The most accurate world map available as a free download

Finally, our tax dollars going to something cool.

The folks at Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, along with NASA and the Japanese government, have come together to make the world’s most accurate topo map. And it’s available for free!

The ASTER project, which stands for Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (say that ten times fast) is a minutely detailed look at the Earth using an instrument aboard Terra, a satellite that’s part of the Earth Observing System, EOS for short. It examines the differences in elevation, heat, and reflectivity on the Earth’s surface in order to study everything from forest cover to ice floes. This helps scientists understand and predict changes in the hugely complex system that is our little ball of clay.

One byproduct is the topo map, along with an amazing gallery of images of our world from above. These can be seen on their website.

You can download the maps for free from NASA’s EOS Digital Archive, where you’ll see a list of several ASTER products. Some cost, but some are free, such as the elevation model shown here.