NASA Apps – Earth and space science at your fingertips

Do you crave information on remote sensing, satellite technology, exploration and other innovative space-related topics? Are you interested in learning more about specific NASA missions, or just want to browse through NASA’s many images and visualizations? We’ve put together a list of mobile Apps that should help satisfy your craving:


  • NASA Earth As Art. “This app celebrates Earth’s aesthetic beauty in the patterns, shapes, colors, and textures of the land, oceans, ice, and atmosphere.” – iPad
  • NASA Technology Innovation. “Technology Innovation is a digital publication of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate which will feature the latest space technology innovators and project developments across the agency.” – iPad/online, updated quarterly
  • NASA App. “The NASA App showcases a huge collection of the latest NASA content, including images, videos on-demand, NASA Television, mission information, news & feature stories, latest tweets, ISS sighting opportunities, satellite tracking, Third Rock Radio and much more.” – iPhone/iPad/Android
  • NASA Science: A Journey of Discovery. “This NASA Science application brings you the latest information from NASA’s Science Missions, including the spacecraft, their instruments, the data, and what we are learning about the questions we seek to answer.” – iPad
  • NASA Visualization Explorer. “This is the NASA Visualization Explorer, the coolest way to get stories about advanced space-based research delivered right to your iPad. A direct connection to NASA’s extraordinary fleet of research spacecraft, this app presents cutting edge research stories in an engaging and exciting format.” – iPad
  • Earth-Now. “NASA’s Earth Now is an application that visualizes recent global climate data from Earth Science satellites, including surface air temperature, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone, and water vapor as well as gravity and sea level variations. The resulting 3D model of the Earth may be rotated by a single finger stroke, and may also be zoomed in or out by pinching 2 fingers.” – iPhone/iPad/Android
  • Space Images. “NASA/JPL’s Space Images app offers a unique view of the sky via hundreds of images taken by spacecraft studying planets, stars, galaxies, weather on Earth and more. Save to your device as backgrounds or wallpaper and share them with friends on Facebook, Twitter and email as you scan through our extensive photo albums and rate your favorites.” – iPhone/iPad/Android
  • Spinoff 2012. “NASA Spinoff profiles the best examples of technology that have been transferred from NASA research and missions into commercial products. From life-saving satellite systems to hospital robots that care for patients and more, NASA technologies benefit society. There’s more space in your life than you think!” – iPad/online, published annually

To access a full list of NASA Apps:

What’s on your mobile device?


Eyes on the Earth – An interactive tool for exploring NASA satellite visualizations

Just the other day we were discussing earth observing missions and a question arose regarding availability of a graphic or video illustrating the current satellite orbits. So we set out to answer that question and quickly discovered NASA’s ‘Eyes on the Earth.’

Have you seen this application? If you’re interested in satellites and remote sensing it’s definitely worth your time to download and explore. Just visit and hit the start button to install the desktop application.

NASA is known for producing stunning visualizations that transform complex science into meaningful informational graphics. Anyone who has attended a NASA presentation or visited their website can attest to the thought and innovation that go into creating these products. The ‘Eyes on the Earth’ application is no exception to this creativity, bringing together an array of exceptional visualizations into a single integrated package.

The opening visualization of ‘Eyes on the Earth’ shows the current real-time position and orbital paths of NASA’s Earth observing satellites. The display is interactive, so you can easily rotate the planet into any desired position. There are also options to increase the speed of the visualization (bottom of screen), switch to full screen (lower right), toggle on/off city names and topography (upper right drop down menu), and adjust between realistic day/night lighting versus full illumination (lower right). The entire visualization can also be viewed in anaglyph 3D, assuming you have a pair of appropriate 3D glasses.

Eyes on the Earth

Want to learn more about a particular mission or specific type of observation? The application allows you to select from a number of pre-defined visualizations that portray different ‘vital signs of the planet’, including global temperature, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sea level, and ozone. The different options can be accessed through buttons at the top of the interface or by selecting an individual satellite from within the central display. Users can then adjust the date range as well as type of data used for generating the display (daily versus three day averaging). With all these options, there’s a wealth of information available at your fingertips.

Eyes on the Earth

As a bonus, the NASA Eyes Visualization also includes ‘Eyes on the Solar System’ and ‘Eyes on Exoplanets’, which are equally intriguing to explore.

So sit back, set the application to full screen, and enjoy the experience.

Black and Blue All Over – The imagery behind NASA’s marbles

NASA is well known for its astronaut program, space exploration, rockets, satellites, remote sensing, and numerous other scientific endeavors, but are you familiar with their marbles? They now come in two flavors, a blue marble and a black marble, both depicting stunning visual displays of our planet.

The blue marble portrays a daytime view of our planet as viewed from space, and the recently released black marble reveals a novel nighttime view. Both are global composites of images collected from orbiting satellites, which have been seamlessly stitched together into cohesive representations of the entire surface of the planet.  The marbles are available for you to view and download through the NASA website, either as static individual images or as rotating animations.

