- Australian brushfires sparked in September have spread for months, leading to a state of emergency in many regions.
- As of the New Year, the blazes have now scorched more than 14 million acres of land, killed about half a billion animals, and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
- The blazes are so large and widespread that satellites in space can easily photograph them from orbit.
- Specialized sensors on satellites that can see through the thick smoke are recording the brushfires’ spread.
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Australia’s raging brushfires are so bad that satellites thousands of miles above Earth can easily spot their flames and smoke from space.
The fires likely started naturally, though experts think human-caused climate disruption has exacerbated hot, arid conditions that fuel the growth of such blazes. Current estimates suggest eastern Australia’s brushfire crisis has scorched more than 14 million acres of land, killed about half a billion animals, and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
The photo above — which shows plumes of smoke roughly half the area of Europe darkening skies as far as New Zealand in a yellow haze — was taken on Thursday by the Japan Meteorological Agency’s Himawari-8 satellite.
Himawari-8 launched in October 2014 and weighs about as much as a Ford F-150 pickup truck. It now orbits over the same point about 22,300 miles above our planet. Using a variety of onboard sensors, Himawari-8, NASA’s Suomi-NPP satellite, and other Earth-monitoring machines are returning stunning imagery of Australia’s dire situation.
Here are some of the most revealing photos, animations, and illustrations of the crisis on Earth as seen from outer space.