Weird Effect on Google Maps

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Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby eSOANEM » Sun Jun 13, 2010 6:26 pm UTC

One of my friends found this on hacker news and we've been discussing on wave possible reasons for this effect but were wondering if you guys could come up with better ones.

Basically (if you don't want to click the link), there's a plane that's got four images in a row instead of the one you'd expect, the furthest back is blue, then green, then red, the furthest forward one is grey, all are translucent and in focus. The plane appears to be a small jet with two tail-mounted engines.

Current theories are:

camera could take different channels individually (so B, G, R, IR (which most cameras can pick up a bit IIRC)), this would lead to the separate R, G and B planes as the plane's moving fast enough for it to be noticeable, the last image would be an IR one although why the camera would deliberately take a seperate IR channel photo is beyond me. Also, I can't see any reason to take each channel's photo separately.

refraction on camera lens or elsewhere. If so, why aren't other objects affected, why no spectrum, just grey, R, G and B?

And, probably the best so far:

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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby Cecily » Sun Jun 13, 2010 6:40 pm UTC

And is it "coincidence" that it's flying over Enola Drive?
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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby EvilDuckie » Sun Jun 13, 2010 7:58 pm UTC

I think a combination of your first 2 theories is the right one. The imagery probably came from a satellite and most commercial earth observation satellites take images in multible 'bands' (R, G, B and several IR). As to why imagery is taken in IR: the IR radiation from vegetation can tell a lot about its condition.

By combining these seperate bands into a single image you can get a true color (R, G, B) or false color image.

Perhaps the red, green and blue planes are refracted sunlight being picked up by the sensor. The 4th plane seems to be slightly transparent. Maybe it's some automated image processing gone wrong?
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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby eSOANEM » Sun Jun 13, 2010 8:35 pm UTC

EvilDuckie wrote:I think a combination of your first 2 theories is the right one. The imagery probably came from a satellite and most commercial earth observation satellites take images in multible 'bands' (R, G, B and several IR). As to why imagery is taken in IR: the IR radiation from vegetation can tell a lot about its condition.

By combining these seperate bands into a single image you can get a true color (R, G, B) or false color image.

Perhaps the red, green and blue planes are refracted sunlight being picked up by the sensor. The 4th plane seems to be slightly transparent. Maybe it's some automated image processing gone wrong?



All the planes are translucent, not just the 4th, it's just that because it's grey it's more obviously so.

Also, even if the IR data is recorded, you'd think they'd only use the R, G and B for their true colour images and if not, that's interesting in its own right.

Furthermore, if the image is taken in different bands why would they be taken at different times (as seems to be shown by them not lining up).

Lastly, every other plane I've found on google earth/maps has been normal so it could be an effect specific to this region or satellite.
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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby KyleOwens » Sun Jun 13, 2010 8:57 pm UTC

Rather than the 4th image being IR data I'd be willing to bet it's related to the alpha channel and that the whole thing is some artifact from the image processing.

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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby MirrorSword » Sun Jun 13, 2010 9:15 pm UTC

I've read that Hubble works by taking 3 pictures sequentially and then combining them so maybe this satellite works in the same way.
Also Notice how if you look thorough the wing of the plane in the fourth "Grey" image the trees beneath it look blurry. I'm guessing that the image looks blurry when just the Red Green and Blue images are used so they have this fourth higher detail grey-scale image that they add in to make it look sharper.

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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby Carnildo » Sun Jun 13, 2010 10:06 pm UTC

eSOANEM wrote:[Furthermore, if the image is taken in different bands why would they be taken at different times (as seems to be shown by them not lining up).

Most cameras aboard spacecraft consist of a single broad-spectrum sensor and a series of filters that can be placed in front of the sensor. This lets them cover a much higher range of wavelengths than a traditional RGB camera, and simultaneously gives a higher resolution: since each pixel is sensitive to all wavelengths, there are no gaps to fit in pixels of other wavelengths. The downside is that "true color" or other multispectral image requires taking a series of pictures one after another, but most things scientists want to take pictures of don't move very fast.

The image in question could be a series of four images: red, green, blue, and "brightness" (no filter).

