I saw you at your happiest on February 8, in a wonderfully-detailed picture taken by a satellite 300 miles above us in space¹. It’s a perfect moment: Ben Franklin Parkway is packed with thousands of parade-goers swelling toward the Art Museum. Train cars are frozen in time on the Amtrak and SEPTA railways, and the Schuylkill Expressway is impossibly free of traffic. The rowhomes between Fairmount and Spring Garden are grinning through chipped teeth.
But since I moved to San Francisco last September, I prefer the less-detailed images of you we get from space nearly every day². You can change almost imperceptibly with your shifts in color and light and shadow. Or you’re dramatic: glowing white with snow one day, back to winter brown the next.
Sometimes clouds obscure the ground, but my brain is trained to spot your familiar street grid and landmarks — like the perfectly round fountain at Logan Square. As this movie of your life expands, I can travel back and forth in time. Last summer I saw white dots (umbrellas?) appear and disappear on the Parkway. A tiny boat sliced through the Schuylkill River one morning in June, its motion captured in four images taken seconds apart by tandem satellites. Yesterday and the day before I saw thick cotton clouds shifting above you in the February sky. Tomorrow there will be more images. And I’ll be waiting.
Dana Bauer is a geographer and software developer at Planet. She moved to San Francisco in late 2017, but she still keeps tabs on her beloved Philly from space.
- The 13 satellites in Planet’s SkySat constellation capture high-resolution imagery of the Earth from sun-synchronous orbit, 450km above the Earth.
- There are 175 satellites — aka “Doves” — in our PlanetScope constellation, capturing medium-resolution imagery of the entire Earth’s landmass every day.
- Thanks to Michelle Schmitt, Rob Simmon, Jared Volpe, and Jason Fagone for feedback. Shout out to Emma Fried-Cassorla and her Philly Love Notes project for inspiring the format of this post. I finally contributed a letter!