Rub’ al Khali, Satellites and How We See the World

A few years ago, I interviewed space shuttle commander Eileen Collins for Audubon Magazine, about the scale of environmental change she could see from space. It was my introduction to what’s known as remote sensing, or satellite technology, which is changing the the way we see life on this planet. There was a time when we lived in the dimensions of latitude and longitude. Now we live in three, and we are used to seeing the world from above. Nothing brings this home more that this photo of Rub’ al Khali, or the Empty Quarter on the Arabian Peninsula, the world’s largest ocean of sand which was described by Wilfred Thesiger as he crossed it in his book, Arabian Sands. This image reminds me of of how far we’ve come since the days when the only way to see across such a vast place was to travel with your own feet and to take it in with your own eyes.

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