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NASA Just Opened Up Access To 2.95 Million Images Of Earth

Here are some of the most striking ones.

07/04/2016 3:34 AM AEST

For the past 16 years, a Japanese-built instrument aboard a NASA research satellite has been quietly gathering data about Earth's changing surface.

Those changes include everything from volcanic eruptions and massive wildfires to the worst North Korean drought in a century. NASA made the data publicly available on Friday for free -- including more than 2.95 million images. (The data was previously accessible for a small fee through Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.)

The Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer, also known as "ASTER," measures Earth's land surface temperature, elevation and the amount of light it reflects across 14 different spectral bands.

NASA can use the information to not only examine glacial advances and retreats, but also identify stressed crops, monitor thermal pollution and coral reef degradation, and evaluate wetlands.

According to the space agency, a single capture by ASTER covers a square of land about 37 miles wide and 37 miles tall. The instrument has recorded data for 99 percent of Earth's landmass.

See some of ASTER's photos, below:

  • NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team
    The Three Gorges Dam spans the Yangtze River in east-central China. It's the world's largest power station in terms of installed capacity, with its vast reservoir stretching for 410 miles.
  • NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team
    The Newcastle-Moore EF-5 tornado ripped through central Oklahoma on May 20, 2013, killing 24 people and leaving behind more than $2 billion in damage. On June 2, 2013, the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer instrument on NASA's Terra spacecraft captured this image showing the scar left on the landscape by the tornado's deadly track. In this false-color image, vegetation is red, water is dark blue, roads and buildings are gray and white, and bare fields are tan. The tornado track crosses the image from left to right as indicated by the arrows. The image covers an area of 6 by 8.6 miles, and is located at 35.3 degrees north latitude, 97.5 degrees west longitude.
  • NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team
    Ellesmere Island is part of the Qikiqtaaluk Region of the Canadian territory of Nunavut with the most northerly point of land in Canada. Inhabited since about 2000 BC, its current population is less than 200. Large portions of Ellesmere Island are covered with glaciers and ice, as seen in this image of a portion of the north-central part of the island.
  • NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team
    In the middle of the Arabian desert, the city Green Oasis Wadi Al Dawasir is being developed as a new urban center for the Wadi Al Dawasir region of Saudi Arabia. Huge solar fields supply the entire city and the surrounding region with energy. Hundreds of circular agricultural fields are fed by center pivot irrigation apparatus, drawing water from subterranean aquifers.
  • NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team
    The Khyber Pass is a mountain pass that links Afghanistan and Pakistan. Throughout its history it has been an important trade route between Central Asia and South Asia, and is a strategic military location. It is the route used by Alexander the Great, Cyrus the Great, Genghis Khan, Babur the Tiger, Chandragupta Maurya, Darius I and countless other would-be conquerors. The Afghan Shinwari clan, who live in the Pass, regarded the Pass as their own preserve and have levied a toll on travelers for safe conduct. The perspective view looks from Afghanistan, eastward into Pakistan.
  • NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team
    Located in the fertile agricultural region of Argentina's Pampas is a guitar-shaped forest made up of cypress and eucalyptus trees. An Argentinian farmer planted the forest in memory of his departed wife.
  • NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team
    In mid-October 2011, NASA scientists working in Antarctica discovered a massive crack across the Pine Island Glacier, a major ice stream that drains the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Extending for 19 miles, the crack was 260 feet wide and 195 feet deep. Eventually, the crack will extend all the way across the glacier, and calve a giant iceberg that will cover about 350 square miles. This image from the ASTER instrument on NAS's Terra spacecraft was acquired Nov. 13, 2011 and covers an area of 27 by 32 miles , and is located near 74.9 degrees south latitude, 101.1 degrees west longitude.
  • NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team
    On September 24 at 6.29 a.m. ET, a magnitude 7.7 earthquake struck in south-central Pakistan at a relatively shallow depth of 12 miles. The earthquake occurred as the result of oblique strike-slip motion, consistent with rupture within the Eurasian tectonic plate. Tremors were felt as far away as New Delhi as well as Karachi in Pakistan. Even though the immediate area to the epicenter is sparsely populated, the majority of houses are of mud brick construction and damage is expected to be extensive. The perspective view, looking to the east, shows the location of the epicenter in Pakistan's Makran fold belt.
  • NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team
    A vast alluvial fan blossoms across the desolate landscape between the Kunlun and Altun mountain ranges that form the southern border of the Taklimakan Desert in China’s XinJiang Province. The left side is the active part of the fan, and appears blue from water currently flowing in the many small streams.
  • NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team
    On Jan. 16, 2014, a wildfire broke out in the mountains above the Los Angeles suburbs of Glendora and Azusa. The fire consumed almost 2,000 acres and destroyed several homes, after starting from an illegal campfire. This image, acquired Jan. 23, 2014 from the ASTER instrument on NASA's Terra spacecraft, depicts vegetation in shades of red. The burned area is seen as the blue-gray area at the base of the mountains.
  • NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team
    Poyang Lake was once China's largest freshwater lake. It has largely evaporated because of drought and a nearby dam on the Yangtzee River.
  • NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team
    October 2013 brought the worst fires seen in the Australian state of New South Wales in many decades. More than 100 wildfires burned. One of the largest was the Hall Road fire, southwest of Sydney, west of the town of Wollongong. The fire scar is seen in this satellite image acquired Nov. 14, 2013, by the ASTER instrument on NASA's Terra spacecraft. Vegetation is displayed in shades of red, burned areas are dark gray, water is black and blue, and urban areas are blue-gray.

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