NASA's High-Res 'Blue Marble' Image is Sharpest Ever
U.S. space agency NASA has released the highest-resolution images ever taken of Earth, capturing in a single view everything from vast deserts to swirling weather systems to polar icecaps.
The images, one of East Africa and Asia, and the other of North and Central America, are eye-popping.
Not since 1972, when the Apollo 17 astronauts snapped the first famous "Blue Marble" photo, has an image of Earth from space created such buzz. NASA recently posted the images on the photo-sharing site Flickr, where they've gone viral.
Data for the images was beamed down from the mini-van-sized Suomi NPP satellite, which is whipping around the planet in a polar orbit once every 102 minutes at an altitude of 512 miles. That's not tree-top level, but for a satellite it's considered low and fast. Telecommunications satellites, typically parked in geostationary orbits, look down from a lofty 22,236 miles. The Apollo shot was snagged from 28,000 miles away.
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center scientist Norman Kuring, who created the images, said that he did his data crunching on a custom-built 64-bit Linux desktop system powered by an Intel Core 2 Quad CPU. "It's just a grey box by my desk," he said.
Kuring says his Intel-based machine began chewing through the tens of gigabytes of raw satellite data for each image when he went home to eat dinner. About 4 hours later the job was done.
Using GIMP and other open-source image processing software, Kuring used his system to stitch together multiple bands of color and infrared data from satellite images shot during 6 separate Earth orbits. The result is an utterly seamless mosaic of Earth, floating in the black void of space.
Gaze down at the Nile, snaking north toward the Mediterranean, the green jungles belting equatorial Africa, the Indian subcontinent with Sri Lanka, swaddled in clouds off its southern tip. That image was taken less than 3 weeks ago.
NASA officials say more images may be on the way.
The latest NASA "Blue Marble" images have struck a deep chord with earth inhabitants everywhere. The Americas image has now been viewed 3.5 million times, a new record for a single shot on Flickr.
Officials at NASA have been flooded with press inquiries. As Kuring told Wired, "My guess is that people know that this is the only place we have to live. When they see an image showing these beautiful blues and greens, it speaks to them. This is our home."