At any given moment, right above of our atmosphere, hundreds of satellites are constantly circling Earth–collecting data on everything from climatic conditions to the aerosol levels in the atmosphere. One such spacecraft, the Japanese weather satellite Himawari-8, hovers 22,000 miles above the planet, orbiting the Earth exactly as fast as the Earth is spinning–capturing the full experience of a single day on our planet, from sunrise to sunset.
Now, in one incredible online visualization called Glittering Blue, 24 hours of the satellite imagery has been condensed into a looping 12-second film.
Glittering Blue was created by Charlie Loyd, a satellite-imagery analyst for Mapbox (though Glittering Blue is his own side project), and it’s well worth going to the site itself and scrolling around. Centered squarely above Japan, the satellite captures images of the western Pacific, Australia, and parts of Asia, Antarctica, and Alaska. Showing the visual data for just one day, August 5, 2015, the video shows rare and incredible shots of Typhoon Soudelor (known in the Philippines as Typhoon Hanna) near its peak intensity, gusting at about 177 miles per hour.
The truly remarkable thing about Loyd’s animated video, and the satellite imagery that comprises it, is that it captures the entire Earth with such stunning clarity. As Loyd explains on his site, there’s really no other satellite that shows this much of the earth. Himawari-8 is unique in that it is so far from the Earth (the International Space Station and other high-resolution imaging satellites usually orbit just at the edge of the atmosphere) and has the best sensor out of any of the satellites in space today. The images coming from American satellites, for example, are not anywhere near the quality of Himawari-8 imagery–though starting in 2017, the U.S. will sent a fleet of GOES-R geostationary weather satellites equipped with a similar sensor to Himawari-8, but without true color.
In making the video, Loyd also tweaked the coloring a bit, which explains why the colors of the Earth look so vivid. As he explains on the site, he tried to make it as accurate as possible to the view an astronaut might have from the altitude. In his own words:
Big images of Earth always seem to get questions about why they don’t look exactly like others, and it’s a super interesting topic. I’ve tried to make the colors in the video look like Earth would look if you were an astronaut next to Himawari-8 after your eyes adjusted. I work in satellite imagery, and I’m sensitive to people feeling that they’re seeing something “doctored,” but the adjustment is what ordinary cameras do automatically: white balance and so on…These are all ways of representing the huge contrast range and complex color palette of Earth for different purposes–meteorological, oceanological, general interest, etc.–on ordinary monitors.
In other words, almost any image of our Earth from space is going to vary in color slightly because different satellites have different types of sensors. Loyd was trying to capture the scene as closely as possible as it would look to the human eye (for more about this, it’s worth checking out this interview with Loyd in the Atlantic). All of his work was well worth it; the results are absolutely stunning, and even more so when you come to terms with what you’re seeing. As Loyd tells the Atlantic, “There’s no way to cope with the fact that you’re looking at a day in the life of probably 2 billion people in this image.”
[via The Atlantic]