One of my favorite aspects of public space exploration is the availability of photographic data taken from government spacecraft and satellites. NASA makes its satellite photography available for anyone to download, which has resulted in some great homemade time-lapse videos. Russia's federal space agency, commonly known as Roscosmos, also makes its satellite photography available. Last year, the agency launched the Elektro-L spacecraft into geostationary orbit--the country's second operational weather satellite. In addition to collecting climate data, the satellite is also equipped with high-resolution cameras that use filters to capture images in four different wavelengths of light (including infrared). The cameras are also masked to block out light from stellar objects, such as the sun and other stars. That gives its photographs a sharply isolated view of Earth, which at 121 megapixels, also happen to be the largest non-stitched images of the planet. The view is fixed on one side of Earth because the satellite's orbit follows the direction and speed of Earth's rotation. Elektro-L is programmed to take photographs once every 30 minutes.
Canadian educator James Drake has collected photographs from Elektro-L and processed them for viewing on his Planet Earth site (temporarily down) and also uploaded a zoomable version to GigaPan for easy browsing. He's also filtered and combined hundreds of Elektro-L photographs to create time-lapse videos, the newest of which is below. Drake has stitched together and uploaded over 200 videos from Elektro-L and other publicly available satellite images on Youtube. These are the kinds of videos that I'd want as an animated background on my desktop.