Stunning portrait of Earth from a new European weather sat

By Phil Plait | August 7, 2012 12:30 pm

On July 5, 2012, the European Space Agency launched the Meteosat Second Generation-3 (MSG-3) weather satellite into a geosynchronous orbit about 40,000 kilometers above the Earth. It has several cameras on board, including the Spinning Enhanced Visible and Infrared Imager (SEVIRI) that takes (duh) visible and infrared pictures in 12 different wavelengths (colors). The first image from that camera was just sent back, and it’s an incredibly beautiful shot of our home world:

[Click to enterranate, and holy cow do you want to.]

There is nothing about this picture I don’t love. I think my favorite part is South America, on the left, coming out of night time and into the dawn. But the chains of clouds over Africa are a close second.

SEVIRI has a resolution of 1-3 kilometers, and can take these amazing full-disk shots of Earth. It also has a detector that can measure the amount of sunlight reflecting off the Earth as well as infrared light radiated by the Earth, which are critical measurements needed to better understand global warming. Interestingly, it also has a search and rescue transponder that acts as a relay for emergency distress signals.

MSG-3 is the third of four second generation METEOSAT satellites launched by the ESA; a third generation is even now being designed.

Everything this and the other MSG satellites do is important to our understanding of weather and climate, of course, and I’m glad these are being built and flown. But it doesn’t hurt to also just marvel at the stunning pictures they send us.

Image credit: Eumetsat


Related Posts:

Earth Day, from 40,000 km up
Happy anniversary, Terra!
Weather satellites capture shots of volcanic plume blasting through clouds
Happy autumnal equinox: here’s a year of sunrises

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: Earth, infrared, MSG-3

Comments (45)

Links to this Post

  1. Earth is Pretty » | | August 11, 2012
  1. Joseph G

    Wow! The colors are so crisp. And this is actually a photograph!?*

    *As opposed to those mosaics of surface photos mapped onto a sphere.

  2. That shows very nicely that Spain is mostly desert.

  3. LD

    Check out the contrast between the green of Europe and dry brown of northern Africa…

  4. Richard

    I saw this picture this afternoon. Absolutely stunning!!

  5. Jess Tauber

    Look, Ma! I can see the top of Assad’s head from up here!

  6. Oh. My. That is just amazing.

    Did you *see* the Nile? That line of green that starts at the Mediterranean and peters out around, well, wherever my geography gives out. And the obviously wind-blown features in the Sahara. And that incredible fan of clouds over the Indian Ocean — what the heck is going on there?

  7. lepton

    It is kind of sad those Europeans spend a lot of money on a twelve-color space camera but can’t even frame their land at the center. :-)

  8. cy

    The tropical wave over the Western part of Africa is the one most of the models are turning into a strong hurricane. Also love the green of the vegetation over Africa where that band of clouds tracks (ITCZ – inter-tropical convergence zone)

  9. Grimoire

    The picture is amazing, but it looks too heavily processed to me. I have a hard time believing that the forests and desserts are that strongly coloured. Also, the ocean colour seems too consistent. It is almost like they gave the raw image to an artist who painted in the extra colouring.

  10. Jonathan G.

    Beautiful! How unsurprising to see Britain obscured by cloud and about to be battered by an anticyclone. Now where’s my umbrella? :)

  11. WJM

    Is imagery going to be made available daily? Is there anything equivalent for other longitudes?

  12. Wzrd1

    Thanks, cy. I was about to mention the ITCZ and the impact on fertility of the Earth.
    It never ceases to amaze me how humans can thrive in such harsh environments, such as much of Africa. Especially after spending time out of Djibouti. And my time in the Persian Gulf, on a sub-continent that is quite harsh itself.
    The only thing more amazing is the generosity of the people in such harsh environments.

  13. Bill Nettles

    @WJM There are several equivalent geosynchronous satellites. GOES are the ones that sit at US longitudes. There is one over the Indian Ocean.

    Here’s the link to the METEOSAT page:
    http://www.eumetsat.int/Home/index.htm

    Here’s a good starting point for other images, mostly IR and B&W visible. Happy hunting.

    http://www.goes.noaa.gov/

  14. Bob_In_Wales

    Funny how all the clouds are over the green bits and there are none over the yellowy/brown bits!

  15. Josh

    I like how you can tell it’s summer for us in the northern hemisphere by the angle of the terminator over South America.

  16. John K

    Love the Nile and the Nile Delta standing out there in Egypt. Also, the Okavango Delta in Botswana, which I never knew could be seen from space! The shadows in the cloud layers over South South America are amazing too!

  17. Matt B.

    The satellite’s name reminds me of the MMORPG from Futurama:
    World of World War II 3.

    Now that I think about it, the horizontal stripes of desert and greenery on Earth remind me of Jupiter’s bands and zones.

  18. MadScientist

    SEVIRI not only provides information crucial to weather forecasters but some of the infrared channels can be used to check for volcanic ash and SO2 every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day. I think the priorities can also be set so that the volcanic observations can be as frequent as once every 5 minutes (but to be honest I don’t think there’s much value in producing SO2/ash images every 5 minutes).

  19. Mark'Dman

    Is it positioned exactly over the Prime Meridian (longitude 0)? Looks pretty darn close.

  20. Stjnky

    Are there any night shots from this perspective? I’d kinda like to see some glowing cities.

  21. WOW! What a photograph! That is beautiful. It’s so crisp! I’d love this as a poster, *hint, hint*. :)

  22. Fantastic picture. Makes me think about how every speck of life we know about in the whole universe exists in a thin, vulnerable film on a ball of rock. (And a few people just barely above it, in LEO.)

