NASA and Japan improved our world view this week, or at least our view of the world.
The American space agency and Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry have released a new digital topographic map of Earth that accurately portrays more of our planet than ever before. The new map consists of 1.3 million images taken by NASA’s Terra satellite that have been pieced together to form a unified picture of the planet. The images were taken by a Japanese imaging instrument called the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer, or ASTER. “This is the most complete, consistent global digital elevation data yet made available to the world,” said Woody Turner, a program scientist at NASA headquarters in Washington. The map covers more than 99 percent of Earth’s land mass from north of the Arctic Circle to south of the Antarctic Circle. During February 2000, space shuttle Endeavour mapped about 80 percent of the planet’s surface. “The ASTER data fill in many of the voids in the shuttle mission’s data, such as in very steep terrains and in some deserts,” said Michael Kobrick, a shuttle project scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which manages the program. “NASA is working to combine” the new data with that from the shuttle and other sources “to produce an even better global topographic map.”