The newest polar-orbiting satellite in the U.S. fleet snapped the most detailed image of the Northern Hemisphere, just in time for Earth Day.
The satellite photo — taken by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) NOAA-20 spacecraft — looks down on the top of the globe, showing the ice-covered North Pole, as well as North America and Eurasia.
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If you look closely, you can see stunning details, from sea ice near Greenland, to the marked lack of sea ice across the Bering Sea, between Alaska and Russia.
Photo via NOAA
The Bering Sea had the lowest sea ice extent yet on record this year, due in part to an anomalously strong flow of air and water from the south that kept water temperatures high enough to prevent a thick ice pack from forming.
One can easily see the swirls of clouds associated with storm systems crossing the hemisphere from west to east. This image was created using the VIIRS instrument on the satellite, which creates a "true-color" product that looks like a photograph.
"This is the image we have of our planet as it would appear if we could take a single photograph of the entire Northern Hemisphere," NOAA said in a press release.
Daily evolution of the record low Bering sea ice since March - now nearly all within the Bering Strait. This retreat is weeks earlier than the climatological average - crazy!
+ Data: 3-km AMSR2 processed by @unihh@cenunihh
+ Graphics: https://t.co/yI6Sgd5QoYpic.twitter.com/6IObiK5fB9
— Zack Labe (@ZLabe) April 20, 2018
"The swath line shown on the left hand side represents the start and end of the 24-hour period taken by the satellite to create the image."
The NOAA-20 satellite, which is part of NOAA's Joint Polar Satellite System, captures this view each day. By using its other instruments, it feeds crucial weather information into computer models used to predict weather conditions.
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This satellite circles the Earth from pole-to-pole nearly 14 time a day, NOAA says, affording us with a twice daily global view.
These detailed views of our fragile home planet contrast sharply with the state of satellite technology on the first Earth Day, in 1970.
NOAA also released an animation of grainy, black and white images showing weather conditions then, back when weather satellites were just beginning to be of use to weather forecasters.