Earth Matters

December Puzzler

December 17th, 2012 by Adam Voiland

Every month, NASA Earth Observatory will offer up a puzzling satellite image here on Earth Matters. The seventh 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 why the scene is interesting.

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!

149 Responses to “December Puzzler”

  1. ADWITEEYA PAL says:

    the image shows the part of south east asia………….

  2. CRAIG says:

    I think the topography looks alot like New Zealand

  3. Jane says:

    Looks like the Yangtze River before it was dammed. Today this is all water.

  4. Sabareesh SS says:

    It seems to be the interior of si kiang river in China.

  5. Alev AKYILDIZ says:

    I guess the ridges with white spots indicate that once there was a lake before
    which has dried out now for some reason. I think the vegetation free zone also
    shows where was the water reaching. Can it be a basin dried after a landslide?

  6. Trupti says:

    China- showing flooded river plain.

  7. SOHRAB BABAR says:


  8. Betty lou Oquinn says:

    I am was thinking the white was snow. I am going to guess Canada…

  9. Rory says:

    if you rotate the image 90 degrees anti-clockwise, it looks as if the big flat bit is an upland plateau, with scrub/forest dominating lower lying areas.

    Also, it looks like a natural area with little human development so a national park or somewhere with barely any human population?

  10. Rafael Gutiérrez Martínez says:

    The forested areas seem to be to homogeneous, so it looks like temperate forests (not tropical forests) A fluvial terace without agricultural use and only one road (too little human occupation) I¿ll go for some occidental province inn Canada (maybe Britsh Columbia)

  11. Mohammed says:

    It seems like the river is composed of groundwater stems from underground and there near the heights of plants covered short

  12. Rahul says:

    I see that the Image shows,

    1. its a hilly region,
    2. there is a river which is flowing, starting from the North West corner all the way South.
    if I see from an artistic point, it forms a human face…mmm probably of an old man with beard 🙂

    3. There is or was a glacier or basin, shown on the North East, East, south region, which is drying up.

    4. it could be somewhere in New zealand/Australia/China

  13. Marie Barney says:

    It almsost looks like an area where I live near Lillooet British Columbia Canada…

  14. Rod says:

    I’m guessing those are old?mining pits dug into the sides of the cliffs, so, the image was taken over a goldrush state in Western U.S.

  15. Crystal says:


  16. Wally Mathews says:

    I believe we are seeing Mt. Everest from space.

  17. Neil says:

    This is greenland. It was taken in July this year. What’s interesting (scary) is that there is very little ice.

  18. David Truman says:

    I think that the white areas near the river are NOT snow. Why would there be snow beside the river, and not higher up? I suspect the white is areas of ice that were on the river during the winter, but have not yet melted in the spring. There is a logging road visible, so it’s not too remote. Could be OR, WA, BC maybe.

  19. Stephen says:

    Battle at Helm’s Deep!

  20. Mahabub Alam says:

    Hilly Area with vegetation and waterbodies. Look likes two dinasours.

  21. Jeff says:

    Dried out lake bed or reservoir?

  22. virginia kain says:

    Amazon river

  23. Tom Kelley says:

    I believe that it is a view of an area west of Beijing with the Great Wall of China running through the bottom and left side of the image.

  24. George says:

    The photo is that of the Alps

  25. Tod says:

    San Francisco. That’s all I’m at liberty to say

  26. Belfastchild says:

    I think this is Greenland, which would normally be covered under ice, but due to global warming is now almost all green.

  27. John H says:

    Everglades national park?

  28. Adam Morgan says:

    The upper left quadrant has a road leading to a clearing. There are several other clearings nearby. Could these be areas of deforestation due to logging?

  29. Jorge says:

    On the left side of the Satellite image we can observe the Great Wall of China.

  30. William says:

    Looks like clear cut logging. The brown ponds is an indication of erosion. The white is snow?

  31. Connor says:

    It’s the great wall of china

  32. Stan Attenberger says:

    It looks like ancient fissures that oozed lava, and there has since been extensive erosion. Maybe in Iceland?

