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NASA visualization of Antarctica from space is computer generated

July 20, 2022 GMT

CLAIM: Image shows Antarctica from space.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Missing context. The image is not a photograph, but a visualization of Antarctica created in 2007 using data from NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites that orbit around Earth. The visualization portrays sea ice conditions on September 21, 2005.

THE FACTS: Twitter users in recent days have shared the computer-generated visualization of Earth, which shows sea ice over the continent.

“Antarctica seen from space!” stated one tweet with a cropped and rotated version of visualization, which was shared more than 12,000 times.

Several Twitter users responded to the post denying the effects of climate change. “Don’t see any melting polar cap there, plenty of ice. Global warming? No,” read one such tweet.

One tweet questioned whether the image was an “actual photo.”

While the visualization does portray the continent based on real data, it is not a photograph. It was created by combining data from satellites to reflect the continents’ sea ice conditions on September 21, 2005, according to a NASA climate scientist. NASA engineer Cindy Starr created the visualization, which was released by NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio in 2007.

Peter H. Jacobs, a climate scientist in NASA’s communications office, told The Associated Press in an interview that the visualization was created using sea ice data from the AMSR-E, a microwave radiometer on NASA’s Aqua satellite.

The terrain and cloud cover data comes from visual interpretations of Earth that were generated using data from MODIS, an instrument on Terra and Aqua satellites that is used to gather earth and climate measurements. He said Starr used data from the AMSR-E, to determine the extent of the area covered in sea ice and to capture its color.

The terrain comes from the average land cover for the month of September 2004, while the clouds are a composite of several days of imagery over the poles from February 2002.

NASA and partner satellites do have images of Antarctica that have been directly captured from space.


This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.