Exploring the Valley of the Kings With Radar

A century ago, the British archaeologist Howard Carter opened Tutankhamun's burial chamber. For years he had been searching for the pharaoh's tomb in the Valley of the Kings, northwest of the Upper Egyptian city of Luxor. Having almost given up, he found Tutankhamun's tomb in the winter of 1922. However, several months of careful preparations were needed before the archaeologist could enter the interior of the burial chamber. On 16 February 1923, Carter and his team finally broke through the door between the antechamber and the burial chamber. Inside they found a treasure trove of almost completely preserved burial objects and the pharaoh's sarcophagus - still a sensational find today.

The German radar satellites TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X have now made the hidden Valley of the Kings visible in an impressive way. The two satellites orbit the Earth, only a few hundred metres apart, at an altitude of 514 kilometres. This means that they can record the same area on Earth at the same time. Using what is referred to as SAR interferometry, detailed elevation models of Earth can be created from the radar data acquired by the satellites. One of the two satellites transmits radar signals. The signal echoes reflected by Earth's surface are then received by both satellites from two different angles, similar to human stereoscopic vision. From the different path lengths of the signals from the ground to the satellites, the elevation of Earth's surface can be measured during the overflight. The DLR team used these data to create a digital elevation model of the Valley of the Kings. In flat areas, they also enhanced the backscatter from Earth's surface measured by the satellites to make cities, for example, more visible. The model was also colourised for a more vivid representation.

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