September Puzzler

September 20th, 2016 by Adam Voiland

Every month on Earth Matters, we offer a puzzling satellite image. The September 2016 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, what the image shows, 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 or a trip to Mars, 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 (and also on this blog), we will acknowledge the person who was first to correctly ID the image. We may also recognize certain readers who offer the most interesting tidbits of information about the geological, meteorological, or human processes that have played a role in molding the landscape. 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 day to give others a chance to play.

Releasing Comments. Savvy readers have solved some 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.

Good luck!

Editor’s Note: Congratulations to Cait Stuart, Tyler Keaton, and Rosemary Butt for being some of the first readers to solve the puzzler on Facebook. Congratulations to Adam Liefloff for being the first to weigh in with the answer on Earth Matters. See a labeled version of the September puzzler here.



18 Responses to “September Puzzler”

  1. Erik P says:

    I think this is in Southern Australia. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at these on Google Earth wondering what exactly is going on. Not sure if it’s related to wind and vegetation growth based on soil types or what. Here is a clipping of one area in particular. Interested to see if someone has an answer on this.

  2. Robert Bell says:


  3. Adam Liedloff says:

    This is a classic fire scar in an arid dunal environment where grasses such as spinifex (Triodia species) in Australia are completely removed by fire due to their flammability and the shape of the fire scar is determined by changes in wind direction during the fire. The location of individual fires is likely due to lightning strikes in dry storms as there are no signs of roads. The faint pattern of previous fires is also visible across the landscape with spinifex taking many years to fully recover and once again carry landscape fire. The red soils match the Australian interior such as Simpson Desert and Tanami region, but to find an area with such little recent fire activity is difficult. But I tend to think the soils are more typical of Australia than any other arid region in the world where sufficient rainfall exists to support spinifex biomass. My guess is the location is around the The Northern Territory, Western Australia border in the Tanami desert as other regions do not have such clear dunal systems without waterways (Queensland Channel Country) or rocky regions (Western Australia).

  4. Chris Mentrek says:

    Wow, that’s a tough one! It’s hard to get a sense of scale; it could almost be Mars.
    The closest thing I can find is the dune-and-salt patterns north of Upington, South Africa. (Around -27.7188°, 21.5646°)

  5. Prasanth says:

    ghostly face appears to loom out of the soft-orange landscape of the Tirari Desert in South Australia

  6. Cynthia Peterson says:

    2002 astronaut picture of Simpson Desert, Australia. The weird shapes are from a fire that removed vegetation and shows the bare red sand/dirt.

  7. Cynthia Peterson says:

    Simpson Desert, Australia. The weird shapes are from a fire that removed vegetation and shows the bare red sand/dirt.

  8. Hixtwin2 says:

    Simpson Desert in Australia. Scars left from wind changing direction during a fire I’m 2002 that burned all the vegetation. The color is the remaining sand. The ripples are the same dunes. Probably taken by the ISS sometime after the fire in 2002.

  9. WJM says:

    Looks very much like fire-burn patterns you see in the boreal forest.

  10. Gabriel San Bartolomé says:

    Tirara desert, the light spots are small mountains and the dark spots are vegetation

  11. Petra P. says:

    Could also be something underground, like a salt dome/salt stock or a type of rock that can hold more water, which then causes different plants to grow on the surface.

  12. Annie says:

    Surely is a dessert but do not know which one will say Sahara

  13. Kristijan says:

    I think this is one of the coral islands in the Atlantic Ocean.

  14. Steve says:

    old finished wood table top stained by a corn husk

  15. Graham says:

    The lighter patches are old fire scars which have regrown spinifex to a density insufficient to burn in the recent fire which has scorched the rest of the frame. I’ve seen similar scenes in the Pilbara.

  16. Akansha Suri says:

    I think it is a wonderfully captured view of an ocean using a satellite that can identify objects on the basis of their opacity, The dark background signifies the waves in the ocean. The opaque light yellow images on the dark background could possibly be marine animals close to the water like a giant whale in the center and on the far right is the image of other comparatively smaller fishes with long fins and tails. On the dark background a slightly dull dune shaped object covering a large area is possibly the underwater coral reef that are situated far from the surface of water which explains the dullness as compared to the marine fishes close to the surface.

  17. Hanojhan says:

    If my guess is right then it is definitely the Simpson Dessert of Australia, the fourth largest dessert in Australia comprises of dry, red sandy plains and dunes. Simpson Desert is an erg which contains world’s largest parallel sand dunes. They vary in height from three meters in the west to around thirty meters in the eastern side.The picture was acquired in 2002 the shapes resembles the fire that removed vegetation.

  18. Hannah Lopes says:

    Pra mim é o deserto da Namíbia. ; )