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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby thedufer » Mon Jun 14, 2010 2:21 am UTC

I suspect the fourth one is in fact brightness/alpha, and the weird see-through-iness of it is an artifact of trying to put the 4 images together. My reasoning is that the edges of the planes, which showed up black, completely obscure whats behind it, while the middle of the plane only dimmed whats behind it. The alpha band probably gives the image its clarity, as evidenced by the fact that the trees under the fourth image are blurred while the fourth image itself is sharp, and vice versa for the first 3 images and the trees behind them.

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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby Solt » Mon Jun 14, 2010 6:44 am UTC

eSOANEM wrote:Furthermore, if the image is taken in different bands why would they be taken at different times (as seems to be shown by them not lining up).


Carnildo beat me to it but probably because this allows higher imaging resolution. If you think about monitors, you actually have 3 times the stated number of pixels, because each pixel is actually divided into a red, green, and blue pixel. Same thing but reverse for cameras- if you take all three channels at once you get 1/3 the resolution.

Carnildo wrote:but most things scientists want to take pictures of don't move very fast.


You never see this effect on cars, so there's probably a bit more to it...
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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby Xanthir » Mon Jun 14, 2010 6:50 am UTC

Solt wrote:
Carnildo wrote:but most things scientists want to take pictures of don't move very fast.


You never see this effect on cars, so there's probably a bit more to it...

Not necessarily. Cars move *much* slower than planes, and they do so further away from the satellite, which decreases their apparent velocity relative to the aircraft even more. The effect can easily just be too small to be easily visible for cars.
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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby PhoenixEnigma » Mon Jun 14, 2010 6:51 am UTC

Solt wrote:
eSOANEM wrote:Furthermore, if the image is taken in different bands why would they be taken at different times (as seems to be shown by them not lining up).


Carnildo beat me to it but probably because this allows higher imaging resolution. If you think about monitors, you actually have 3 times the stated number of pixels, because each pixel is actually divided into a red, green, and blue pixel. Same thing but reverse for cameras- if you take all three channels at once you get 1/3 the resolution.

Carnildo wrote:but most things scientists want to take pictures of don't move very fast.


You never see this effect on cars, so there's probably a bit more to it...

At a guess, the parallax correction is optimized for ground level objects. The plane was high enough (and possibly traveling fast enough in the right direction) that whatever algorithm is in use failed to correct the image properly.
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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby eSOANEM » Mon Jun 14, 2010 7:42 am UTC

Ok, so the first theory was broadly correct, just incomplete?

This all makes good sense then although I'm going to need to try and find another few planes flying at close to their cruising speed (i.e. far from an airport) and see if they also have a similar effect.
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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby Josephine » Mon Jun 14, 2010 8:33 am UTC

Well here's a missile, I think. It may be lower to the ground, but it's travelling very fast.
38°13'36.38"N, 112°17'56.59"W
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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby eSOANEM » Mon Jun 14, 2010 9:54 am UTC

Also, the satellite taking the photo could have been travelling in a different direction to the missile as the plane.

Or maybe this satellite uses a different camera, or has three cameras or something.
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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby Velifer » Mon Jun 14, 2010 1:27 pm UTC

nbonaparte wrote:Well here's a missile, I think. It may be lower to the ground, but it's travelling very fast.
38°13'36.38"N, 112°17'56.59"W

That's a jet with rear-mounted engines and dark wing tips. Might be a Boeing 717 or 727, or some commuter jet (but I'm not very good with aircraft ID). Ask a pilot, with the date on the image (Apr 7, 2006) and a heading, they'd likely be able to tell you more than you'd ever want to know.
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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby Josephine » Mon Jun 14, 2010 1:54 pm UTC

Velifer wrote:
nbonaparte wrote:Well here's a missile, I think. It may be lower to the ground, but it's travelling very fast.
38°13'36.38"N, 112°17'56.59"W

That's a jet with tail-mounted engines and black wing tips. Might be a Boeing 727, but I'm not very good with aircraft ID. Ask a pilot, with the date on the image (Apr 7, 2006) and a heading, they'd likely be able to tell you more than you'd ever want to know.

Huh. the wing tips blend right in. It's a 727, you're right. The wings are far back on the fuselage and it's too big to be a learjet. but I cannot for the life of me figure out where it's headed or where it came from.
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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby BobTheElder » Mon Jun 14, 2010 10:28 pm UTC

eSOANEM wrote:Also, the satellite taking the photo could have been travelling in a different direction to the missile as the plane.

