By: GIS Geography · Last Updated: December 13, 2020
These are the top 25 satellite maps in 2020.
The best part?
You’ll get to explore Earth in new ways that you’ve never thought possible.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Satellite Maps
1 Google Maps
Google Maps is the ULTIMATE tool for satellite maps. It’s grown over the years. So has its features:
- Like it’s panoramic street views.
- Its 3D perspectives are mind-blowingly insane.
- And almost everyone’s favorite: finding their house with its solid addressing system.
But the best part about Google Maps is that it’s regularly updated. In fact, it’s hard to find any imagery that’s more than 3 years old.
The only downside I can think of is that you only get ONE snapshot in time. That’s where Google Earth Pro comes in…
2 Google Earth Pro
Pop quiz, hotshot! Does Google Maps and Google Earth Pro share the same imagery? The answer is: They are completely DIFFERENT from each other.
Google Earth Pro lets you hit rewind in its historical timeline. That way, you can interactively view past satellite maps for anywhere in the world.
Long ago, this used to be a paid feature. But now, it’s completely free. So if you want to see imagery like capsules of time, Google Earth Pro is a complete winner.
3 NASA Worldview
We all know what Earth looks like. But what does it look like RIGHT NOW?
NASA’s Worldview aims at real-time imagery delivery. That is, Earth how it is “right now”. But there’s more:
It shows over 800 layers of satellite imagery. And typically, most have just a 3-hour delay in time.
This is quickly becoming one of my go-to satellite maps. It’s because Mapbox removes the clutter and aims for clarity.
First, head over to Mapbox. Next, go to its satellite view. As you zoom in, you’ll see high resolution satellite maps.
It includes imagery from the most iconic commercial satellites such as DigitalGlobe.
5 Esri World Imagery
Esri stitches together imagery from 300+ contributors around the globe. The result?
A world imagery layer that is one of the most powerful, up-to-date basemaps today.
Quickly and effectively, you can view satellite maps down to 3cm in pixels. That’s the size of a tiny pebble!
6 Esri Wayback Atlas
Esri’s Way Back Atlas is like going through a time machine. Similar to Google Earth Pro, you can selectively choose from satellite maps back in time.
But this atlas holds a secret wealth of information. For example, New York has 100+ satellite maps dating back to 2014.
Esri’s World Imagery layer (#5) serves as the best available of all satellite maps… But Esri’s Way Back Atlas puts you in the driver’s seat for what’s “best available”.
7 Bing Maps
If I could give you one tip for satellite maps, it would be to not ignore Bing Maps.
Don’t get me wrong: Bing’s street views are sparse and it doesn’t have oblique views like Google Maps.
But Bing Maps still serves 10+ TB of imagery. While some imagery can be years out of date, populated areas still have frequent updates.
8 HERE Maps
As a company, HERE focuses on navigation, traffic patterns, and self-driving cars.
But as part of its platform, it delivers satellite maps for drivers. What I’m referring to is its HERE map.
When you head over to HERE, you’ll first notice its squeaky clean interface. As you pan around, you get a range of satellite maps to explore.
9 Planet Explorer
Planet Explorer is like the goldmine of satellite maps. Here’s why:
It doesn’t just show satellite maps from 120+ microsatellites. But you get nearly daily updates at 2.5 m resolution
There’s only one catch: First, you’ll have to register an account. It’s free for the first 15 days. But after that, you’ll have to pay.
When you visit MapQuest, you’ll get an automatic feeling of nostalgia.
Sure, it’s a map that’s trying to sell you a hotel. But it’s not all bad: MapQuest leverages services from TomTom giving you a mixed bag of imagery.
MapQuest was once popular in the 90s. Admittedly, it’s still not much of a map. Unless it’s on a “Quest” for a better “Map”. Just waiting for that day to come.
11 Yahoo! Maps
Yahoo! Maps is like the Hall Mary of satellite maps. In fact, it’s been defunct since 2015.
Yahoo had a legitimate 8-year run. Yet somehow, they still haven’t powered it down.
Its satellite maps are behind its competitors in several regards. For example, it lacks 3D, street views, and imagery updates.
12 MDA NaturalVue
For a coarse view of the Earth, MDA NaturalVue is at 15 meter resolution. Just to give you perspective on what that means:
First, find a soccer field on the map. Then, count the number of pixels. If you count 20 or so, it’s so coarse that you won’t even be able to recognize the center field.
Sure, NaturalVue is old. It’s even a bit of a wildcard. But it’s a bonafide hit if you’re looking for consistent world imagery.
Chapter 2. Beyond Visible
13 Landsat Explorer
The launch of Landsat-1 in 1972 was a hinge point for space satellites. It was a milestone moment that prompted the 40+ years of archiving our planet’s history.
