The alphabet -- any alphabet, but in this case the familiar English alphabet -- can be seen as a pretty squarely manmade creation. Letters and words weren't discovered, but created by humans.
As a new photo series compiled at NASA's Earth Observatory website reveals, however, what's manmade and what's naturally occurring can't be so easily separated. The series, curated and captioned by NASA science writer Adam Voiland, uses only NASA's satellite images and astronauts' photos to piece together A-Z in geological formations. He accompanies each photo with a Dr. Seuss-inspired caption listing scientific terms starting with the relevant letter.
"Geology is sometimes cast as a dry and boring field that is not worth learning about," Voiland told The Huffington Post in an email. By compiling this quirky gallery, he hopes to share "enthusiasm for science, especially the environmental sciences and geology" with his readers.
The resulting photos range from squint-inducing (wait, there's an "r" there?) to uncannily perfect, like the "e" that appears to have been inscribed in cursive by a giant smoky pen. Seeing them all assembled together is a bit mesmerizing, and, to a fontophile, inspiring. (Please, NASA, turn these photos into the coolest gag font ever!)
Compiling the alphabet wasn't an easy task, however. Voiland pointed out to HuffPost that making offbeat series like this one isn't in his primary job description. "Our site's main focus is on covering new science research and breaking natural hazards (such as wildfires, tropical cyclones, floods, and retreating glaciers)," he wrote. Since handling those coverage areas is, he said, more than a full-time job, working on the ABCs started as a fun side project. Even with the aid of several colleagues, the search for all 26 ended up taking three years.
Even now, he admits he's not quite satisfied with certain letters. "A, B, and R," he wrote in his article for the Earth Observatory, "were maddeningly difficult." Voiland would like to tweak the alphabet, and told HuffPost he's already getting ideas for replacing those three irksome letters from readers.
As for future galleries, Voiland told HuffPost that he and his coworkers have "joked around saying we should try doing Cyrillic or numbers." Duty calls, though, and that means the serious work of reporting on hard science and natural disasters. But maybe, in a few years, if we're lucky. Meanwhile, he wrote, he hopes the ABC gallery will help "show that we all live on the same remarkably beautiful, complex, and dynamic planet -- a planet that is well worth understanding, not to mention protecting."
See the full alphabet below, then check out the gallery at NASA's Earth Observatory for more on the project, especially Voiland's Seuss-y, science-y captions.
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