Or maybe this satellite uses a different camera, or has three cameras or something.


erm... surely if the satellite was travelling at a fast speed relative to a missile then you'd get visible effects on the pics of ground? Could be wrong ofc, I'm tired and that just seems logical
Also, anyone know if I'm correct in thinking that google earth/maps uses pics taken from aircraft as well as satellites?
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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby frezik » Tue Jun 15, 2010 3:32 am UTC

BobTheElder wrote:Also, anyone know if I'm correct in thinking that google earth/maps uses pics taken from aircraft as well as satellites?


I'm almost certain they do, but I can't find a solid reference. It's usually aerial photography for urban areas, and satellites once you get out in the boonies.

I'm sure I saw a story a few years back on Google developing a new hires aerial photography platform for Google Maps, but I can't find it now.
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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby Solt » Tue Jun 15, 2010 6:16 am UTC

frezik wrote:
BobTheElder wrote:Also, anyone know if I'm correct in thinking that google earth/maps uses pics taken from aircraft as well as satellites?


I'm almost certain they do, but I can't find a solid reference. It's usually aerial photography for urban areas, and satellites once you get out in the boonies.

I'm sure I saw a story a few years back on Google developing a new hires aerial photography platform for Google Maps, but I can't find it now.


I can't imagine a situation where it would be necessary unless there's some sort of major construction going on and they want to be as up to date as possible without waiting for a satellite pass. It would take FOREVER to image the earth from planes.

Possibly reasonable for urban areas only, I suppose.
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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby Carnildo » Tue Jun 15, 2010 7:31 am UTC

Solt wrote:It would take FOREVER to image the earth from planes.

If you're willing to ignore the oceans, it's actually surprisingly fast. At cruising altitude, the U-2 spyplane can photograph at a reasonably low distortion about 8600 square miles per hour. At that rate, the entire land surface of the Earth can be mapped in about 6600 hours; three planes operating eight hours a day could do it in under a year.

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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby BlackSails » Tue Jun 15, 2010 12:18 pm UTC

It takes less than that - We dont need to image antartica, which is pretty big.

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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby Velifer » Tue Jun 15, 2010 1:08 pm UTC

yeah, these people get it done in a hurry. The photos are used in part to regulate commodity support payments and verify production.
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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby eSOANEM » Tue Jun 15, 2010 4:10 pm UTC

BobTheElder wrote:
eSOANEM wrote:Also, the satellite taking the photo could have been travelling in a different direction to the missile as the plane.

Or maybe this satellite uses a different camera, or has three cameras or something.


erm... surely if the satellite was travelling at a fast speed relative to a missile then you'd get visible effects on the pics of ground? Could be wrong ofc, I'm tired and that just seems logical


The software used to produce the image from the individual channels would be designed to take into account the relative movement of the ground so you don't get those effects, the reason it would work on the plane is that a plane moves at a different relative speed than the ground.
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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby Dark Avorian » Tue Jun 15, 2010 4:36 pm UTC

Wait. Different frequencies of light are slowed down different amounts by the same medium. That's why, for example, a prism splits a beam of white light, each beam is refracted differently based on how much it it slowed down. If all the pictures were "taken at the same time" is it at all possible it was an effect of this?
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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby Josephine » Tue Jun 15, 2010 4:45 pm UTC

Dark Avorian wrote:Wait. Different frequencies of light are slowed down different amounts by the same medium. That's why, for example, a prism splits a beam of white light, each beam is refracted differently based on how much it it slowed down. If all the pictures were "taken at the same time" is it at all possible it was an effect of this?

the plane isn't moving anywhere near fast enough, and the satellite isn't anywhere near far enough away.

EDIT: I'll leave it, but that was incredibly stupid. Prism, not doppler effect.
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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby KyleOwens » Tue Jun 15, 2010 4:46 pm UTC

Dark Avorian wrote:Wait. Different frequencies of light are slowed down different amounts by the same medium. That's why, for example, a prism splits a beam of white light, each beam is refracted differently based on how much it it slowed down. If all the pictures were "taken at the same time" is it at all possible it was an effect of this?


My google fu is failing me a bit at the moment but I'm pretty sure the frequency dependence of n for air is too small to produce this much of an effect. Also, I would expect to see a spectrum rather than 3 distinct colors if the air were acting as a prism.

