NASA has a couple of very awesome satellites called Aqua and Terra. They constantly orbit us building up a photo of the entire surface of the Earth about once per day. The data is used by scientists worldwide to measure climate change, fight forest fires and all sorts of awesome things. Both of the satellites have an instrument on-board called the Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS. Besides good science, MODIS can take spectacular images of Earth. The photos are often featured on the popular Astronomy Picture of the Day website and other space blogs.
One Year of Data
I was browsing the MODIS database and found that they had nice images of the Pacific-NW every day going back for years. I wondered what a whole year of satellite images of Oregon would look like as an animation. So I got to work!
Each day's image is at a predictable URL so I wrote a script to grab every image from 2010. Then I resized them to a reasonable resolution and dumped them into my favorite video/animation/3D/everything-but-the-kitchen-sink software: blender. After some playing around making some border shading so you can see where Oregon is through all the clouds and adding a music backing I was done! Surprisingly the whole project only took about a day from idea to completion.
From London, with Love
Emboldened by my success I set out to make another animation of a more populous area. Here is a year of southern England (and a hint of Wales) from space:
A More Topical, Less Cloudy
The most obvious thing in both England and Oregon animations is how cloudy they are. I wanted to show off a part of the Earth that where it didn't rain all the time and, perhaps, is a bit more meaningful. The protests in North Africa have been gripping the world for the whole of the year. There is a MODIS subset of just the Nile Delta (including Cairo). Here is a short video from just before the beginning of the major public protests through the resignation of Mubarak.
You can see evidence of humans on the Earth, there are visible farms and cities. But, It turns out that you can't actually see anything related to the violence on the ground from this far away. Egypt looks still and peaceful from 670 km above the Earth. A reminder that all the war, all the love, all the triumph, all the art, and all that has ever happened to our species is contained on this tiny, remote rock. And yet, when viewed from a distance of just a few thousand kilometers, almost no sign of our existence remains. Just a tiny, blue, cloudy sphere adrift in space.