Hundreds of satellites have followed Landsat’s path into space. But it wasn’t just in color.
In the Landsat Explorer, you can see the world in new ways like near infrared, a spectral index or like how our eyes see it.
14 Sentinel Playground
The Sentinel Playground lives up to its name. Because the truth is: Satellite maps aren’t just for pretty pictures.
For example, the 12 indices in the Sentinel Playground characterize Earth’s features differently.
It’s like those little Russian Dolls: You see layers upon layers. Each one is a proven way that can help you get to the bottom of distinguishing anything.
15 USGS Earth Explorer
USGS Earth Explorer gives users 45+ satellite platforms to browse through. But you don’t have to download data. You can simply preview ANYTHING.
For example, it’s the only source where you can view hyperspectral imagery on-the-fly. Not only that, but you can unlock spy satellites like CORONA from the 1960s.
Overall, USGS Earth Explorer rewires how you see satellite maps. Because seeing is believing, give it a test-drive.
Leaflet allows anyone to build lightweight web maps they can call their own.
As part of Leaflet, it has a range of free tile providers. For example, Esri, Geoportal France and CartoDB are all there.
A cool feature is that when you pan, it interactively updates each provider’s map.
Similar to Leaflet, Cesium lets users build their own customized web maps.
But because Cesium is all in 3D, viewing is off the charts.
The Cesium Viewer is joined by satellite maps like Bing, Esri and Mapbox.
Chapter 3. Humanitarian Satellite Maps
Tomnod leverages the power of crowdsourcing during times of crisis. For example, Tomnod is best known for its platform search for flight MH370.
Regardless of the campaign, Tomnod can be a treasure trove for satellite maps. Anyone who doubts it should look at its past campaigns Tomnod proves we don’t need MacGyver on the case. Instead, we need the power of crowdsourcing.
After 9 years and kilometers of satellite imagery, DigitalGlobe is shifting the Tomnod platform to GeoHIVE.
19 DigitalGlobe Open Data
DigitalGlobe has two flavors of open data:
First, its Open Data Program supports major global crisis events like earthquakes, hurricanes, and forest fires. That way, those who need it can get the support they need. During these humanitarian events, they release each photo into the public domain under the Creative Commons 4.0 license.
Secondly, DigitalGlobe has product samples available around the globe. For example, sample imagery products are available for Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Stockholm (Sweden), and Washington DC (USA).
Chapter 4. Weather Forecasting
20 NOAA Weather Radar
NOAA’s 3D map is the first out-of-the-gate. The trick to this one is how it gives you near real-time weather.
In this global map, you can see the weather from space as it would appear from our eyes.
Alternatively, the near-infrared lets you tackle the challenge through a different lens.
21 GOES Viewer
GOES knows the weather. These geostationary satellites update our weather every 5 minutes. But how do you see it?
First, head over to the GOES Imagery Viewer. Next, select your target region.
This will lead you to satellite maps for the weather. Finally, choose your view and get an updated snapshot of satellite weather.
22 Latest 24
As NOAA satellites silently circle Earth, we get a preview of our planet from space.
Instead of a 3D perspective, NOAA has built a set of satellite maps that targets weather with a top-down view.
In fact, you can interactively fast-forward and rewind the weather from the last 24 hours each day.
Chapter 5. Specialty Satellite Maps
23 Night View
How does Earth look like at night? And what is the extent of human settlement on the landscape?
By stitching 400+ images from space, NASA had compiled the most comprehensive night view in its black marble map.
As seen in this night view map, major cities illuminate the sky the most. Overall, this gives us a ballpark figure for how much humanity has inhabited the land.
24 Global Forest Map
When a tree falls in the forest, satellites hear the impact. Anyone who doubts the severity of deforestation can browse it in the Global Forest Watch.
First, go to the Global Forest Watch. By default, cleared forests are on. Countries like Indonesia, Brazil, and Peru light up.
If you zoom in, it has satellite maps like Planet’s 120+ constellation – the paid one (#9) I mentioned above.
25 NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS)
When wildfires roar, satellites track where they burn. Specifically, they capture wildfires as they happen and stream it through active fire maps like FIRMS.
Yet somehow, there’s a curious disconnect between those fighting fires on the ground.
Satellites sensors like MODIS and VIIRS make use of thermal infrared. Only then, we can detect fires as small as a hot spot… all the way up to a volcanic eruption.
We’ve put an all-out-effort equipping you with the best satellite maps.
Now, it’s your turn:
You now have a competitive edge for space imagery.
But what’s your favorite? And what did we miss?
Go to our comments section below.