Can you tell satellite images from microscopic pictures? Test yourself

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Is this image a satellite picture or a microscope one? That's the question posed by "Macro or Micro?," an exhibit created by two scientists with completely different focuses. Oh, and we'll tell you the answer below.

Stephen Young and Paul Kelly are both science professors at Salem State University. Young's a geography professor, studying vegetation change via satellite images. Kelly's a herpetologist (insert your own joke here), studying snake scales via microscope. Kelly does this to determine the evolutionary relationship of different snakes.


A joke by Young on Kelly begat a conversation, which begat an exhibit. Young put one of his satellite photos on Kelly's door, and Kelly though it was an electron micrograph taken by someone in his field. Young described what happened to the Huffington Post:

A few years ago I saw some of his electron microscopic images and a few looked like a landscape. I took one of my landscape images (dunes in the Sahara) and fooled him into thinking that it was an electron microscopic image


The similarities between the vastly differently scaled images they were studying got the two talking. Kelly told the Smithsonian Magazine's Collage of Arts and Sciences:

After I saw Steve’s images, I could think of things that would look something like his satellite images from knowing how tissues and organs are built microscopically.


The conversation led the two scientists to curate fifty images that are both beautiful and baffle your sense of scale. The images are being shown at exhibits at both the Salem State University’s Winfisky Gallery and Clark University’s Traina Center for the Visual and Performing Arts.


According to Young, telling the images apart is difficult because of nature's love of certain patterns, which are repeated on both small and large scales:

Some patterns appear to repeat themselves in nature. The study of fractals has shown this for some patterns, where, as you zoom in, the same pattern repeats itself. Also, there is nothing in the image to provide you with a measure of scale and so it is all shape and pattern. Shape and pattern do not define size.


You can see more of the images from this exhibition (and further test your sense of scale) at the Smithsonian Magazine article, Yahoo! News, and the Huffington Post.


And here are the answers for the above photos:

Top image: Micro, wing of a dragonfly (by Paul Kelly)

Images in order: Macro: The Matusevich Glacier in East Antarctic (Additional processing by Stephen Young)


Macro: Ice in the Weddell sea, colored to show ice thickness

Micro: A rotten human tooth (by Paul Kelly)

Macro: Central Mali, processed to show heat and photosynthesis (byStephen Young)

Micro: Sparrow heart (by Stephen Young)