Mosaic of home

By Phil Plait | January 25, 2012 10:05 am

Just before Halloween last year, NASA launched into orbit the improbably named National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project, which they thankfully shortened to NPP. In its low 800 km (500 mile) orbit it looks down at the Earth to investigate our environment. It only sees a portion of the Earth at any one time, but if you take observations taken during a single day — say, on January 4, 2012 — and stitch them all together, you get this magnificent shot:

[Click to engaiaenate, or download the Big McLarge Huge 8000 x 8000 pixel version.]

Man, the resolution is so high is like you’re actually there.

Oh wait.

In fact, the biggest version is 8000 pixels across, and the Earth is about 8000 miles wide, so the resolution is about a mile per pixel. We’re not seeing the entire hemisphere here, but the view is roughly 8000 km across (judging from the size of the US compared to the view). The big image is 8000 pixels wide, so the resolution of that mosaic is about 1 km/pixel. The Earth is big.

NPP was recently renamed Suomi NPP in honor of Verner Suomi, a pioneer in using satellites in meteorology. I like that we tend to name satellites and space probes after people whose work made those very missions possible, or for people we honor and respect (my favorite is still Sojourner, the Mars rover named after Sojourner Truth… with the bonus of the name being a pun).

Apropos of nothing, I’ll note the images making up this seamless mosaic were taken around the same time the Earth was at perihelion, when it was closest to the Sun in its orbit. There is nothing particularly important about that fact, but still… when I see pictures like this I think about how amazing our planet is, and how wonderfully well-adapted we are to it. Evolution is a stochastic process, a semi-random series of bumps and false starts that literally made us who were are today. But that doesn’t change the feeling of comfort I get when I see a picture of Earth, floating in space, sitting in the brightest and warmest sunlight of the year.

It’s home, and I’m glad we’re taking such a close look at it.

Related posts:

New satellite gets INSANELY hi-res view of Earth
Rosetta takes some home pictures
Earth from Rosetta
What does a lunar eclipse look like from the Moon?

MORE ABOUT: Earth, perihelion, Suomi NPP

Comments (40)

  1. Cindy

    Is that in visible or in IR? It’s weird to see so little snow cover in US & Canada.

  2. icewings

    Wow, from only 500 miles away you can’t even tell that the planet is infested with humans.

    Beautiful picture. Earth is a beautiful goddess.

  3. Lee from NC

    Awesome MST3K “Space Mutiny” reference! One of my favorites from them. Oh, also too, great picture. :)

  4. I’d like to point out a small correction: it’s not a full day’s worth of data, and it’s not a view of the whole hemisphere. Think of it as a picture taken with a huge huge fish-eye lens. Great image, though.

  5. Gary

    Very cool to see the thin atmospheric layer around the rim of the globe.

  6. Rob (#4): True enough, and thanks. I updated the text.

  7. Cindy: It’s true-color, and you don’t see much snow both because it’s a relatively snow-free winter so far, and the image doesn’t extend all that far north (roughly to the border with Canada).

    Gary: The atmosphere on the limb is simulated. The instrument (VIIRS) looks almost straight down, and can’t see the horizon. The creator of the image may be doing an improved full-disk version with a more accurate atmosphere, but we need to find the time.

  8. Derek

    The image that comes up from the 8000x link is showing as 1000x for me…
    And my next question just got answered…
    This one may as well.

    Phil: Seriously, though, what a first picture of the day to see!
    I assume NASA images are Public Domain? As in, could I have this blown up to be the ceiling of my rec room?

  9. Looking at the Michigan area, there are a lot of very straight narrow clouds. Are those natural formations, or contrails?

  10. Rob (7): Heh, I wondered about the atmosphere, since it’s too thick. I figured the images were mapped onto a 3D surface, but it would be interesting to see the actual technique used.

  11. Jeff

    I’ve many times flown between Florida and California and studied the vistas out the plane window. It is very obvious, what you can see on this photo, that the green vegetation starts thinning out to full desert somewhere over Texas. That always whoas me on the plane, and I can see it clearly here

    and check out that ridge of green forest in northern Arizona, I’ve flown from Phoenix to Flagstaff in a small plane, and as you go uphill, you can see the vegetation increasing at higher elevations of AZ.

