But apart from providing a new global perspective on Earth from space, the image is just the beginning of a new science mission that will monitor ocean environment and marine health, as well as be able to track wildfires, droughts and floods.
That’s because it was captured by NASA’s recently launched NOAA-21 satellite, which experts hope will provide vital information about our planet’s oceans, atmosphere, and land.
The Earth-observing spacecraft contains an instrument known as the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Array (VIIRS), which began collecting data in early December and produced a mosaic of frames over a 24-hour period.
All sorts of features, including the snow-capped Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau, cut into haze and smog over northern India from agricultural burning.
VIIRS measures sea surface temperature, an important metric for monitoring hurricane formation, while monitoring ocean color helps monitor phytoplankton activity – a key indicator of ocean environment and marine health.
“The visible turquoise color around Cuba and the Bahamas in the image comes from sediments in shallow waters around the continental shelf,” said Dr. Satya Caloury, program scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
On land, VIIRS can detect and measure wildfires, droughts and floods, and its data can be used to track the thickness and movement of wildfire smoke.
The tool also provides analysis of global snow and ice cover, clouds, fog, aerosols, dust and crop health.
It combines images in both the visible and infrared light spectrum, allowing scientists to see details of the Earth’s surface.
Dr. Caloury added that one of its most important uses is to produce images over Alaska, because satellites like NOAA-21 orbit the Earth from the North Pole to the South Pole, so they fly directly over the North Pole several times a day.
It also has what’s known as a Day-Night Band, which takes pictures of the lights at night, including city lights, lightning, aurora borealis, lights from ships, and fires.
“VIIRS serves so many disciplines, it’s a very important set of measurements,” said Dr. James Gleason, project scientist for NASA’s Joint Flight of the Polar Satellite System (JPSS) project.
VIIRS provides many different data products that are used by scientists in unrelated fields, from agricultural economists trying to make crop predictions, to air quality scientists predicting where wildfire smoke will be, to disaster support teams calculating night lights to understand the impact of a disaster.
NOAA-21 is the second operational satellite in the JPSS series, and it launched into orbit from Vandenberg Space Force Base on November 10.
The previous version – known as NOAA-20 – was launched in November 2017.
Both vehicles observe Earth’s entire surface twice a day while traveling 512 miles (824 kilometers) above our planet at 17,000 miles per hour (27,360 kilometers per hour).
A third JPSS satellite is scheduled to be launched in 2027, and a fourth in 2032.
NOAA-21 will be the 21st polar-orbiting satellite operated by NOAA and is scheduled for a mission of about seven years.