LESSON 5 - Interpreting satellite images

Students will:

  • Identify differences between photography and satellite imagery space.
  • Identify features in a satellite image.

Materials Needed:

Images from the Remote Sensing section of the IMAGERS - Student Site

Interpreting satellite image worksheet

Atlas (1 per student or group)

Computer access required for student or group of students (see Tips for Teachers)


Begin at the Remote Sensing section of the IMAGERS - Student's Site

Have students look at the photograph, a photo taken from a space shuttle of Phoenix, Arizona. What can they learn about the Earth from this image? Look at the true color image. What can they learn about the Earth from this image? How does this image differ from image 1? Lastly, look at the false color image. What else can they learn about the Earth from this image? Explain that this is a false color image, created by manipulating satellite data. Discuss with students the difference between a photo and a satellite image.


Bring students to the index of the four Landsat images. Give each student the worksheet that accompanies this activity. Have students follow the directions on the worksheet. They will be looking at satellite images for land features and describing what they see under question one. Then they will look up the latitude and longitude in an atlas to answer questions 2 and 3.


Review the activity with students. Discuss the advantages of satellite images over an atlas or a road map. In satellite images, we can see features not always noted on maps such land features (volcanoes, mountains, etc..), vegetation, sediment in water, geological features (sand dunes, alluvial fans, buttes, etc..), and more.


Show students a satellite image of an area near their school or a familiar land feature. Ask students to interpret the image. Go to the LANDSAT Images of the U.S.A - Archive http://www.nasm.edu:2020/RPIF/LANDSAT/ LOYS.html for images of US cities. See Remote Sensing Resources list.


Give students a false color image to interpret. Check Remote Sensing Resources for additional Landsat images. Have students identify land features and write how this image would be useful in studying the earth.

Tips for Teachers

  • Have students work in pairs if computers are limited.
  • The images can be printed out on a color printer for use in the classroom. Note: black and white copies will be difficult to interpret. Use the computer if a color printer is not available.
  • Any satellite images can be used for this activity provided you have the latitude and longitude of the image.


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NASA Official: Ruth Netting
Last Updated: March 27, 2007
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