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NASA visualization of Antarctica from space is computer generated

CLAIM: The image shows Antarctica from space.

AP TEST: Context is missing. The image is not a photograph, but a view of Antarctica was conducted in 2007 using data from NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites orbiting the Earth. The visualization depicts the state of sea ice on September 21, 2005.

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

“Antarctica can be seen from space!” says a tweet with a cropped and rotated version of the visualization, which has been shared more than 12,000 times.

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

One tweet asked if the image was an “actual photo.”

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

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

Terrain and cloud cover data from a visual interpretation of the Earth generated using data from MODIS, an instrument on the Terra and Aqua satellites used to gather land and climate measurements. He said Starr used data from the AMSR-Eto determine the extent of the area covered by sea ice and to obtain its color.

The terrain is 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 associated satellites have images of Antarctica directly captured from space.


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

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