Mystery Photo

What in the world is it?

Mystery Photo

Don’t peek at the answer until you’ve given this a good try! Then, scroll down a bit and the truth will be revealed to you.

(Image Credit: Kam Lulla (JSC))

What in the "world" is it? A wall painting of abstract art? A electron-microscope image of some faded blue jeans?

No. This photograph shows a section of Brazil taken during the space shuttle STS-46 mission. It is a close-up view of deforestation in the country’s state of Rondonia. The dark blue areas are Amazon rainforest and the light blue areas are cleared lands. The main transportation route in this area extends the length of the frame and secondary roads extend out roughly perpendicular from it and parallel to one another. The brightest area just right of center is a city located at an intersection of two main roads. Two smoke plumes rise where clearing of the land by slash-and-burn methods is taking place.

Active deforestation occurs as clearing proceeds from the secondary roads into the rainforest. Eventually, plots from adjacent roads merge, and no rainforest will separate them. The relatively small plots of land being cleared in this manner produce a herringbone pattern. Observations of Rondonia over time show that significant amounts of land have been cleared in a matter of years.

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