Expand chart
Descartes Labs via ESA; Map: Harry Stevens/Axios

This map shows a 2-month average of the abundance of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the air, as sensed from space by the new Sentinel-5P satellite from the European Space Agency.

Why it matters: The image, generated by scientists and data specialists at the space data analysis firm Descartes Labs, shows us the human footprint on the planet. "I find it fascinating that this image would be mostly blank if people weren't here burning stuff," says Tim Wallace, creative lead at Descartes Labs.

Nitrogen dioxide is part of a group of gases referred to as nitrogen oxides, or NOx. NOx is a key contributor to smog and a major health hazard, so monitoring it will help track its major sources.

"Whenever we're burning for either power production or transportation, anything that we’re burning is going to emit NOx," Laura Mazzaro, an atmospheric scientist and environmental engineer at Descartes Labs, tells Axios.

The big picture: NOx has a short atmospheric lifetime, on the scale of hours, so satellite sensors can give a near-real-time picture of combustion worldwide, from the cars leading to Los Angeles smog to biomass burning in the vast forests of Indonesia and South America.

"It affects people's quality of life directly," Mazzaro says.

A lot of point sources visible in the image are to be expected, such as major cities and oil production hubs. However, the hazy bands of NOx over the Amazon and sub-Saharan Africa may be clues to different sources of the compound, and interestingly, the satellite is even able to show typically used shipping routes.

Why you'll hear about this again: Mazzaro says the Sentinel satellite's capabilities could be used for monitoring compliance with environmental agreements, including air pollution reduction commitments on NOx, acid rain and any future regulations on methane pollution, given that it is a potent greenhouse gas that is on the increase.

Go deeper: What We Burn Creates an Eerily Navigable Map of Earth (Medium)

Go deeper

Graham hopes his panel will approve Amy Coney Barrett by late October

Chair Lindsey Graham during a Senate Judiciary Committee business meeting on Capitol Hill Thursday. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Fox News Saturday he expects confirmation hearings on Judge Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the Supreme Court to start Oct. 12 and for his panel to approve her by Oct. 26.

Why it matters: That would mean the final confirmation vote could take place on the Senate floor before the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Texas city declares disaster after brain-eating amoeba found in water supply

Characteristics associated with a case of amebic meningoencephalitis due to Naegleria fowleri parasites. Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Texas authorities have issued a warning amid concerns that the water supply in the southeast of the state may contain the brain-eating amoeba naegleria fowleri following the death of a 6-year-old boy.

Details: The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality issued a "do not use" water alert Friday for eight cities, along with the Clemens and Wayne Scott Texas Department of Criminal Justice corrections centers and the Dow Chemical plant in Freeport. This was later lifted for all places but one, Lake Jackson, which issued a disaster declaration Saturday.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9:30 p.m. ET: 32,746,147 — Total deaths: 991,678 — Total recoveries: 22,588,064Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9:30 p.m. ET: 7,007,450 — Total deaths: 204,486 — Total recoveries: 2,750,459 — Total tests: 100,492,536Map.
  3. States: New York daily cases top 1,000 for first time since June — U.S. reports over 55,000 new coronavirus cases.
  4. Health: The long-term pain of the mental health pandemicFewer than 10% of Americans have coronavirus antibodies.
  5. Business: Millions start new businesses in time of coronavirus.
  6. Education: Summer college enrollment offers a glimpse of COVID-19's effect.