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From distant eye, Earth becomes art

By Richard Stenger

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Interactive: Earth as Art sampler 

(CNN) -- Impressionism. Pointillism. Cubism. All the great painting styles make an appearance at a new exhibit showcasing breathtakingly bizarre and colorful images, created by mother nature and a high-flying helper.

Dozens of portraits of our planet, currently on display at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., were selected from more than 400,000 pictures taken by the Landsat 7 satellite since 1999.

Mountains, deserts, islands and glaciers become haunting abstract subjects, seen in brilliant blues, greens and reds from a vantage point more than 400 miles away.

"Every now and then you have to stop and admire them for their beauty instead of their science," said Jon Christopherson, a researcher for the U.S. Geological Survey who studies the Landsat 7 images.

A desert resembles marbled rock. A frozen lake is transformed into a dragon. A multitude of tiny circles, each an irrigated field, looks like something from French painter Georges Seurat.

Each of the 41 images was chosen for its artistic appeal rather than scientific significance, the Library of Congress said.

"My favorite? It depends on my mood," said Christopherson, but immediately confesses having a soft spot for the Lena River delta in northern Siberia. "It's one of the largest in the world. I had no idea about it until I saw it in a satellite image. It's stunning."

Other stars of the "Earth as Art" exhibit include Mount Kilimanjaro, the Everglades, the Ganges River delta and the farms of Garden City, Kansas. The 30-inch by 30-inch, high-resolution prints will remain on display in the library's James Madison Building until July 23, 2003.

The Library of Congress, NASA and the U.S.G.S. put the gallery together to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the first Landsat satellite launch.

Equipped with visible and infrared sensors, Landsat 7 covers the entire planet every 16 days. Its images help scientists monitor global warming, map remote areas, search for minerals and track agricultural and urban trends.

Can't make the trip to the U.S. capital? Thousands of Landsat images can be viewed on the Internet. Some can be downloaded as screen savers or ordered as prints. Check out this NASA and this U.S.G.S. Web site.

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