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American astronaut Jeff Williams spots one over his home country:

There is a good reason to call it Red River – marking the border between Texas (left) and Oklahoma (right).

A photo posted by Jeff Williams (@astro_jeffw) on

In case you haven’t met this mighty river:

The Red River, or sometimes the Red River of the South, is a major tributary of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers and the second-largest river basin in the southern Great Plains (total length of the river is 1,360 miles). The river was named for the red-bed country of its watershed. It is one of several rivers with that name. “The Mexicans and Indians on the borders of Mexico are in the habit of calling any river, the waters of which have a red appearance, 'Rio Colorado', or Red river”, observed R.B. Marcy in 1853. The Red River formed part of the US-Mexico border from the Adams-Onís Treaty (in force 1821) until the Texas Annexation and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

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This is the northernmost permanently inhabited place in the world, with a population of about five—less than the number on the International Space Station:

A photo posted by DigitalGlobe (@digitalglobe) on

The place is called Alert, in the Qikiqtaaluk Region, Nunavut, Canada:

Alert has many temporary inhabitants as it hosts a military signals intelligence radio receiving facility at Canadian Forces Station Alert (CFS Alert), as well as a co-located Environment Canada weather station, a Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) atmosphere monitoring laboratory, and the Alert Airport. Alert is named after HMS Alert, a British ship which wintered about 10 km (6.2 mi) away in 1875–76. The ship’s captain, George Nares, and his crew were the first recorded people to reach the northern end of Ellesmere Island.

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That’s my first thought when I look at this photo of man-made archipelagos near Dubai:

What’s a cyanotype? It’s a simple photographic process, developed in 1842, in which an object is placed on treated paper and exposed to light. The result is a white negative image on a blue print—a blueprint, that is, since one of the main uses of cyanotype throughout history has been to reproduce architectural diagrams. Pretty appropriate for a group of man-made islands.

But a woman is probably the most famous cyanotype photographer: Anna Atkins. She was an English botanist who, back in 1843, used cyanotypes to illustrate an entire book on British algae. For that, she’s remembered as the first female photographer—and a pretty amazing scientist too. The Public Domain Review has a group of her images you can check out here, including some that look like potential blueprints for some new island creations.

I had a cyanotype kit when I was about six, although I didn’t know then what the process was called. It included sheets of treated paper, a piece of cardboard to lay them out on, and a sheet of clear plastic to hold down any objects being photographed … and that was all it took.

Where I grew up in Portland, Oregon, often the sun didn’t come out much, but when it did, I would lay my cyanotype paper out on the lawn. I would arrange a few flower petals or seedpods under the plastic and watch anxiously as the paper turned bright blue in the sunshine. Magic.

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This shot resembles a motherboard—a very colorful one:

Benjamin Grant credits the abundance of blue to aluminum:

The colorful roofs of Songjeong-dong—an industrial district in Busan, South Korea—are seen in this Overview. The striking colors that you see here result from the use of aluminum roofing, which is used for its low cost and longevity.

One commenter isn’t satisfied with that explanation: “Bullshit, there are many different cultural reasons for the blue roofs. The material has little to do with it.”

There are a few Reddit threads devoted to the number of blue roofs in Korea. (South Korea’s presidential home is the Blue House, named for the hue of its roof tile.) Some Redditors speculate that blue roofs were something once reserved for those with high social status—a fact I’m having trouble confirming. Are you a historian or have a solid source on it? Let me know.

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Ever seen a race track of camels from space? Neither have I:

Quigley complements this view of the Dubai Camel Racing Club by pointing to a 2013 article in What’s On—an entertainment magazine in the United Arab Emirates—which details how “the country’s largest camel racecourse is relatively unknown to the hordes of tourists that fly into town, and that is just the way the locals like it.” Money quote:

[T]he sport has undergone some serious modernisation over the past decade. Since 2002, following pressure from human rights groups, child jockeys were replaced by little robotic machines controlled by remote control. Now the owners cruise alongside the track in fleets of 4x4s controlling the robotic jockey while seemingly trying to exhaust their car’s horn.


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That’s what these two stunning, surreal images of salt ponds in northern Chile look like, especially the second one:

From Quigley’s caption for this first image, captured above Nueva Victoria, Chile:

The Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on Earth with a mere four inches of rain each one thousand years (don’t ask me how they worked that one out). But it is definitely very dry and arid! The desert stretches for 600 miles between Peru’s southern border and Chile’s central Pacific coast.

