Google has updated its mapping applications with new, higher-resolution imagery from NASA's Landsat 8 satellite, the company announced today. That means Google Maps and Google Earth now contain far sharper and more detailed photographs, which Google used to update its cloud-free mosaic of the planet. By stitching together selective portions of the Earth with clear skies, Google's mosaic is able to eliminate clouds and other weather obstructions to create a crystal-clear snapshot of every corner of the world.
Google Maps and Earth's satellite imagery was last updated in 2013. At the time, Google used shots captured by the less-capable Landsat 7, which suffered a hardware failure back in 2003 that resulted in some portions of the world having diagonal gaps of missing data. Below, you can see the how Landsat 8's imagery of New York City is vast improvement over what Google was using before:
Google says its new mosaic was crafted from nearly a petabyte of data containing more than 700 trillion pixels. The company is able to make use of this imagery because NASA, in collaboration with the United States Geological Survey makes its Landsat database open source for anyone to make use of. All the imagery can be accessed using the Earth Engine application programming interface, which scientists use to study large-scale global changes in the environment and track the spread of diseases.
In Google's case, the imagery is used for a simpler purpose. Still, it's endlessly fascinating to scour the globe from the distance of an orbiting satellite, and the view has never looked better. Check out the updated imagery by activating the satellite layer in Google Maps or by booting up the latest version of Google Earth.