World’s biggest ‘Satellite Selfie’ captures Canberra from space, as national institutions and schools create larger-than-life art


August 21, 2020 06:27:24

So far, 2020 has brought an unprecedented health crisis, devastating bushfires, damaging hail storms and floods, and worldwide Black Lives Matter protests.

But those events have inspired some inspired larger-than-life artworks which, as part of National Science Week in the ACT, will be captured forever by satellite imaging.

National institutions, embassies, and schools across Canberra have spent hours creating giant outdoor designs that can literally be seen from space — or, more technically, that will be captured by the Maxar satellite at a height of 770 kilometres above the Earth — for the “Satellite Selfie” project.

“Nothing to this scale and this many people has ever been tried before in the world, let alone Australia,” ANU astrophysicist Dr Brad Tucker said.

Dr Tucker is the brains behind the project, which he says is “a chance to make history — particularly as we all deal with lockdown and a global pandemic”.

From Black Lives Matter to science saving us

To ensure Satellite Selfie creations were seen from space, participants were asked to make sure the lettering and designs on display were at least 2.5 metres by 3.5 metres.

At the Australian National University’s (ANU) main campus, the words “All in this together 2020” were written in large red letters across the ground.

One of their ovals also became the backdrop for two giant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands flags, and the words “ANU”.

Support for the Black Lives Matter movement was on show at the ANU School of Art, with giant orange lettering and an artwork 10 metres wide and five metres tall spelling out “BLM”.

Head of the ANU School of Art and Design, Professor Denise Ferris, said the school wanted to draw more attention to the importance of the movement.

“We want to publicly stand by the movement and send the world a message that the ANU School of Art and Design supports the black lives matter anti-racism movement and that change must happen now,” she said.

Several national institutions also participated in the project — the Australian War Memorial created a giant remembrance poppy alongside the reminder “Lest we forget”, while the National Museum of Australia and the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House partnered to spread a message of love with a giant heart made out of blankets.

The Australian Academy of Science took to the Shine Dome car park to highlight the importance of its sector in the fight against COVID-19 with a prediction that “Science will solve this”.

Using space to inspire next generation of scientists

Director of the ANU Institute for Space, Professor Anna Moore, said she hoped the project would inspire the next generation of students to study science.

“I think it is really important to catch the imagination of kids at this time, when they can look up and be inspired to do that,” she said.

ANU researcher Dr Marta Yebra, a senior lecturer in environment and engineering, said that making science fun was key to engaging students in satellite imagery’s use.

“It is very important to get younger people involved in science because it does a lot for society, to advance our knowledge and future,” she said.

“Satellite imagery is used in a broad number of applications. We wanted to make people aware of the importance of satellite imagery in our day-to-day activities.

“In terms of observation, we use satellites to look down to the earth and retrieve information about land cover change; for example, how cities grow, the health of the forests, bushfire management — so many things.”

That message certainly seemed to reach Sacred Heart Primary School in Pearce, where students and teachers used the photo-op to celebrate the school’s 50th anniversary.

They spelled out the number “50” and formed a love heart with a human chain for the satellite to capture, all while learning about space.

“Satellites go around the world and only artificial ones take pictures,” Year 2 student Isabelle said.

Added Year 6 student Sasha: “They use satellites to look at the height of Mount Everest and measure things”.

Principal Anne Staines said science was an important part of the school’s curriculum, and the satellite project gave the kids something to “celebrate”.

“It’s a matter of really engaging the kids in things that interest them; to ask their own questions and enjoy that investigation, and share that with other people,” she said.

“With everything that’s been happening, it’s been really difficult to do some things that the children would enjoy and let them celebrate [the 50th anniversary].”

Over 120 primary and high schools participated in the flyover all up.

Bad weather nearly flouts flyover

The satellite was due to photograph Canberra on Monday, Wednesday and Friday this week, but poor weather nearly flouted the history-making project.

While Monday’s event went ahead, the flyovers on Wednesday and Friday were cancelled due to cloud cover.

However, to ensure the very best images are immortalised, the satellite is set to undertake a special flyover on Tuesday, August 25.

The satellite will fly over the ACT, covering the city and surrounding towns and villages including Queanbeyan, Googong, Tharwa, Yass, Murrumbateman, Sutton, Royalla and Bungendore.

The satellite is also passing over the Northern Territory, capturing images of Darwin, Palmerston, Pine Creek, Katherine, Nhulunbuy, Yirrkala, Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Jilkminggan, Mataranka, Barunga, Beswick, Manyallaluk, Jabiru, Gunbalanya, Batchelor, Adelaide River, Ramingining and Ngukurr.

The final satellite photos will be released online in a few weeks.










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