Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. March 10, 2018. Image ©2018 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

Earth’s Wonders Like You’ve Never Seen Them Before

Once a matter of debate, we know today the Earth is not flat. But the satellite imagery we’re most familiar with — taken straight down––flattens and obscures the visual cues we get from perspective, making the imagery appear like maps, not photos.

Take for example this nadir view of Monte Fitz Roy. You might not appreciate that these are mountains unless you spot the clue in the jagged shadows coming off the mountain’s serrated summits.

Nadir view of Monte Fitz Roy, Chile and Argentina. March 2, 2016. RapidEye. Image ©2018 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

When you take an image of Monte Fitz Roy from an angle, the view becomes altogether different: the mountains rise to their commanding height, valleys regain their depth, and background features recede into the distance. It’s like getting a view out the window of an airplane 450 kilometers high.

Oblique view of Monte Fitz Roy. March 19, 2018. SkySat. Image ©2018 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

Planet’s constellation of 13 SkySats offers greater flexibility in showcasing the planet from all its glorious angles. Here’s a series of experimental, off-angle images that capture some of the world’s most stunning vertical features.

Cities

The Pearl-Qatar is a man-made island that extends from the northern fringes of Doha into the shallow waters of the Persian Gulf. High-rise apartment buildings ringing the Pearl’s lagoons provide plenty of prime beachfront real estate.

Doha, Qatar. November 11, 2017. Image ©2018 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

Houston’s sky-high downtown is surrounded by miles and miles and miles of low-rise buildings interspersed with braided freeways. Notice the open roof of Minute Maid Park, getting ready for opening day in the wake of the Astro’s 2017 World Series victory.

Houston, Texas. March 14, 2018. Image ©2018 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

Like Houston, Riyadh has clusters of skyscrapers surrounded by lower-density sprawlish development. But unlike swampy Houston, Riyadh’s air is bone-dry, allowing a super-sharp and expansive view from space.

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. March 10, 2018. Image ©2018 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

Once an industrial port town, Bilbao, Spain is now a center of art, culture, and Basque cuisine. Notable landmarks include San Mamés Stadium, the Torre Iberdrola, and the Museo Guggenheim Bilbao, all positioned along the snaking Ría de Bilbao.

Bilbao, Spain. March 13, 2018. Image ©2018 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

Shanghai’s Pudong district rests in a bend of the Huangpu River, near the confluence of the Yellow River. The distinctive Oriental Pearl Tower, once China’s tallest structure, is now dwarfed by the nearby Shanghai Tower.

Shanghai, China. March 9, 2018. Image ©2018 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

Roughly 70 percent of Japan is mountainous, volcanic, or both, so areas of flat land are well-utilized. In Osaka, Japan’s second-largest city, clusters of skyscrapers rise between Osaka Castle and the Yodo River, and massive industrial and port facilities line the shoreline of Osaka Bay.

Osaka, Japan. March 13, 2018. Image ©2018 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

With a population nearing 12 million, São Paulo is not only Brazil’s largest city, but also the largest city in the Americas. Clusters of apartment blocks and expansive villas surround Ibirapuera Park near the center of the image, while the Pinheiros River winds by a horse racetrack in the upper left.

São Paulo, Brazil. March 12, 2018. Image ©2018 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

Nestled beneath Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa is one of the world’s most distinctive and photogenic cities. It’s also one of the few major cities adjacent to a world-class national park.

Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa. March 19, 2018. Image ©2018 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

Nature

At 979 meters, Salto Angel (Angel Falls) is the world’s tallest waterfall. The drop is so precipitous that on windy days the stream dissolves into a fine mist, not even reaching the Rio Kerepacupai Meru far below.

Salto Angel, Venezuela. March 23, 2018. Image ©2018 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

The Karakoram Range in Pakistan features the greatest concentration of 8,000-meter peaks on Earth, and three of them are visible in this image: Broad Peak (upper right), Gasherbrum II (center), and Gasherbrum I (lower center).

Gasherbrum Massif, Pakistan. March 11, 2018. Image ©2018 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

Only an hour or so outside of Sydney, Australia lie the Blue Mountains — a landscape of cliffs, plateaus, and relatively untouched eucalypt forests. Near the town of Katoomba, New South Wales, the Three Sisters rock formation seemingly floats above the forested valleys.

Blue Mountains, Australia. March 17, 2018. Image ©2018 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

Mount Etna has a decent claim on the title of second-most active volcano on the planet after Kilauea. The craters on the summit are continuously evolving, and every so often they erupt into life, spilling ash, cinders, and sometimes the occasional lava flow, onto the snow-covered slopes.

Mount Etna, Italy. March 10, 2018. Image ©2018 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

Persistent action by the Virgin River, cutting through over 500 meters of Navajo Sandstone, formed the vertical rock formations of Utah’s Zion National Park. Snow lingers at some of the higher elevations in this image taken on the second day of spring.

Zion National Park. United States. March 21, 2018. Image ©2018 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

Bora Bora is a classic volcanic island surrounded by fringing reefs. Moist South Pacific air interacting with the island’s steep slopes mean glimpses of Mount Otemanu — Bora Bora’s highest point — are few and far between.

Bora Bora, French Polynesia. March 9, 2018. Image ©2018 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

Nearly continuous activity has coated the snowy slopes of Klyuchevskaya Volcano with dark ash. Every once in a while, Klyuchevskaya will shoot a plume of ash and gas thousands of meters into the air, forcing flights over the Kamchatka Peninsula to be re-routed.

Klyuchevskaya Volcano, Russia. March 11, 2018. Image ©2018 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

Sixty-five million years ago, at the end of the age of dinosaurs, a series of volcanic eruptions lasting 5 million years covered parts of what is now India in lava flows more than 2,000 meters thick. These flows formed the Deccan Traps, which are still visible in the western Indian state of Maharashtra as layered cliffs and high plateaus covered in sinuous bands of vegetation.

Deccan Traps, India. March 22, 2018. Image ©2018 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

Planet’s SkySat constellation offers flexible operations and new capabilities to the Earth observation market — from tip and cue to frequent, high-resolution monitoring of man-made and natural landscapes.

Learn more and see additional high-resolution images at planet.com.


By Robert Simmon, Senior Data Visualization Engineer at Planet.