Scientists of many disciplines are accustomed to studying data that cannot be observed through direct contact. Physicists and chemists, for instance, know a great deal about the structure of the atom, even though even the most high-powered microscope cannot make an atom visible to the human eye. The objects of study for earth scientists are often similarly remote, though not necessarily because they are small. In some cases, the problem is quite the opposite: an area selected for study is too large to provide understanding to geologists working only on the ground. Other areas are simply inaccessible to human beings or even their equipment. This has necessitated the development of remote sensing equipment and techniques, primarily involving views from the air or from space and utilizing electromagnetic radiation across a wide spectrum.

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