NASA’s Landsat satellites have provided incomparable views of Earthen landscapes since the 1970s. In February, the newest satellite to join the family, called the Landsat Data Continuity Mission, took flight, and thanks to its new imaging technology, the Operational Land Imager, the images of land-masses are more detailed than ever.
A recently released video of a fly-over of a swath of land 185 kilometers wide and 9,000 kilometers long–extending from Russia to South Africa and passing over land almost the entire way–is a testament to the power of the new imaging technology. In this 15 minute video, sped up from the 20 minutes it took the satellite to photograph, the image resolution is high enough that viewers can make out “urban centers, farms, forests and other land uses.”
Like the time-lapse videos created from Landsat data I wrote about earlier this month, the most fascinating scenes are the ones that offer snapshots of man’s touch, whether cities rising out of the desert or irrigation altering a river’s natural course. As one YouTube commenter wrote, “Landsat flew right over the spine of the birthplace of the human species, and at the same time the birthplace of agriculture. This is where we came from, and the environment which might be said to have had the biggest impact on what made us… us. There could almost be no other landscape so interesting to see in one large glimpse as this one.”
And while the 15-minute glimpse is fascinating, what’s possibly more entertaining is the 4-minute highlight reel above, annotated with pop-up graphics explaining the stream of landmarks passing by, from borders, to cities, to mountains, to lakes. Selections include farmland along Russia’s Volga river, irrigated crops along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Iraq, the shores of Lake Victoria in east Africa, and Zimbabwe’s mineral-rich rock formation The Great Dyke. The viewing experience is amplified with world music corresponding to the locations below.
At the end of this month, NASA will hand over control of the satellite to the U.S. Geological Survey, its partner in the project, who will operate the satellite and it make its data available for free.