Google’s ‘Timelapse’ Transports You 32 Years Into Our Planet’s Past

December 17, 2016 5:00 am
Meandering river in Nyingchi, Tibet, China (Landsat / Copernicus)
Meandering river in Nyingchi, Tibet, China (Landsat / Copernicus)


With Google Earth, the tech behemoth redefined the boundaries of space, allowing us to visit faraway lands through our computer screens. Now, Google has transformed the parameters of time. With Timelapse, you can visit any spot on Earth and see it how it looked at any point over the last 32 years.

San Francisco - Oakland Bay Bridge reconstruction (Landsat / Copernicus)
San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge reconstruction (Landsat/Copernicus)


Google actually released the product to the public back in 2013, but a recent update gives Timelapse a longer date range to explore and much clearer imaging. Not only has the platform become sharper, but the colors on it are truer to how they appear in real life. This means changes, such as the visible effects of environmental disasters to continuous urban growth, are much more obvious.

Alberta Tar Sands, Canada (Landsat/Copernicus)
Alberta Tar Sands, Canada (Landsat/Copernicus)


To make the update happen, Timelapse developers sifted through three quadrillion (that’s a million with six more zeroes) pixels of imaging from Landsat’s satellite imagining archive, as well as two new satellites, Landsat 8 and Sentinel-2. From the best of all that, the team created 33 ultra-high-resolution photos of Earth—one for each year since 1984. The 3.95 Terabyte images (the average digital photo is one-ten-thousandth the size) were then compiled into 25 million overlapping video tiles, becoming a part of an interactive system that uses technology created by Carnegie Mellon researchers.

All techno jargon aside, Google’s effort speaks for itself. Clearly, the sky’s literally the limit when it comes to satellite imagery. For more on satellites and their modern uses, click here. If you prefer to soak up the “wow-factor” of Timelapse, watch a highlight reel of the best it has to offer below.


If that’s not enough, you can always explore it for yourself by clicking here (we’ve queued you up to see Chicago’s growth).

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