One of the many awesome things about NASA is the amount of free and open-access content it uploads for everybody to enjoy. Keeping in this spirit, NASA and Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) have publically released nearly 3 million images from their database of thermal emission images detailing 99 percent of the planet’s surface.
NASA’s Terra spacecraft has been snapping Earth since 1999 using Japan's Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER). With these 16 and a bit years of work, it’s captured some incredible sights, including the aftermath of the Pakistani floods, North Korea’s drought, Iceland’s volcanic eruptions, the Venetian canals, Namibia’s sand dunes, California’s bushfires, and even the remnants of a sulfur plant fire in Iraq.
The imaging by ASTER has the ability to capture land surface temperature and reflectance. Along with this, it merges two mildly offset two-dimensional images to create the impression of three dimensions. With this three-pronged attack, it can measure all manner of geological and environmental conditions.
The 2.95 million individual scenes that have been released can be accessed through the Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center with a smaller (and more easily accessible) selection on the ASTER website. That's a lot of images, so here’s a short selection of some of the most insightful, interesting and prettiest.
In 2015, hundreds of thousands of North Koreans are believed to have died in the country's worst drought in 100 years. This image shows the levels of vegetation in red in 2015 (right) compared to 2002 (left).
Deposits of salt, gravel, and sand in China.
The famous canals and islands of Venice, Italy.
Lava pouring out of Mount Etna in Sicily during the summer of 2001.
Nicaragua's Momotombo volcano eruption in March 2016. The hot lava is displayed in yellow.
The Suez Canal - the artificial waterway next to Egypt that connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea.
A fire at an industrial sulfur plant in Mosul, Iraq, in 2003.
All images credit: NASA/METI/AIST/Japan Space Systems, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team.