Blue Marble: Next GenerationBlue Marble: The original “blue marble” was a photo acquired by astronauts onboard Apollo 17 as they departed Earth on their way to the moon, 40 years ago today, on December 7, 1972. The now iconic photo of Earth has since inspired a host of similar images, acquired from both astronauts and satellites alike, as well as motivation to generate integrated image composites of the entire planet. NASA released the first of these global composites in 2002. This version of the Blue Marble was created using imagery from the MODIS sensor onboard NASA’s Terra satellite. MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) is a multispectral instrument collecting measurements in 36 spectral bands (visible to long-wave infrared). But only those bands in the visible portion of the spectrum were used for the Blue Marble in order to generate a true-color likeness of the planet. An updated version of this composite, the Blue Marble: Next Generation, was released in 2005. Although similar to the previous version, and also based on imagery from the MODIS sensor, this new version has no clouds and twice the level of detail (500m pixels versus 1km pixels).

Black MarbleBlack Marble: Most recently, on December 5, 2012, NASA released its first nighttime composite of the planet, appropriately named the Black Marble. Imagery for this version was obtained from the multispectral VIIRS instrument onboard the Suomi NPP (National Polar-orbiting Partnership) satellite, launched just over a year ago in 2011. VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) measures 22 spectral bands in the visible to long-wave infrared, including a panchromatic day/night band. This day/night band is particularly capable of recording images in low-light conditions, and is the source of imagery utilized for generating the Black Marble composite.

As would be expected, the imagery used to create the marbles represents the foundation for many different scientific studies. While the science behind the marbles is indeed important, their visual beauty alone is inspiring and a meaningful reminder of the interconnected nature of our planet.

For more details on NASA’s Blue Marble:

For more details on NASA’s Black Marble:

NASA Earth Science Today – A look at current satellites


Earth from far above (image courtesy NASA)

Presently orbiting the Earth are a complex international array of satellites, providing services for navigation, communication, astronomy, security, and weather. Amongst these are also satellites dedicated to monitoring the environment in which we live, including our atmosphere, land and oceans. A previous post examined NASA Earth observing satellites planned for launch in the coming years. Today we look at some of the many NASA satellites that are currently in orbit around our planet.

TERRA: The heft of this satellite may be surprising, close to the size of a small bus and weighing over 11,000-lbs at launch. With this size, however, come extensive capabilities. The Terra satellite, an international mission launched in 1999, contains five separate instruments: ASTER (Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer), CERES (Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System), MISR (Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer), MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer), and MOPITT (Measurement of Pollution in the Troposphere). Together these instruments provide a unique capacity to observe Earth’s land, ocean, atmosphere, snow, and ice, helping address questions related to climate variability and change, atmospheric composition, weather, and the water, carbon and energy cycles.

AQUA: This is a companion satellite to Terra, which, along with a collection of other existing and planned satellites, is an integral part of the multi-satellite Earth Observing System (EOS). Aqua was launched in 2002, and carries a total of six instruments: AIRS (Atmospheric Infrared Sounder), AMSU-A (Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit), HSB (Humidity Sounder for Brazil), AMSR-E (Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for EOS), MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer), and CERES (Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System). Aqua and Terra have different orbit characteristics; hence the presence of MODIS and CERES on both satellites allows the same type of imagery to be collected at different times of the day.

TRMM (Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission): As would be expected from its name, the mission of this satellite is focused on measuring and understanding precipitation patterns in the tropics. The mission also provides information of tropical latent heating characteristics, which will help scientists better model the global energy budget. TRMM was launched 1997 and carries five instruments: PR (Precipitation Radar), TMI (TRMM Microwave Imager), VIRS (Visible and InfraRed Scanner), CERES (Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System), and LIS (Lightning Imaging Sensor).

CloudSat: Unlike some of the other satellites, CloudSat carries a single instrument, the CPR (Cloud Profiling Radar). This instrument builds on the strong legacy of radar expertise at NASA, following the success of other instruments such as SRTM, SIR-A, SIR-B, SIR-C, QuickScat and SeaWinds. The CPR instrument on CloudSat, launched in 2006, measures the vertical profiles of clouds, providing valuable information on cloud structure and composition. Such data is a critical component in the study of climate and weather dynamics around the planet.

AURA: The four instruments aboard the Aura satellite, launched in 2004, are designed to examine Earth’s atmosphere. Measurements are targeted at better understanding trends in air quality, atmospheric composition, ozone distribution, and the climate. The instruments on Aura include: HIRDLS (High Resolution Dynamics Limb Sounder), MLS (Microwave Limb Sounder), OMI (Ozone Monitoring Instrument), and TES (Tropospheric Emission Spectrometer).

As evident from the above descriptions, a common theme among many of the Earth observing satellites is the co-location of multiple instruments on a single satellite platform. This is not only more efficient in terms of engineering, launch and management, but also facilitates the acquisition of multiple images from different types of instruments at the same time and place in orbit. Another theme is placing the same type instrument on different satellites, allowing image collection to be performed with more frequency. At the same time there are some satellites containing just one instrument with very specific measurement objectives. Together these satellites provide a multifaceted look at our planet that can be used to address a myriad of important science and societal questions.

For information on NASA’s satellite program, visit: