Mapping Monday: Inauguration from Space

What do 1.8 million visitors spread out across the National Mall in Washington, D.C. look like? Thanks to Earth-orbiting satellites capturing snapshots of our planet, we know. A satellite image from the GeoEye-1 satellite taken on the morning of President Obama’s 2009 inauguration ceremony reveals what looks like a series of ant hills–from the steps of the Capitol building and west across the National Mall, past the Smithsonian Museums and the Washington and World War II monuments, along the reflecting pool and to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Behind that, ice can be seen covering the Potomac River–an image that might recall the frigid temperatures that January morning for any of the 1.8 million people there to experience it.

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Image courtesy of GeoEye

See that image here, and then check out the same image along with a gallery of photos from past U.S. Presidential inaugurations in this media spotlight from our website.

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Image courtesy of GeoEye

Man-made satellites have been orbiting the Earth for well over fifty years now, starting with Russia’s launch of the Sputnik 1 satellite in 1957 (an event that also marked the start of the space race of the 1960’s). Today there are dozens of these satellites that are essential for global communications and Earth monitoring, to name a few uses.

People around the world interact with satellite imagery on a daily basis when they use online map applications like Google Maps or our National Geographic MapMaker Interactive. These types of online applications work with providers of imagery to make regular updates to the satellite imagery so that it is current, but it is no easy task–the world is a big place and it takes time and a lot of storage space to capture and distribute digital images of our planet! So we will keep our map-loving eyes peeled look for an image of President Obama’s 2013 inauguration once it’s released and bring it to you here.

Beyond our own atmosphere, NASA is working on a satellite to launch and send into orbit around Mars so we can better understand the atmosphere of our neighboring planet. The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission is scheduled for launch in late 2013. Check out this video on our website to learn more.

Written by Sean O’Connor, National Geographic Education

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