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TO JUNE 30
My all-time favorite airplane flight was one that carried me from Billings, Mont., to Denver a few years ago. We flew low, in the afternoon, through crystal-clear skies, passing over gorgeous, desolate, and seemingly endless landscapes riven by meandering creekbeds that curled into clawlike shapes. The view looked like something in an alien, fractal universe. That’s the kind of vision that prompted Ronald Blom, a geologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, to mount the exhibition “Ancient Landscapes From Space: Satellite Images of Southern Arabia.” The images are leftovers from the search for the lost city of Ubar (1200 B.C.500 A.D.), the center of the once-flourishing frankincense and myrrh trade in what is now a desolate stretch near the border of Oman and Yemen. The exhibition consists of images captured by satellite-based radar that can penetrate two meters below the Earth’s surface, revealing structures and objects invisible to the human eye. Blom isolated small portions of each scan that seemed especially artistic to him, then blew them up. (Marib, Yemen is pictured.) His judgment is good: I saw patterns that looked like just about everything—from spinach leaves, to water pools, to tree lichens, to rain streaks on a windshield. In fact, the images look like just about everything except the desert itself. On view from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, to Friday, June 30, at the National Academy of Sciences, 2101 Constitution Ave. NW. Free. (202) 334-2436. (Louis Jacobson)