein small particles produced by the fire multiply and cause the air to appear red. The haze was the result of open burning in Indonesia, which usually takes place between July and October during the dry season.

Zuni Shofi Yatun Nisa captured the phenomenon on video, and posted it to Twitter. In the caption, she wrote: “This is not Mars. This is Jambi. We humans need clean air, not smoke.”

According to Professor Koh Tieh Yong at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, particles about 0.05 micrometers in size are more abundant during periods of haze, and it’s “enough to give an extra tendency to scatter red light more in the forward and backward directions than blue light — and that is why you would see more red than blue.” He added that the reddish effect would appear most dramatic around noon when the sun hangs directly overhead.

Large corporations and small-scale farmers are both responsible for the burning, as they attempt to take advantage of the dry conditions to clear room for palm oil, pulp, and paper plantations. But although open burning may be the easiest way to clear land, it’s also highly dangerous (and illegal) as these fires often spread into protected forest.

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