We recently came across a site called “Thomas Pesquet in Google Earth”. It features a KML file that includes over 625 photographs of Earth form the International Space Station (ISS) by French astronaut Thomas Pesquet that were shared through social media. The site and KML were created by Jean-Daniel Cesaro who has painstakingly geolocated them and put them in placemarks in Google Earth.
The photos range from relatively close up shots to sweeping vistas and night time photos. The site is in French, but the KML file is easy to find, so head on over there and download it.
Yesterday we showed you a video created by satellite imaging company Planet of the launch of their most recent flock of Doves using a series of images they had captured from orbit. As we mentioned in that post, it was almost certainly a first for satellite imaging. After writing that post we were having a look around various Spaceports (also known as Cosmodromes) and came across this sight:
Space Launch Complex 40, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on December 4th, 2010
We can see a rocket on the launch pad with vapour streaming off it as if it has just been fuelled and the support structure (known as a strongback) is tilted back as if it is about to launch. However, after some research we discovered that it is, in fact, a test firing and not the actual launch of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft. The actual launch took place four days later on December 8th, 2010.
For more SpaceX related sights in Google Earth see this post.
Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center features this rocket on display:
Unfortunately, some of the locations we were interested in do not have recent imagery. For example, the European Space Agency (ESA) launches from the Guiana Space Centre, French Guiana in South America. The most recent image of the key launchpads is from 2001. Also, SpaceX is building a private spaceport near Brownsville, Texas, but the imagery is from January 2016 before serious construction started.
A couple of weeks ago, satellite imaging company Planet launched a flock of 48 ‘Doves’, their low cost imaging satellites. They managed to capture imagery of the launch from one of the Doves already in orbit:
As far as we know, this is a satellite imaging first. The key to the achievement was already having a large number of satellites in orbit which enabled them to task a suitable satellite to capture the launch. Even so, they had to tilt it in order to get the shots.
Google Earth features many planes in flight in its imagery. Simply look through historical imagery near any busy airport and you will likely find several. So why is it so hard to capture satellite launches? Put simply, because they are so rare and very fast (the above YouTube video is just 11 seconds long). The chances of a satellite being overhead and capturing an image at just the right time are close to zero unless it is planned in advance as was the case with the Dove satellite.
If you are interested in launch statistics, the website Spaceflight Now has a launch schedule which shows planned launches and we found Gunter’s Space Page which summarizes and categorizes launches. It is possible that there are also classified launches not listed on the above sites.
Satellite launches are unlikely to ever be captured in aerial imagery as aircraft will be excluded from the launch area during launches for safety reasons. Video of launches captured by drones is becoming quite common, but this is not the sort of imagery that is suitable for Google Earth.
Google has recently added some fresh imagery to Google Earth. It is currently only visible in the default layer, so there will be more to see once Google updates the ‘historical imagery’ layer as well.
Volcanic Island in Alaska
Bogoslof Volcano, located in the Aleutian Islands in the northern Pacific Ocean, erupted in late May. When it was first reported we had a look in Google Earth and there was no imagery at all of the Island. Google has now added a DigitalGlobe image captured in early May before the eruption.
Bogoslof Island, May 11th, 2017.
If we are lucky, we will see images of the eruption once Google updates ‘historical imagery’. DigitalGlobe did capture imagery during and after the eruption and you can see them here. The eruption altered the island quite significantly. According to Wikipedia, Bogoslof Island first appeared in 1796, and changes over time with each eruption and subsequent erosion.
Interestingly, we can see some animals on the beaches, which are probably seals or sea lions (Wikipedia lists both as breeding on the island). They can be seen in all the DigitalGlobe imagery and didn’t even leave during the eruption.
Animals on the beaches of Bogoslof Island, probably seals or sea lions.
Fires in Russia
In late May, there were several fires in the Krasnoyarsk Krai region in Russia, destroying 80 houses. Google has added some imagery relating to the event, but unfortunately it only covers one of the fires. We were able to find a burnt outbuilding at a timber processing facility where one of the fires is believed to have started. It would appear this particular fire did not spread to the nearby town as the town had deployed Fast Fire Watch Services and upon hearing about the nearing fire, quick prevention measures were taken by them.
Burnt building at timber facility near Gorodishche, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia.
Another fire destroyed 30 houses in Strelka, which is just south of the new imagery. You can see an aerial photo of the damage in Strelka here.
To find the locations above in Google Earth, download this KML file.
We were recently contacted by Zachary Bortolot an Associate Professor in the Geographic Science Program at James Madison University. He has been developing a method of realistically colorising black and white historical aerial images. His method is automated and intelligently transfers colour from recent colour imagery of a location to historical black and white imagery of the same location. His algorithm appears to be able to handle changing landscapes although exact details as to how it does it are not given. Read more about it on his website.
You can also download some sample image overlays to view in Google Earth. Below are just small samples of the images, comparing them with Google Earth imagery. Be sure to download the overlays to explore all the imagery.
Colorized aerial image, Palm Springs, California, 1972 vs Google Earth image.
Colorized aerial image, Harrisonburg, Virginia, 1974 vs Google Earth image.
Colorized aerial image, Washington, D.C., 1951 vs Google Earth image.
In the case of Washington D.C. Google Earth has an aerial image from 1949 but the colorized image is better quality.
Colorized aerial image, Washington, D.C., 1951 vs Google Earth historical imagery 1949.
Most countries around the world have large collections of aerial imagery gathered over the years, much of which have never been digitised. It would be great to see more of this imagery in Google Earth and even better if it is colourised.