NASA's Blue Marble: 50 Years Of Earth Images - InformationWeek
Software // Information Management
02:59 PM
John Foley
John Foley
Connect Directly
Ransomware: Latest Developments & How to Defend Against Them
Nov 01, 2017
Ransomware is one of the fastest growing types of malware, and new breeds that escalate quickly ar ...Read More>>

NASA's Blue Marble: 50 Years Of Earth Images

NASA's Earth-observing satellites help scientists render photo-like composite images with unprecedented detail. Take a look, from the earliest attempts to the newest stunners.
1 of 16

All five instruments on NASA's new Earth-observing satellite, Suomi NPP, are now operating, giving the space agency new capabilities for monitoring our planet and collecting data for weather forecasting. The data also has a secondary role: It's used to create highly detailed, composite images of the Earth.

One such image released by NASA in January has been viewed nearly four million times on Flickr, making it one of that site's most-viewed images ever. Remarkable for its fine detail and beauty, the image is a manifestation of NASA's most advanced satellite imagery and visualization technologies.

In fact, NASA released two images of the Earth early this year, one of the Western Hemisphere (pictured here) in January, and, a few weeks later, one of the Eastern Hemisphere. They're part of the space agency's "Blue Marble" series, named after a famous photo of the Earth taken by the Apollo 17 crew in 1972.

The newest Blue Marble images are composites of bird's eye views of Earth captured by the Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on board the Suomi NPP (for National Polar-orbiting Partnership) satellite, launched in October 2011. NASA announced on March 7 that Suomi NPP's five instruments have been activated. The mission represents a partnership between NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Department of Defense.

NASA has been photographing Earth for more than 50 years. The first grainy black-and-white photos were beamed back in April 1960 from NASA's Television InfraRed Observation Satellite, or TIROS-1, which carried two small cameras, one for capturing wide views of the Earth (from 450 miles away) and the other for more detailed views. Over three months, the satellite took 23,000 images, which were used mainly for weather forecasting.

In 2000, NASA used data visualizers to compile an image of Earth's western hemisphere using NOAA data. Two years later, the space agency produced a more detailed, "true color" rendering of Earth's surface by stitching together four months of satellite observations of land, the oceans, sea ice, and clouds. Then, in 2005, NASA created "Blue Marble: Next Generation," a year's worth of observations taken mostly by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on board the Terra and Aqua satellites.

With its latest Blue Marble images, NASA has gone a few steps further. The Suomi satellite flies 512 miles above the Earth, but the perspective is as if taken from 7,918 miles. NASA was able to "step back" from the planet by stitching together images taken during six orbits of the Earth and creating a single composite image. The swath of Earth's surface covered by each pass of the satellite is about 1,865 miles wide.

NASA scientist Norman Kuring created the latest Blue Marble images using an Intel-based desktop computer running Ubuntu Linux and open source programs. At full resolution, the new Blue Marble composite images range from 61 megapixels to 137 megapixels. For comparison, Nikon's top-of-the-line D3X digital camera takes pictures at 24.5 megapixels.

What's next? Robert Simmon, a data visualizer and designer for NASA's Earth Observatory who created some of the earlier Blue Marble images, says he plans on making a new version based on a single day's VIIRS data that illustrates the scattering of light in the atmosphere. Image credit: NASA

1 of 16
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Enterprise
How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Enterprise
To learn more about what organizations are doing to tackle attacks and threats we surveyed a group of 300 IT and infosec professionals to find out what their biggest IT security challenges are and what they're doing to defend against today's threats. Download the report to see what they're saying.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
2017 State of IT Report
In today's technology-driven world, "innovation" has become a basic expectation. IT leaders are tasked with making technical magic, improving customer experience, and boosting the bottom line -- yet often without any increase to the IT budget. How are organizations striking the balance between new initiatives and cost control? Download our report to learn about the biggest challenges and how savvy IT executives are overcoming them.
Twitter Feed
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.
Flash Poll