NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have released the first images from Landsat 9, a joint mission between the two organizations. Landsat 9 launched on September 27 and captured its first photos on October 31.

The photos provide a look at how the mission will assist people with vital natural resource management and help us understand the impact of climate change. The images and data from Landsat 9 join an existing catalog of data that spans nearly five decades of space-based Earth observation.

‘Sediments swirl in Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair in this Landsat 9 image of both Detroit, Michigan, and Windsor, Ontario, from Oct. 31, 2021. The Great Lakes serve as sources of freshwater, recreational activity, transport, and habitat for the upper-midwestern US, and water quality remains a high priority.’ Caption and image credit: NASA / USGS. Click to view in high resolution.

‘Landsat 9’s first images capture critical observations about our changing planet and will advance this joint mission of NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey that provides critical data about Earth’s landscapes and coastlines seen from space,’ said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. ‘This program has the proven power to not only improve lives but also save lives. NASA will continue to work with USGS to strengthen and improve accessibility to Landsat data so decision makers in America – and around the world – better understand the devastation of the climate crisis, manage agricultural practices, preserve precious resources and respond more effectively to natural disasters.’

‘The white sands of Pensacola Beach stand out in this Landsat 9 image of the Florida Panhandle of the United States, with Panama City visible under some popcorn-like clouds. Landsat and other remote sensing satellites help to track changes to US coastlines, including urban development and potential impacts of rising sea levels.’ Caption and image credit: NASA / USGS. Click to view in high resolution.

The first photos from Landsat 9 show a wealth of information from diverse locations such as Detroit, Michigan and its nearby Lake St. Clair, changing beaches along a Florida coastline and images from Navajo Country in Arizona, which can be used to help monitor crop health and determine better ways to irrigate. Images also show shifting landscapes in the Himalayas and changing coastal islands in Northern Australia.

Landsat 9 is similar in design to Landsat 8, which launched in 2013 and continues to operate from orbit. Landsat 9 features several improvements over its predecessor, including images with higher radiometric resolution. Per NASA, ‘Landsat 9 can differentiate more than 16,000 shades of a given wavelength color; Landsat 7, the satellite being replaced, detects only 256 shades.’ This significant difference in capabilities will allow Landsat users to view changes with more precision.

‘The first image collected by Landsat 9, on Oct. 31, 2021, shows remote coastal islands and inlets of the Kimberly region of Western Australia.’ Caption and image credit: NASA / USGS. Click to view in high resolution.

‘First light is a big milestone for Landsat users – it’s the first chance to really see the kind of quality that Landsat 9 provides. And they look fantastic,’ said Jeff Masek NASA’s Landsat 9 project scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center. ‘When we have Landsat 9 operating in coordination with Landsat 8, it’s going to be this wealth of data, allowing us to monitor changes to our home planet every eight days.’

Landsat 9 carries a pair of instruments that capture images. It includes the Operation Land Imager (OLI-2), which detects visible, near-infrared and shortwave-infrared light in nine wavelengths. The other imaging instrument, the Thermal Infrared Sensor 2 (TIRS-2), detects thermal radiation in two wavelengths to measure changes in Earth’s surface temperature.

Landsat 9 carries two different imaging instruments that can collect visual data across many highly-varied wavelengths. Image credit: NASA / USGS. Click to view in high resolution.

Combined, the two imaging instruments will provide Landsat users critical information and data about crop health, irrigation use, water quality, wildfire severity, deforestation, glacial retreat, urban expansion and much more. ‘The data and images from Landsat 9 are expanding our capability to see how Earth has changed over decades,’ said Karen St. Germain, Earth Science Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington. ‘In a changing climate, continuous and free access to Landsat data, and the other data in NASA’s Earth observing fleet, helps data users, including city planners, farmers and scientists, plan for the future.’

NASA’s Landsat 9 is currently working through a 100-day check-out period. The engineers are testing the satellite’s systems and calibrating its instruments ahead of a mission handoff to USGS in January. From then, USGS will operate Landsat 8 and 9. Together, Landsat 8 and Landsat 9 will collect about 1,500 images of Earth’s surface every day, covering the entire globe once every eight days.

‘The city of Kathmandu, Nepal, seen at the bottom left of this Landsat 9 image, lies in a valley south of the Himalayan Mountains between Nepal and China. Glaciers, and the lakes formed by glacial meltwater, are visible in the top middle of this image.’ Caption and image credit: NASA / USGS. Click to view in high resolution.

Once Landsat 9 begins its normal operations, Landsat 9 data will be available free to the public on the USGS website. In the meantime, you can view all currently available Landsat 9 images here.

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