  23. Mark'Dman

    I’ll answer my own question: not quite. It’s at about 3.5 degrees W.
    http://www.satellite-calculations.com/Satellite/Catalog/38552.htm

  24. Blargh

    @ Grimoire

    The picture is amazing, but it looks too heavily processed to me. I have a hard time believing that the forests and desserts are that strongly coloured. Also, the ocean colour seems too consistent. It is almost like they gave the raw image to an artist who painted in the extra colouring.

    I’d guess it’s a false color IR/visible light composite.

  25. WJM

    @Bill Nettles but the publicly-available GOES imagery is useful and all, but not very pretty.

    I want real-time real-colour views of entire hemispheres plz kthxbye! (Not too much to ask, is it?)

  26. Daniel J. Andrews

    Speaking of beautiful shots, just came across this video clip of earth from a probe sent to Mercury. Probably been seen before but it was my first time seeing it.
    http://lightsinthedark.wordpress.com/2012/08/07/goodbye-earth/

  27. Chipsa

    I’m pretty sure it’s a multispectral image, at 1.8u, 0.8u, and 0.6u for the filters. That is to say, far IR, near IR, and visible.

  28. Venture Free

    Slightly off topic: I recently saw a blog post somewhere (maybe it was actually a news article?) that included an interactive “map” of the US budget as a way of showing just how small NASA’s budget is in relation to everything else. I was thinking it was this blog, but I can’t seem to find it. It was definitely a pro-science source, so I’m hoping someone else here saw it, too. Does anyone happen to know what I’m talking about?

  29. Infinite123Lifer

    15. Josh Says:
    “I like how you can tell it’s summer for us in the northern hemisphere by the angle of the terminator over South America.”

    Nice observation!

    28. Venture Free asked:

    “I recently saw a blog post somewhere (maybe it was actually a news article?) that included an interactive “map” of the US budget as a way of showing just how small NASA’s budget is in relation to everything else.”

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2012/02/13/white-house-asks-for-brutal-planetary-nasa-budget-cuts/

    Not sure if thats the right 0ne or not, map may not be interactive and it is from 2011 but it might be a start.

  30. Nigel Depledge

    Grimopire (9) said:

    The picture is amazing, but it looks too heavily processed to me. I have a hard time believing that the forests and desserts are that strongly coloured. Also, the ocean colour seems too consistent. It is almost like they gave the raw image to an artist who painted in the extra colouring.

    Well, since the satellite taking this is sensitive to twelve fairly narrow wavebands, including IR, I would be surprised if the colours were perfectly natural.

    And, speaking of coloured desserts, I have had cakes that have been vividly coloured indeed. It just depends on how much food colouring you add. Or did you mean deserts? ;-)

    Having said that, of course, most of Britain and much of northern Europe are actually green, seen from the ground and from the air. The colour in this photo does not look – to my eyes – to be very far off reality.

  31. David

    I hope they take a photo of this view (here simulated in Google Earth): http://www.ironicsans.com/2006/09/waterworld.html

    Will its geosynchronous orbit allow for that?

  32. @28. Venture Free asked :

    Slightly off topic: I recently saw a blog post somewhere (maybe it was actually a news article?) that included an interactive “map” of the US budget as a way of showing just how small NASA’s budget is in relation to everything else. I was thinking it was this blog, but I can’t seem to find it. It was definitely a pro-science source, so I’m hoping someone else here saw it, too. Does anyone happen to know what I’m talking about?

    Yup. I think so. Try the link in my name from this very blog or see the item titled :

    Wait, how big is NASA’s budget again?

    posted by the Bad Astronomer on February 16th, 2010 7:52 AM.

  33. Diego Azuaga

    The Okavango Delta is an interesting feature as well.
    Viewing images like this, I realize that some maps are way too north-oriented, placing the acuatorial line far south.

  34. Jeff

    it does show good the equatorial lows over Africa and abundant rain and vegetation

    the subtropical high over the Sahara which is very dry

  35. alfaniner

    “I can see my home from here.”

    Not my house, or even my country, in this picture. But my home. Our home.

  36. ctj

    was this picture taken at full moon? if not, what is the source of the backlighting around south america?

  37. Drew

    Anyone else notice the “hurricane” forming over Denmark? It’s a lot easier to see in the enlargenated view.

    But in all seriousness, why would such a large spiral cloud be forming in Northern Europe? Do they form anywhere given enough time?

  38. Some_guy_from_Mars

    There are no stars in the backdrop.

  39. Graham

    @32, excellent question and the answer is no. The simulation is a perspective projection from a relatively low altitude which is why its mostly water. Geostationary altitudes are over 22000 miles high and see close to half of the planet. Also, this satellite is intended for Europe so it won’t move much past 0 degrees longitude. Older satellites are often moved to different longitudes to fill in gaps in world coverage though.

  40. t_bone

    It is interesting to see the climate zones. The South-Eastern chunk of Spain seems to share a climate zone with Saharan Africa, and the Middle-East. Is this a valid observation, or a coincidence because most of Spain is in a rain-shadow from its network of Sierras in its North West? Any geographers following this blog?

  41. Venture Free

    @33 Messier Tidy Upper

    Wow, thanks! I swear I saw that just the other day. It’s hard to believe it was a post from 2010. Maybe someone on reddit was hard up for karma and decided to re-post an oldie but goodie.

  42. Chris Laurel

    I’m curious what sort of processing they did on this photo. I expect to see the effect of atmospheric scattering, especially near the edges (as in these images from Galileo’s flyby: http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA00728) Anyone know how this effect was subtracted out in order to get such a beautiful and clear image?

  43. Some_guy_from_Mars

    No earth night lights. No stars. FAKE

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