What is satellite aerial imagery?


Quick Answer

Aerial and satellite imagery consists of pictures taken from aircraft and from man-made satellites orbiting the Earth, often for a specific purpose, such as meteorology or navigation. Most of the areas covered by these pictures are available from both commercial and public sources.

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Full Answer

Satellite imagery has its origins in the space programs of the U.S. and the Soviet Union, pursued during the Cold War for prestige and military advantage. These programs used geostationary satellites, which are satellites that orbit over a single region of the Earth at all times, to map the world, predict the weather and spy on the military and government activities of other countries. Apollo 17 took a picture of the Earth, known as "The Blue Marble" during this period. The image of the world covered in ocean and clouds, with very little land, remains an iconic depiction of the Earth.

After the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, the U.S. Congress declassified many previously restricted military and government photos and permitted private organizations to engage in satellite imagery projects. Since then, several such organizations, both private and public, have taken up satellite imagery. Most notably, Google Maps and Google Earth use satellite imagery to depict the Earth's surface from a bird's-eye view, overlaying information on them.

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