  33. Laura Scott says:

    I have absolutely no perspective on this, so all I could make out, when I walked away and looked from a distance is a skull almost right in the middle of this. That’s all I got.

  34. Nyels says:

    China, great wall in left of frame and dry lake bed on right

  35. Eleonora says:

    The Bad Lands in N D

  36. CT says:

    Northwest Maine

  37. Balkrishna Upadhaya says:

    It looks like SOUTH EAST ASIA.

  38. Randy Byrd says:

    Great wall of china

  39. Robb says:

    It’s the rain forest, Mayan temples… Peru maybe??

  40. Jessica Medina says:

    East Asia

  41. Carolina Martinez says:

    Bueno Eso Refleja O Da A Mostrar Que Son Los 5 Continentes Unidos y Los Huecos O Vacios Que Se Ven Son Los Oceanos Pacifico Y Atlantico… Nada MAs Que Decir

  42. DerrickG says:

    this is south america, Brazil probably. showing tributaries of the amazon and the deforrestation taking place!!

  43. Jorge says:

    On the left side of the satallite image we observe the Great Wall of China.

  44. Steven C says:

    The shadows in the gorge tell me the Sun is to the top of the image so this is Southern Hemisphere. The lush greenery grows only where the Sun does not have much exposure behind the mountains (doesn’t grow on flat areas either), therefore not tropical. Satellite had to fly further South than this region to get this photo. Argentina.

  45. Janette says:

    Great Wall of China

  46. Ian says:

    There is a large man made tower just left of the center of the picture built on a leveled area with an access road running to the left. Possibly an observatory?

  47. Alex Z says:

    A melted glacier on the coast mountains. The lack of logging means that the area is in a watershed or a park now. The brown stuff in the valley is typical of where a glacier flowed, but has melted.

  48. BOB WARREN says:

    Southern Hemisphere (assuming the photo has a N is up orientation) because shadows are on the south faces.

    Summer (consistent with December)

    Low alpine forest, 5000 – 8000 feet

    Andes Mountains, probably Argentina side as the water looks to flow East.



  50. christy g varghese says:

    Yellow stone national park, usa.90 degree clockwise camera.

  51. Linda Thomas says:

    The Great Wall of China on the left-hand side

  52. Rhonda says:

    I don’t know where it is, but I think it was a glacier that melted, and the small white areas are all that’s left of the glacier.

  53. Thomas Z says:

    Judging from the shadows, this is located somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere. I don’t believe this angle of shadow can be reached during Winter, since the sun is so low in the sky, so that rules out the Northern Hemisphere. The cliffs causing these shadows are interesting, since it seems to indicate a river, or a dry river bed. I can be mistaken, but on the lower right edge, the section cleared of green with white dots are parked vehicles. This is hard to be sure of, but there are a lot of white spots, which means this is a popular location. The presence of a road shows that this area might be a nature preserve, or just far from any densely populated areas. Perhaps New Zealand?

  54. Dave says:

    taken 1999:06:03
    cut down with photoshop around 2012/02/06-14:56:27
    on a mac.

  55. Keith says:

    Appears to be a coastal area including river system displaying the effects of a tsunami surge. Cannot speak for location; although eastern Asia would be a fair bet.

  56. Derek says:

    It’s summer in Greenland b 4 the winter begins. The wide path of the dried river basin but it’s not a river basin it’s a dry patch from the thaw of snow and ice with patches of snow banks.

  57. Melissa says:

    Deforestation and the effects on land… Mato grosso area?

  58. Nick Day says:

    1. Amazon River Flood Plain
    2. During the dry season.
    3. You can see where the water rises to during the wet season, and the growth of vegetation in the dry river bed since the last wet season.

