Earth comes in for its close-up with NASA's Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) -- the "zoom lens" of NASA's Terra satellite -- and now image data from the instrument are available to the public.

"ASTER is a general-purpose instrument," says Dr. Michael Abrams of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the ASTER associate science team leader. "It has capabilities for a variety of users and applications. It can map the planet's surface and how it changes with time, and can determine the characteristics of land and water surfaces." The instrument has 14 spectral bands, extremely high spatial resolution and stereo imaging capabilities.

Built in Japan for the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, ASTER is one of several Earth-observing instruments on the Terra satellite, launched in December 1999. Part of NASA's Earth Observing System, Terra flies in a Sun- synchronous polar orbit. The ASTER instrument can revisit any place on Earth at least every 16 days, and researchers will be able to request that ASTER take images of specific areas.

One of ASTER's primary goals is to acquire a one-time cloud-free image of the entire land surface of Earth, an important baseline against which environmental change, both natural and human-induced, can be measured. Environmental monitoring using ASTER data is already underway in studies of glaciers, coral reefs and deforestation. ASTER's land-use applications include acquiring basic information about the composition and distribution of materials on Earth's surface. The observations are helping identify new mineral and fossil fuel deposits in poorly explored regions, monitoring land use and land cover, and providing information on agricultural and urban development in growing areas of population. With its ability to detect volcanic gas emissions and thermal change, the instrument is also proving to be an important new tool for monitoring volcanoes and helping improve predictions of their sometimes deadly eruptions.

A joint U.S.-Japan science team is responsible for instrument design, calibration and validation. More information about ASTER is available online at .

ASTER provides data in scenes of about 60 x 60 kilometers (37 x 37 miles) with spatial resolutions between 15 and 90 meters (49 and 295 feet). ASTER data will be processed, archived and distributed by the U.S. Geological Survey EROS Data Center's Distributed Active Archive Center in Sioux Falls, S.D. For information, see .

Images associated with this release are available at .

The Terra spacecraft, the flagship of a fleet of satellites dedicated to understanding our global environment, is part of NASA's Earth Sciences Enterprise, a long-term research program dedicated to understanding how human-induced and natural changes affect our world.

JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

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