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A Secret Urban Observatory Is Snapping 9,000 Images A Day Of New York City

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Astronomers have long built observatories to capture the night sky and beyond. Now researchers at NYU are borrowing astronomy’s methods and turning their cameras towards Manhattan’s famous skyline.

NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress has been running what’s likely the world’s first “urban observatory” of its kind for about a year. From atop a tall building in downtown Brooklyn (NYU won’t say its address, due to security concerns), two cameras–one regular one and one that captures infrared wavelengths–take panoramic images of lower and midtown Manhattan. One photo is snapped every 10 seconds. That’s 8,640 images a day, or more than 3 million since the project began (or about 50 terabytes of data).

Taking photos of the skyline is nothing new; hordes of tourists do so everyday. And satellites and drones can already capture aerial vantage points. What’s unique about the observatory is the sheer, steady volume of imagery combined with an unchanging vista that offers a slice of the city, rather than only a bird’s-eye view.

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