NASA images show intensity of Category 5 Hurricane Irma

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA researchers are giving a look at how big and powerful Hurricane Irma is as it moves toward Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

On Wednesday, Irma was moving west-northwest at about 16 mph and NASA said it is expected to continue that general motion for the next couple of days.

It’s too early to tell whether it will make landfall on the U.S. mainland, but forecasts show it could move toward Florida over the weekend.

The Category 5 storm is now one of the strongest ever recorded in the Atlantic and is clearly visible from space.

“We’re tracking the storm and seeing a well-defined eye,” NASA tweeted Wednesday morning.

(Images: NASA)

NASA said its GPM core observatory satellite had an “exceptional view” of Irma, and found extreme rainfall within the storm’s eyewall.

GPM’s radar revealed “extremely powerful” thunderstorms around the eye were reaching heights of more than 10 miles.

NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite passed over Hurricane Irma at 11:35 p.m. MDT Tuesday, when the island of Barbuda was in the center of the storm’s eye.

Irma’s eye was bigger than Barbuda, meteorologist Jenn Varian said. It packed winds of 185 mph.

(Image: NASA-NOAA)

Researchers are also tracking lightning strikes within the storm.

The storm strengthened to a Category 5 storm around 6 a.m. MDT on Tuesday.

On Monday, the Suomi NPP satellite captured a view of Hurricane Irma as a Category 4 hurricane approaching the Leeward Islands.

(Image: NOAA/NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team)