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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby thedufer » Wed Jun 16, 2010 1:03 am UTC

KyleOwens wrote:
Dark Avorian wrote:Wait. Different frequencies of light are slowed down different amounts by the same medium. That's why, for example, a prism splits a beam of white light, each beam is refracted differently based on how much it it slowed down. If all the pictures were "taken at the same time" is it at all possible it was an effect of this?


My google fu is failing me a bit at the moment but I'm pretty sure the frequency dependence of n for air is too small to produce this much of an effect. Also, I would expect to see a spectrum rather than 3 distinct colors if the air were acting as a prism.


Also, a spectrum would put blue and green right next to each other and red somewhat farther off. The even spacing means its unlikely to have anything to do with diffraction.

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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby Cryopyre » Thu Jun 17, 2010 10:45 pm UTC

Here guys, I posted this question to Reddit and actually got a very large response. Feel free to sift through the answers.

Here
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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby Josephine » Thu Jun 17, 2010 11:32 pm UTC

Cryopyre wrote:Here guys, I posted this question to Reddit and actually got a very large response. Feel free to sift through the answers.

Here

there are more posts about muffmuncher the satellite builder than the queston at hand...
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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby Cryopyre » Fri Jun 18, 2010 12:12 am UTC

That's true for the first thread. There are lots of other responses beneath the first one, however.
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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby Sandor » Sat Jun 19, 2010 12:03 am UTC

The image looks a little too high a resolution for commercial satellite imagery to me, although maybe not for military satellites. The copyright information in the image mentions GeoEye (http://www.geoeye.com/) who do do 0.5 meter resolution satellite imagery, but they also do aerial. The website has examples of 0.5m resolution sat images if you want to compare. I think it was taken from a plane, perhaps with this: http://www.geoeye.com/CorpSite/assets/docs/mjharden/MJH_Digital_Aerial_Imaging.pdf

From the PDF (DMC is "Digital Mapping Camera"):

The DMC is designed around a matrix array of multiple Charge Coupled Device (CCD) camera heads, each with its own lens so that both panchromatic and color performance are optimized.
[...]
Features such as electronic Forward Motion Compensation (FMC) and 12-bit per pixel radiometric resolution ensure image quality that is visually superior to scanned film imagery.
[...]
Because of the multiple camera head design of the DMC, multiple image products can be captured in a single flight, including panchromatic (grayscale), natural color (RGB) and color infrared (CIR). Each band features full 12-bit radiometric resolution along with the DMC’s signature high spatial resolution.

In addition to using these three primary image products in their native form, an additional process called “pan-sharpening” can be applied to combine the higher resolution panchromatic with the corresponding natural color image to create a new, higher detail color image.

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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby mrbaggins » Sat Jun 19, 2010 1:11 am UTC

IF you zoom out on the plane, you can see that it's relatively close to the edge of what would be a single take from the satellite... This causes some other cool effects (buildings leaning all sorts of directions) so is it possibly a part of this too?
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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby iop » Sat Jun 19, 2010 3:46 am UTC

mrbaggins wrote:IF you zoom out on the plane, you can see that it's relatively close to the edge of what would be a single take from the satellite... This causes some other cool effects (buildings leaning all sorts of directions) so is it possibly a part of this too?

Possible. Chromatic aberration of the optics is worse at the edge of the image than at the center.

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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby Josephine » Sat Jun 19, 2010 6:09 am UTC

You know, someone could just email geoeye and find out why this occurs with their cameras.
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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby PM 2Ring » Sat Jun 19, 2010 1:56 pm UTC

PhoenixEnigma wrote:
Solt wrote:You never see this effect on cars, so there's probably a bit more to it...

At a guess, the parallax correction is optimized for ground level objects. The plane was high enough (and possibly traveling fast enough in the right direction) that whatever algorithm is in use failed to correct the image properly.

Yes. The high angular velocity of the plane relative to the camera produces this separation effect. Cars are slower & close to the ground, so the amount of parallax error on them is tiny in comparison.

Detecting & correcting this sort of thing automatically would not be easy, and it's not the sort of thing that'd be built in to the camera system itself. The camera doesn't "know" it's an error - it doesn't realize that it's photographing a high altitude, rapidly moving object. I guess image analysis software could be used during post-processing to search for images like this with suspicious-looking colour bands.

Correcting them automatically would be a bit tricky. It's not too difficult to remove the extra plane images from the scene, but you wouldn't be able to get the colour perfect in the areas of ground that are obscured by those extra images. But you could certainly make it look better than it currently does.

