Improved Satellite Images Coming To Google Earth and Maps

Today Google has announced that they will start using images from the Landsat 8 satellite for Google Earth and Google Maps, bringing far superior images for both apps when you view the earth in satellite mode.  The change moves the primary imaging source of Google from Landsat 7 and both of the satellites are operated by the USGS/NASA Landsat Program.  What this means for you is far more detailed and clearer images when you use either of the apps.

Today we’re rolling out an even more beautiful and seamless version, with fresh imagery from Landsat 8 satellite and new processing techniques for sharper images than ever before. Satellite images are often cloudy, but not always over the same place, so we looked at millions of images and took the clearest pixels to stitch together this cloud-free and seamless image.

There is nothing we as users have to do.  This is a back end update from Google and you should start seeing higher quality images in both apps today.

I did a brief search of some key areas in Google Maps and it looks like a lot of these updated images from Landsat 8 are already in use here in the United States.  The images of New York, Denver and San Francisco were all much crisper than the previous views but when looking overseas at London or Paris, they appeared to still be from Landsat 7.  These images generally appear less

Improved satellite images in Google Maps
Improved satellite images in Google Maps

contrast and appear a bit washed out when you compare them to the new images.  Just use either Earth or Maps to poke around and you will see the difference in the images pretty quickly.

In addition to the improved images from Landsat 8, Google also used their own Earth APIs to their mosaic technology to produce the new images.

Like our previous mosaic, we mined data from nearly a petabyte of Landsat imagery—that’s more than 700 trillion individual pixels—to choose the best cloud-free pixels. To put that in perspective, 700 trillion pixels is 7,000 times more pixels than the estimated number of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, or 70 times more pixels than the estimated number of galaxies in the Universe.

It is pretty impressive stuff when you think about what Google is doing here and even better, it is all free for us consumers.