Earth Matters

February Puzzler

February 24th, 2014 by Adam Voiland


Every month we offer a puzzling satellite image here on Earth Matters. The February 2014 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 or attend 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 may wait between 24-48 hours before posting the answers we receive in the comment thread.

49 Responses to “February Puzzler”

  1. Paula Tucker says:

    I see possibly Uranium mine waste fields in Colorado.

  2. evan says:

    perfectly geometrical manmade shapes on a barren yet equally perfect landscape

  3. stu says:

    Is it home to the so called Scientology group?

  4. Terry Loerch says:

    algae biofuel development in california

  5. Bit says:

    Total guess here: Dried up farm/irrigation land in California.

  6. Dave K says:

    Nazca, Peru. High elevation. Ancient water erosion. Modern development on top.

  7. Amanda says:

    I think it looks like Mountain maybe Mt Everest and where the roads and top of buildings are would be camp bases.

    • Sneha says:

      wat on EARTH made u think it was Mt.Everest if u hav a minimum knwoledge the Mt.Everest is covered with snow n doesn’t at alll look like a desrt

  8. Ghryswald says:

    I think it may be an algae production facility.
    Possibly in Israel.

  9. Laila Moire-Selvage says:

    Definitely some sort of mines…I’d say maybe in South Africa or somewhere in the middle eastern deserts. Could be US too though, hard to tell. Looks like a land slide or dried up river on the right hand side of the photo that took out some of the farming/mining stations. Definitely some old rocks 🙂

  10. Sean Kilgrow says:

    Possibly leach pads with wash waste water collection bottom right?

  11. Jayson W. Senon says:

    Colorado mine

  12. Robin Westfall says:

    It looks like an adobe brick making operation…perhaps in the U.S. desert southwest (New Mexico?) or in Mexico.

  13. Lori Prihoda says:

    Looks like parking lots at a forgotten construction site in Asia.

  14. Victor Rosario says:


  15. Elaine Corets says:

    Salt drying in the area between Chile, Bolivia and Argentina.

  16. Joe Marchione says:

    Evaporation Salt farm … Eliat,, Israel

  17. Bill Thorne says:

    Mine tailing ponds are a significant because one recently broke and dispersed toxic waste throughout a river system

  18. Loyal Brooks says:

    Not of N. America. Dry climate reveals very complex geology. Intense tectonic forces have revealed stratified rock in a nearly vertical position near top center. There also seems to be a strike slip fault on left side running top to bottom as there is a clear change in rock type (and color) from one side to the other. Perhaps this fault is so old, it no longer is slipping, as there is no recent evidence of any rupture.

    The climate is currently so dry, that an impound pond is clearly there, seemingly built right over the ancient fault. Appears that this pond is used for irrigation of what they are growing there.

    Image seems to be of a very dry portion of the Middle East, where tectonics are strong – Iran?

    The picture was probably taken in the late autumn, as most of what was being grown has been harvested and the dead remnants are left. This suggests it is far enough north to experience seasons (at least temperature-wise).

    This scene is fascinating as it is extremely geologically complex, with very unusual geology as so much seems to be going on besides what was mentioned above. It is a text-book example of very complex geology with a mix of processes evident in a very small area

  19. Ahmed says:

    Judi mountain or mount judi

  20. Donna Waldner says:

    It’s either W.M.D.partially camaflauged in Irak or something disguised in China.

  21. AK says:

    The interesting thing would be ( what kind of machines can make those big marks – or drillings – on top of the mountain located on the top right of the photo )

  22. Rick Nelson says:

    I think it’s the Israel/Palestinian border where the fence/wall cuts through, and that one piece is a Palestinian Farmer’s land that has been cut in two.

  23. Ed Lemire says:

    Tajikistan, Jammu, Kashmir … it looks high and dry … sharp ridges …. the rectangles cast no shadows .. so agriculture maybe … except the “rectangle ” below the triangular shape which i cannot decide if it is shadow or ?? anyway that “rectangle” casts a shadow .. a structure ? or fence ? .. water flowing occasionally .. probably melt water ..
    I first looked at Atacama desert but nothing sharp there … i figured had to be a collision of plates … Himalayas …. that is how i came to my guess…. feels like it …

  24. Dave0rama says:

    I think it is Irrigation. The round breakout tanks look as though they hold water and there is a dam on the bottom left (although judging by the shape of the dam, the dam wall would normally be the straight edge / road with water flowing from the left, but the natural water course looks as though it flows right to left).

