Blue Marble Next Generation

by Reto Stockli • October 13, 2005

Everyone knows that NASA studies space; fewer people know that NASA also studies Earth. Since the agency’s creation almost 50 years ago, NASA has been a world leader in space-based studies of our home planet. Our mission has always been to explore, to discover, and to understand the world in which we live from the unique vantage point of space, and to share our newly gained perspectives with the public. That spirit of sharing remains true today as NASA operates 18 of the most advanced Earth-observing satellites ever built, helping scientists make some of the most detailed observations ever made of our world.


To access Blue Marble images in multiple resolutions, visit Visible Earth.

Also available in Ukrainian (translation by Vlad Brown).

  Image of South America from September 2004

In celebration of the deployment of its Earth Observing System, NASA is pleased to share the newest in its series of stunning Earth images, affectionately named the “Blue Marble.” This new Earth imagery enhances the Blue Marble legacy by providing a detailed look at an entire year in the life of our planet. In sharing these Blue Marble images, NASA hopes the public will join with the agency in its continuing exploration of our world from the unique perspective of space.

To learn more about the development of NASA’s imagery of the Earth as a whole, read the History of the Blue Marble.


Blue Marble: Next Generation offers greater spatial detail of the surface and spans a longer data collection period than the original. The original Blue Marble was a composite of four months of MODIS observations with a spatial resolution (level of detail) of 1 square kilometer per pixel. Blue Marble: Next Generation offers a year’s worth of monthly composites at a spatial resolution of 500 meters. These monthly images reveal seasonal changes to the land surface: the green-up and dying-back of vegetation in temperate regions such as North America and Europe, dry and wet seasons in the tropics, and advancing and retreating Northern Hemisphere snow cover. From a computer processing standpoint, the major improvement is the development of a new technique for allowing the computer to automatically recognize and remove cloud-contaminated or otherwise bad data—a process that was previously done manually.


The Blue Marble: Next Generation is a series of images that show the color of the Earth’s surface for each month of 2004 at very high resolution (500 meters/pixel) at a global scale. This image shows South America from September 2004. (NASA image courtesy Reto Stöckli and Robert Simmon)

  Winter versus summer comparison of the Alps

Blue Marble: Next Generation improves the techniques for turning satellite data into digital images. Among the key improvements is greater detail in areas that usually appear very dark to the satellite (because a large amount of sunlight is being absorbed), for example in dense tropical forests. The ability to create a digital image that provides great detail in darker regions without “washing out” brighter regions, like glaciers, snow-covered areas, and deserts is one of the great challenges of visualizing satellite data. The new version also improves image clarity, and gives highly reflective land surfaces, such as salt flats, a more realistic appearance.


Monthly imagery shows seasonable variability, like the change in Alpine snow-cover from January to July. (NASA images by Reto Stöckli)

  Detail of the Etosh Pan, Namibia


Those who intend to use the Blue Marble: Next Generation in their own publications or projects should be aware of areas that still require improvement. Areas of open water still show some “noise.” In tropical lowlands, cloud cover during the rainy season can be so extensive that obtaining a cloud-free view of every pixel of the area for a given month may not be possible. Deep oceans are not included in the source data; the creator of the Blue Marble uses a uniform blue color for deep ocean regions, and this value has not been completely blended with observations of shallow water in coastal areas. The lack of blending may, in some cases, make the transition between shallow coastal water and deep ocean appear unnatural. Finally, the data do not completely distinguish between snow and cloud cover in areas with short-term snow cover (less than three or four months). This problem may be resolved in the future through the use of a more sophisticated snow mask.

Data Access

Full-resolution, subsetted, and reduced-resolution files are available on the Blue Marble Next Generation collection on NASA’s Visible Earth.

