Tangerine Dream

By Tom Yulsman | March 18, 2013 12:10 am

A false color image of much of the interior West of the United States captured on March 17th by the MODIS instrument aboard NASA’s Terra Satellite. (Source: NASA EOSDIS Worldview)

Maybe it’s just because I’m such a geek, but I honestly think that if this image were framed and hung in a museum people would look at it and go, “Wow, what a beautiful painting.”

It’s not a painting. You’re looking at a delicious assemblage of pixels generated by the MODIS instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite. The pixels, in delirious false color, comprise an image encompassing much of the interior West of the United States. The Colorado Rockies are visible, albeit obscured to a large extent by clouds. So are the Grand Canyon, the Great Salt Lake, and Flaming Gorge in Wyoming.

Can you find them?

Here are some details for my fellow remote sensing geeks:

This is a Band 3-6-7 combination image, which is particularly good for discerning snow and ice. They appear bright red in the image. According to NASA, the more ice, the more red the color. Thick ice and snow show up in red-orange hues, whereas small ice crystals in high clouds are rendered reddish-orange or peach/tangerine. The widespread bright cyan color is indicative of bare soil. And liquid water on the ground — we’re taking reservoirs, lakes, rivers, etc. — is very dark, almost black in fact. Lastly, sediments in water appear dark red.

So here’s what boggles my mind: An artistic drama like this plays out on the home planet every single day. And no canvas is ever the same.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Atmosphere, EarthArt, select, Top Posts


ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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