In 2001, ASTER spotted Morocco's Anti-Atlas Mountains, which formed about 80 million years ago. Colors signify different rock types: The yellowish, orange and green areas are limestones, sandstones and gypsum.
The massive photo dump, announced on April 1, gives scientists worldwide easier access to archives of the instrument, which records Earth's geology and weather with 14 different channels of visible and infrared light.
The instrument's flexibility—and enviable vantage point—has made it a key to scientists' monitoring of Earth systems. Since Terra launched in 1999, scientists have used ASTER data to do everything from track glacial melting to monitor thousands of Earth's active volcanoes.
"All our lives, we look from five feet up," says Michael Abrams, the U.S. ASTER science team leader. "When we get really high, we gain an entirely different perspective of what our earth is and how it operates."
"We’ve had a lot of interest in this happening for quite a long time," says Abrams.
To celebrate the newly free ASTER data, National Geographic has compiled some of our favorite pictures taken by the instrument, based on Abrams' personal favorite ASTER images.
"From space, images of Earth become more abstract designs [and] patterns—but they tell you something about the geology," says Abrams. "I definitely resonate [with] that."
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