Live, from Landsat: the Earth!

By Phil Plait | November 30, 2006 9:31 pm

OK, the Mars pictures are very very cool. But did you know that we have satellites orbiting a closer planet?

Yeah, duh. Earth!

The Landsat satellites have been around a long time (34 years) taking important data about our home planet.

And now you can watch! The USGS has created the EarthNow! Landsat Image viewer, which displays a scrolling continuous image of the Earth as seen from Landsat 5 and 7. I’ve tuned in a few times and have yet to see a live image, but it does say when the next pass of the satellite will be.

There is something vaguely hypnotic with watching the Earth roll by underneath you. At 250 meters per pixel you won’t see too many man-made features (at least not individual ones) but just the terrain itself is relaxing. As I write this, coincidentally, the image passed right over my house! I couldn’t even make out the city of Santa Rosa, which is a decent sized place. I could see Point Reyes and the Farallon islands though. Pretty cool.

All in all, the Mars images are cooler. The higher resolution makes them prettier, and, after all, they’re from another planet! But Earth still ranks high on the list of places I like to live and look at.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Science

Comments (25)

  1. Is it just me or is the image a red/green 3-D image? I don’t have the glasses, but it looks like it’s a 3D image to my eyes.

  2. Hmm, watched it scroll out of the Rockies and it looks “normal” now. must have just been a strange effect.

  3. csrster

    “But did you know that we have satellites orbiting a closer planet?” Worabout Venus? How many satellites do we have there?

  4. Laguna2

    Hey Phil. On the new recording, that is now playing, you can see Santa Rosa.
    Cool, how fast the satellite moves.

  5. The BA Says: “As I write this, coincidentally, the image passed right over my house! I couldn’t even make out the city of Santa Rosa, which is a decent sized place.”

    How about the perpetual traffic jam on 101 through town? Those are always big enough to see from space :-)

    - Jack

  6. Evolving Squid Says: “Is it just me or is the image a red/green 3-D image? I don’t have the glasses, but it looks like it’s a 3D image to my eyes.”

    Mine too, especially with the red and cyan borders on either edge. That is until it got to California and headed out into the ocean, then it looked 2D.

    - Jack

  7. Michelle

    Oi, it’s hard to get a connection on this thing.

  8. Joshua
  9. Joshua

    Oh, and I think I know why the colours are red/blue like that over the Rockies… It’s dawn out there on the west coast. :) The lighted clouds and peaks are orange from the sunlight, the blue areas are in shadow.

  10. did

    Kewl – just caught a live pass from Minnesota to Texas. Lotta funny white stuff down there – I wonder if that’s some of the same white stuff that’s piling up outside here in Michigan? Hmmm….

    did

  11. I am not getting anything, just a black square and Server unavailable :(

  12. Chip

    Landsat 5 was about to pass right over my town so I ran outside and waved and flapped bed sheets at the sky. Later, after returning from the mental clinic where my neighbors had me temporarily admitted, I detected a 16.9 billionth increase in partial pixel brightness over the previous sweep! ;)

    P.S. It is cool to watch the Earth drift by.

  13. Melusine
  14. Beautiful, Phil. Thanks for the linksies.

    Chip – I like you.

  15. squawky

    I think some of the funky colors are due to the “false color” nature of the image — you’re not really seeing a true color image there.

    From the FAQ, the viewer is showing you Bands 5,4,and 3 of Landsat data in red, green, and blue respectively. Band 5 is a near-infrared band (~1.5 microns), Band 4 is another near-infrared band (~0.85 microns), and Band 3 is a visible red band (~0.65 microns).

    Satellite imagery is too cool, in any case — infrared wavelengths or not!

  16. Quiet_Desperation

    >>>you’re not really seeing a true color image there.

    Gosh, I hope not, otherwise there’s something really scary in that snow back East. :)

  17. Chip Says: “Landsat 5 was about to pass right over my town so I ran outside and waved and flapped bed sheets at the sky. Later, after returning from the mental clinic where my neighbors had me temporarily admitted, I detected a 16.9 billionth increase in partial pixel brightness over the previous sweep!”

    In a previous life when I worked on one of those programs that don’t exist, there wasn’t much to do during the time that the AI (Area of Interest) was in night, so we would do “R&D” images of known targets. Occasionally this would include the south bay area and the Sunnyvale AFS where the flights were controlled. The timing of these images was known down to the second, of course, and one time two of the shift supervisors walked outside and laid down, spread-eagled, on the ground next to the flagpole during the film pull. When they walked back inside, the guard didn’t even get the question out before they said, “We lost a bet.”

    - Jack

    PS – Cool that Rebecca likes you!

  18. dial-up and low rez of earth is great over here. the only word i can think of right now that describes that scrolling view of earth’s surface is:

    PSYCHEDELIC

  19. R h F

    The sun goes around the earth. I see it happening every day.

    The earth is flat!!!! Just look outside and it’s obvious.

    Only earth has life.

  20. Chip

    Rebecca – I’m glad my wackiness made you chuckle. If I were scientifically or skeptically eligible to pose for a photo-shoot in your next calendar, my ridiculously pale form when seen from space would surely bounce enough photons to fill a whole pixel.

    Jack Hagerty – I guess those two fellows showed up as actual human forms in the imagery or at least detectible extra dots? (BTW – the Alpha Romeo 2600 – one of my favorites.)

  21. Stevo

    Well spotted [B]csrster[/B]

    Venus is closer to Earth than Mars – and, yes, it is circled by a human artefact -the ESA Spaceprobe Venus express.

    In fact, we’ve got a hat-trick going :

    Venus – Venus Express
    Earth – thousands (?) of satellites from Sputnik to Landsat to HST & ISS ..
    Mars – Mars Express, Marsodysssey, Mars Global Surveyor (silent but circlin’)

    Then we’ve got the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn at present but with nothing round Jove or Neptune or Ouranos or Pluto or Eris ..or Sedna, Ceres, Mercury et al ..

    Correct me if I’m wrong but I think at one time back in the 90′s we had even more consecutive planets circled …

    Venus – Magellan
    Earth -well lots & lots
    Mars – Mars pathfinder, Mars Global Survetor, Mars Odyssey
    &
    Jupiter – Galileo (Given a Viking funeral in the clouds of Jove around late 90′s early-00′s.)

    Anyone know if :

    a) I’m right thinking those orbital missions all overlapped (so to speak)
    b) If we’ve ever done as well or even better in encircling planets by probes in a row?
    &
    c) Whatever happened to the Viking orbiters? Were they re-entered into the Martian atmos or are they still circling silently?

  22. Chip Says: ” I guess those two fellows showed up as actual human forms in the imagery or at least detectable extra dots? (BTW – the Alpha Romeo 2600 – one of my favorites.)”

    First off, yes, you are correct that they were felons, technically, since they did endanger the security of the program (these programs were so secret that not even the guards and facilities people knew what was going on in the building). IIRC, they were reprimanded for that little stunt. Dots? In the resolution of the time (this was film, not CCD), you can easily make them out as human forms, but not (luckily for them) well enough to be identifiable.

    Wow, the 2600! Not a very popular model series, but I think they were great. More of a boulevard cruiser than sports car. That big (well, big for an Alfa) straight six was a beautiful piece of work, but not as responsive as the four. A relaxed powerhouse rather than a sprinter.

    - Jack

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