NASA, Big Data, and a Real World Jigsaw Puzzle

NASA has posted two news items that illustrate the large amounts of data that they are generating. NASA| The Data Downpour is a  video describing how the GPM constellation turns observed radiances and reflectivities of global precipitation – falling snow and rain – into data products.  They detail this huge task in “GPM Mission’s How-to Guide for Making Global Rain Maps“. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight CenterPrecipitation Processing System (Greenbelt, Maryland)  is tasked with compiling remote sensing data from NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.  The  data set will eventually become one unified global data set.  A simplified version of a very exacting process, as any geospatial professional will tell you. But geospatial professionals can now help the public the experience contributing to a project that might be one of the biggest jigsaw puzzles in the world because it is — of the world at night. According to, “NASA wants you to help sort astronaut photos of Earth at Night“.  It is called “Cities at Night” and is a citizen-science project led by researchers at Complutense University.  It uses images from NASA’s Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth, a database of photos taken by astronauts from the International Space Station all the way back to those taken in the 1960s.

Complutense University will use the cataloged pictures to create a picture of the world at night and the history of light pollution. The reason why they need citizen science assistance and why humans are so good at puzzles is that there are no algorithms or software that can match the human brain for sorting out complex image analysis. Something that it is important to keep in mind with increasing amounts of big data becoming available. Geospatial professionals bring more to spatial analysis than knowing how to work a software tool, they often bring years and sometimes decades of spatial image skills and experience.


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