Posted on Monday, May 13th, 2013 by Etye Sarner
Landsat satellite images capture Earth evolving over 30 years. See climate change, glaciers melting, deforestation, urban sprawl and other physical changes to earth over the past 30 years. This is by far the coolest time lapse sequence anyone has ever created.
Spacecraft and telescopes are not built by people interested in what’s going on at home. Rockets fly in one direction: up. Telescopes point in one direction: out. Of all the cosmic bodies studied in the long history of astronomy and space travel, the one that got the least attention was the one that ought to matter most to us—Earth. That changed when NASA created the Landsat program, a series of satellites that would perpetually orbit our planet, looking not out but down. Surveillance spacecraft had done that before, of course, but they paid attention only to military or tactical sites. Landsat was a notable exception, built not for spycraft but for public monitoring of how the human species was altering the surface of the planet. Two generations, eight satellites and millions of pictures later, the space agency, along with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), has accumulated a stunning catalog of images that, when riffled through and stitched together, create a high-definition slide show of our rapidly changing Earth. TIME is proud to host the public unveiling of these images from orbit, which for the first time date all the way back to 1984.
It took the folks at Google to upgrade these choppy visual sequences from crude flip-book quality to true video footage. With the help of massive amounts of computer muscle, they have scrubbed away cloud cover, filled in missing pixels, digitally stitched puzzle-piece pictures together, until the growing, thriving, sometimes dying planet is revealed in all its dynamic churn. The images are striking not just because of their vast sweep of geography and time but also because of their staggering detail. Consider: a standard TV image uses about one-third of a million pixels per frame, while a high-definition image uses 2 million. The Landsat images, by contrast, weigh in at 1.8 trillion pixels per frame, the equivalent of 900,000 high-def TVs assembled into a single mosaic.
When you see how much of the Amazon rain forest has disappeared in the past 30 years, it’s pretty shocking. When you look at Las Vegas the sprawl that came as past of the result of the housing boom is pretty amazing, except for Lake Mead that has been supporting Las Vegas has been shrinking proportionally to the increase of population. Since Landsat 1 has been launched there’s always been at least one satellite in operation providing us with a global view of the earth’s surface. NASA just launched Landsat 8 and yet the U.S congress is now considering whether to continue the Landsat earth observing mission past Landsat 8. This would be a terrible mistake, if we can’t see how we’re changing and sometimes damaging earth, how can we keep ourselves accountable for it. Everyone will have access to this date, students, citizens, government officials. Everyone will have the same picture of our changing planet and sometimes the undeniable changes that are happening to it. In some way, every person has the obligation to check out the site to fully grasp the extent of change our earth is experiencing. Check it out here, and get ready to be amazed.