These Glorious Satellite Images Visualize Earth From The Side

Last week, Robert Simmon–an ex-NASA scientist who is now Senior Visualization Engineer at the satellite imaging company Planet Labs–published an outstanding collection of images showing our Pale Blue Dot from orbit. But don’t expect your usual flat Google Maps photos. These photos are taken from an oblique angle, creating perspectives that make Earth’s surface look like an ultra-realistic version of SimCity.

The difference here is the angle of the satellite’s lenses and sensor plane in relation to Earth’s surface. While most imaging satellites look straight down at the Earth at a perpendicular angle, some of Planet Labs’ satellites take photos at an angle. In Simmon’s set, uncovered by Flowing Data, you can see the difference between a regular orbital photo–shot by one of the company’s regular RapidEye satellites–and one of the photos taken at an angle by Planet Labs’ SkySat satellites:

[Image: Robert Simmon/©2018 Planet Labs, Inc]
PlanetLabs, like other companies including Orbital Insight, markets not just high-res satellite images but its ability to monitor changes over time from space.  The company does so using three satellite “constellations,” totaling 13 satellites that are each roughly the size of a mini-fridge, which can regularly image details of the Earth down to less than a meter. The company markets is imagery as a solution for industries ranging from agriculture to emergency management.


But it’s the angled sensor–and its ability to image our planet in an entirely new way–that makes these images so special. As Simmon says, these little metal boxes can take photos from “glorious angles.” Glorious, indeed.