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This Planet Earth:  The Vision and Majesty of NASA's Remote Sensing Legacy (Edited version) (Click here for full version of site)

Image 1

Click on pic to play the Landsat Reporter Package (1:37) Caution: 29.5 MB file size.

Note: There are numerous images and animations contained on this page. This may result in longer download imes.  PLEASE CLICK ON PICS TO ENLARGE IMAGES.

Sight yields insight. New observations afford new ideas, and new ideas allow for new levels of understanding. With its strong commitment to developing powerful remote sensing technologies, NASA has led the way in opening stunning vistas for exploration about our home.

Take the Landsat program, now late into its third decade. The ability to see the Earth’s surface in terms that can be visually classified—"thematically mapped," to use the jargon-- have profoundly changed millions of people’s lives and helped shape the future of scientific research about our home planet. Landsat 7 is the latest in a string of highly successful spacecraft. Based on the program’s impressive and consistent successes, researchers have developed daring new ideas for continuing its work into the twenty-first century.

The powerful Earth observing flagship called Terra is beginning to pay remarkable dividends to researchers around the world. With five advanced instruments designed to study the Earth as a collection of interrelated systems, the future of remote sensing is already into its dawn.

Last year an experimental satellite called EO-1 also arrived on orbit. It’s designed to test next generation Landsat-type technologies, as well as try out several entirely new notions in spacecraft design. As you’ll see in the following collection of images, the efforts of those involved in these programs can show us the Earth as most of us have never seen it before.


No doubt about it: these are new. Using data from different spacecraft and some powerful computer technology, visualizers at the Goddard Space Flight Center present you with the following collection of American cities in a way you’ve never seen them before. Starting with our camera high above the Earth, we rush in towards the surface at what would be an impossible speed for any known vehicle. Passing though layers of atmosphere, the colors of our destinations shimmer with their own unique characteristics, and suddenly we find ourselves floating in virtual space just above the ground.

Enjoy the ride!

Featured Cities Include:

  Image 2

Washington, DC  To zoom into DC, click here. Caution 5 MB file size

To zoom out of DC, click here. Caution: 4.5 MB file size

To pan the DC area, click here. Caution: 14.5 MB file size

  Image 3

Atlanta, GA 

To zoom into Atlanta, click here. Caution: 4.4 MB file size

To zoom out of Atlanta, click here. Caution 4.6 MB file size

  Image 4

Los Angeles, CA 

To zoom into LA, click here.
Caution: 4.7 MB file size

To zoom out of LA, click here. Caution 4.6 MB file size

  Image 5

San Francisco, CA 

To zoom into SF, click here. Caution 5 MB file size

To zoom out of SF, click here. Caution 5 MB file size

To pan SF, click here. Caution 25 MB file size

  Image 6

Orlando, FL 

To zoom into Orlando, click here. Caution: 4.6 MB file size

To zoom out of Orlando, click here. Caution: 4.7 MB file size

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  Image 7 

Animation Caution: 14.1 MB file size

There’s no Earth observing telescope parked in orbit. There are no geosynchronous elevators on which a camera can be mounted. The images that went into each of the remarkable city zooms come from data collected by a group of Earth imaging satellites. And while not all of the zoom sequences use precisely the same series of data sets, most do. Plus, those that include data from alternative sources employ techniques similar to the general case described here.

Farthest away we see the Earth as a globe. This comes from data stitched together using information from MODIS, an instrument on Terra. This first picture has a resolution of 8000 meters. As our virtual camera begins its long fall to ground, we pass through a different kind of MODIS information; data in the second layer resolves details as small as 250 meters across. Our measure of detail has just improved dramatically.

Next we find our apparent speed increasing as the surface of the Earth envelops our sense of horizon. The data supporting this perspective comes from the land imaging workhorse of NASA’s fleet: Landsat 7. These images resolve features 15 meters across.

Finally, as we rush in to the limits of Landsat 7’s data capabilities, we move to our final slice of visual information. Taken by a remarkable commercial satellite called Ikonos, features as small as one meter across come into view. Individual cars, trees, and baseball diamonds appear like ghostly apparitions on the ground. In virtual space we’ve traveled far more than a thousand miles…but in real terms, nothing besides electrons, photons, and an elite group of computer and spacecraft personnel have moved to make these images possible. 

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Looking at the Future with Advanced Tools

LANDSAT:  Continuing a Legacy of Earth Observation

  Image 8    Animation (1.74 MB file size)

Landsat 7 is the latest in a series of satellites. From an altitude of 438 miles (730 kilometers), Landsat 7 can see surface features as small as 15 meters, providing world-wide land resource information for a diverse range of uses.

The only scientific instrument onboard the satellite is the Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus, a passive sensor that measure reflected solar radiation (light) from the surface of the Earth. Landsat 7’s ETM+ is a refinement of previous Landsat Thematic Mapper systems.

Landsat 7 is part of a global research effort NASA calls the Earth Science Enterprise, which seeks to acquire a long term understanding of the changes to our planet. The satellite roared into orbit aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket on April 15, 1999 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. NASA officially called the first Landsat satellite the Earth Resources Technology Satellite, or ERTS-1, on July 23, 1972. Since then the program has continued to pave the way in research and data acquisition techniques about the surface of our planet.

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  Image 9   Animation (1.98 MB file size)

On December 18, 1999 NASA launched Terra, paving the way for a new era in orbiting Earth science tools. It’s a multi-national orbiting research platform managed at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. By synchronizing a sophisticated suite of sensors and instruments, Terra will help researchers pursue some of the grandest and most complex questions about the nature of our home planet, including cutting edge research into climate change.

The satellite can simultaneously study clouds, water vapor, aerosol particles, trace gases, terrestrial and ocean properties, and systemic interactions on a planetary scale. In the following sections we take a closer look the five scientific instruments that comprise the Terra platform.

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