Google Earth is an awesome tool for exploring the world from above, and while its novelty has somewhat worn off since its 2001 launch, there are still plenty of reasons you might want to use Earth.
And when you do find yourself using Earth, you’ll soon get much sharper and more detailed images, thanks both to Landsat 8, a new satellite with better cameras, and to a new image-processing technology. The new imagery will also roll out to the satellite layer on Google Maps.
The Landsat 8 satellite was launched in 2013, and captures images with far better detail and color. In fact, thanks to the satellite, Google will be able to take around two times as many images as it did with Landsat 7, ensuring that imagery on Earth is always up to date.
“Satellite images are often cloudy, but not always over the same place, so we looked at millions of images and took the clearest pixels to stitch together this cloud-free and seamless image,” said Google in a related blog post.
Google used the publicly available Earth Engine API to go through around a petabyte of Landsat images to find only cloud-free images. It then used other image-processing techniques to get the sharpest images that it possibly could, resulting in what Google says is the “freshest global mosaic to date.” But just how much better is it? See for yourself in the comparison below.
Not all images have been captured using the Landsat 8 satellite just yet, but as newer images become available, over time, they will replace the older ones. It’s a good thing that Google doesn’t rely on one set of images — in 2003 the Landsat 7 satellite suffered a hardware malfunction that compromised many of the images. Because of that, Google’s parent, Alphabet, is actually looking at building its own satellites with its Terra Bella subsidiary.