Images of the Earth

The Earth as a work of art? The photographs in this issue are an invitation to (re)discover the beauty of a planet that is as rich as it is fragile. As we turn the pages, we should also remember that it is science itself that is the work of art. The illustrations in this issue were not produced to please the senses but are the pure and unadulterated product of advanced research and high technology. These sublime pictures are a reminder that Earth observation, although initially developed for military purposes, has provided society with many civilian applications. These have revolutionised meteo rology and overturned all the forecasting models, for example. By tracking cyclones, hurricanes and tsunamis, satellites warn threatened populations while, in a more global context, they monitor climate change and the condition of the ozone layer. These data obtained from the skies also enable scientists to prepare for the appearance of epidemics, thereby saving human lives. Meanwhile satellite radar systems map the sea bed and ocean currents, permitting optimal maritime routing, fishing, coastal defences and siting of offshore platforms.

Viewed from Earth, the developing activity in the sky is a measure of the market for space applications. Today, some 3 100 satellites orbit the Earth, plus the secret military satellites and sundry space debris!

While on the ground Europe is proving slow in the making, in our skies it is already a reality. In this issue, as our attention turns to space, I invite you to discover there the many faces and forms of cooperation to be found in a ‘re-enchanted’ Union , together with the many facets of a planet that bears the marks of human occupation.

Michel Claessens
Michel Claessens Editor in chief