Earth Matters

December Puzzler

December 16th, 2013 by Mike Carlowicz


Every month we offer a puzzling satellite image here on Earth Matters. Every month someone seems to figure it out quickly. We are feeling like it is time to throw down some gauntlets.

The December 2013 puzzler is above. Your challenge is to use the comments section to tell us what the image shows, what part of the world we are 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. (Try to keep it shorter than 200 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, 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 or work in geospatial imaging, please sit on your hands for at least a few days to give others a chance to play.

Releasing Comments. Savvy readers have solved many of our puzzlers after only a few minutes or hours. To give more people a chance to play, we’re going to wait between 24-48 hours before posting the answers we receive in the comment thread.

58 Responses to “December Puzzler”

  1. david salas says:

    It seems like a temperature image.

    But It doesn’t even matter where that image was taken, it is painstakingly beautiful!

    • Seema says:

      I see the face of Mother Earth. Her nose & forehead. She’s frowning & crying. She is draped in her flowing Royal Gown! That’s what I see. Her face is to the top right. Mine is a Spiritual Perspective & I win in that category.

  2. Geek-4-Hire says:

    Death Valley heat map (zoomed in)

  3. Thomas Harris says:

    Amazon River confluence with Atlantic Ocean. Sediment from the Amazon basin mixing with clear Atlantic Ocean water. Landsat 8.

  4. bcnacm says:

    I’ll go for sand dunes, maybe Sahara.

  5. Joe Flavin says:

    Gas storms on the “surface” of Jupiter?

  6. judy says:

    Looks like Libya with the Mediterranean up at the top, but seems too easy. And for December, maybe it’s the Dead Sea. I know that’s 2 guesses. You can pick 🙂

  7. Maureen says:

    In a Museum of Fine Art!

  8. James McDermott says:

    The confluence between the Rio Negro and the Rio Solimoes. For 6 km (3.7 mi) the river’s waters run side by side without mixing.

  9. James McDermott says:

    This phenomenon is due to the differences in temperature, speed and water density of the two rivers. The Rio Negro flows at near 2 km per hour at a temperature of 28°C, while the Rio Solimões flows between 4 to 6 km per hour a temperature of 22°C The same also happens near Santarem, Para with the Amazon and Tapajós rivers

  10. alice says:

    its look like a sponge in the reef ocean

  11. chelby says:

    chilka lake, Orissa India

  12. Charles says:

    Infrared. Fire near a lake (the black spot).

    But if you really push me… that is a Rorschach.

  13. Gerald Wilkins, phD says:


  14. Sam says:

    I think it’s an image of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano that erupted in 2011.

  15. Roger Ritter says:

    salar de uyuni bolívia

  16. Sutapa Biswas says:

    It is the inside picture of the magma chamber of an alive volcano’s which could come out soon.

  17. Daniel says:

    Sinai, late 60’s, those are sand dunes. Or not

  18. Samuel Hartman says:

    I would take a guess and say this is the intermixing of ocean currents (at the surface levels). Near South Africa (due to the darker area) and with that guess I would assume the two currents that are converging are the Benguela current and the Agulhas current.

  19. M.Lowe says:

    Looks like part of a red algae bloom or “red tide” on the oceans surface. Can be very beautiful, but can also be deadly when seafood gathered from an algae site is consumed. It can be very costly to local communities and the seafood industry. People often make a biblical connection when they see their local waters turn blood red, but often it looks more orange than red like this photo.

  20. Luana says:

    My guess is close up on lava from Mt. Etna’s recent eruption. Sicily, Italy.

  21. robert says:

    ocean color or sea surface temp?

  22. David H says:

    It seems like a shallow, likely salty lake. The pinkish coloration caused by salt loving algae. SO possibly Lake Eyre or Lake Gairdner in Australia, or possible the Great Salt Lake in Utah, USA.

  23. Dillon says:

    Looks like large iron deposits in some large water body possibly a Great Lake in North America, the image was required around November. It’s interesting because it shows currents and the large amount of iron that can be made by human elements.

    Or of course it’s the Mississippi River delta

  24. Pamela says:

    Yosemite fire?

  25. Marcus Tingle says:

    sahara desert during sand storm

  26. Mustafa says:

    Somewhere in the radius of 300km from Gulf Of Maine or George’s Bank.
    The dark and light complexion in the image represent variations in temperature.

  27. Pamela Gartin says:

    Or the Pfieffer fire?

