All The World's Plant Life, Visualized

This picture might look like an incomplete map of the world, but it is in fact the highest resolution view ever of all the world's plant life, mapped out by NASA's Suomi NPP satellite.

Using its Visible and Infrared Imaging and Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), the satellite's capable of measuring the amount of visible and near-infrared light reflected from the surface of the planet. Because vegetation absorbs visible light to drive photosynthesis but reflects near-infrared light, it's possible to map where vegetation lies by looking at the ratio of the two.

Each pixel on the satellite image corresponds to 500 meters, which means that the satellite ended up acquiring 330MB of data every minute for a whole week to create the map. It's not just for beauty's sake, though; comparing data like this week-on-week or year-on-year helps scientists predict all kinds of things, from drought and wildfire, to outbreaks of malaria. [New Scientist]

Image by NOAA