The Mesmerizing Beauty of Nature's Fractals

Nature mingles with math, to breathtaking results.

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Google Earth/Spain

Google Earth: source of information, source of wonder, source of art. In 2010, Paul Bourke, a research associate professor at the University of Western Australia, began using the service to capture images for his ongoing Google Earth Fractals series. Since then, he's amassed an amazing collection of space-based photographs that are equal parts science and beauty: Each intoxicating image on the project's website is accompanied by a KMZ file that lets users pinpoint the photos' locations on their own Google Earth viewers, putting them in geographic as well as aesthetic context.

As the blog My Modern Met put it,

It's almost unbelievable that these naturally curving branches of paths exist in such extraordinarily beautiful patterns. The fact that it's a distanced view of the lands we walk on makes it that much more incredible and breathtaking. It really shouldn't come as such of a surprise, though, since it is a view of organically produced land. Many of the images bear a remarkable resemblance to textures and patterns found in a simple leaf, if one were to zoom in. Alternatively, we're looking at our vast world, zoomed out.

Exactly. And the natural patterns here are suggestive not only of land, but also of the people who walk on it. The visual analogies are, seen in their way, animal: rocky capillaries, watery nerves, verdant vessels, and a reminder that the Earth is, on top of everything else, a frail body of its own. 

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Google Earth/Russia
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Google Earth/Egypt
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Google Earth/Spain
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Google Earth/Greenland
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Google Earth/Saudi Arabia
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Google Earth/Spain
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Google Earth/Austria
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Google Earth/Australia
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Google Earth/United States

MyModernMet via @stevesilberman

Presented by

Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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