An instrument called the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer — or ASTER, for short — has been taking pictures of the Earth since it launched into space in 1999.
In that time, it has photographed an incredible 99% of the planet’s surface.
Although it’s aboard NASA’s Terra spacecraft, ASTER is a Japanese instrument and most of its data and images weren’t free to the public — until now.
NASA announced April 1 that ASTER’s 2.95 million scenes of our planet are now ready-to-download and analyze for free.
With 16 years’ worth of images, there are a lot to sort through.
Here are our 21 favorites.
Many ASTER images look like they were colored in by a little kid, including this one of the Andes Mountains. But that’s because it has an infrared camera that can detect changes in surface temperatures, materials, and elevation.
This shot of Manaus, Brazil, is the most popular image in the ASTER gallery.
The volcanoes of the Galapagos Islands pushed them out of the Pacific Ocean.
The 10-mile Oresund Bridge connects Sweden and Denmark. You can see the artificial island they constructed in the middle to make the trip.
North Korea experienced one of the country’s worst droughts in 2015 (right). You can see how much less vegetation (in red) there is compared to 2002 on the left.
Jacques Cousteau took his Calypso submarine into the Great Blue Hole in Belize, and now you can see the carbonate reef, too.
This triangular deposit of gravel, sand, and salt in China is called an alluvial fan.
Venice, Italy’s 400 bridges and 120 islands look a little more complicated from space.
Ecuadorian wetlands were transformed into shrimp farms from 1991 (top image) to 2001 (bottom).
The McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica may be the most Mars-like landscape we have on Earth.
ASTER tracks the size of glaciers, like the Malaspina shown here from Alaska. The ice is in blue and vegetation is in yellow.
This false-color image of the Anti-Atlas Mountains in Morocco shows limestone, sandstone, and gypsum rocks in yellow, orange and green, and granite in blue.
The inset image shows the only ship that was using the 120-mile Suez Canal in Egypt at the time in May 2000.
An elaborate system of dikes, canals, dams, bridges, and locks hold back the North Sea in the Netherlands.
This photo shows the Hayman forest fire, which burned more than 90,000 acres of Colorado in 2002.
The perfectly circular intrusion of Kondyor Massif in Russia formed when molten magma crystallized underneath the Earth then rose to the surface. A stream flows out of its center.
You can see the rings of shoreline when Dagze Lake in Tibet was much larger. It has dried up over time.
Red-hot lava flows out of Mount Etna in Italy.
From space, the US-Mexico border is starkly defined by the landscape. Farms are colored in red, so Southern California (top half) stands out.
The Escondida Mine in Chile’s Atacama Desert has transformed the landscape to extract precious metals like gold, silver, and copper.
Coastal winds form the tallest sand dunes in the world in the Namib-Naukluft National Park of Namibia.
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