  12. Derek (8): When I click the link I get the 8000 pixel version. Does your browser automatically shrink it to fit the window? Click the picture it grabs to see.

  13. Rob: Thanks! I learned something new today :)

  14. Fritriac

    I really hope they’ll do the same with the other side of the Atlantic Ocean!
    I can’t see my home on this one… ^^

  15. Pete Jackson

    Just a fantastic view!

    What would be really nice would be for an image of the whole planet on a given day, so you could view any portion of it like we have here, but where you could move to any other vantage point google-earth style by dragging your mouse. Not asking for much, am I?

  16. Phil,

    Technical details from Norman Kuring: “I used the l2gen program written by members of the Ocean Biology Processing Group to generate Earth surface reflectances in bands M5 (662-682 nm), M4 (545-565 nm), and M2 (436-454 nm) from NOAA SDR files collected over four orbits on January 4, 2012. I then mapped the reflectances for each of the orbits to a vertical, near-sided perspective projection with the perspective point 2124 kilometers above 20 North by 100 West and composited the four orbits together into the “marble” that you see.”

  17. I think I can see my house! 😀

  18. Eugene

    Speaking of Mars rovers, I’d like to point out that Opportunity landed on Mars exactly eight years ago today :)

  19. Derek

    Phil (13): It’s just Safari on iOS that is changing it to 1000×1000 (not the shrink to window format from days of yore… It’s STILL. far too large at 1000x for the phone to do anything with other than display it for a moment [after it finally saved it to the Camera Roll]. I only have a 3GS. The newer iPhones may work it. No selections within Safari on how to load images. Skyfire browser loads as 1000x. Opera, bless its heart, tries to load it at 8000x, but fails.
    Safari on my desktop PC vomits trying to load it.

    As for other PC browsers, it depends on how image handling is set. I am able to get it full size in IE, though it first displays smaller “on screen.” Same with every other browser (except Safari as noted; though it’s always been horrid on PC…). Proceed now with people telling me to buy a Mac, yet not offering to pay for it.

    Also, is the image public domain? It is my tax money, but I know some things can change that. I’ve a friend with access to large scale photo transfer machines & he says the 8000×8000 will work if I don’t go too large. Apparently he works with raw images that seem insane to me…

    Oh… To all involved. It’s beautiful. Amazing. Fantastic work to everyone!
    Great post, Phil, and always great to see edits as needed. ((:
    I agree 100% on naming all the equipment, and am saddened that all of NASA’s work isn’t front page news world wide. Especially STEREO. My friends in Northern Europe wondered how I knew to tell them to watch for lights before anyone ((: ( /me nods to Spaceweather )
    I’ll stop raving about the importance of NASA before I have to break out the Neil Rage ((:

  20. Derek

    Good lord, Phil… Edit that as you see fit!
    This is what happens when an unemployed IT guru
    (and armchair astrophysicist) gives himself a
    de-stress day. Lol! (literally)
    Cheers, buddy!

  21. Hampus

    Beautiful! But what’s the chance of it being inhabited by intelligent life?

  22. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Hampus : Remote! 😉

    But yet it is – at least at this brief moment in its long, loo-oong history. Well sort of. It does have octopi, elephants and some dogs’n’cats which are pretty smart anyhow! 😉

    Great picture. Home sweet home. :-)

  23. Messier Tidy Upper

    Man, the resolution is so high is like you’re actually there. Oh wait.

    Hmm … If you were there – floating out in space looking down on Earth and even looking down upon the International Space Station then you’d be in pretty big trouble! Have to hope you had a spacesuit, a good supply of O2 & a great propulsion system to get you to safety! 😉

    Interesting and wonderful planet there as this clip :

    by AggManUK shows nicely. :-)

    The Earth is big.

