See NASA’s Landsat Launch, Plus More Images of Earth as Art

Innovation, the Internet, gadgets, and more.
Feb. 11 2013 2:47 PM

New Earth-Observation Satellite Will Be Looking for Trouble

NASA’s Landsat Program has been collecting gorgeous images for more than 40 years.

For the past 40 years, NASA’s Landsat Program has provided a continuous global record of the Earth’s surface—the longest such record ever. The satellites have provided an unmatched, breathtaking view of the planet.

Today, NASA launched its eighth Earth-observation satellite as part of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission. Landsat 8 will join two other Landsat satellites still in orbit, although one of those was recently decommissioned.

The satellites track changes in agricultural output, urban sprawl, water consumption, and other land-use trends. “The greatest reward for these projects is learning about the broadly diverse applications of our data,” says Jim Irons, a project scientist for the Landsat Data Continuity Mission at NASA.

The satellite system has captured visually stunning world events, including images of Mount St. Helen before and after its eruption, oil fires in Kuwait, and the progression of urbanization in Asia. Other U.S. landscapes show the effects of wild fires, hurricanes, and the draining of wetlands.

The satellites’ sensors have a spatial resolution that doesn’t allow for individual houses to be seen; they are tuned to gathering topographical images. The images are a resource for scientists, but they can also be seen as art.

The satellite launched today is equipped with two advanced instruments that will provide enhanced image clarity to the satellite network. The Operational Land Imager will measure short-wave infrared, near infrared, and visible wavelengths, while the Thermal Infrared Sensor will monitor the temperature of the Earth’s surface. Together, the instruments will collect a constant stream of data in the satellite’s orbit and will produce a complete picture of the Earth’s surface every 16 days.

Betsiboka River


Courtesy of NASA

The Betsiboka River in Madagascar carries massive amounts of silt, released by eroded hillsides.

The Lowest Point in the United States


Courtesy of NASA

Death Valley’s lowest point is 282 feet below sea level and can reach temperatures of 130 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s part of a massive salt plain left by an evaporated lake, highlighted here in blue.

Fire in San Bernardino National Forest


Courtesy of NASA

Lightning sparked two fires on July 9, 2006. This Landsat image was taken five days later, with both fires still burning out of control.

Tassili n'Ajjer National Park


Courtesy of NASA

This mountain range is in the Sahara Desert, in Algeria. Sand is colored yellow and tan, and mountains are in shades of red.



Courtesy of NASA

Terra-cotta rooftops give this image of Venice’s main island its reddish color. The Grand Canal snakes through the center of the island.

Portland, Ore.


Courtesy of NASA

Portland, Ore., is near the confluence of two great rivers. Its nickname is “Bridgetown” for the 10 bridges that span the Willamette River.



Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Learns That Breaking Up a Country Is Hard to Do

Are You Attending the People’s Climate March? Nine Reasons You Should.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

Colorado Is Ground Zero for the Fight Over Female Voters

Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Sept. 19 2014 1:51 PM Meet the New Bosses How the Republicans would run the Senate.
Sept. 19 2014 12:09 PM How Accelerators Have Changed Startup Funding
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Never Remember Anything
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 12:38 PM Forward, March! Nine leading climate scientists urge you to attend the People’s Climate March.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 12:13 PM The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola  The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.