Google Earth Update Promises Super Sharp Images

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The service's satellite maps now boasts fresh imagery from Landsat 8 and new processing techniques for sharper pictures. The updated view shows details like skyscrapers, building shadows, and baseball fields in Central Park—all of which blended into the background before.

Google previously relied on Landsat 7, which suffered a hardware failure in 2003, leaving all images captured in the years after with large diagonal gaps of missing data. Landsat 8—the newest sensor from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and NASA—launched in 2013 and captures twice as many photos every day, with greater detail and truer colors.

"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," Google Earth Engine Program Manager Chris Herwig wrote in a blog post.

The updated map was built using the same publicly available Earth Engine APIs scientists use to predict malaria outbreaks, map global surface water over decades, and track global tree cover, loss, and gain.

"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," Herwig explained.

In layman's terms, that's 7,000 times more pixels than the estimated number of stars in the Milky Way, or 70 times more pixels than the predicted number of galaxies in the universe.

The new imagery is now available across all Google mapping products: Just open Google Earth or turn on the satellite layer in Google Maps.

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