The second image is from the same desert but a different area, specifically 30 km south of a town called San Pedro de Atacama:

Quigley adds, “This is regular tourist destination for folks who want to bath in the salt waters and marvel at the immense and expansive views (which are especially beautiful at sunset).” One of his commenters nods:

Been there, done that. In the 60s, on acid. #goodtimes #happyhippie

That second hashtag is linked to 113,859 posts, which no doubt saw a sudden surge on Wednesday. 🌲

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It’s a great day on Instagram for satellite and ISS imagery, starting with this stunning shot from American astronaut Terry Virts:

Happy #earthday2016

A photo posted by Terry Virts (@astro_terry) on

The European Space Agency went with a more artistic tribute to Mother Earth:

A photo posted by ESA (@europeanspaceagency) on

From their caption:

Just in time for Earth Day! 🌏💚💙 This is the swirling landscape of Iran’s salt desert, Dasht-e Kavir. With temperatures reaching about 50ºC in the summer, this area sees little precipitation, but runoff from the surrounding mountains creates seasonal lakes and marshes. The high temperatures cause the water to evaporate, leaving behind clays and sand soils with a high concentration of minerals. The brushstroke patterns are geological layers eroded primarily by wind.

It’s also National Park Week in the U.S., and American astronaut Jeff Williams is gramming a bunch of parks and natural monuments. A handful of his best:

The Instagram account for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center surfaces a striking view of a volcanic eruption from June 12, 2009:

It’s the Sarychev volcano in Russia’s Kuril Islands, northeast of Japan, and the incredible view was captured during a “fortuitous orbit of the International Space Station.” More from NASA:

Sarychev Peak is one of the most active volcanoes in the Kuril Island chain and is located on the northwestern end of Matua Island. Prior to June 12, the last explosive eruption had occurred in 1989 with eruptions in 1986, 1976, 1954 and 1946 also producing lava flows. Commercial airline flights were diverted from the region to minimize the danger of engine failures from ash intake.

This detailed photograph is exciting to volcanologists because it captures several phenomena that occur during the earliest stages of an explosive volcanic eruption.

This sliver of water beneath the clouds may not look like much, but it represents a monumental engineering feat:

Here’s the caption from Roscomos, Russia’s space agency:

The 77 km-long international waterway known as the Panama Canal allows ships to pass between the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean. It is one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken. Picture taken at the height of the ISS by cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka.

Last year, Alan compiled some striking shots of the canal’s expansion—a massive, ongoing construction project that is nearing completion. The caption for this photo reads, “An aerial view shows the new Panama Canal expansion project, at left, including the existing Gatun Locks on the right”:

Arnulfo Franco / AP

The queue is officially open: On Monday, Erica E. Phillips reported for The Wall Street Journal that the Panama Canal Authority has begun “taking reservations for transit through the canal’s new wider, deeper locks, which are slated to open June 27.”

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That’s one way to look at this colorfully distorted image of NATO’s Joint Force headquarters in Brunssum, Netherlands:

Speaking of trippy views, 73 years ago today, the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann took LSD for the first time on purpose, having discovered its psychedelic properties by accident three days earlier. (For some Atlantic reading on the subject, check out John N. Bleibtreu’s “LSD and the Third Eye” in our September 1966 issue.)

But Anthony Quigley explains what’s really going on in this satellite view:

When Google Maps and Google Earth came onto the scene, some countries and institutions wanted to block Google from displaying certain places. (These were possibly the same people who thought [the Internet] was a fad!). There are various places around the world that tried this. One such place was The Netherlands, who asked Google to “blur” the images. Today’s photo—taken a few years ago—is a great example of this idiocy at play.

There’s even a whole Wikipedia page for “Satellite map images with missing or unclear data,” as is wont.

More blues, of course:

A photo posted by Tim Peake (@astro_timpeake) on

British astronaut Tim Peake, a current resident of the International Space Station, identifies this shot as the Bahamas. Another blissful snap:

A photo posted by Tim Peake (@astro_timpeake) on

“Do you ever have a beer up in space and look at a view like this and think, ‘This is awesome!’?” asks a commenter. But life on the ISS isn’t as relaxed as these images suggest; Peake is preparing to run the London Marathon from space next week:

The AP relays a quote from Peake:

The former British Army helicopter test pilot hopes to finish the 26.2-mile race on April 24 in under four hours — maybe even 3 hours and 30 or 45 minutes “if I’m feeling really good.” That’s about 2 ½ laps around Earth.

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There’s something magical about this shot:

A photo posted by Tim Peake (@astro_timpeake) on

“I love this picture taken just before sunset—looks more like a movie scene than planet Earth,” writes British astronaut and test pilot Tim Peake. One commenter thinks Star Wars, while another says the image “looks like the Mad Max scene with the storm.” For me it invokes Harry Potter and Rubeus Hagrid’s infamous line:

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