Turn NASA’s Raw Satellite Imagery Into Beautiful, Embeddable Maps

As NASA’s Landsat 8 satellite circles the globe, you can now easily sort through the pictures it’s taking.

Turn NASA’s Raw Satellite Imagery Into Beautiful, Embeddable Maps
[Top Photo: NASA/Earth Observatory]

In 2012, NASA launched Landsat 8, a satellite that takes full, high-resolution images of the planet every 16 days. All of that imagery is available online, but good luck trying to sort through it all.


A new tool created by micro-satellite and data company Astro Digital makes Landsat’s imagery easy to find. It also then packages that imagery into embeddable maps, like the one below, which shows Massachusetts and Rhode Island with a vegetation overlay.

To use the tool, zoom in on the part of the country that you’re interested in (or just enter in an address), pick a time range, and click on one of the green circles. These represent locations where Landsat has taken images recently. Select one of the images (these are also sorted by cloud cover in the image), choose whether you want to see it in true color or filtered–by either vegetation or urban land–and click “publish.” A few minutes later, you’ll get a personalized map in your email.

There are numerous applications for these moderately-high resolution images. Here’s a before and after image using the vegetation filter that comes from California’s Sierra foothills, illustrating the seriousness of the state’s drought. Lower intensity red, greens, and tan indicate unhealthy vegetation.

This image was taken on October 18th, 2013:


And this one is from October 15th, 2014:

According to Bronwyn Agrios, head of product at Astro Digital, this data–which took just a few minutes to put together–would take a few hours to process with desktop software.

Astro Digital does plan to launch its own micro-satellite constellation in early 2016, but unlike many other startups in the space, it’s also focused on developing an API layer for accessing satellite data from numerous sources (including its own satellites, eventually).

“We want to set up areas of interest around the world and then we just push satellite data into your platform to serve to customers when available,” says Agrios

The Landsat data used in the application discussed here is already open and free, but not traditionally easy to use. “If it’s not accessible, it’s not really open,” says Agrios. “We want to make Landsat a lot more of a usable resource in general.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.