A new global map made of more than two million satellite images, updated monthly, is now yours to explore. Starting today, Earth-imaging company Planet Labs is launching a web portal to its huge database of photos of Earth, giving the public an unprecedented view of the planet’s ever-changing surface.
Using Planet Explorer Beta, you can see how any swath of land has changed over the last year, at monthly intervals. The company has built an automated system that sifts through millions of images collected by its satellites, selects the best ones, and stitches them together into a mosaic.
The entire globe is available at a resolution of 30 to 40 meters. The United States is available at three- to five-meter resolution—fine enough to pick out buildings, roads, even individual cars.
“This base map is a game changer,” says National Geographic cartographer Rosemary Wardley. “Having access to up-to-date imagery at such a high resolution is a tremendous asset to not only the field of cartography but for science as a whole.
“The ability to toggle and compare dates and filter the imagery based on differing categories is an example of how far the world of GIS has come in the past decade. Image processing that used to take up the bulk of our time can now be done with the click of a mouse.”
Since its founding in 2010, San Francisco–based Planet Labs has aimed to capture a new image of Earth—every piece of it—every day. After launching 88 new satellites last month on an Indian rocket, the company now has 149 satellites in orbit, each just one foot long. In three or four months, when the new additions to its fleet are fully operational, the company says there will be enough eyes on the planet to meet the goal of daily global coverage.
A satellite view shows the Oroville Dam in Northern California on three dates: September 4, 2016 (left), February 14, 2017 (centre)—after water damage forced more than 100,000 people to evacuate—and February 27, 2017, after the water had dropped back to a safe level.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PLANET LABS
The daily image updates will be reserved for the company’s clients, which include agricultural companies, mapping firms, and government agencies. But if you sign up for a free Explorer account, you’ll be able to see the daily imagery that’s available for the state of California. The coverage isn’t yet complete, but it’s frequent enough to catch recent developments like the flooding of crop fields near Gilroy and the swelling of a reservoir behind the Oroville Dam.