Sky-written map

Sky-written map

Three agencies last month pieced together 3-D, high-resolution topographic images of California with part of the data collected by the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission in 2000.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory collaborated with the Geological Survey and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency to sample a global swath every 30 meters, or 98 feet. By autumn, they will have processed 12T of data about the regions inhabited by 95 percent of the world's population.

USGS geologist Ron Beck said the Earth Resources Observation Systems Data Center in Sioux Falls, S.D., will eventually host all the imagery. Integrating the shuttle mission's topographic data with Landsat 5 satellite images is called draping, Beck said, and 'bits and pieces can be done on workstations,' but the global elevations with 12T of data will require JPL supercomputers.

Shown is California's Palm Springs area at the base of Mount San Jacinto, with Interstate 10 at the center.

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