  59. Harsha says:

    It looks like a part of sri Lanka and seems to be aquired in september and it is intresting because there is an anger

  60. Mike Dillon says:

    Mount Saint Hellens

  61. Christi says:

    I think it’s Greenland finally living up to it’s name…

  62. Lito Villegas says:

    We were recently hit by a typhoon and that place looks familiar and recent. I assume that is in compostela valley . You can see the forrests are denuded. Those
    se high black cliffs are part of mountain that broke off. The white stuffs are houses that were constructed to billet miners mining for gold. Some of the hous were was ahd away or buried. The white lines are actually water runoff coming from the mountains forming into a river.

  63. Erica Lycans says:

    I see a Monument to the far left center of the page… It looks like shoulders, with a stretched out neck, and a face looking upwards… It is hard to make out the definition of it, due to all the green vegetation… Plus it is also green in color itself.

  64. Gary Hanley says:

    The Great Lakes

  65. Mike says:

    Looks like part of a golf course.. White spots are sand traps

  66. Angel Gonzalez says:

    soy de mexico y veo un caballo

  67. Brandon says:

    There is no snow on what looks to be a forested area, that might have been cleared for a ski resort?

  68. Kevin says:

    Flooded, terraced rice paddies.

  69. Nirav Desai says:

    The bottom right corner has mountain peaks with snow on top and there are forests to the top – that would be a lower altitude. The snow is the reason I think the altitude is different. Deep green would be denser forests. There is a river flowing out from the mountains near the top. The source of the river is very close to the snow so that could be a melting glacier. I also see a man made road near the top of the picture. I see a ridge line to the top of the river and that looks like a second mountain peak besides the one covered with snow.

  70. Mina says:

    I think it is the Great Wall of china . Thers a ridge running north to south on the left of the picture which could be the steps. On the right the divided land mass looks like a giant puzzle piece, no doubt cause by some great upheaval in the pass. The soomth surface between the divide might be a river bed, so definitely some tyoe of radar imaging used. I feel there is the presence of water due to the what seems to be abundant greenery.

  71. Jimmy A. McDaniel says:

    Mountainous region with deforestation resulting in questionably fertile farmland. Heavy mining in several areas; some more recent: indicate presence of ongoing pursuit of a vital natural resource. A landlocked country with limited capital. Therefore the deforestation is likely supporting mining projects; more structurally than monetarily.

    However,the questionably fertile farmland my be due to the natural resource being mined having an undesirable agronomic property like intense radioactivity. Also the lesser development of the eroded soil may be due to a more desperate pursuit of the mining projects.

  72. Rick Schaubel says:

    Looks like Lake Ontario emptying into Lake Erie with the St. Lawrence Seaway
    emptying into them.
    At the end of Lake Erie it empties into the Alantic Ocean.

  73. Jay S says:

    I believe this to be what was once covered in ice/glacier around Greenland….

    Hard to recognize what has not been seen by human eyes ever!

  74. Brett McAlister says:

    It appears to be a temperate mountain area with a shallow but broad canyon in the lowest area. There are several smal bodies of water (lakes, ponds, or impoundments). The sun is shining at an angle from the top of the picture as can be seen due to a shadow of a canyon top tree that appears in the canyon bottom. The white and grey items along the edge of the canyon bottom and rim appear to be buildings. They are rectangular when viewed with a high degree of magnification. Considering the greenness of the foliage, I would say it is late spring or early summer. It could be any mountainous area in the world. One odd aspect is that there appears to be no roads or wide trails in the canyon bottom.

  75. Alan says:

    The greenish-brown, flat, shadow-ringed regions in the lower right quadrant and the extreme lower left corner are high mountain plateaus. The gray parts around them are talus slopes. The white patches on and around the plateaus are snowfields, which together with the abundant green vegetation indicates the photo was taken in the late spring or early summer. Several small lakes can be seen on the slopes of the plateaus and in a couple of river valleys. Since most terrain of this type is found in the Northern Hemisphere, I’d place it in North America or Europe. If this guess is correct, then North is to the right of the photo, based on the abundance of snowfields on those slopes below the plateau cliffs, and the picture was taken around 10:00 A.M. The terrain reminds me strongly of Boulder Mountain and the Aquarius Plateau in southern Utah, but that’s not where the photo was taken. Montana, Colorado, British Columbia, or the Alps would be my best guesses.

