Earth Matters

September puzzler

September 10th, 2012 by Adam Voiland

Every month, NASA Earth Observatory will offer up a puzzling satellite image here on Earth Matters. The fourth puzzler is above. Your challenge is to use the comments section below to tell us what part of the world we’re looking at, when the image was acquired, and what’s happening in the scene.

How to answer. Your answer can be a few words or several paragraphs. (Just try to keep it shorter than 300-400 words). You might simply tell us what part of the world an image shows. Or you can dig deeper and explain what satellite and instrument produced the image, what bands were used to create it, and what’s interesting about the geologic history of some obscure speck of color in the far corner of an image. If you think something is interesting or noteworthy about a scene, tell us about it.

The prize. We can’t offer prize money for being the first to respond or for digging up the most interesting kernels of information. But, we can promise you credit and glory (well, maybe just credit). Roughly one week after a “mystery image” appears on the blog, we will post an annotated and captioned version as our Image of the Day. In the credits, we’ll acknowledge the person who was first to correctly ID an image. We’ll also recognize people who offer the most interesting tidbits of information. Please include your preferred name or alias with your comment. If you work for an institution that you want us to recognize, please mention that as well.

Recent winners.  If you’ve won the puzzler in the last few months, please sit on your hands for at least a few days to give others a chance to play.

You can read more about the origins of the satellite puzzler here. Good luck!

58 Responses to “September puzzler”

  1. James Wolff says:

    Gobi Desert, 2011. The “stripes” are sand dunes created by wind patterns.

  2. Neza Borisek says:

    Could be longitudinal dunes in Egypt.

  3. Troy Beaulieu says:

    That is a satphoto somewhere in the USA or Middle East of a desert area. The vertical lines are old dried up washout rivers streams etc, running to the lowlands. The dark odd speck in the corner is a large boulder.

  4. Patrick Schmidt says:

    Skeleton Coast, Namibia. The stripes are former locations of the shoreline.

  5. Bob Plansky says:

    Gobi desert…dunes

  6. Lana Terrell says: says:

    one of our planets i think Mars

  7. Rohit kaushik says:

    Kalahari dessert

  8. Carl Schardt says:

    Simpson Desert, Australia

  9. Heli Press says:

    this part of the world is in Asia, and something is happening on the right side near the top of the corner, as part of the image is for the whole conflict

  10. Laura Scott says:

    It LOOKS like it could be, a view of a composition of a rock surface on Mars.

  11. WILLIAM PIERCE says:

    I too think it the Gobi desert. Thr dunes are perpendicular to the prevailing wind.

  12. Brad Wight says:

    Top of Uluru. My other thought was that it might be a close up side section of a crater but can’t find one that matches.

  13. Waqas says:

    East African rift system, part of Ethopia probably.

  14. Mike Lackner says:

    Part of Kalahari Desert in Northern Cape province, South Africa. Stripes could be dried out river beds.

  15. Aleksandar Kelec says:

    I think this picture was taken of the Sahara Desert in the country of Algeria, and the lines are dunes created by wind.

  16. Mezza says:

    I think it could be the Kimberly Pilbara Region in Australia

  17. Mark Davis says:

    Sahara Desert sand dunes in Algeria or Mali.

  18. Morgan says:

    My guess is Antarctica.

  19. Average Teenager says:

    Super extreme closeup of my face with mottle complexion.

  20. scott reiter says:

    So not to repeat other guesses. Western Utah near Moab. Petrified dunes?

  21. Jackem says:

    Nevada desert with fault lines

  22. Piscesfairy says:

    Its no desert it is the bark of some 100 years old trees

  23. Brooke Hack says:

    What part of the World: Northern Namib Desert, near road M76.

    When: Southern Hemisphere Winter (approx. June, July)

    What’s happening: Windy conditions. Dune Migration occurring. No little bushes this time of year.
    Beautiful longitudinal dunes bearing metasedimentary gravel. Some is oxidized and shows a rust color. The darker patches are places where the sand has been blown away and the bedrock has become exposed. This portion shows a part of the African Continental Shield, which is partially exposed and partially covered by what is currently only a thin layer of sand in dune formations.

    The most interesting part of this picture is that it includes, going down the right side of the photo, Dune 7, which is the tallest dune in the world.

  24. Michelle Flack says:

    Dunes created by wind – Gobi Desert

  25. Michelle Flack says:

    CORRECTION – Sahara – Great Dunes !

  26. Lisa Anderson says:

    I think it looks like a red tidal bloom in the Pacific Ocean. The over lapping suggests a nice tidal pattern and the dark spots are like the water clear where the algae isn’t gathered.

    I think picking a desert like in New mexico where white sands occur seems too obvious. I’ll pick the less known.

  27. W Oberholzer says:

    Namibia dessert, Namibia

  28. ENDER ERKÖSE says:

    looks like the surface of mars.

  29. Liam Ramage says:

    Sand dunes in the empty quarter of the Arabian peninsula. The red iron oxide stained sand dunes are moving over gravel plain.

