• Washington, USA
  • Terra/MODIS
  • 2015-08-22

Detecting Wildfires from Space

NASA’s Terra satellite orbits 713 km (443 miles) above Earth. Terra’s MODIS instrument can’t “see” flames, but it can detect areas of high heat, or “hot spots.” Each red dot on this image indicates the center of a 1 km (0.6 mile) pixel that is flagged as containing one or more hot spots within the pixel.

A Not-So-Clear Day Over Washington State

Most of the wispy white areas on this image captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite are not clouds, but smoke from burning wildfires. Each red dot is a hot spot designated by MODIS’ Fire and Thermal Anomalies algorithm, which may indicate the location of one or more potential wildfires or other areas with a heat intensity sufficient to be detected by the instrument (such as a gas flare from an oil refinery).


The Earth Observing System Data and Information System is a key core capability in NASA’s Earth Science Data Systems Program. It provides end-to-end capabilities for managing NASA’s Earth science data from various sources—satellites, aircraft, field measurements, and various other programs.

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