Additional Download Sites

Arctic Region Supercomputing Center
NEO (NASA Earth Observations)
Swiss Super Computing Center CSCS


Seasonal Landcover Change over Western Asia in 2004
Seasonal Landcover Change over the Alps
Seasonal Landcover Change over the Eastern United States
Global Seasonal Landcover in 2004

Interactive viewers

Blue Marble Viewer
NASA World Wind
Open MapQuest


Blue Marble: Next Generation was produced by Reto Stöckli, NASA Earth Observatory (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center). See The Blue Marble Next Generation—A true color Earth dataset including seasonal dynamics from MODIS (880 kB PDF) for acknowledgments. Anyone using or republishing Blue Marble: Next Generation please credit “NASA’s Earth Observatory.”


  • Justice C.O., 1 Townshend J.R.G., Vermote E. F., Masuoka E., Wolfe R.E., El Saleous N., Roy D.P. and Morisette. J.T. , 2002. An overview of MODIS Land data processing and product status. Remote Sensing of Environment, 83, 1-2, 3-15.
  • Los, S.O., Collatz, G.J., Sellers, P.J., Malmström, C.M., Pollack, N.H., DeFries, R.S., Bounoua, L., Parris, M.T., Tucker, C.J., and Dazlich, D.A. (2000) A global 9-year biophysical land-surface data set from NOAA AVHRR data. J Hydrometeor., 1, 183-199.
  • Sellers, P.J., Los, S.O., Tucker, C.J., Justice, C.O., Dazlich, D.A., Collatz, G.J., and Randall, D.A. (1996) A revised land surface parameterization (SiB-2) for atmospheric GCMs. Part 2: The generation of global fields of terrestrial biophysical parameters from satellite data. Journal of Climate, 9, 706-737.
  • Stöckli, R, and Vidale, P.L. (2004) European plant phenology and climate as seen in a 20 year AVHRR land-surface parameter dataset. Internat. J. Remote Sens., 25 (17), 3303-3330.

Improvements to the data-processing algorithms resulted in relatively noise-free images with few artifacts. Dry salt flats, such as the Etosha Pan in Namibia, rendered as water in the original Blue Marble, but are now accurately colored. (NASA images by Reto Stöckli.)


the Blue Marble, a true-color 1km image of the Earth

This spectacular “blue marble” image is the most detailed true-color image of the entire Earth to date. Using a collection of satellite-based observations, scientists and visualizers stitched together months of observations of the land surface, oceans, sea ice, and clouds into a seamless, true-color mosaic of every square kilometer (.386 square mile) of our planet. These images are freely available to educators, scientists, museums, and the public. Preview images and links to full resolution versions—up to 21,600 pixels across—are located below.

  Close-ups at full (1km per pixel) resolution

View of the Western Hemisphere

Much of the information contained in this image came from a single remote-sensing device-NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS. Flying over 700 km above the Earth onboard the Terra satellite, MODIS provides an integrated tool for observing a variety of terrestrial, oceanic, and atmospheric features of the Earth. The land and coastal ocean portions of these images are based on surface observations collected from June through September 2001 and combined, or composited, every eight days to compensate for clouds that might block the sensor’s view of the surface on any single day. Two different types of ocean data were used in these images: shallow water true color data, and global ocean color (or chlorophyll) data. Topographic shading is based on the GTOPO 30 elevation dataset compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey’s EROS Data Center. MODIS observations of polar sea ice were combined with observations of Antarctica made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s AVHRR sensor—the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer. The cloud image is a composite of two days of imagery collected in visible light wavelengths and a third day of thermal infra-red imagery over the poles. Global city lights, derived from 9 months of observations from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, are superimposed on a darkened land surface map.

