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Looking for a good view of the capital of Romania? Looking for your
parents' old house in Brazil? Well, it seems that it's no longer a problem.
Fortunately the Web has become a gateway to an immense collection
of satellite images of Earth, a place where you can zoom into your
city of birth, favorite team's stadium, or even your own backyard. It
takes only a couple of clicks of the mouse.
Satellite Images of Earth are all over the Web. Images of Antarctic
icebergs, the desert in California's Death Valley and virtually anything
else on Earth can be found at an array of Web sites, from government
space agencies like NASA, private companies such as SPACE.com and
of course - Google.
Easy access to images previously available only to the governments
or military authorities is made possible in part by the Ikonos satellite,
launched by a Colorado-based company two years ago. From its
perch in space, Ikonos can make out objects as small as cars and
trees. And because Ikonos is owned by a private company, there are
no restrictions on the kinds of photographs it can take.
The easiest way to see a sampling of Ikonos images is to go to the
Web site of the satellite's owner, Space Imaging. In the gallery section,
you can browse through clear, color images of the WTC and the
Pentagon, both before and after they were attacked.
There are also pictures of such eclectic images as the production camp
for CBS's hit reality series Survivor, the Indy 500 race, and
Nikumaroro Island, where Amelia Earhart's plane may have crashed
on her attempt to fly around the world in the 1930s.
In another section of the Space Imaging Web site called QuickLooks,
satellite photographs of Earth can be found of virtually any county in
any U.S. state, as well as pictures of cities in any country from
Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.
The Ikonos satellite, named for the Greek word for "image," orbits the
globe 14 times a day and can take a picture of the same spot on Earth
once every three days. Ikonos can render objects as small as one
square meter, a capability once had only by spy satellites. Because
there are no restrictions on which areas it can pass over, Ikonos can
be hired to snap satellite pictures of practically any place on Earth,
including military sites and other sensitive areas.
GlobalSecurity.org displays pictures of military bases, rebel camps,
and other secret areas captured by Ikonos. It should be said, however,
that U.S. government spy satellites are believed to have imaging
capability much better than Ikonos.
TerraServer also offers a combination of satellite images and aerial
pictures of Earth. While the highest level of detail is only available to
paid subscribers, interesting pictures can still be found, including a
shot of Baghdad, Iraq and another of the Pentagon.
Mapquest, the popular driving directions and mapping site, lets users
see aerial pictures of neighborhoods around the country. Once you
map an address, click "aerial photo" to display the image.
Standard photographs of Earth, while very useful for mapmakers and
military planners, are not the only types of images of the planet
snapped by satellites. Specially-equipped satellites can measure
chlorophyll concentration in the ocean, detect air pollution, and with
varying success, predict the weather.
The U.S. space agency NASA offers a tutorial in the field of remote
sensing, the process of using satellites to gain a new perspective over
an area. NASA's Web site is bursting with Earth images, and its photo
gallery, is a good place to start to find a range of pictures, including
declassified images taken by spy satellites.
At Visible Earth, one can explore icebergs in Antarctica, plumes of ash
streaming from Mt. Etna in Sicily, and an infrared image of the Grand
At SPACE.com, a news and information site about outer space, one
can scan through a series of images about hurricanes, Earth's meteor
craters, and the auroras that hang in the sky.