NASA Space Image Reveals Vast Amounts of Smoke Being Produced by Devastating Australia Wildfires

NASA's Terra satellite has captured images revealing the vast quantity of smoke produced by wildfires currently raging in the east of Australia.

The trail of smoke is so large it extends across the entire length of the southern Pacific Ocean and has even crossed the tip of South America into the Atlantic, according to the space agency.

Since September, roughly 2.7 million acres have burned in the southeastern state of New South Wales. The fires are being fueled by a combination of several factors, including very dry air, high winds, dry lightning and hot temperatures.

Around 70 fires are still raging in New South Wales—where the city of Sydney is located—while a similar number are currently burning in the northeastern state of Queensland. Several fires have also broken out in the state of Western Australia on the other side of the country with officials warning of extremely dangerous conditions there, the BBC reported.

The Terra image was snapped on November 13, showing the worrying scale of the fires at this time—with the scorching Australian summer still yet to come.

Terra is a school-bus-sized satellite weighing more than 11,000 pounds and equipped with five instruments designed to take measurements of various aspects of the Earth's environment. Launched in December 1999, it completes an orbit of our planet every 99 minutes.

NASA satellites such as these are often the first to detect wildfires burning in remote areas. Once operators receive the data, the locations of the blazes are sent to officials on the ground in the respective countries within hours.

Australian authorities say that four people have died as a result of the fires, while at least 300 homes have been destroyed or damaged in New South Wales, the BBC reported.

On Tuesday, officials issued a "catastrophic" fire warning for the greater Sydney area—the first time this has ever happened.

Australia bushfires
The state of New South Wales (NSW) in southeastern Australia is continuing to experience devastating bushfires. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

The forecast for the next few days in NSW is not looking promising despite cooler conditions, according to officials.

"Even in these pretty benign conditions we're seeing quite a lot of aggressive fire behavior simply because it's so dry," Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said.

Authorities say it may take "many weeks" to contain all the fires that are currently burning, Deutsche Welle reported.

"Unfortunately, what we need is rain, and there is certainly nothing in the forecast for the foreseeable future that's going to make any discernible difference to the conditions that we are experiencing," Shane Fitzsimmons, New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner, said.

Aside from the immediate dangers of wildfires, the release of large amounts of smoke into the atmosphere has the potential to cause health problems, researchers say.

A 2017 study published in Nature Geoscience, for example, found that pollution from wildfires—which consists of soot and other fine particles known to be dangerous to human health—is much worse than previously thought.

"Naturally burning timber and brush from wildfires release dangerous particles into the air at a rate three times as high as levels known by the Environmental Protection Agency, the authors found," NASA spokesperson Lynn Jenner told Newsweek. "The study also found wildfires spew methanol, benzene, ozone and other noxious chemicals. Residents that smell smoke or see haze in the air should take precautions against breathing too much of it and stay tuned to local air quality information."

This article was updated to include comments from Lynn Jenner.