TechnologyHow a satellite found a tiny island—and made Canada...

How a satellite found a tiny island—and made Canada a bit bigger


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Published July 25, 2022

6 min read

Squint closely at a map of the North Atlantic, off the eastern coast of Canada’s Newfoundland and Labrador Province, and you’ll see … well, nothing. The uninhabited island that should be there is too tiny for even Google Maps to display.

But nearly 50 years ago NASA’s first Earth-observing satellite, a joint project with the U.S. Geological Survey, picked up the island’s spectral signature from more than 500 miles high. The discovery increased Canada’s territorial area by 26.25 square miles—a modest expansion that nonetheless heralded an exciting accomplishment for the program today known as Landsat. In 1979 the outcrop was officially named Landsat Island, after the revolutionary eye-in-the-sky that had spotted it.

“It just totally changed the field of cartography,” Terry Sohl, a researcher with the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center, says of the program.

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