We’ve always loved the images NASA harvests on its missions — that first picture of the Earth from the moon, films of astronauts floating in space, the pictures of the Martian surface. Still, we never expected that the federal space geeks’ favorite satellite images of the Earth would be so downright arty. But the 30 digital photographs NASA scientists carefully selected from over 400,000 shots taken by the Landsat 7 satellite for a display at the Library of Congress look like jaw-dropping abstract masterpieces — and now you can see them in glorious high resolution at the website Environmental Graffiti.
These images, which tend to resemble not-necessarily-representational art more than anything you’d see on the Discovery Channel, manage to be simultaneously familiar and utterly strange. The satellite assigned different colors to the reflected wavelengths of light from the ones your eye is accustomed to — to better highlight various environmental and terrain conditions — and the results are swirling, colorized wonderlands. Check out the image of the Kalahari desert that looks like the cross section of a petrified tree, or the apparently half-finished Chuck Close portrait that is, in fact, Garden City, Kansas.
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