Note on the satellite image of Obama’s inauguration

Some notes on the satellite image of the Mall and the Capitol taken just before the US presidential inauguration yesterday, at 11.19am ET, and released just a few hours later (here is the KML file for Google Earth):

1. The fast turnaround from the GeoEye-1 satellite is a harbinger of how we will soon expect to see satellite imagery — not quite real time, but with a delay of just a few hours (weather- and satellite-positioning permitting). The impact of seeing momentous events as they unfold — not just celebratory ones like an inauguration but also natural and man-made disasters — will have the power to rally public opinion in new ways, I think, especially in places from where there is no live media access.

2. Instead of an image of the White House taken in 2002 — from Google Earth’s default view — we now have ourselves an brand-new image from 2009:





Not much has changed on the roof of the White House; a lot of the features are the same. Considering that the 2009 image was release mere hours after being taken, I think it’s highly unlikely any doctoring occurred here or anywhere else on the image — nor on the odler image, as some conspiracy theorists have mooted.

3. The version used by CNN is at approximately 1 meter per pixel. The “high-resolution” download at the GeoEye website has a resolution of 2 meters per pixel, or 4 times worse. Only the KML file released by Google contains information at 50cm per pixel.

4. Don’t humans just look exactly like ants from high up enough?


4 thoughts on “Note on the satellite image of Obama’s inauguration”

  1. Stefan – “how we will soon expect to see satellite imagery — not quite real time, but with a delay of just a few hours” – ESA are already there and have been for a year or two. The images we request even for the Southern Ocean are available to us within a very small timeframe – often as quickly as 2-3 hours.

  2. They look like ants because at 50cm resolution you are mostly seeing elongated shadows on the ground, not really people. :-)

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