Splitting continent: it looks like a picture, but it’s ASAR

Most of the lessons I’ve posted on my site have dealt with imagery taken from camera payloads on satellites.  So it should be no shocker that I’ve relayed this NewScientist post of a nice picture of the Albertine Rift, showing where the Earth’s tectonic plates are splitting East Africa apart.  Here’s the picture, straight from the NewScientist’s site:

Click to embiggen

However, it’s not a true picture.  The image is really an aggregation of radar data, taken over the course of a year by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Envisat.  The colors were added in afterwards to highlight changes in water level and the earth’s surface.  Envisat had several payloads on it, but it sounds like the data came from this one:  ASAR (Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar).  According to the wiki, this payload had “sub-millimeter precision” for detecting changes in surface heights.  According the NewScientist post, Envisat collected this data between 2007 and 2008.  I’m guessing the data from Envisat and ASAR is surfacing now, as this image, because a lot of analysis needed to happen and a lot of crunching of numbers also occurred.  Or it could be just a slow news day.

Envisat was a sun-synchronous  low earth orbiting satellite.  I say was, because the Europeans lost contact with it in 2012 and they consider it a lost cause.  So thanks for adding a little more space junk to our orbits, ESA!!

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