Inaugural Crowds: The View from Space

ABC News' Lisa Stark Reports: If you were jammed into the National Mall yesterday to watch President Obama's swearing in, it must have felt as though the whole nation was packed in with you. Well, not quite. But you were celebrating with more than a million of your closest friends. Now there's a scientific estimate of the hordes that braved the Washington D.C. cold for the historic day. The estimate is based on a bird's eye view of the festivities -- or more precisely, a view from space. "It kind of looked like bees in a hive," said Allison Puccioni, a senior imagery analyst for IHS Jane's, who scrutinized the pictures to get the crowd estimate. Puccioni said her usual job involves scrutinizing satellite imagery to look for things like for submarines in China. The picture, from the Geo-Eye1 satellite, shows the crowd packed in at 11:19am ET, 47 minutes before the official oath of office was administered. The image wasn't taken closer to the time of the event because at 11:19, the Geo Eye-1 satellite circling 423 miles above the earth happened to be in the right spot to snap the shot. To estimate the crowd, London-based IHS Jane's took old satellite photos of the area and then took what it calls precise geospatial measurements of 71 different sectors. That picture was compared to the image take on inauguration day. IHS Jane's determined the crowd density was from .1 to 5 people per square meter. Five people per square meter translates to one person per two square feet. It then determined how many folks were in each of the 71 sectors and added them up. The company concluded that there were between 1.031 million and 1.411 million people shivering and cheering and waiting. The number doesn't include the nearly quarter of a million people who were in the designated ticket area. Add them into the mix and you get 1.271 to 1.651 million. It also doesn't count the people present in the federal buildings and doesn't extend over toward the White House area. On top of that, there were still people pouring out of the Smithsonian Metro Station at the time the photo was taken – so the crowd probably got thicker than shown in the satellite photo. So the crowds may not have approached the 4 million some were predicting but there was still a record number of people were present for a record-setting day. Of sizing up the inaugural crowds, Puccioni said, "It wasn't what I expected." She said she thought there would be a more even continuation of people throughout the mall, but instead found people were more crowded in some areas and less in others as they moved into their positions for the event. She also said conventional wisdom is that a maximum of about six people can fit into a square meter. She said that's like the front row of a rock concert, or probably how crowded it was in Chicago's Grant Park the night Obama won the presidency. But, she said, with the cold weather and heavy parka's – it was only possible to squeeze in a maximum of 5 bundled people a square meter.  Puccioni, who has been analyzing satellite photos for 15 years, said, "This was quite an enjoyable task for sure."

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