Happy anniversary, Terra!

By Phil Plait | February 25, 2010 7:09 am

No, not Terra the Earth, Terra the satellite. NASA’s Earth-observing bird first opened its eyes on February 24, 2000, and for the past decade has been dutifully watching our planet. It has looked upon us at different wavelengths, different resolutions, at different times of day, and different times of year. It has tracked changes, and reported back what it has seen.

And oh, what it has seen! Here is a map made almost entirely of Terra data (small gaps in some coverage were filled with data from GOES weather satellites):


Click to get the massive 85Mb 5400×2700 pixel image. It’s totally worth it. Our planet is very, very pretty.

But Terra is more than just a camera. The data it returns track a lot of key environmental factors for our world. Here are representations of some of the data it takes: growing vegetation, carbon monoxide, aerosols (pollution), elevation, and net radiation (energy in from the Sun and energy radiated away as heat).


Again, click through to see how lovely data can be, or at least how it can be represented.

These maps, these observations, help us understand our own world, how it works, and how we’re changing it. These are all matters related to our very survival, and I’m very glad we have tools like Terra helping us ensure that.

Image credits: Marit Jentoft-Nilsen (image) and Robert Simmon (globes)

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Pretty pictures, Science
MORE ABOUT: Earth, Terra

Comments (31)


    Is it just me or is anyone else not getting “the massive 85Mb 5400×2700 pixel image” after attempting to download it? I’ve tried Firefox 3.6 and IE8, and neither of them work.

  2. It may just take a while to download. Try doing a “Save As”.

  3. I always felt like I was being watch…….. and they told me that I was paranoid and delusional. Now I know that not only are the watching me, they are measuring the amount of carbon I produce, my elevation and my net radiation. Tricky little devils aren’t they. This is all a part of the plot by Major League Baseball.
    On a side note, how long is that satellite supposed work?

  4. Nice earth visualizations. i like them.

  5. WJM

    Thanks for the clarification, because, as we should all know by know, Terra (the planet’s) birthday isn’t until October 23rd. :)

  6. Plutonium being from Pluto

    To the eponymous tune :

    Happy birthday to you
    Happy birthday to you
    Happy birthday dear T – E-R-R-R-A!
    Cripes that’s the wrong acro-nymn! ;-)

    @ 1. IVAN3MAN@LARGE Says:

    Is it just me or is anyone else not getting “the massive 85Mb 5400×2700 pixel image” after attempting to download it? I’ve tried Firefox 3.6 and IE8, and neither of them work.

    Not just you. I’m not getting it and taking forever to load here too. :-(

    Are we getting a bit too ambitious with file sizes now are we BA? ;-)

    (I’ll forgive you – I get carried away with things myself on occassion. Nor am I good with always getting computers to work either. )

    One small nitpick :

    Terra the satellite. NASA’s Earth-observing bird first opened its eyes on February 24, 2000,

    Hang on, isn’t today the twenty-fifth? ;-)

  7. rob

    you know, i have had a sneaky feeling that i have been watched for the past decade. better add more foil to my hat.

  8. Man, 85 megs seems like a lot for 5400×2700. They could probably crank up the compression without losing any visible detail.

  9. gss_000

    Bittersweet that this is happening the same day that news is coming out ICESat is over after 6 years of service (it was only supposed to last 3).

  10. coryy

    The second set of images makes me think of the last scene in “Until the End of the World” , with the female protagonist spinning weightlessly in the space station, keeping tabs on the pollution levels of the earth….

  11. CJSF

    It always impresses me how much cloud cover Earth usually has. I also notice that most of it is over water in the image presented here.


  12. Jim

    Why spend all this money when we have Glen Beck to sit in front of a camera and be able to say global warming must not exist? seems scientists are not using their brains :)


    Phil Plait:

    It may just take a while to download. Try doing a “Save As”.

    Well, I tried that (I always do so for massive TIFF images!), but it still does not work; Adobe Photoshop Album states: File failed to load.

    Ah, sod it!

  14. Ken

    I worked on building the Level-Zero Processing system (EDOS) that supports Terra, Aqua, Aura and ICEsat; thanks for pointing out Terra’s 10th birthday.

  15. Sharku

    The Gimp can’t open it either and complains that it’s a 16 bit / channel PSD file.

  16. I can’t get the pic to open with anything either.

    Edit: Except for the QuickTime PictureViewer, but that can’t export it or resize it or anything.

  17. Johan Stuyts

    I had problems viewing the file too and what the Gimp of Sharku said is correct: it is a PSD file instead of a JPEG. So change the extension from ‘jpg’ to ‘psd’ and enjoy (if you have a viewer that is capable of showing Photoshop files that is).

  18. Danno

    Image comes up in XnView, but I receive a message stating, “The picture will be converted to RGB with 8bits per component”

    Reading the embedded metadata , looks like the file is a IDL TIFF file created in Photoshop and having the original name of “new_modis_clouds.psd”

    Perhaps someone performed a rename and did not export to jpg properly.

  19. Christine

    I can’t open the file either. Rats.

  20. Try right clicking and chose “save target as” and it will d/l just fine…

  21. D

    I had trouble with the image too (GIMP user). So, I used #19 Danno’s program and converted it to a JPG. Here is the 1600×800 (1161Kb) file on ImageShack: .

  22. D

    Okay I made a mistake. So, I will put the ImageShack address as Website info (click my name to go to the image?).



    Perhaps someone [at NASA] performed a rename and did not export to jpg properly.

    Probably the same person who got the metric/imperial units of the Mars Climate Orbiter mixed up!

    P.S. John Moore, the problem is not downloading the file; the problem is opening the bloody file!

  24. Renaming the file to FILE_NAME.psd then opening it in Photoshop works.

  25. QuietDesperation

    I thought you were going to with the Earth a happy birthday.

    A happy 6045th birthday.

    (QD runs and hides)

  26. John

    “Renaming the file to FILE_NAME.psd then opening it in Photoshop works.”

    Yes that worked for me. I had to change the windows folder options to show the extension so I could edit it.

    I good old days of DOS you could do that much easier in one command.

  27. Mike

    Like many a people here have already observed the file is incorrectly named as .jpg and thus many a simple program fail to open it. My recent version of GIMP opened it just fine and after I saved it as JPEG it opens up anywhere. I guess some people don’t understand that the last three letters after the dot at the end of a filename are not supposed to be there just for decoration… ( although they really are ).

    Perhaps someone with the right contacts could point this out to the NASA dudes as well?

  28. t-storm

    you say at different times of day. it looks to me like the orbit is a sun synchronus orbit which means that over any given spot on the earth the sun is in the same position. that sounds like the same time of day to me, at least relatively.
    any thoughts?

  29. Yes! Thank you @Danno #19. The XnView app was able to open the file and convert to the actual JPEG format. I knew 83 megs was too large for a JPEG of those dimensions.

  30. Oops: I inadvertently uploaded the wrong version of the large image. It’s now a much more modest 6 MB JPEG. BTW: if you discover problems on the NASA Earth Observatory, hit the “contact us” link at the bottom of each page.


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