Time-Lapse Video Shows Gulf Oil Spill From Space

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NASA satellites have been watching the disaster in the Gulf for weeks. Now the agency has released a video that shows just how far and how quickly the spill spread.

The DeepWater oil rig exploded on April 20, leading to what would become the worst oil spill in U.S. history. And since then, NASA's MODIS satellite has watched the spreading sheen of oil with its digital eyes.

In a new video released by the space agency's Goddard Center, NASA has chosen the images that most clearly show the spill and strung them together into a time-lapse video. When the Sun is at the right angle overhead, the glint of its reflection makes the oil visible.

Oil smoothes the surface of the water, making it a better mirror of sunlight. Close to the Sun’s reflection, oil is lighter than surrounding ocean water, and farther away from the Sun’s reflection, oil is darker than oil-free water. The space agency warns that the relative brightness of any spot is not a perfect indicator of the oil slick’s location or amount: Not all oil appears brighter or darker than nearby water, and not all relatively bright or dark areas are necessarily oil-slicked.

Besides, much evidence points to vast accumulations of oil in underwater plumes, clearly not visible from space. Nevertheless, the movie is dramatic to watch. It collects images through late May, and the satellites have captured dozens of pictures over the weeks since the spill began. You can sift through all of the images yourself on NASA's Rapid Response website.

BP said Monday that the cost of the company's response to the oil spill has reached about $2.65 billion. The costs include spill response, containment, relief well drilling, grants to Gulf states, claims paid, and federal costs.

BP says it has received more than 80,000 claims and made almost 41,000 payments, totaling more than $128 million. BP says the figure does not include a $20 billion fund for Gulf damages it created this month.

Millions of gallons of oil have spilled since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana on April 20, killing 11 workers.