Source files and technical details (ftp)


View of the Earth From Space
Western Hemisphere 2048 by 2048 pixels (9.9 MB TIFF)
Western Hemisphere 2048 by 2048 pixels (580 KB JPEG)

Eastern Hemisphere 2048 by 2048 pixels (7.1 MB TIFF)
Eastern Hemisphere 2048 by 2048 pixels (520 KB JPEG)
Eastern Hemisphere 540 by 540 pixels (60 KB JPEG)

Web Resolution (1.7 MB MPEG)
TV (NTSC) Resolution (5.7 MB MPEG)
Lossless TV Resolution (98 MB Quicktime)**
HDTV Resolution (19 MB MPEG-2) (Available on the Visible Earth)
Lossless HDTV Resolution (210 MB Quicktime)**

Land, Shallow Water, Shaded Topography


Land Surface, Shallow Water, and Shaded Topography
Western Hemisphere 21,600 by 21,600 pixels (1km) (240 MB TIFF)**
Eastern Hemisphere 21,600 by 21,600 pixels (1km) (400 MB TIFF)**
21,600 by 10,800 pixels (170 MB TIFF)**
8192 by 4096 pixels (26.5 MB TIFF) (Available on the Visible Earth)
2048 by 1024 pixels (1.8 MB TIFF)
2048 by 1024 pixels (230 KB JPEG)

Land, Ocean Color, Sea Ice


Land Surface, Ocean Color, and Sea Ice
8192 by 4096 pixels (31 MB TIFF) (Available on the Visible Earth)
2048 by 1024 pixels (2.5 MB TIFF)
2048 by 1024 pixels (260 KB JPEG)

Land Ocean Ice Cloud


Land Surface, Ocean Color, Sea Ice, and Clouds
8192 by 4096 pixels (48.7 MB TIFF) (Available on the Visible Earth)
2048 by 1024 pixels (3.4 MB TIFF)
2048 by 1024 pixels (580 KB JPEG)



8192 by 4096 pixels (23 MB TIFF) (Available on the Visible Earth)
2048 by 1024 pixels (1.7 MB TIFF)
2048 by 1024 pixels (460 KB JPEG)

Land, Oceans, Sea Ice, City Lights


Land, Ocean Color, Sea Ice, City Lights
8192 by 4096 pixels (10 MB TIFF) (Available on the Visible Earth)
2048 by 1024 pixels (1.2 MB TIFF)
2048 by 1024 pixels (150 KB JPEG)


the Blue Marble, a true-color 1km image of the Earth

The 1-kilometer per pixel resolution of these data reveals surprising details of the Earth’s surface, from the diversity of color in the Great Salt Lake to deforestation in the Amazon and the glaciers of the Himalaya.

  back to: the Blue Marble

Great Salt Lake and Wasatch Mountains, Utah

  Great Salt Lake and Wasatch Mountains, Utah

Grand Canyon, Arizona

  Grand Canyon, Arizona

Mount Rainier, Washington

  Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, and Mt. Adams

San Francisco Bay

  San Francisco Bay and the Central Valley of California


  Appalachian Mountains and Shenandoah National Park

Amazon River

  Sediment at the Mouth of the Amazon River


  Deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest

Sobradinho Reservoir

  Sobradinho Reservoir, Brazil


  The Alps, France and Switzerland

Okavango Delta, Botswana

  Okavango Delta, Botswana

The Empty Quarter, Saudi Arabia

  The Empty Quarter, Saudi Arabia and Yemen

Great Bend of the Brahmaputra

  Great Bend of the Brahmaputra, India and China (Tibet)

Great Barrier Reef

  Great Barrier Reef, Australia

South Island, New Zealand

  South Island, New Zealand

Beijing, China

  Beijing, China

Tokyo and Mount Fuji, Japan

  Tokyo and Mount Fuji, Japan

Volcanoes along the Kamchatka Penninsula, Russia

  Volcanoes along the Kamchatka Penninsula, Russia

History of the Blue Marble


The Earth didn’t appear blue in NASA’s first satellite images; rather, the Television Infrared Observation Satellite, known as TIROS, beamed home images in black and white. Still, those earliest images showed that a yet-unproven method of observing the Earth from space would help improve weather forecasts.