    • Adam Voiland says:

      Alan, you’re on the right track. Can you be any more specific?

      • Alan says:

        Found it! Photo is of the northern part of the Flat Tops Wilderness in Colorado, in the United States of America. North is towards the top of the photo. The knife-edge ridge connecting the two plateaus in the southeast corner of the photo is a landmark called Devils Causeway. The larger body of water in the extreme southeast corner is Stillwater Reservoir. The road visible in the northwest is County Road 8. The road that heads southeast from it and disappears off the southern edge is Trappers Lake Road.

        Photo was taken in the early-to-mid summer, sometime around 10:00 A.M. The area in the photo is approximately 14 miles west-to-east and 9 miles north-to-south.

        I don’t know what the connection is between this puzzler and the holidays, but I’m sure we’ll find out.

  76. Tavis says:

    I see the Svalbard Global Seed Vault which has been built inside a sandstone mountain in a man-made tunnel on the frozen Norwegian island of Spitsbergen

    & maybe the great wall of china.

  77. shyam gupta says:

    this isthe part of africa , 101% !!!

  78. Emily Blum says:

    The upper left hand side looks like… The Grinch!! – getting us excited for Christmas. Can anyone else see it?

    • Adam Voiland says:


      Believe it or not, you’re sort of on the right track. There is a holiday link to our December puzzler…


  79. Vinay Shah says:

    The Hulk.

  80. PRASAD says:


  81. Jorge de Paz says:

    the great wall of china, it can be seen by a satelite far away…

  82. pugita says:

    this is not earth, coz of the green looks like algae not a tree.this planet is a bit far from the sun than earth…its like neighbors planet.

  83. Asterid says:

    Looks like the Great Wall of China. If so, it’s the only man-made feature visible from space.

  84. koushik says:

    southeast of china……

  85. Liz Grauer says:

    I’m going to guess that it is the emptied-out resevoir left when the Condit Dam on the Snake River was breached in 2001. Kind of a special event if you are a fish!

  86. fai says:

    amazon river ??!

  87. Mohamed.A. Farahani says:

    This image shows South America part of the world. It is Amazon rain forest which locate upper section of Brazil south of the Equator and Amazon river located 2 to 4 degrees south of Equator.

    The scene is interesting because;The Amazon rain forest is the largest in the world which represent over half of the planet’s rain forest and it comprises the largest and most species-rich tract of tropical rain forest in the world also it considered as a leading source of information on tropical forests.

    I think the image was acquired during the rain season because as you can see from the image the greenish forest as well as full of water in amazon river.

  88. Chris Mowat aka SnowTiger says:

    Oh snap ! Now I see it. There’s the little baby Jesus in the manger and a Santa Claus with his reindeer .. and I’m pretty sure I see the Virgin Mary too … could be Mona Lisa !!?!!. Ya .. that’s it !

  89. Nick EM says:

    I see a cross. that is all

  90. Phil T says:

    Looks like northwestern Greenland, based on shadows on structures that look like ice escarpments on the sides of the ridges. If glaciated, looks rather recent, which would mean the coast. Looks like the melt took place recently and rapidly. Lake in the middle of a gray-green valley looks like a kettle lake.

  91. Michael says:

    I’m guessing somewhere in the amazon just after wet season. What I find strange is that I believe there is an airport runway mid top of the image.

  92. pezhman says:

    I think that is the chines wall top of the mountains. and near that is the big jungle.

  93. expert says:

    It’s Seattle.

    200 hundred years from now.

  94. Christy says:

    Mountainous region next to huge dried-up lake. Early summer. The white, obviously snow/ice.

  95. Arket Raj Maharjan says:

    Its a Cliff on the right hand side of the picture in UK. water is flowing below the cliff.