    I would guess the location as being in the Middle East or Africa, but other comments suggest Peru so it could be there too.

    The intriguing feature for is is the 4 parrallel lines in the bottom right of the picture. Maybe stacking / reclaiming areas?

  25. gordon says:

    There are signs of human activity buildinga roads on the right human settlement. Ponds to store water. No sign of rivers running. Shadow of predator that took the picture near pond.

  26. sachin says:

    Thought of large solar panels in remote moutains, With some land for cultivation.

    A pond is also created by supplying water.

  27. JM says:

    T. S. Eliot, The waste land.

  28. narges says:


  29. Hassan says:

    There’s a “little” circular farming area in the middle that is active…

  30. Hassan says:

    There is a “little” circular farming area in the middle that is still active

  31. JMR says:

    Close to Orange river (South Africa & Namibia border).
    Lat. 28.966 S, Lon. 18.995 E

  32. Connie says:

    Looks like farmland to me and what appears to be two aquifers. Maybe a agricultural testing site to test how we can utilize harsh land for farming.

  33. Esteban Domínguez says:

    Definitivly is a dessert dry-salt (carbonated) area, between the mountains, river or wash draining to the North direction at rigth side on picture. The water provide from underground with deep water well LlC system (power by solar pannels), .
    Sedimentary and metamorphic rocks are strickling almost N-S or NE-sw dipping to the NW, faulting -fractured it’s complex.
    The square between the hilss or mountains are dry stuff, looks like a mine operation by a infraestructure down bellow left corner, different on the wash area (farming and cultives) to the rigth side on the valley.
    The picture was taken at noon in a sunny day and probably between 13:00 to 14:00 hrs (about the shade on hills) on North Hemisphery, so in my opinion.
    Somewhere North in México (Coahuila State?) or up North in the US. (Nevada?)
    Is a beautiful land dry country.

  34. Esteban Domínguez says:

    It’s looks like a landstrip in the bellow rigth corner, as well

  35. Sebastian says:

    I think there is a photo of a military base in Afghanistan, or something near it.

  36. Dave M says:

    Irrigation testing area adjacent to Colorado River and not far from Hoover Dam

  37. York Gorzolla says:

    Rare earth mineral mine. Possibly the one near Mountain Pass, CA. A complex of metamorphic and intrusive rocks.

  38. Denise says:

    The mountain area looks like water could have been there at some point.
    The grid area to the left looks like a mining field. The area on the right a town.
    Could this be China mining fields taken Feb 2014?

  39. Denise says:

    The grid area to the left could be mining field, and a town on the right.
    Could this be China mining field taken Feb 2014?

  40. Terje Mortvedt Holte says:

    I think it is in or near the Area 51 in Nevada, USA. It looks like it has an underground area down in the left corner. Due to the shadow left of it. This because of the secret. There is also a short landing-ground and a runway down in the right corner. It has also many solar-panels they need for the electricity supply.

  41. Ric says:

    I flew over Russia once and I saw something very similar to this for much of the flight. Perhaps it was along the border with Mongolia… Could it be some sort of irrigation?

    Can’t wait to find out!

  42. Henk Lodewijks says:

    JMR is right, Klein Pella, Gariep (Orange) River, South Africa. Grape and date plantations in the desert.

  43. Tsandi Crew says:

    I’m thinking it could be out of season empty parking lots at an entrance to the Grand Canyon, Arizona/Utah.

  44. Brad Hipper says:

    wadi Haifa in Jordan

  45. Rick says:

    An excavation site or solar panel array. Perhaps in the Andes / Chile. Features of a monkey & deer as well as human face like feature..

  46. Rick says:

    Where ever the location turns out to be, the challenge is most enjoyable & educational !

  47. Terence says:

    These are grape farms on the Orange river (Near Pella). These grape farms exist in the arid region, with a constant water supply from the Orange River. Because of the climate, these grapes ripen in February, and become a global supply source at this time if the year. This is a small farm between Uprington and Sedlingdrift. There are farms many times larger than this, if you go onto google earth and look

  48. Chris Mentrek says:

    Nice work, JMR!
    How did you solve the puzzle?