Travel

A New Book of Satellite Photos Captures Earth's Fragile Beauty from Space

'Overview,' from the wildly popular Daily Overview Instagram feed, invites us to contemplate Earth from above.
October 10, 2016, 12:20pm

Everglades National Park in Florida is the largest tropical wilderness in the United States east of the Mississippi River, covering more than 1.5 million acres. The park was established in 1934 to protect the area’s fragile ecosystem and is home to 36 threatened or protected species including the American crocodile and West Indian manatee. Source imagery: @digitalglobe

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May 17, 2016 at 1:02pm PDT

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When astronauts gaze down at Earth in its entirety for the first time, they describe a profound psychological shift. Beholding our small blue planet floating in the vastness of the universe imbues them with a sense of understanding about our place in the cosmos and the extent to which everything on Earth is connected and interdependent. Only about 550 humans have been lucky enough to contemplate the world from this perspective, but their anecdotes inspired science writer Frank White to dub this phenomenon the “Overview Effect.”

When Benjamin Grant first learned about the concept from a documentary, he was mesmerized. “Once I saw Overview, I felt like my perspective had shifted entirely. It was something I couldn’t stop thinking about,’” Grant tells The Creators Project. While preparing for a meeting of a space club he’d started, Grant typed “Earth” into a satellite mapping program, thinking it would return a zoomed-out picture of the planet. Instead, he got Earth, TX, a small town surrounded by miles of green and brown circles, the beautiful byproduct of pivot irrigation fields, or sprinklers that water crops in a circular pattern.

Pivot irrigation fields cover the landscape north of Copeland, Kansas, USA. Powered by electric motors, lines of sprinklers rotate 360 degrees to evenly water crops. Source imagery: @digitalglobe

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Mar 29, 2016 at 10:42am PDT

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A few days later, in December 2013, Grant launched Daily Overview, and he’s posted a new, stunning picture of Earth from above every day since. “When I discovered that I could create something that was not only beautiful but also informative that spoke to [the ‘Overview Effect’] directly, you can imagine how fulfilling that was,” Grant says. After three years of collecting incredible images of the planet, amassing a huge following, Grant curated 200 of the best images into a gorgeous book, which goes on sale later this month.

Even after doing this for three years, there’s still so many things I haven’t seen. There are so many places I hear about from other people or read about in the news that I’ve never seen before,” Grant says. He posts pictures of tulip fields and salt mines, housing developments and landfills, and though they’re all breathtaking, it’s jarring to see pristine wilderness juxtaposed by more sinister images of destruction. Some of the most compelling photos use symmetry, patterns, and color to highlight the tension between beauty and tragedy.

The Great Pyramids of Giza are located on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt. Dating back to 2580 BC, the Great Pyramid, the largest structure at the site, is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient world and the only one to remain largely intact. With an estimated 2,300,000 stone blocks weighing from 2 to 30 tons each, the 481 foot pyramid was the tallest structure in the world for more than 3,800 years. Source imagery: @digitalglobe

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Feb 28, 2016 at 1:34pm PST

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“I think of one of a refugee camp in Kenya. There’s this amazing red color and on top of that, a grid pattern, but then you realize that grid is the space created for 400,000 displaced Somali refugees,” Grant says. “It’s kind of a horrible, dark moment for our species, and you have to acknowledge you enjoy looking at it at the same time. That’s challenging, but maybe it gets you to look longer at something you might typically look away from.”

One thing nearly all astronauts talk about is an understanding of the fragility of Earth’s ecosystem after seeing our thin atmosphere and vast human footprint from space. Despite the relative ease of travel, many of us have a geographically-limited comprehension of the world. Seeing the planet from above could help more people grasp the urgency of combating climate change and making sure the Earth is a sustainable home in the future. If everybody went to space, would it be enough to convince us to save the world?

Rice paddies, constructed in steps, cover the mountainsides of Yuanyang County, China. Cultivated by the Hani people for the last 1300 years, the slope of the terraces varies from 15 to 75 degrees with some having as many as 3,000 steps! The stunning colors that you see here are indeed real and result from the presence of water and certain plants within the terraces. Source imagery: @digitalglobe

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Mar 2, 2016 at 9:07am PST

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“I think one thing this project does is build awareness of what is going on through new perspectives. I think that’s the first step before we start acting to protect the planet. People aren’t going to spontaneously say, ‘We need cleaner energy, and we need to reduce our waste,’ unless they truly understand what’s going on first,” Grant says. “Sending everyone to outer space is not going to happen for a little while. Hopefully one day, but in the meantime, this is one way to use the cameras we already have up there to help get to a collective awareness. I think awareness leads to inquisitiveness leads to questions leads to, hopefully, action.”

Leaf-like impressions are seen on the shore of Musa Bay, near the Shadegan Wildlife Refuge in Iran. Can anyone help us identify this exact body of water and explain why formations like this occur? Source imagery: @digitalglobe

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Mar 9, 2016 at 7:22am PST

Over the next few days, thousands of people from around the world will head to the desert in Nevada, USA to construct Black Rock City. Laid out in a grid plan with radiating avenues named after the numbers on a clock, the city serves as home to roughly 60,000 people for Burning Man, an annual week-long event. Burning Man is described as an experiment in community, art, self-expression, and radical self-reliance. Additionally residents in Black Rock City practice one of the event's key principles of ‘Leave No Trace’ – meaning significant efforts are taken to make sure as the city is disassembled in the days following the festival, the desert returns to its original state. /// Source imagery: @digitalglobe

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Aug 25, 2016 at 6:38am PDT

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This Overview captures salt evaporation ponds in San Francisco, California, USA. Here, water is channeled into these massive basins where it begins a transformation into brines. Over five years, the brines evaporate, concentrate, and travel several miles before they are collected as pure salt crystals. The massive ponds get their vibrant red colors from algae Dunaliella, a particular species of algae that thrives in extremely salty water. Source imagery: @digitalglobe

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Mar 15, 2016 at 7:53am PDT

To order a copy of the Overview book, click here. And follow Daily Overview on Instagram.

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