    Well relatively. This clip starting with Pluto :

    & this one :

    with another dramatically different take on size contrasts too puts it in perspective, size~wise though. :-)

  24. Messier Tidy Upper

    @19. Eugene :

    Speaking of Mars rovers, I’d like to point out that Opportunity landed on Mars exactly eight years ago today.

    Thanks for that observation. Well spotted. :-)

    NASA has a good news link on that here :

    Astounding that these rovers – Opportunity especially – have lasted so very much longer than expected in the tough martian conditions in an incredible feat of (robotic) endurance.

    Congrats to her engineers and drivers. :-)

    A superluminously marvelous musical tribute to both rovers can be found here :

    Featuring Marian Call at her best. :-)

    Plus those “good old girls” NASA homepage is here :

    although, regrettably, it does not seem to have a mission elapsed time post-countdown clock there which might have been a good touch. Oh well, still makes a pretty good resource / site.

  25. kat wagner

    Home Sweet Home is right. You’d think we’d be taking better care of her since she’s the only home we’ve got. I’m sorry I’m such a downer. And it is a beautiful photo.

  26. andy

    Whenever these large mosaics of the planet from space are assembled, we hardly ever do it for the hemisphere containing the Pacific Ocean, instead choosing to put one of the continents centre-stage. Similarly we usually put the Pacific at the edge of the map, effectively hiding the vast stretch of ocean. Not saying it isn’t understandable why we do this since we are land-living creatures and all, but it does seem to end up resulting in hiding away our planet’s largest ocean.

  27. VinceD

    The christening of “Big McLarge Huge” is one of my favorite MST3K moments of all time!

  28. Dragonchild

    Yeah, OK, North America did look unusually large, and I was thinking, “Where’s South America?”

    But the one thing that really stands out about these sorts of pictures: No political boundaries. You can’t see where America ends and Mexico begins. If humans were advanced enough to all get along, there’d be no such thing as an international border.

    As for the simulated atmospheric limb, once again, it looks like Druidia.

  29. Chris

    A strange thing to note as pointed out by Wunderground’s Jeff Masters. This is January, where is all the snow? Also the US is unusually cloud free.

  30. Calli Arcale

    Chris — good question. This has been an unusually dry and warm winter for many parts of the United States. Here in Minnesota, we had a brown Christmas. (I declared it a “technical white Christmas” because we got a teensy dusting that hadn’t completely melted off by the morning of Dec 24. It was gone by noon, though.) There’s maybe an inch on the ground now, but that all fell since this data for this picture was collected.

    Last year, most of our cities had blown through their plowing budget by Christmas. This year, they’ve barely gotten the salt trucks out, and have been keeping the staff employed by trimming hedges and things.

  31. BigMak

    I keep wanting to zoom in and around the picture a la Google Earth.

    I am curious about how this was processed. If you blow the picture up to its maximum size and center the view on the great salt lake in Utah, the northern half is blue and southern half, green. It would seem that the line dividing the two was probably a boundary line between two images but why the different colors? I also noticed that there is a small appendage off the southern half that is, itself, blue, not green.


  32. Geomaniac

    I saw this on io9 and it is now my wall paper. If only someday I can get a similar shot with my own camera…

  33. DP in CA

    Awesomely beautiful picture, but I have to say I’m glad I wasn’t in Brazil when it was taken — I can’t SWIM.

  34. Lorena

    I just saw on my facebook that somebody shared the image that i post in the link below
    as a blue marble from 1978 comparing to the blue marble of 2012. and voila! forests are disappearing in america. instead of believing anything pasted on facebook I did my research and found out that the one on the left is a 2001 composite of picture from MODIs. and I tried to explain it to the raging people who were commenting.

  35. Matt B.

    I still have all the action hero names from MST3K’s Space Mutiny written down (Stump Chunkman always gets me), along with some I made up: Ram Soaksweat, Fleet Gunwale, Flex Grindboot, Jab Shagpoke, Race Bulletpoint, and one I use for women’s brutish boyfriends, Whack Dragknuckle. Unfortunately, that volume of MST3K DVDs is no longer available.


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