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NASA and Japan just released over 2.95 million thermal satellite photos of Earth, for free

Japan’s Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) instrument has been orbiting the Earth for the past 16 years collecting data about the Earth’s surface. Previously, anyone could access ASTER’s topographic maps for free, but individuals had to pay a fee to obtain more detailed data for analysis. Now, following an announcement by NASA and Japan, all of ASTER’s maps and data products are available to the public free of charge.

ASTER is one of five sensing instruments on NASA’a Earth Observing Terra Spacecraft and was developed as a cooperative effort between NASA, Japans’s Space Systems, and the Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.  ASTER is capable of acquiring images in both visible and thermal infrared wavelengths with a resolution up to 50 feet. The data collected from the sensor has been used to generate land surface temperature, reflectance, and elevation maps.


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ASTER’s current database houses more than 2.95 million scenes, covering up to 99 percent of the Earth’s landmass. It includes historically significant events such as the eruption of Nicaragua’s Momotombe Volcano, the effects of an EF-5 tornado in Oklahoma and more. Each downloaded scene available to the public covers 37 by 37 miles with larger images available upon request.

NASA hopes this free access will encourage people to explore the data and use it in different ways. “We anticipate a dramatic increase in the number of users of our data, with new and exciting results to come,” said Michael Abrams, ASTER science team leader at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. As part of this announcement, NASA and Japan also acknowledged ASTER’s contribution to our understanding of the Earth’s surface and confirmed the continued operation of the sensor, which has been collecting data far longer than its initial five-year life expectancy.