I think it'd be necessary to have a human operator in the loop, verifying that suspected bad images actually were bad before allowing the correction software to proceed, and possibly to approve of guesses made by the correction software during the colour matching process.

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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby Mavrisa » Sun Jun 20, 2010 5:44 am UTC

nbonaparte wrote:38°13'36.38"N, 112°17'56.59"W

The fact that it's lower resolution probably just means that it was taken with a camera that does all 3 channels at the same time, which is why the effect isn't seen.

On another note, if someone could identify the plane model, couldn't we determine whether or not it was taken from a satellite or a high-flying aircraft?

Edit: I measure a ground-based length of the plane as 76 meters on google earth, and a Boeing 747 Intercontinental is 76.4 m long. The wingspan, on the other hand I measured to be 57.5 m, whereas the 747's is 68.5 m, so it's not one of those. Unless it's being photographed here mid-turn... The 777 is perhaps another possibility.
I'm now also wondering if I could actually tell the difference just from the measurements google earth gives me...
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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby Josephine » Sun Jun 20, 2010 8:29 am UTC

Mavrisa wrote:
nbonaparte wrote:38°13'36.38"N, 112°17'56.59"W

The fact that it's lower resolution probably just means that it was taken with a camera that does all 3 channels at the same time, which is why the effect isn't seen.

On another note, if someone could identify the plane model, couldn't we determine whether or not it was taken from a satellite or a high-flying aircraft?

Edit: I measure a ground-based length of the plane as 76 meters on google earth, and a Boeing 747 Intercontinental is 76.4 m long. The wingspan, on the other hand I measured to be 57.5 m, whereas the 747's is 68.5 m, so it's not one of those. Unless it's being photographed here mid-turn... The 777 is perhaps another possibility.
I'm now also wondering if I could actually tell the difference just from the measurements google earth gives me...

I'm not sure you meant to quote me there...

Anyway, what about this one flying over Germany? It's at the same heading, so it would be messed with by the correction for Earth's rotation as well, but it's not. In fact, it's incredibly detailed.
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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby jaap » Sun Jun 20, 2010 10:00 am UTC

nbonaparte wrote:Anyway, what about this one flying over Germany? It's at the same heading, so it would be messed with by the correction for Earth's rotation as well, but it's not. In fact, it's incredibly detailed.


That one is less than 15 miles from landing in Düsseldorf airport, so it will be at a much lower altitude and speed.

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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby Mavrisa » Sun Jun 20, 2010 6:46 pm UTC

nbonaparte wrote:I'm not sure you meant to quote me there...

Well I suppose I could have chosen something better, I just wanted to ensure others knew which object I was talking about.

jaap wrote:
nbonaparte wrote:Anyway, what about this one flying over Germany? It's at the same heading, so it would be messed with by the correction for Earth's rotation as well, but it's not. In fact, it's incredibly detailed.


That one is less than 15 miles from landing in Düsseldorf airport, so it will be at a much lower altitude and speed.

IIRC, landing speed is still around/above 200 km/h which would be enough to notice the effect to some degree, I would think. So either that particular camera was closer to the ground, or that one is newer and can take all 3 channels simultaneously without a loss in resolution?

Edit: The effect is not uncommon. Though sometimes the other images aren't even in line with the direction of flight, or occur in front of the plane rather than behind it.
"I think nature's imagination is so much greater than man's, she's never gonna let us relax."

Carnildo
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Re: Weird Effect on Google Maps

Postby Carnildo » Sun Jun 20, 2010 9:15 pm UTC

Mavrisa wrote:Edit: I measure a ground-based length of the plane as 76 meters on google earth, and a Boeing 747 Intercontinental is 76.4 m long. The wingspan, on the other hand I measured to be 57.5 m, whereas the 747's is 68.5 m, so it's not one of those. Unless it's being photographed here mid-turn... The 777 is perhaps another possibility.

A 747 has four very large under-wing engines. The 777 has two. That aircraft has zero.
I'm now also wondering if I could actually tell the difference just from the measurements google earth gives me...

Unlikely. No aircraft with the dimensions you report has the engine configuration depicted. It's likely that this part of the Earth was photographed by a high-altitude airplane, causing perspective enlargement of other high-altitude things by an unknown amount.


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