I'm looking for a countable noun for an act of taking a picture by a satellite, to say for example several "action of taking a picture". I think that word "shooting" doesn't fit here.

I want to say something like this:

This satellite performed 10 [taking a picture acts] over the last day.

I don't want to say "took 10 pictures last day", instead I want to focus on the act itself.

another example

we got corrupted data from the navigation system during 5th [taking a picture act].

Here corrupted data in no way relates to taking a picture. Taking a picture act here just marks a period of time when it happened.

  • 1
    In the last 24 hours or yesterday or in the past day, depending on what it is you're trying to say; not last day, which is not idiomatic.
    – TimR
    Jun 18, 2018 at 16:21

8 Answers 8


We also say that a satellite camera does sampling and scanning, so countable nouns would be samplings and scans.

P.S. The phrase OP uses, "taking a picture acts" [sic], is meant to be a generic placeholder, of course, but "picture" is vague and imprecise nonetheless. Lay folk tend to use the terms "picture" and "taking a picture" for a very wide array of activities, still photography, thermal scans, radar imaging, and so forth. Satellites could be doing any or all of those things.

But let's stipulate that OP is referring to using a camera with a high-resolution optical magnifying lens to capture visual detail. Even then we could use the terms "sampling" and "scanning". To sample means to "take a representative selection of something", and there is no requirement that the selection be a tiny amount, or that it be of a physical substance. A satellite-mounted camera could take snapshots at periodic intervals which is a kind of sampling, or it could take snapshot-after-snapshot in fairly rapid succession, thereby simulating a terrain "scan". Even a "moving picture" is simply a collection of snapshots.

Another way that sampling is used in satellite imaging is with respect to the granularity or resolution of the image. The distance between pixels might correspond to one meter to one centimeter. So the image itself is only a kind of sampling of the terrain's visual detail.

  • Can it be image scans or picture scans?
    – Vitaly
    Jun 18, 2018 at 18:24
  • @Vitaly: neither, really. The activity of scanning or sampling yields pictures and images.
    – TimR
    Jun 18, 2018 at 18:33
  • 4
    Is this really right? “Sample” (as a verb) normally means to collect a small amount of a physical substance for later analysis; “scan” refers to any collection of data while moving across an area, and isn’t specific to imaging. So what are your sources for this answer? Jun 19, 2018 at 16:45
  • @David Richerby: I've added a P.S. See also nrcan.gc.ca/node/9401
    – TimR
    Jun 19, 2018 at 19:38
  • It's very likely (I don't know, perhaps more likely), or at least very possible, that the images collected by the satellite are outside of the "visible spectrum" so not "visual" images. The point is that when it is said that a satellite has taken a "picture", it is inherently vague as to what "type" of image was captured. Jun 20, 2018 at 8:09

You could use "capture".

  • "The satellite captured the image of the volcano."
  • "The satellite was used to capture the image of the volcano."
  • 1
    Exactly: image capture and capturing.
    – Lambie
    Jun 18, 2018 at 19:18
  • 8
    I work with remote sensing / satellite imagery everyday, "capture" is the word I and my colleagues would use. "This satellite captured 10 images over the last day."
    – kungphil
    Jun 18, 2018 at 20:49
  • I also work with satellite imagery and we use "capture", even in press releases we use "capture". Jun 19, 2018 at 12:38

So, the term used when a satellite goes overhead is a "pass".

A pass, in spaceflight and satellite communications, is the period in which a satellite or other spacecraft is above the local horizon and available for radio communication with a particular ground station, satellite receiver, or relay satellite (or, in some cases, for visual sighting).

Satellite passes imply a wide variety of things - connectivity to a ground-based receiver, visual access (for scanning/photography), GPS availability, etc... so "pass" by itself doesn't necessarily imply that it's for the purpose of photography but with sufficient context or the addition of the term "imaging" or "photography", it should be clear.