  28. Nephtali Joel Berliner says:

    . . . It’s A Shallow Lake In Africa . . . Sometime After ” The Rainy Season ” Winter/Early Spring.
    Suffused! With RED Algae . . . Nutritious For Birds!

  29. mfmfchan says:

    I am not sure where it is,
    but I think this color may be caused be some minerals.
    Thus, it may be related to river, river mouth, lake.

  30. mfmfchan says:

    From the feature, the flow rate should be low if my guesses before (river, river mouth, lake) are correct.

  31. Sanjay Nair says:

    This looks more like the surface of Jupiter and not of Earth …. probably shot by Voyeger or Juno ….

  32. RWW says:

    Arctic region.

  33. mfmfchan says:

    Is it caused by some purple algae or pink algae?
    If so, … it may not be a permanent feature.

  34. Lancealot says:


  35. NITEEN says:

    Aelia on the giant asteroid Vesta.

  36. vincent kemboi says:

    Image of Sahara desert of north Africa taken during daytime at ISS showing boundary of mainland and Mediterranean sea.

  37. Sai says:

    It’s like a womb…

  38. Jayarava says:

    As far as the colouring goes this looks like desert (pink) and water (blue) as can be see in this photo and also here

    If this is IR imagery the blue is significantly colder than the pinks and salmons, and the light patches are really hot.

  39. Scottie says:

    Is it our old star the Sun with a sunspot.

  40. Hella says:

    I agree with the first comment that it looks like a temperature visualization of data, for instance acquired by Landsat. It could be a very close zoom into the Lut desert or another of the claimed “hottest spots on Earth”. High contrasts in temperature are typical to the west and north of the Himalayas and in the southwestern United States.

  41. Mohammed says:

    this is the the new project of the Dead Sea linked to the Meditirainin sea throgh the new project . The photo is satlite view which taken in infared method.

  42. Ian says:

    I’d say that it’s snow & ice

  43. Justin says:

    Algae bloom. Red tide.

  44. Atilla Savtak says:

    Edge of a black hole on sun`s surface.

  45. Aindi says:

    Looks like a representation of nutrient levels in a waterbody, perhaps an upwelling of water from the deep ocean somewhere off the Gulf of California/West coast US?

  46. Tunde Kollar says:

    mintha olvadó gleccser lenne ? 🙂

  47. Carl Wolfe says:

    It looks like a heat signature image off the coast of Hawaii

  48. Eric says:

    I, too, agree that it seems to be a false color image (or thematic map) of heat variation, similar to the image –, where the darker colors represent cooler temperatures and the lighter ones warmer temperatures. If this is true, the patterns in the image must give us enough information to deduce the location of the image.

    From the image, we can see that the northern blue area is the coolest, like a body of water (at first glance, the southern portion of Lake Michigan?) but then the patterns do not reflect the urban environment found there. The city of Chicago would be much warmer than the surrounding area due to the heat island effect. In this image, the darker area to the south west is cooler than the immediate coastal area, perhaps due to changes in topography or the presence of a river in the area, where the riverbank area is has more vegetation than the surrounding area, and is therefore cooler.

  49. ilona langlinais says:

    I think it looks like a part of a Georgia O’keefe painting.

  50. Davzack07 says:

    I think an image about heat in a some place like desert !

  51. sol says:

    it is earth core .

  52. Kevin Acosta says:

    It’s the Benguela and Agulhas currents south of the coast of South Africa. Temperature or density could be the scale used, most likely temperature based on IR.

  53. Ronan G says:

    I’d say the picture is located south of Lake Afrera, Ethiopia (its southern tip is seen in dark blue), and we’re looking at the heat signature of hot air streams (in purple) coming from the currently erupting Erta Ale volcano, north/north-west of the lake.

  54. Ronan G says:

    My bad : if water (cold) appears in dark blue, hot air can’t be in purple. The blue shape still looks a lot like Lake Afrera though, or maybe Africa’s southern tip.

  55. Sawsan says:

    Thanks for valuable information

  56. @ShrnHealey says:

    South Africa’s Sardine Run. I’m guessing thermal imaging of actual biomass or something showing chlorophyll levels of the Agulhas Current
    I’m sure the linear triangle bottom right is significant, maybe signifies that this is time lapse and has something to do with predator pathways. (Total stab in the dark from a non-scientist )

  57. Benefits of Himalayan Salt says:

    Oh, thank you very much for posting this! It is going to help when I research Himalayan Salt online! Stupendous!