  96. Alev AKYILDIZ says:

    Judging by the above hints, I think it is a spot close to a place named Cocks Comb at NE of Boulder Mountain. A place south of town Torrey. Abt 38º 13’32” N, 111º 21’50” W.

    Somebody had written that the picture was taken in 1999. Google Earth shows a lot had changed since that shot.

    I guess.

  97. Scott Salamoff says:

    Southeast asia, Indonesia, in October (?) 2010 during the tsunami-related flooding

  98. sheila says:

    christmas tree lake arizona?

  99. christine says:

    I’m really happy to see my home land Srilanka in this map with India and some parts of Asian countries.. But what we see is taken from far away. Sattellite pictures are like that.

  100. Angie Connelly says:

    The level topography on the SW side of the image look like high mesa’s to me. Such as what you might find in the southern San Juan Mountains of SW CO and NW NM. The whit would be melting snow on the NE facing side of the mountains.

  101. linda says:

    why would snow be at the bottom near the water, and not on the tops of the hills and mountains? nope. i think those are manmade, salt, or other minerals or sand. not snow.

  102. Angie Connelly says:

    The level topography on the SE side of the image look like high mesa’s to me. Such as what you might find in the southern San Juan Mountains of SW CO and NW NM. The white would be melting snow on the NE facing side of the mountains, so this could be early summer.

  103. Michelle Flack says:

    TAiwan landslide scars – photo of June 2011

  104. VanGelder says:


  105. Zoran says:

    Chichen Itza,Yucatan,Mexico or Mount Everest!Greeting

  106. Angie Connelly says:

    As per Alan’s post above, I agree that this is an image of Devil’s Causeway in CO, as per why this is an interesting formation. This might be because it is an example of inverse topography. Meaning, the basalt that forms the plateau would have flowed into topographic low points during formation, and then became a high point as the area around it eroded away. 🙂

  107. Alexandre Mathieu says:

    I would suggest that the lower right part of the picture (light-green shapes) shows a fossil rock glacier which is now covered by a primary vegetation. A rock glacier has typical landforms : steep-edged, tongue-shaped, talus-mantled lobes.
    But deposits from this deflated rock glacier seems to have been partially removed by more recent processes.

  108. Mott says:

    If you turn it 90 degrees counterclockwise it looks like a cauldera volcano and the river looks like a mudslide.

  109. Redopz says:

    Funnily enough, I believe those ridges are called the Chinese Wall. Alan did a great job of placing this picture, but couldn’t get the Christmas reference. The only connection I can find is the abundance of coniferous trees in the area. Has anyone else gotten a better answer for that?

  110. Ura La says:

    place looked like the capital of China .. with its beautiful mountains

  111. Aindí says:

    I believe the green/brown area in the bottom right is an upland area like a plateau surrounded with the dark green forest and light green grassland. My guess is its somewhere in Brazil/Bolivia Area – perhaps where the Conan Doyle book – The Lost World – is set?

  112. stcoleridge says:

    Agree with drained lake; not drought due to substantial (green) vegetation in surrounding area. Lake bed now has vegetaion growing in it; we see same thing in drained bywaters of drought-lowered lakes in TX.

  113. Samier says:

    hey hey guys , this picture absolutely from NEPAL !!!

  114. Bill Butler says:

    Can’t afford to miss this one as the Flattops Wilderness is in my home state of Colorado. “Alan” has got this one nailed.

    There is a major geological item of interest on the lower edge slightly to the right of center. It shows up much better in Goggle Earth than in the photo, but there is a large (about 2 miles long and 1 ½ miles wide) land mass slump that moved from east to west (right to left in the photo) that has dammed the valley with Trappers Lake (just off the bottom edge of the photo) forming in back of the dam. If you want to check out the “slump” in Google Earth look at 40.01 N 107.21 W.

