In Brief

Giant Washington Wildfire Spotted from Space (Photo)

Western Wildfires from Space, August 2015
This image of wildfires throughout the western United States was collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite on Aug. 23, 2015. Actively burning areas are outlined in red. (Image credit: NASA/Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team)

A new satellite photo captures the wildfires raging throughout the American West, including the biggest conflagration in the history of Washington State.

The photo, which was taken Sunday (Aug. 23) by NASA's Earth-observing Aqua satellite, shows just how bad this fire season has gotten in the western United States. Dozens of active blazes are visible throughout California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana.

The largest fire of them all is the Okanogan Complex burn, which started with a lightning strike on Aug. 15 and has since grown to cover more than 400 square miles (1,036 square kilometers). Three firefighters died last week trying to beat back the blaze.

You can keep tabs on the large wildfires sweeping through the West, and learn more about each one of them, at this site maintained by the United States Forest Service:

The Aqua satellite has been studying Earth's water cycle with six different instruments since its 2002 launch. The spacecraft snapped the new natural-color image using its Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS. MODIS' thermal bands detected actively burning areas, which are colored red in the photo, NASA officials said.

Wildfires aren't the only natural disasters Aqua keeps an eye on. The satellite also provides researchers with detailed imagery of hurricanes, such as Super Typhoon Soudelor, which pounded a number of islands throughout the Pacific earlier this month.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.