Landsat 9

I use NASA Worldview ( a lot. I’ve used it for many years to study our planet.

I’ve been a weather and climate geek my whole life and use Worldview to look at recent data on natural disasters like hurricanes, range fires, and other events. When Oregon was burning last year, I tracked it using Worldview and sent daily updates to my daughter’s family who had to evacuate their home (the fires didn’t eat their home BTW). I also use it to watch for ice formation on local reservoirs when planning ice fishing trips. I use it to study climate science for myself to separate the truth from the desperately spun hype coming from corrupt politicians and scientifically clueless hyper-partisans on Twitter and the news media. None of us need to trust those people when we can get our own integrated data and images from this way cool Worldview…it’s really quite easy.

Hurricane Sam, 9/29/2021

I recently learned how to read red areas on GOES-West Weather Satellite Air Mass imagery on Worldview to track and predict incoming storminess.

Taken at 7:00 pm mountain time, 9/30/2021

Ever since 2008, imagery from Earth watching satellites that partner with NASA can be accessed totally for free through Worldview. This includes almost instantly available hourly shots from all of the geo-synchronous weather satellite shots that the news media uses on TV, except that you can chase your own agenda with integrated place labels, borders, and roads from OpenStreetMap, searchable by location name, GPS coordinates and even Zip Code. Daily image data comes from several really cool sun-synchronous satellites that take a picture of the entire planet once every day at 100 meter resolution and makes those images available just a couple of hours after they were shot. 100 meters…yes, that can be frustrating when you want to see details. That’s not even tight enough to see an Interstate freeway. That’s where the Landsat satellites come in with much better quality photos of the Earth’s surface a little less frequently.

Landsat takes photos of the Earth surface down to 35 meters resolution every 16 days or so, processing the photos to nullify clouds (somewhat) and interlacing the edges with the images and making them available on Worldview 2-4 days later. These satellites, along with with the Terra, Aqua, Suomi NPP and NOAA-20 Satellites that take the daily photos, fly in polar orbits so that they take image bands of the planet running roughly North to South.

The current Landsat satellites are Landsat 7 and Landsat 8. A new one, Landsat 9, launched last week (Sept. 27, 2021) with a 15m resolution imager aboard.

That’s gonna be way cool. Won’t you love that? at 15 meters per pixel we should be able to make out some houses. On the daily 100 meter Daily Terra satellite shots, the Walmart that you can see below is completely indiscernible from the background, as is Interstate 80 (the road cutting the across the photo below from left to right).

Evanston, Wyoming on July 6, 2021 at 35 meters resolution from Sentinel. That square in the middle is a small town Walmart. That fuzzy white splotch and matching dark splotch to either side of it are a cloud and it’s shadow.
The same image on July 10 from Landsat 8

This is what that area looks like in Google maps at this writing. You can zoom it in a lot further in Google and literally count the cracks in the parking lot, but Google Earth says that this photo was taken by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) on 6/30/2017. So, this of course only works in situations where a four year old photo is still useful to you (such as for finding that Walmart).

Now I know that you’re used to the lovely “Satellite” layer in Google Maps, MapQuest, or whatever, but understand that getting those images fresh costs lots of money and otherwise they’re almost always archived aerial photos from some years past. If you don’t believe me, just look up your house on Google Maps and see which cars are in the parking lot and which lawn decorations and furniture the photo shows.

I use those images a lot too, even though they often depict new buildings as open fields or construction projects. If you want to see what happened there yesterday, or even compare changes from year to year, those lovely high-resolution photos on Google Maps and Google Earth are useless. They also include practically nothing in the way of scientific data. The photo below was taken by the Terra satellite and was available to view on Worldview several hours later. The red dots are the MODIS instrument on the Terra satellite and the VIIRS instrument on NOAA-20 attempting to isolate the grid section of infrared hot spots…down to 1 km resolution for MODIS and 375m for VIIRS.

Sept. 21, 2021 Terra/MODIS

9/22/2021 — Lake Tahoe fire. Image from Landsat 8, overlayed with Terra/MODIS hotspot data. The smoke looks funny because Landsat is more about geology and thus tries to process out clouds and cloud shadows.

Imagine the photo above with twice as much detail.

I’m such a geek that I’m checking every day for the 15 meter imager on the new Landsat 9 to go online. NASA seems excited about it too…their coverage of the launch was very SpaceX-like.

Of course…the U.S. Geological Survey and NOAA could contract out to the same people who build these satellites for NASA and the rockets that launch them. I don’t think that it’s really necessary for NASA to do that part anymore. Some say, “Well, NASA’s good at it and they have the money.” To which I reply, “They’re also good at spending money than they need to.” What is NASA’s job? What is NOAA’s job? What is the USGS’s job? NASA stands for National Aeronautics and Space Administration. NOAA stands for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. USGS stands for United States Geological Survey. Agencies and companies with far less money than NOAA and USGS now pay spacecraft manufacturers like Boeing or Lockheed to build satellites for them and then pay launch providers like SpaceX to fly them. NASA already partners with all of those companies and agencies already and thus would still apply their expertise and reputation to such projects, but it would cost a lot less money and NASA could focus more effort managing projects pertaining to their actual job of exploring space. Folks think that NASA needs to lead and fund these Earth-watching climate data projects. I admit that that used to be true a decade or so ago…but not anymore.

William Shatner has several hundred million dollars, but out of Blue Origin’s advertising budget Jeff Bezos will give Capt. James T. Kirk a real ride to space next week for free…a value in the low six-digits. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic will fly members of the Italian Airforce to space soon and those rides cost around the low six-digits for each person too. They will both use short, suborbital flight systems, but a three-day orbital ride on the SpaceX Dragon even costs less than $40M per seat and a similar visit to the International Space Station costs around $45M. That’s all still out of reach for you and me, but we live in an age where any organization in the world can buy their own space program starting at around the price of your house.

Some day Congress will let NOAA and the USGS catch up too. Either way we still get access to their satellite data in the form of this wonderful tool called Worldview. Just click below…

~ by Bill Housley on October 7, 2021.

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