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NASA releases nearly 3 million thermal Earth images

NASA has made free and available to the public nearly 3 million images of Earth's thermal emissions that were gathered by a Japanese remote sensing instrument onboard the Terra spacecraft since 1999. NASA is giving the public unlimited access to the 16-year database from Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Readiometer (ASTER) instrument, according to a press release.

The instrument takes images of Earth to map out and keep track of the planet's changing surface. Right now, there are more than 2.95 million individual scenes captured by the instrument, and they include images of everything from an EF-5 tornado to volcanic eruptions in Iceland.

"We anticipate a dramatic increase in the number of users of our data, with new and exciting results to come," Michael Abrams, ASTER science team leader at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, home to ASTER's U.S. science team, said in the release.

In the past, users had to pay METI a fee in order to access some of ASTER's "data products."

How is the data compiled? ASTER processes the data into products using algorithms that are developed at the JPL and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) in Japan. A joint team from both countries calibrates the instrument.

ASTER was made to construct detailed maps of the planet's elevation, reflectance, and land surface temperature. Images are taken in visible infrared wavelengths, and ASTER's data covers 99 percent of the planet's entire landmass. One single ASTER scene spans an area that measures about 37-by-37 miles.

The images provided by the instrument give scientists a clearer idea of how the planet is changing. It can reveal changes in glaciers, volcanic activity, coral reef depletion, and even crop stress.

The images are available through download from NASA"s Land Process Distributed Active Archive Center that is at the U.S. Geological Survey's Earth Resources Observation and Science Center. The data is accessible through or