It may look like a branching blood vessel, but this image is actually taken 700km above the surface of the Earth. It is a false-colour image of the Mississippi Delta – the coastal region where the river flows into the Gulf of Mexico.
To highlight the edges of the branching pattern of river channels, vegetation in this image have been coloured red. While engineers have done their best to control the course of the Mississippi River with a series of levees and artificial channels, it is still difficult to control the 17000 cubic meters of water that flow out of the mouth of the river every second. On its 2320 mile journey from its source, the river has picked up a large amount of sediment. As the water slows as it enters the Gulf, this sediment can no longer be carried by the moving water, and so is deposited.
It’s not a coincidence the image shares a striking similarity with blood vessels – a structure hundreds of thousands of times smaller. The fractal pattern that occurs in both is an efficient way to cover a large surface area. It also occurs in the neurons in our brain and in the system of airways in our lungs.
This image was taken by the Advanced Visible and Near Infrared Radiometer on board the Advanced Land Observing Satellite, which was launched in in 2006. It’s been responsible for some amazing pictures in it’s time – including this amazing one of the Namib Desert in Namibia.