  30. Ron Ashman says:

    Ouargla region, Algeria, North Africa

  31. Ron Ashman says:


  32. francis martin says:

    desert with hills and valley somewhere middleeast

  33. Bill says:

    That’s my backyard. I really need to water the grass more often. Thanks!

  34. Catherine Nance says:

    There is something that looks structural in the middle of the picture, vaguely reminiscent of an astronomical observatory complex. I googled for observatories in deserts and found a couple in the Atacama Desert on the northwestern coast Chili. Here’s a link to a satellite image of the region: The Atacama has been used as a location for filming Mars scenes. The observatories are collectively named La Silla Paranal Observatory They are owned by an international scientific organization called the European Southern Observatory, ESO. It is made up of 15 member nations from Europe and South America.

  35. Patrick Storm says:

    Linear dunes at Great Sand Sea of southwest Egypt.

  36. Jaimen says:

    Longitudinal dunes, Namibian Desert

  37. Utah Bobby says:

    Somewhere in Utah. The lines are not dunes, rather scratches left in the surface by a receding glacier from the last great ice age.

  38. Subhashini Chandramani says:

    Nappanerica Sand Dune also called the “The Big Red” from the Simpson desert of Australia. The desert is famous for the long parallel sand dunes with an average length of 200KM which also run in a parallel formation from NNE-SSW and are approximately 500m apart.

  39. Fernando Aulestia says:

    Atacama Desert
    Dunes produced by wind acction

  40. Angie M says:


  41. Alexandre Mathieu says:

    I am almost sure that theses features are not sand dunes. I took a look on many satellite images showing sand dunes from several area worldwide and their morphology doesn’t look like the features showed in the EO image.
    A also deeply searched about the possible features occurring in desert area.
    My guess is that these features might be Yardangs. An explanation of these landforms is given in this webpage (search “yardang” inside the page), among others desert features :

    I’m searching about the accurate location of this image… But with almost no doubt, it’s an arid area dominated by large windy conditions.

  42. Peter Pessev says:

    I would go with Atacama desert. The different colors of the stripes show that they consists of different rocks/minerals compared to the rest of the landscape. The softer material eroded away and left behind the “veins” of harder rock that were embedded in the “primordial” material. The image is quite colorful, suggesting an abundance of different minerals in the soil. That’s why I’m inclined to link it to Atacama. I think I’ve seen similar formations from the ground. Probably the explanation is quite naive, but I am not a geologist 🙂

  43. lakazel says:

    I think this are snowcovered mountains in the sunlight. Maybe the Alps or alpenglow,
    or the Mount Everest.

  44. Alev AKYILDIZ says:

    I believe it is taken over Simpson Desert in Australia. I agree with one of the top comment.

    But what made this shot interesting for me apart from the texture is the dark spot on the left
    bottom corner I believe it is the shadow of an aircraft passing by right at the time exposure.

    What would be the odds to capture that?

    • Adam Voiland says:

      HINT: Almost. Can you be any more specific?

      • Conan Witzel says:

        I see some of the features 20 miles north of Birdsville, Australia. I don’t know about the black spots. In the northwest it appears to be a dry lake bed.
        Not sure on the sensor, but it isn’t true color.

  45. Willie van Tonder says:

    Not sand. Maybe enlarged peace of barren rocky area. More likely enlarged photo of the sun-dried-pleeted-aged-nicely sharved ; my cheek skin

  46. Willie van Tonder says:

    Do not be mislead by colour. Time of day plus many factors when photo was taken, may influance the colour of the erea. a Rocky erea will be my guess.

  47. F Arellano says:

    Southern New Mexico desert

  48. David Haycock says:

    Definitely the Simpson Desert in Central Australia. Given the orientation of the dunes it is likely in the area northwest of Birdsville, Australia.

    • Conan Witzel says:

      I think you got it right!! I didn’t see your post before I replied above.

      This was a fun one! I swear I looked in this area at least twice and every other desert as well.

  49. rehan akhtar says:

    Great Victoria Desert

  50. subhashini Chandramani says:

    The area between the linear dunes, is it the seven mile waterhole, in Simpson desert Australia? The image taken during summer? This is one tough puzzle to find. I have spent a day on this. It has been fun though.

  51. Alev AKYILDIZ says:

    Hmmm, Mr.Voiland, it is I guess an aircraft heading to/from Birdsville from/to somewhere. This region is in North of Birdsville I believe, perhaps around 25′ 31″ S, 139′ 00″ E – 25′ 39″ S, 193′ 10″ E. Close to Diamantina River. I got doubts though. The sand dune inclinations and color cast do fit that region according to me.

  52. Conan Witzel says:

    Is there the slightest chance that the black dot is the Skylab on re-entry?
    I think northwest of Birdsville is the correct geographic location and my only other thought on significance would be a possible hint at airlines etc.

    If so date would be July 11th 1979. Thus Landsat 3 most likely.

    I seem to remember another satellite dropping into Australia, but don’t remember dates etc.

    I thought the Mars landing photo of the lander from the satellite was very cool.