This radar image shows the area of Death Valley, California and the different surface types in the area. Radar is sensitive to surface roughness with rough areas showing up brighter than smooth areas, which appear dark. This is seen in the contrast between the bright mountains that surround the dark, smooth basins and valleys of Death Valley. The image shows Furnace Creek alluvial fan (green crescent feature) at the far right, and the sand dunes near Stove Pipe Wells at the center. Alluvial fans are gravel deposits that wash down from the mountains over time. Several other alluvial fans (semicircular features) can be seen along the mountain fronts in this image. The dark wrench-shaped feature between Furnace Creek fan and the dunes is a smooth flood-plain which encloses Cottonball Basin. Elevations in the valley range from 70 meters (230 feet) below sea level, the lowest in the United States, to more than 3,300 meters (10,800 feet) above sea level. Scientists are using these radar data to help answer a number of different questions about Earth's geology including how alluvial fans form and change through time in response to climatic changes and earthquakes. The image is centered at 36.629 degrees north latitude, 117.069 degrees west longitude. Colors in the image represent different radar channels as follows: red =L-band horizontally polarized transmitted, horizontally polarized received (LHH); green =L-band horizontally transmitted, vertically received (LHV) and blue = CHV.
SIR-C/X-SAR is part of NASA's Mission to Planet Earth. The radars illuminate Earth with microwaves allowing detailed observations at any time, regardless of weather or sunlight conditions. SIR-C/X-SAR uses three microwave wavelengths: L-band (24 cm), C-band (6 cm) and X-band (3 cm). The multi-frequency data will be used by the international scientific community to better understand the global environment and how it is changing. The SIR-C/X-SAR data, complemented by aircraft and ground studies, will give scientists clearer insights into those environmental changes which are caused by nature and those changes which are induced by human activity. SIR-C was developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. X-SAR was developed by the Dornier and Alenia Spazio companies for the German space agency, Deutsche Agentur fuer Raumfahrtangelegenheiten (DARA), and the Italian space agency, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI).