Earth Matters

May Puzzler

May 21st, 2013 by Adam Voiland

Each month, Earth Observatory offers up a puzzling satellite image here on Earth Matters. The sixteenth puzzler is above. Your challenge is to use the comments section to tell us what part of the world we are looking at, when the image was acquired, and why the scene is interesting. For instance, what do you think the horizontal line is on the upper part of the image? The tan areas below? The blue-black blotches on the right?

How to answer. Your answer can be a few words or several paragraphs. (Try to keep it shorter than 300 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 spectral bands were used to create it, or what is compelling about some obscure speck in the far corner of an image. If you think something is interesting or noteworthy, 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 puzzler image appears on this 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 the 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.

20 Responses to “May Puzzler”

  1. J. Tate says:

    China. With a portion of The Great Wall of China visible in the top left corner.

  2. L Puis says:

    Somewhere on a crack between two earth-plates.

    Noticeable are the two semi-circular mountains on the right of the image. Either the remains of a dried out canyon, or a volcano that ‘split’ in two and the two sides were shifted by earthquakes and plate movement?

    Thoughts going wild here 😉



  3. Brittman says:

    San Andres fault, California…

  4. qoil says:

    I’ll just share my thoughts on “what I see”
    1. At first I thought those looked strangely like lightning sprites, but closer inspection made them look more tree-like (referring to the longitudinal features of the terrain running across the top half of the image. They could be… estuaries? Water bodies?
    2. The first thing I did notice was the helm-like appearance on the right-hand side of the image, the darkened parts being the facial features viewed from the side.
    All in all, intriguing to look at. Wish I knew where though

  5. Joel Quaresimo says:

    the great rift valley of east africa

  6. Dimitris Mitropoulos says:

    The horizontal line on the upper side of the image is a straight river. On its slopes there are several hydrographic networks which reach the river. The v shaped network shows the direction where the water flows.
    Because of the low angle of the sun which rises from southeast (so we are on the northern hemisphere), the north slope is sunlit and the south slope is shadowed. Also shadowed is the area on the right side. (maybe there is a cliff and a waterfall. The water of the waterfall comes from the river on the west).
    So the river flows from west to east.
    Finally on the center of the image there is a village with fields for farming. On the west side of the village there is a small dam for watering.

  7. REHAN Khan says:

    It’s some place in Southern Hemisphere. The green slope is side away from sun.

  8. Mark H. says:

    A canal, from the lower-left leads to a reservoir, which provides water to the small town. The town has fields while the surrounding area is not used for agriculture. The fields in the town appear to be irregular in shape and small in size – contrasting with the modern reservoir and canal. So the fields and settlement are probably fairly old. Yet there are no train tracks or major roads evident (except for the small road servicing the canal).
    This appears to be an older agrarian settlement which formed near two sources of water in a fairly arid region of the world. The town likely originated near the meandering stream on the lower edge of the town and used the river in the canyon on the opposite as a back-up water source for dry/drier times. The river in the canyon has what appears to be, a pumping station leading up to the small town and reservoir. The modern reservoir pumped from this second source makes this backup source more useful.
    The canal should lead to a larger city or more fields. Something worth the expense of the pumping station – but this is not on the scale of China’s Grand Canal and water redistribution efforts. There should be power lines, but I can’t see them.
    The abrupt left edge of the town is curious – likely a later feature caused by an artificial boundary limiting the natural expansion in this direction. Was this imposed to limit water consumption at the source of the canal?
    The town is fairly open in design – so not in an area like Afghanistan, where the distributed compound-centric settlement is more typical pattern.
    The geology is fairly uniform, easily eroded (not solid rock) but not sandy, and fairly stable for a long time (for the deep canyon to form so very straight).
    The weather is arid with periodic heavy drought.

  9. Ren says:


  10. Jim Wile says:

    Great Wall running across the top. Old excavation tailing for the multiple blotches. Possibly old mines. A river running along the edge of the town.

  11. Natalia Ochoa says:

    I guess is somewhere at the top of Andes Mountains in south america ether Chile, Bolivia, Peru or Ecuador.
    The line behind the town is part of the chain of mountains of Los Andes. The tone of the green seams somewhere cold, and the color of the town, made of clay, shows that is ma dray place.

  12. Kaz Hikida says:

    Hadrian’s Wall in Northern England

  13. John K says:

    Looks like one of the sharp, linear ridgelines that you see in the Appalachians from VA to PA

  14. Eike Wulfmeyer says:

    What Mark says.

    Climate is likely Koeppen BS or Cs, maybe Cw. Mediterranean or steppe/Sahel.

    What’s odd is the straightness of the valley/canyon, and, more so, the shape of the valley on the right. The small rivers leading to it meander extensively, meaning the slope is shallow, yet suddenly drops down into the valley – there should be something unusual about the bedrock there.
    So we have a plateau with a very straight river running through it in a (probably) V valley – not unusual really by itself – and with a meandering valley next to that – that is quite unusual. Add to that the straight W boundary of cultivation (which seems to continue as some sort of disturbanceS and especially N, even across the main valley) and the geology of the area seems quite interesting.

    Also unusual is the apparent lack of paved roads. Settlement pattern seems fairly Westernized (concentrated built-up area with more or less rectangular road pattern) but there are some dispersed farms on the outskirts. Agricultural land use is not Westernized much – there is intensive farming, but most plots are small (ie most produce is eaten locally). The “mushy” area E of the settlement, within the angular fields (S of dead center) may be pasture.
    There does not seem to be any indication of airports; indeed most of the traffic infrastructure looks pre-20th-century. BUT someone built a dam/reservoir with pretty straight edges. Does not look like they simply dammed off the river; more likely there was some construction and perhaps heavy use of cement (on the shoreline) involved.

    Where is it? Could be Mediterranean basin, could be N Mexico/SW USA, could even be Mali . Though the settlement pattern argues against Africa.

  15. Ed McCarvill says:

    Having read many replies to the mysteries in the May image whose main feature is the relatively straight East-West sharp valley, it appears that we might be looking at the meet of two abutting continental plates, like those above the Mediterranean sea, only further East beneath China. Memory says that is one site where tectonic plate subduction did not occur at that elevation.
    As to the hemi-circular rock structures to the right of the plain’s village, it appears as folds of continental plate’s portions that had been up-thrust and vertical at a distant past time, from where gravity bent them to curls, to be lifted and dropped to their approximate present status.
    With only small fields in evidence, that indicates rough terrain not friendly to farming practices, somewhat as our mountain site along the Southern Rocky Mountain Trench area of BC.

  16. Adam Voiland says:

    We posted the answer the puzzler—the Sigur Plateau in southern India—on May 28, 2013. You can read a detailed caption here:

    We did not have a winner this month, but Mark H. and Dimitris Mitropoulos both had very insightful comments.

  17. Mark H. says:

    That was tough: Next time!