WASHINGTON – They look like the work of abstract artists, but the images reflect reality — the rhythmic shapes of mountains, deserts, clouds, fjords, scattered cities and towns turned into brilliant patches of red, green and blue — flashed to earth from a satellite 440 miles (708 kilometers) in space.
More than three dozen of 400,000 photos taken by Landsat-7 since it was launched in 1999 are on display in an exhibit at the Library of Congress called “Earth as Art.”
Images from Landsat-7 are mainly used by the U.S. Geological Survey to keep tabs on crops and minerals. Some have been used by scientists to locate promising spots to dig for dinosaur bones in the Gobi desert.
Experts have also picked out images for their aesthetic interest. Visitors can find them at the library’s Geography and Map Division until July 23, 2003. Landsat-7 covers the entire surface of the earth every 16 days. From more than 400,000 images it has made since it was launched in 1999, just one in 10,000 made the cut for display.
“Each of the 41 images … has been selected for its artistic appeal rather than for its scientific significance,” said the library’s monthly Information Bulletin. As with abstract paintings, any viewer can choose a meaning — no human artist has designed them.
To one librarian, a representation of the mud and salt marshes in Iran’s Dasht-e Kevir desert recalled the marbled end-papers in a rare book of the 1700s. What look from space like delicate ripples in a Namibian desert are in fact the world’s tallest sand dunes — about 980 feet (294 meters) high. A frozen-over reservoir near the city of Bratsk in southern Siberia seems to merit its nickname of “Dragon Lake.”
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has been launching Landsat satellites since 1972, and the exhibit celebrates the program’s 30th anniversary. In that period, governments and businesses have developed similar monitors for various uses, including disaster and relief appraisals, pollution assessment and forestry management.
On the Net:
U.S. Geological Survey: https://landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov/earthasart