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Earth from Space

Johannesburg, South Africa

IMAGE: Johannesburg, South Africa

The image above is a mosaic of the following 3 images:
High-resolution image (113 Kb)
High-resolution image (110 Kb)

High-resolution image (93 Kb)

Why are cities established where they are? How do local economies and politics influence patterns of human settlement and development at such a grand scale that these patterns can be identified from space? This mosaic of images of Johannesburg, South Africa, taken from the International Space Station illustrates the human geography of the region.

In this case, the cityscape of Johannesburg is the most difficult pattern to discern. The center of Johannesburg is the fine-grained pattern -- created by shadows cast from the high rise buildings in the city -- in the center of this mosaic. On the southern fringe of Johannesburg a line of light colored, angular patches, known as the great "mine dumps", stretch across the scene. These patches are the crushed rock that remains after gold extraction from numerous gold mines. These mines underpinned the South African economy for decades -- and their dumps, or tailings piles -- are the visuals that orbiting crews see when they overfly Johannesburg and neighboring cities, delineating the east-west outcrop of the gold-rich rock strata discovered in 1886. Some mine dumps are so large that an outdoor movie theater was located on one of them. Neighboring industrial cities are nestled among the mine dumps as far as the edges of the mosaic. Older mine dumps nearer the Johannesburg city center have disappeared from view in the last 25 years, having been re-mined for the gold that remained within them.

The green zone, located in the top middle, is the leafy northern suburbs, where hundreds of square miles of grassland have been progressively forested since Johannesburg was founded in 1886. Small light patches within the tree-rich zone are satellite business and shopping centers. By contrast, major ghettoes established by the former South African government, typical of developing-world urban migration, appear as grey zones lower left (the famous Soweto Township) with a smaller ghetto top right (Alexandra Township). Soweto appears largely treeless except for protected valley bottoms.

Astronaut photographs ISS007-E-15148, ISS007-E-15149, and ISS007-E-15150 are provided by the Earth Sciences and Image Analysis Laboratory at Johnson Space Center. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth.

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Curator: Kim Dismukes
Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty

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