First Images of Earth Taken by the Landsat 9 Satellite Released

Release Date:

Landsat 9, a joint mission from the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and NASA that launched Sept. 27, has collected its first images of Earth.  

The images, referred to as “first light” by operators, were all acquired Oct. 31 and provide a preview of how the mission will continue and improve on the Landsat program’s unprecedented almost 50-year history of Earth satellite imagery.

Landsat helps people prepare for and respond to natural disasters such as landslides and wildfires, manage vital natural resources and understand the impacts of climate change. First light images are curated by NASA as part of the 100-day testing period after launch, before control of the satellite is handed over to the USGS in January 2022.  

Image shows three men and a woman standing next to a robotic arm

Vice-President Kamala Harris meets with USGS Associate Director for Natural Hazards Exercising the Delegated Authority of the Director, U.S. Geological Survey (bowtie) and NASA officials to discuss the OSAM-1 (On-orbit Servicing, Assembly and Manufacturing 1) robotic arm. (Public domain.)

“The incredible first pictures from the Landsat 9 satellite are a glimpse into the data that will help us make science-based decisions on key issues including water use, wildfire impacts, coral reef degradation, glacier and ice-shelf retreat and tropical deforestation,” said  USGS Associate Director for Natural Hazards Exercising the Delegated Authority of the Director, U.S. Geological Survey Dr. David Applegate. “This historic moment is the culmination of our long partnership with NASA on Landsat 9’s development, launch and initial operations, which will better support environmental sustainability, climate change resiliency and economic growth – all while expanding an unparalleled record of Earth's changing landscapes.”  

Shown in the images are coastal ecosystems in Australia; the intersection of cities and coastlines in the Florida Panhandle; glaciers in High Mountain Asia; and farm fields surrounding Lake Erie.

Image shows a satellite view of Australia with clouds and the coastline visible

The Eucalypt Woodland of northwest Australia is seen in this Landsat 9 image captured on October 31, 2021, by Landsat 9’s Operational Land Imager-2. The woodlands are prone to bushfires during the dry season and this shows an ongoing fire and several burn scars which appear reddish brown. Landsat 9 will help scientists understand the role climate change plays in present and future bushfires as well as vegetation recovery. The Landsat Archive holds nearly 50 years of land cover data, including information on wildfires from around the world and their ecosystems’ recovery. Through Landsat, scientists and land managers can glean a landscape-scale view of changes happening on our planet’s surface.  (Public domain.)

“First light is a big milestone for Landsat users – it’s the first chance to really see the kind of quality that Landsat 9 provides. And these look fantastic,” said Jeff Masek, NASA’s Landsat 9 project scientist. “When we have Landsat 9 operating in coordination with Landsat 8, it’s going to provide a wealth of data, allowing us to monitor changes to our home planet every eight days.”  

The  Landsat program,  begun in 1972, is the longest continuous satellite record of Earth’s surface in existence. Its images are provided free by the USGS, making it a vital resource for all land managers, planners, policymakers, scientists and natural disaster responders.  

Image shows a view of the Western United States with clouds visible

Part of the 27,000-square-mile Navajo Nation appears in this image that straddles the Arizona and New Mexico border. The landscape of the largest reservation in the United States ranges from deserts and mesas to 10,000-foot mountains and alpine forests, along with rock formations and the ruins of ancient cliff dwellings. Landsat and other satellite data help people monitor crop health and manage irrigation water. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna in New Mexico, is the first Native American Cabinet secretary in U.S. history and honors the role of Tribal Nations in America’s history and lands. This was captured on October 31, 2021, by Landsat 9’s Operational Land Imager-2.    (Public domain.)

Landsat 9 is similar in design to its predecessor Landsat 8 but features several improvements. It carries two instruments that capture imagery: the Operational Land Imager 2, or OLI-2, which detects nine different wavelengths of visible, near-infrared and shortwave-infrared light; and the Thermal Infrared Sensor 2, or TIRS-2, which detects two wavelengths of thermal radiation to measure Earth’s surface temperatures and its changes.   

These instruments will provide Landsat 9 users essential information about crop health, irrigation use, water quality, wildfire severity, deforestation, glacial retreat, urban expansion and more.   

Image shows a satellite view of Detroit with the Great Lakes visible

Scads of living color swirl on the surface of Lake Erie (lower) and Lake St. Clair in this image, captured on October 31, 2021 by Landsat 9’s Operational Land Imager-2. This image includes rural and urban areas in the U.S. states of Ohio and Michigan and the Canadian province of Ontario. The scene offers a glimpse into how data from the recently launched Landsat 9 satellite can be used to monitor the harmful algal blooms (HABs) caused by microscopic cyanobacteria. It also identified the co-mingled rural and urban land use patterns that can contribute to them through stormwater and fertilizer runoff.  (Public domain.)

The new satellite transmits data with higher radiometric resolution back down to Earth, allowing it to detect more subtle differences, especially over darker areas such as water or dense forests. For example, Landsat 9 can differentiate more than 16,000 shades of a given wavelength; Landsat 7, the satellite being replaced, detects only 256 shades.  

As part of the 100-day check-out period, NASA’s Landsat 9 team will test the satellite’s different systems and subsystems and calibrate the instruments in preparation for the handoff to the USGS. The USGS will operate Landsat 9 along with Landsat 8, and together the two satellites will collect approximately 1,500 images of Earth’s surface every day, an area roughly equivalent to the combined landmasses of North and South America. The Landsat 7 satellite will be decommissioned.  

Image shows a satellite view of the western Panhandle of Florida, with clouds and the coast visible

This image, captured on October 31, 2021, by Landsat 9’s Operational Land Imager-2, shows a part of the Florida Panhandle that lies just east of Pensacola and borders Alabama to the north. Beaches edge the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, while forests, farmland, and lakes lie inland. The Choctawatchee River flows south into Choctawatchee Bay in the center of the image. Landsat and other remote sensing satellites help to track the long-term impacts of climate change, including how rising seas could impact coastal communities.(Public domain.)

“Users worldwide are eager to incorporate Landsat 9 data into their Earth science studies and automated change-detection systems.  Right after launch, we were already receiving inquiries about the data,” said Joe Blahovec, New Missions Branch Chief for the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center. “These images signal to our users that Landsat’s unparalleled long-term record of precision Earth observations will continue to provide them the benefits they’ve come to expect.”  

Landsat 9 data will be available free to the public from USGS’s website as soon as the satellite begins normal operations.   

For more information on Landsat 9 and the Landsat program, visit:  

www.nasa.gov/Landsat9  

or  

www.usgs.gov/landsat