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Earth Matters

Reflections on 9/11

September 12th, 2011 by Mike Carlowicz

As the world reflects on the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, the Earth Observatory team has been struggling with what to say and do.  Like so many other media outlets, we felt compelled to say something, to show something.

Our data visualization team found this: a previously unpublished view of New York City on September 12, 2001 (below). It was captured 10 years ago today by the Advanced Land Imager on NASA’s Earth Observing-1 satellite. (Other satellite views are here and here. The space station view is here.)


But all of us were left cold by it. Science left us cold.

I have been searching for several days for an old quote, but it eludes me. The gist of the thought is this: You start with a group of organisms — robins, dolphins, ants, humans — and you have life to study, life force to study. With scientific tools, you can study individuals…dissect down to
anatomical systems (circulatory, neurological, etc.)…then to organs…tissues…cells…mitochondria and nuclei…compounds and molecules…atoms…electrons, protons, and neutrons…quarks. But somewhere along the way, you lose the “life” of the thing. (Lewis Thomas? Bill Bryson? Richard Feynman? If you know the source, please tell us.)

So it is sometimes with satellite photos. We can learn a lot about our environments, our niches, our human fingerprints on the Earth. But sometimes you lose the life along the way. When we thought about running the above photo as an Image of the Day, it felt unworthy of the moment. You can see a city, but you can’t see the loss, the humanity, the soul.

But science and satellites can show us something: We all have one home that we share. It is a beautiful, fragile, awe-inspiring place.

Songwriter Julie Gold captured the thought in “From a Distance” (performed here by Nanci Griffith):

From a distance the world looks blue and green,
and the snow-capped mountains white.
From a distance the ocean meets the stream,
and the eagle takes to flight.

From a distance, there is harmony,
and it echoes through the land.
It’s the voice of hope, it’s the voice of peace,
it’s the voice of every man.



7 Responses to “Reflections on 9/11”

  1. LEOPOLD RIBES says:

    Really sad about what the North American people had to suffer. Over here in Spain, we have been suffering since the 1970s the hits of the intolerants and radicals. Lots of persons lost their lives under the bombs and the shots of such non-humans beings. Therefore, we feel it and understand it.
    Despite all, greetings from Spain and excuse me my bad English.
    Sagunto (Valencia)

  2. Rebecca Duchene says:

    Somewhere along the way human beings have lost the root word of HUMAN BEING. Some are so far removed from Human that they ARE NOT…HUMAN.

  3. Cynthia Carlson says:

    Thank you for such a beautiful human sentiment.

  4. Charity says:

    Beautiful picture of our marble:) Wonderful words .. Thank you!

  5. Darla Ken Jensen Pearce says:

    This is a beautiful thought and tribute and I thank those who thought about it and wrote it from their hearts for doing so. It matters. All of the events of 911 will be revealed soon and when a new light shines upon them, a new greater understanding will be possible for all of us. It will help immensely when the true perpetrators within our own government are brought to justice and all is revealed about this infamous day in our historic past. Until then, the sadness and sorrow and endless wars continue but not for long. By the end of 2011 all truth will be known by all. Forgiveness will be required of every person in order to move forward. It is our destiny to evolve now out of 3D constructs and duality and those who so desire will be allowed to Ascend with the Earth into higher dimensions where wars do not exist and killing and maiming are not allowed.

    Where love will reign over all beings in a much better day. A New Golden Era is upon us and we need only drop all negativity and become love to fully participate. For the first time, we can choose to become New Galactic Citizens. Unconditional love and the ability to “Harm no being” is our ticket to ride into a happy new future on Earth. While the dross falls away not to trouble us again. And so it is… Much love to you! xoxoxox

  6. Peter Curia says:

    As long as the World believes that violence is an answer, we will have catastrophes like 9/11. Violence is NOT a solution. It NEVER has been. It NEVER will be. Thanks for all you do.

  7. Alfonzo Barahana says:

    great work, keep up the great site.