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Google releases gorgeous Landsat imagery

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Landsat, Google releases time-lapse video and live surface imagery. Watching Vegas expand, as its own Lake Mead shrinks, makes for fascinating viewing.

Earthoutreach/YouTube Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

I confess that waking up today, I didn't wonder why I'd forgotten to send Landsat a birthday card.

However, it seems that the Earth-observing satellite has been floating and watching for 40 years now.

Though it doesn't seem to have quite deserved a doodle, this birthday has deserved something just as visually rich: the release of live imagery of the Earth's surface by Google, as well as some fascinating time-lapse video.

I am grateful to 9to5Google, which discovered these mind-enveloping images.

Personally, I was enchanted by one video that showed the changes in Vegas over the years.

No, it doesn't show all of the latest developments on the Strip. Instead, you can watch Lake Mead shrinking as Vegas expands, which is quite some show.

How odd to hear, even in this case, Vegas being described as living beyond its means.

On Google's Lat Long blog, software engineer Eric Nguyen explains: "We're working with the USGS and Carnegie Mellon University, to make parts of this enormous collection of imagery available to the public in time-lapse videos of the Earth's surface."

The Google Earth engine is being used to process and analyze the vast numbers of imagery that have been collected over the years.

Nguyen explains that every video frame represents around one week.

"We believe these may be the largest video frames ever created. If you could see the entire video at full resolution, a single frame would be 1.78 terapixels, which is 18 football fields' worth of computer screens laid side-by-side," he said.

I've embedded a video of how Landsat and Google Earth Engine work together below.

There's something both fascinating and sobering about watching environmental change happening before your eyes in a far swifter time than it did in real life.

It reminds one of how a sole development, a sole happening, a sole decision can influence huge effects that seem to be unstoppable.

If only, before starting each day, politicians could be given a video that showed a future time lapse, so that they could carefully (for once) consider the effects of their scheming and decision-making.