World Space Week puts the focus on remote sensing missions
World Space Week, designated in 1999 by the United Nations “to celebrate each year at the international level the contributions of space science and technology to the betterment of the human condition,” starts Oct. 4, with events continuing until Oct. 10. This year’s theme, “Remote Sensing: Enabling Our Future,” highlights Earth observation from space.
The U.S. Landsat mission, which celebrated it’s 50th anniversary this September, has collected millions of images of Earth from space, from the satellite Landsat 1, launched in 1972, to Landsat 8, launched in 2013. Both Landsat 7 and Landsat 8 continue to orbit the Earth today, capturing images of the entire planet every 16 days.
The original mission was to gather information about the natural resources of the Earth, according to its founder, Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall. Today, “Landsat satellites monitor forest health, mobilize food resources to drought-stricken areas, observe climate change impact on polar ice caps, monitor crop health and stress, measure the impacts of carbon escaping into the atmosphere, and map rates, causes, and consequences of land cover change,” the United States Geological Survey(USGS) writes.
The sensors on these satellites capture more than your average Earth-photo. In addition to RGB (red, green, and blue) color, they are able to record near infrared, shortwave infrared, and thermal data, among other specialized observations. The resulting images are often not only scientifically valuable, as they allow scientists to reveal features our eyes cannot see, but also spectacularly beautiful.
LANDSAT-09Western Australia This image of a tropical estuary was enhanced to show complex sediment, nutrient and vegetation patterns. May 12, 2013.Geoscience Australia/USGS/NASA LANDSAT-11Eye of the Sahara, Mauritania Scientists blended visible and infrared wavelengths to enhance the visibility of the different rock layers of this spectacular rock formation on the western edge of the Sahara desert. June 28 and July 5, 2015.USGS/NASA LANDSAT-14Laguna Pastos Grandes, Bolivia In this infrared image of a shallow salt lake in a volcanic caldera, captured by Landsat 8, water appears red, while salt and other evaporated deposits appear gold and yellow. June 21, 2015.USGS/NASA LANDSAT-01The Turpan Depression, China The unique landscape at the foot of China's Bogda Mountains, is a mix of salt lakes and sand dunes. It is one of the few landscapes in the world that lies below sea level. Sept. 1, 1999.USGS/NASA LANDSAT-04Western China Different colors in this image of geologic faults indicate rocks that formed at different times and in different environments. July 30, 2013.USGS/NASA LANDSAT-08Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA Landsat 7 captured this image of the 277-mile long canyon on June 19, 2002.USGS/NASA LANDSAT-15Rocky Mountain Trench, Canada The high reflectance of clouds compared to the surrounding land, coupled with the low sun elevation when this image was acquired, causes low clouds to appear red as they fill a portion of the trench. February 2004.USGS/NASA LANDSAT-16Lake Chad, Africa Infrared reveals the extent to which this lake has shrunk over the decades. As the water becomes more shallow, wetlands, shown here in red, replace open water. Dec. 18, 2002.USGS/NASA LANDSAT-13Eastern Kazakhstan The fields in this part of eastern Kazakhstan follow the contours of the land—long and narrow in mountain valleys, and large and rectangular over the plains. Sept. 9, 2013.USGS/NASA LANDSAT-12Shadegan Wetlands, Iran Red areas in this Landsat 8 image depict actively growing vegetation. The rectangular shapes in the upper left reveal irrigated farmland while the dark red shape in the center of the image is Shadegan Pond. Oct. 12, 2014.USGS/NASA LANDSAT-10Detroit, Michigan, USA Landsat 7 captured this image of the largest city in Michigan on Dec. 11, 2001.USGS/NASA LANDSAT-18Mississippi Delta, USA Landsat has been observing the birdsfoot delta of the Mississippi River, which collects eroded debris from the entire central half of the United States, for more than three decades. March 12, 1989.USGS/NASA LANDSAT-06Caspian Sea, Tyuleniy Archipelago Shallow waters surrounding the Tyuleniy Archipelago allow you to see the dark green vegetation on the sea bottom, which has been gouged by moving ice. April 16, 2016Norman Kuring—NASA LANDSAT-05Stirling Range National Park, Australia A shortwave infrared image of chain of saline lakes, which vary in color as a result of differing sediments, aquatic and terrestrial plant growth, water chemistry, algae, and hydrology. Shortwave infrared is helpful in differentiating wet earth from dry earth. Oct. 21, 2015.Joshua Stevens—USGS/NASA Earth Observatory
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Mount Sourabaya, Bristol Island
A combination of shortwave-infrared, near-infrared, and red light helped detect the heat signatures of an eruption on this remote stratovolcano, observed for the first time in 60 years. May 1, 2016.