So, for your specific examples, I think what you're trying to say is something like:

The satellite performed 10 imaging passes over the last day.

And, similarly in your other example:

We got corrupted data from the navigation system during the 5th [imaging] pass.

In the second example, if it's already known that the purpose of the pass is to collect images, you can exclude the word "imaging".

  • 3
    Do note that photography isn't implied without mentioning it specifically, though.
    – Catija
    Jun 18, 2018 at 16:31
  • I don't think there's any expectation that only one picture is taken during a pass. Also, a geostationary satellite doesn't actually make any passes, since it stays over the same location all the time.
    – Barmar
    Jun 18, 2018 at 20:29
  • @Barmar When did I say there was? My interpretation of the phrasing of the question implies that the satellite in question isn't geostationary.
    – Catija
    Jun 18, 2018 at 20:30
  • I don't see anything in the question that implies that. He could easily be describing how many pictures a weather satellite takes per day.
    – Barmar
    Jun 18, 2018 at 20:38
  • "Pass" is not correct. "Imaging pass" is related, but that's descriptive of the motion of a satellite across the surface of the earth during which it takes a collection of the single actions OP is asking about. It's nether the collection, nor the single action.
    – Bohemian
    Jun 19, 2018 at 23:23

It's not clear what you are asking, but a common way to refer to this is satellite images or imaging. Examples:

With the increasing resolution of satellite imaging, higher performance compression algorithms are in demand.

Weather satellite images of the area taken from synchronous orbit show an immense circular area of dense clouds above the impact site.

As a verb, a satellite can take an image of something.

Satellites took images of Hawaii's volcano as it happened.

You can also use image itself as a verb:

These cyclones seem remarkably stable over the time that Juno (a probe orbiting the planet Jupiter) has imaged them in the visible and infrared.

However, if you want to talk like a NASA scientist, then you can say a satellite captures or acquires certain images:

This image is one in a series of images taken in an experiment to capture the best results for illuminated parts of Jupiter's polar region. source

Aerial and satellite images, known as remotely sensed images, permit accurate mapping of land cover and make landscape features understandable on regional, continental, and even global scales. Transient phenomena, such as seasonal vegetation vigor and contaminant discharges, can be studied by comparing images acquired at different times. source

  • In simple terms, I want to count how many "taking a picture" acts were done. I want to say something like this: this satellite performed 10 "taking a picture acts" last day. I don't want to say "took 10 pictures last day", instead I want to focus on action itself.
    – Vitaly
    Jun 18, 2018 at 15:59
  • 2
    @Vitaly Using "took" in that example would be fine... but it is the action, so it would simply be "This satellite took 10 photographs in the last day".
    – Catija
    Jun 18, 2018 at 16:17
  • 1
    @Vitaly as Catija said, "take" is fine ... but if you want to talk like a NASA scientist, then you can also use "capture" or "acquire". Let me update my answer.
    – Andrew
    Jun 18, 2018 at 16:21

I think you're trying to do something with the language that native speakers don't. There might be words that would describe certain types of picture taking, but there isn't one that generally fits the act of a satellite taking a picture. We would just say,

We got corrupted data from the navigation system when it was taking the fifth picture.

This is perfectly erudite, acceptable and understandable.


This satellite performed 10 [taking a picture acts] over the last day.

could be:

  • This satellite performed 10 picture-taking sessions yesterday.
  • This satellite performed 10 image capture sessions yesterday.

Also consider acquisitions. This is typically used in the industry to refer to the gathering of data of the earth's surface by satellites, be it optical, radar, or other.

For example, it's use in context can be seen in the FAQ's for the USA's Landsat program (well known optical satellites providing open data) where the "Long Term Acquisition Plan" is described.


I happened to read NASA article, it's called space photos or satellite images or satellite photos.

  • 1
    Welcome to ELL! None of these words seem to fit into the intended usage in the question, although they do have something to do with the title of it. Jun 19, 2018 at 0:44

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