    • Bill Butler says:

      A lot of the light green area along the bottom edge of the photo is grass and meadow vegetation that has regrown since a large area of the forest burned in 2002. (“Big Fish Fire” photos at and ) This puts the year of the photo around 2010 +/- a couple. Snow cover on the high Flat Tops is minimal so the best guess for the time of year would be mid/late August.

      Note: There are many other landslide slumps within a few miles of the Trappers Lake area that have produced other lakes via damming. Also the lumpy/bumpy wrinkles in some of the slumps have produced other smaller lakes in the low areas.

      More “Google Earth” Colorado geology on my web page at:

  115. Candida says:

    I’m guessing this is in the southern hemisphere, since the more densely vegetated slopes are facing south. Maybe New Zealand? Definitely a temperate forested area, and the dry lake bed on the right of the image suggests a dryer than normal spring/summer season.

  116. RedMudIslander says:

    You’re all wrong – it’s Area 51 (insert smiley:<)

  117. ashish kumar says:

    i think its southern amazon

  118. ali says:

    Tibetan Plateau

  119. Ali Rahimy (From Iran) says:

    I think it’s somewhere named Khasan and it’s important from the Geopolitic point of view because that place is close to China, Russia and North Korea.

    • Ali Rahimy (From Iran) says:

      The scene also shows a dismal drought. The level of water is very low in rivers and lake.

  120. Ali Rahimy (From Iran) says:

    forgot to add: the image has been acquired in summer because the water level is not high.

  121. Tim says:

    Machu Picchu

  122. Ali Rahimy (From Iran) says:

    I think it’s better to add something else: the image seems to be… not been acquired using the reflection of visible light or sun light… It seems to be taken by infra-red and higher temperatures are darker green and lower temperatures are lighter green. The white areas are the crystals of minerals (such as salt) and those are rivers and lake(s).

    • Ali Rahimy (From Iran) says:

      Just Invert the colors of picture in a photo editing software, like PhotoShop, and you’ll be surprised! It’s a Desert! The colors of picture have been inverted using Photoshop CS6! You may save the picture on your desktop and take a look at the properties of it in Windows VISTA and see the name and version of the software that has been used for editing the image. Thank you and forgive me for too many comments.

  123. Ali Rahimy (From Iran) says:

    Respectfully, this is to revise my previous comment: The image has been acquired using the reflection of SUN light (not infra-red). Also bands of satellite image of Khasan are the inverted colors of Red, Green and Blue. I’m waiting for final results impatiently {:-) Thank you.

  124. Doug says:

    Bugarach, the ‘doomsday’ mountain in France.

  125. gilad freiman says:


  126. Crews Giles says:

    I’m stumped on the Holiday connection. Using USGS maps, I was just certain I would find “Nativity Lake” or some such; but have located no connection. Congrats to Alan. Once the Holiday connection is provided, I’m ready for January’s.

  127. Mohamed.A. Farahani says:

    The puzzle was little bit complicated. It needs somebody to be excellent in Geography especially Physical Geography. I can see that the image has taken from the sky (Oblique photograph).And the greenish features for me translates a huge forest.(that’s why I said Amazon) Also I can see other features like water; which shows a river or something like that.

  128. Chris Williams says:

    “December Puzzler” image shows density of forest greens. The darker the color the higher the density and a valuable lesson – to follow what you have learned on Earth about the color spectrum’s and what the basics tell you. Green is life and blue is water and with the two colors together in a planetary closeup image- it generally means inhabitable zone is highly probable for the planet in question and is in turn a fair assessment, that the planet has life on it. Confirmation at that point depends on what perimeters are set up but never underestimate the accuracy of the basic color spectrum’s and what we already know about them here on Earth. Never underestimate the color spectrum’s ability to expose the misconceptions of artful ignorance.

  129. Crews Giles says:

    It is the 18th of January and I want a January puzzler. Just saying.

  130. vrushang.p.desai says:

    The image shows the part of White River National Forest where the 2012 U.S. Capitol Christmas tree (an Engelmann spruce) was harvested. Look for the Ripple Creek Lodge marker to see where it was. More details at the links below: