Coronavirus from Space

We looked at how the fight against COVID-19 changed the face of Milan, Italy as seen from space.

Italy was the first country to declare nationwide lockdown to combat the spread of coronavirus. The country has been isolated and citizens' mobility restricted since the 9th of March.

Normally, at Under Lucky Stars we look at the sky from Earth, mapping constellations. But this time we decided to turn it upside down and look back at Earth from the sky above to see how Milan, the largest city in Northern Italy has changed since it started its heroic combat with COVID-19.

We acquired satellite imagery from the Pleiades satellites from September 21, 2019 as well as March 16, 2020. We picked a few important and interesting places to contrast them pre- and post-coronavirus.

Perhaps the most striking contrast is Piazza del Duomo, the square in front of Milan's iconic cathedral. Usually buzzing with tourists, the famous square looks completely empty in March. The glass dome at the top of the picture is Italy's oldest shopping Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, also closed due to the outbreak.

Use the slider in the middle to compare the left and right side of the image.

Piazza Castello is the square in front of Milan's 15th century Sforza Castle. The surroundings of the fountain and the castle garden used to buzz with tourists headed to one of the several museums housed in the castle buildings.

Milan is the country's industrial and financial center generating 10% of the national GDP. While some essential commerce is still ongoing, the difference in traffic on the major highways is noticeable. The two pictures were taken around the same time at 10:30 in the morning.

The name of La Scala will ring familiar to any opera lover. The cozy little square in front of the World-famous 18th century theatre is another popular spot for visitors. Notice the lack of people and cars on the picture from March.

Corso Como (top left) is one of Milan's many shopping & dining streets. Italy closed its restaurants and bars as well as most shopping centers as a response to the outbreak. The missing sun shades of the restaurants on the March photo makes this visible from space. On the bottom right of the picture usually busy avenue Bastioni di Porta Nuova appears deserted. "The situation is surreal" — says our friend Francesco, who is currently on lockdown in Milan.

Milan's largest train station Milano Centrale has become a screening point of incoming passengers. The reduced traffic is obvious even observed from space. Parking lots in front of the main building look empty. Notice the lack of buses on the March picture on the right side of the building. This is where shuttle buses from Bergamo airport used to arrive. Almost all flights have been canceled now at Bergamo, although some still fly from Milan's other airport, Malpensa.

Finally, zooming out in space might help us zoom out in time too. Looking from far above, you don't see big changes. The walls are still standing, the city looks peaceful. People of Italy are strong and when the hard days are over (and they will be over), Milanese will be ready to take back the streets of this wonderful city from the virus and appreciate them more than ever before.

How can you help?

There is a lot of public funding going into coronavirus response right now. If you are not a medical professional, the best you can do is to distance yourself socially as much as you can to slow the spread in your community and follow the instructions of the health officials. "It's a sacrifice we have to adopt" — says Francesco, our friend in Milan.

You can also help research by joining a massive crowd computing effort that uses spare capacity of your computer to run disease research calculations. Find out more at Folding@Home.

Finally, if you can, donate to the WHO's COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

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What is Under Lucky Stars?

We are a small company called Under Lucky Stars. We make beautiful and unique custom star maps to commemorate the most important moments of your life. E.g. your first date with the love of your life, your wedding day or the moment your baby was born.