Landsat 9, a NASA-USGS collaboration that will launch on September 27, 2021, has captured its first light photos of Earth.
The photographs, which were all taken on October 31, are now online. They show how the mission will aid in managing vital natural resources and understanding the effects of climate change, adding to Landsat’s unprecedented data record spanning over 50 years of space-based Earth observation.
According to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, the first photos from Landsat 9 record crucial insights about our changing planet and progress this joint NASA-US Geological Survey project that delivers critical data on Earth’s landscapes and coasts observed from orbit. This program has been shown to have the ability to not only enhance but also save lives. NASA will continue to collaborate with the USGS to strengthen and improve access to Landsat data, allowing decision-makers in the United States and worldwide to better understand the devastation caused by the climate crisis, manage agricultural methods, conserve resources and respond to natural disasters more effectively.
These first light images show Detroit, Michigan, with neighboring Lake St. Clair, the joining of cities and beaches along a changing Florida coastline, and pictures from Navajo Country in Arizona, all of which will contribute to the wealth of data that will aid in crop health monitoring and irrigation water management. The new photographs also gave information about the changing landscapes of High Mountain Asia’s Himalayas and Northern Australia’s coastline islands and shorelines.
Landsat 9’s architecture is identical to its predecessor, Landsat 8, which launched in 2013 and is still in orbit, although it has numerous enhancements. The satellite provides data back to Earth with a better radiometric resolution, allowing it to detect more minute variations, particularly over darker environments like water or dense woods. For example, Landsat 9 can identify over 16,000 shades of a particular wavelength hue, but Landsat 7, which is being replaced, identifies just 256 colors. Because of the higher sensitivity, Landsat users will detect considerably more subtle changes than ever before.
Landsat 9 is equipped with two imaging instruments: the Operational Land Imager 2, which detects visible, near-infrared, shortwave infrared light in nine wavelengths, and the Thermal Infrared Sensor 2, which finds out thermal radiation in two wavelengths to measure Earth’s surface temperatures and changes.
These sensors will give vital information to Landsat 9 users on agricultural health, irrigation usage, water quality, wildfire severity, deforestation, glacier retreat, urban growth, and other topics.
In preparation to take care of the mission USGS in January, NASA’s Landsat 9 team is undergoing a 100-day check-out period, including evaluating the satellite’s systems and subsystems and calibrating its instruments. The USGS will operate Landsat 9 in conjunction with Landsat 8, and the two satellites will take around 1,500 photos of the Earth’s surface per day, covering the globe every eight days.
The snow and glaciers in the Himalayan mountains lead to the flat Tibetan Plateau to the north at the upper left. The same area is seen in thermal data from the TIRS-2 sensor in the upper right. The hue blue-white denotes considerably colder surface temperatures, whereas orange-red denotes warmer surface temperatures.
In the bottom left, the brown and green rectangles are farm areas in southern Ontario, nestled between Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair. The white and grey rectangles at the bottom produce greenhouses, which appear as blue-ish specks in the TIRS-2 picture on the right.