The Effects Of Coronavirus Can Actually Be Seen From Space

There's a new Chinese phenomenon visible from space, and this one has nothing to do with keeping the rampaging Mongol horde at bay. The effects of the novel Wuhan coronavirus–the germ responsible for the budding COVID-19 pandemic — were picked up by a NASA satellite monitoring air pollution over mainland China. The impact is obvious even to the untrained eye: COVID-19 has caused a significant decrease in air pollution over the area surveyed. These effects are likely a result of reductions in productivity and social distancing, rather than mortality caused by the disease. Think of it as a silver lining to the dark rain cloud of an international pandemic with a 2.5% mortality rate: we all get cleaner air!

Fei Liu, a researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center issued a statement on the satellite team's findings: "This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event. This year, the reduction rate is more significant than in past years and it has lasted longer. I am not surprised because many cities nationwide have taken measures to minimize spread of the virus."

Pictures show steep decline of atmospheric NO2 since the outbreak in Wuhan

According to Live Science, both NASA and European satellite instruments noted a substantial drop in NO2 pollution beginning in January when the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China began to take off. Researchers at the NASA Earth Observatory believe that travel restrictions within China may also be to blame for the reduction in atmospheric pollution. Environmental scientists classify NO2 as a harmful pollutant. It's emitted by power plants, gas-powered vehicles and most burning of fossil fuels.

The image above shows the dramatic decline in NO2 concentrations over just two months. According to Liu, the images resemble data collected in 2008 during the global financial crisis, though the 2008 reductions in NO2 pollution happened over a longer period of time. As the virus continues its troubling spread, draconian containment measures inside China may generate further reductions in atmospheric pollution. The Chinese Communist Party has already closed businesses and mandated restrictions on travel. As the public health crisis gets worse, NASA will be keeping its eye on the sky to keep reporting that silver lining.