Bad Astronomy

Followup: The Nile from space

ISS_nileLast week, I posted a very cool picture of the Nile delta region taken at night by a NASA satellite. I commented that this photo really makes it clear why that area was the seat of a civilization for millennia; the lights of the cities up and down the river contrast hugely with the dark desert areas.

I wasn’t trying to give an in-depth analysis; I wanted to spark some thinking and a conversation about it. That certainly happened; the post and picture have generated some fascinating comments. One of the best is from science journalist Heather Pringle, who wrote an interesting post about how the desert may have actually helped support Egyptian pharaohs regain power after a long decline.

I am no expert on this part of mankind’s history, so I don’t have an opinion on how likely or not this scenario is, but I will say this: you never know what a single photograph might start. Sometimes, the only way to see a situation is to see it from the outside, and when you do there’s no telling what might come of it. In this case – as is so often true – a look down from space, a glimpse from above and beyond, can ignite thought processes and inspire treks through avenues previously unsuspected.

That’s not why we set out to explore space, but I sometimes think that this may be its enduring legacy.