Astronaut photographs taken during the Apollo missions provided full-color images of Earth, and fostered a greater awareness of the need to understand our home planet. In 1972, from a distance of about 45,000 km (28,000 mi), the crew of Apollo 17 took one of the most famous photographs ever made of the Earth. This original Blue Marble inspired later images of the Earth compiled from satellite data. In 2000, NASA data visualizers compiled an image of the western hemisphere using data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s GOES-8 and Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer, and NASA and Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor.

  The first satellite image of the Earth, taken by TIROS-1

The first television image of the Earth from space, taken by the Television Infrared Observation Satellite (TIROS-1) on April 1, 1960. (Image by NASA)

  Photograph of the Earth from Apollo 17

In 2002, NASA produced the Blue Marble, the most detailed true-color image of the Earth’s surface ever produced. Using data from NASA’s Terra satellite, scientists and data visualizers stitched together four months of observations of the land surface, coastal oceans, sea ice, and clouds into a seamless, photo-like mosaic of every square kilometer (.386 square mile) of our planet. In October 2005, NASA released a new version of the spectacular image collection that provides a full year’s worth of monthly observations with twice the level of detail as the original. The new collection is called the Blue Marble: Next Generation.


On December 7, 1972, the crew of Apollo 17 changed the way we look at our home planet. This photograph illustrates the Earth as an isolated ecosystem, floating in space. (Astronaut photograph AS17-148-22727 courtesy NASA Johnson Space Center Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth)

  Blue Marble 2002

Like the original, the Blue Marble: Next Generation is a mosaic of satellite data taken mostly from a NASA sensor called the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) that flies board NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites. Also like its predecessor, the new Blue Marble is available free of charge to educators, scientists, museums, businesses, and the public. The collection includes images that are sized for different media, including Web and print. Users can download images of the entire globe, or just selected regions of interest.


The 2002 Blue Marble featured land surfaces, clouds, topography, and city lights at a maximum resolution of 1 kilometer per pixel. (NASA image by Robert Simmon and Reto Stöckli)

Sample of the Blue Marble: Next Generation imagery
  back The Blue Marble: Next Generation  

The Blue Marble: Next Generation features imagery of land surfaces during each month of 2004, with a maximum resolution of 500 meters per pixel. (NASA Image by Robert Simmon and Reto Stöckli)


Monthly Global Images

January 2004
January 8km/pixel 2km/pixel 500m/pixel
February 2004
February 8km/pixel 2km/pixel 500m/pixel
March 2004
March 8km/pixel 2km/pixel 500m/pixel
April 2004
April 8km/pixel 2km/pixel 500m/pixel
May 2004
May 8km/pixel 2km/pixel 500m/pixel
June 2004
June 8km/pixel 2km/pixel 500m/pixel
July 2004
July 8km/pixel 2km/pixel 500m/pixel
August 2004
August 8km/pixel 2km/pixel 500m/pixel
September 2004
September 8km/pixel 2km/pixel 500m/pixel
October 2004
October 8km/pixel 2km/pixel 500m/pixel
November 2004
November 8km/pixel 2km/pixel 500m/pixel
December 2004
December 8km/pixel 2km/pixel 500m/pixel
Earth's surface with topographic shading
topographic shading 8km/pixel 2km/pixel 500m/pixel
Earth's surface with topographic and bathymetric shading
topographic & bathymetric shading 8km/pixel 2km/pixel 500m/pixel
Grayscale topographic image
topography 8km/pixel 2km/pixel  
Grayscale bathymetric image
bathymetry 8km/pixel 2km/pixel  

Visit the Blue Marble Collection on NASA’s Visible Earth for more variations and download options, including additional full-resolution (500-meter) formats, all 12 months with topographic shading, and topographic shading combined with bathymetry.

back The Blue Marble: Next Generation

(NASA images by Reto Stöckli. Bathymetry images are derived from the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans Digital Atlas)