How many of the world’s 193 countries (give or take) can you label on a map?
What if you were looking at them from space? That’s where it gets confusing.
That’s where this gorgeous new video comes in. As you fly over the planet—via stitched-together time-lapse images taken from the window of the International Space Station within the last year—NASA chief geoscientist Justin Wilkinson explains what you’re seeing (Texas, say). Watch:
When astronauts first go into space, Wilkinson says, they are often disoriented by the way the actual planet appears. “It looks so different from a map. You have no idea where you are. You have to slowly learn that,” he told me. “You start to learn your geography by how you rotate around the planet.”
As principal geoscientist, Wilkinson often sends messages to the astronauts, asking them to take pictures of this or that part of the planet. Though it may seem like we’ve explored Earth’s every nook and cranny, he says, they are actually learning new things constantly. For instance: There are a lot more examples of a geographical phenomenon called an inland delta or megafan—that is, deltas formed far from coastlines—than was once thought.
Wilkinson hopes to someday take these techniques to Mars. But for now, he hopes that videos like this one will help those of us who are grounded on Earth will “start to see the planet for the little alive ball it is, floating in space a long way from another planet. We may get to respect it a little more and be more careful with it.”
Which presidential candidate has the best space-exploration policy—Obama or Romney? Physicist Lawrence Krauss looks at their platforms.
TODAY IN SLATE
The Self-Made Man
The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.
The GOP Senate Candidate in Iowa Doesn’t Want Voters to Know Just How Conservative She Really Is
Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?
The Supreme Court, Throughout Its History, Has Been a Massive Disappointment
Why Indians in America Are Mad for India’s New Prime Minister
Now Stare. Don’t Stop.
The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.
You Deserve a Pre-cation
The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.