Earth Matters

January Puzzler

January 24th, 2023 by Adam Voiland

Update on January 30, 2023: This puzzler image shows snowy dunes in the Taklamakan Desert in January 2023. Congratulations to Holger Wille for being the first reader to correctly identify the image. Read more about the location in our Image of the Day story.

Every month on Earth Matters, we offer a puzzling satellite image. The January 2023 puzzler is shown above. Your challenge is to use the comments section to tell us where it is, what we are looking at, and why it is interesting. 

How to answer. You can use a few words or several paragraphs. You might simply tell us the location, or you can dig deeper and offer details about what satellite and instrument produced the image, what spectral bands were used to create it, or what is compelling about some obscure feature. If you think something is interesting or noteworthy, tell us about it.

The prize. We cannot offer prize money or a trip on the International Space Station, but we can promise you credit and glory. Well, maybe just credit. Within a week after a puzzler image appears on this blog, we will post an annotated and captioned version as our Image of the Day. After we post the answer, we will acknowledge the first person to correctly identify the image at the bottom of this blog post. We also may recognize readers 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 would like to recognize, please mention that as well.

Recent winners. If you have won the puzzler in the past few months, or if you work in geospatial imaging, please hold your answer for at least a day to give less experienced readers a chance.

Releasing Comments. Savvy readers have solved some puzzlers after a few minutes. To give more people a chance, we may wait 24 to 48 hours before posting comments. Good luck!

67 Responses to “January Puzzler”

  1. Holger Wille says:

    Snow in the desert. Specifically snow covering a field of sand dunes. On steep sides (facing the upper right hand corner) the snow has melted already, but the shallow sides and flat areas between the dunes is still covered. Maybe in the Taklimakan Desert (China), where snowfall was reported a few days ago.

  2. Kurt Gubrud says:

    Is this the great salt lake?Or the salt flats?

  3. Sam says:

    it should be snow on sand hills in the Taklamakan desert east of China.

  4. reg says:

    Wind driven sand dunes in the Atacaman desert.

  5. Melanie Ball says:

    Maybe foggy sand dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park? I understand recently there was a sudden temperature plunge which may have allowed this beauty!

  6. Raju vakil says:

    Dessert, ice snow

  7. Raju vakil says:

    Snow coverd at dessert

  8. Lück Dr says:

    Namib Desert, SW Africa

  9. Gerd Woelbling says:

    Snow and Ice covered dunes in the Gobi desert?

  10. Rahul Thakur says:

    It’s a desert , definitely sand dunes covered with a thin Dusting of snow. It can be sahara , but also possible in the Gobi desert!

  11. Ken Jones says:

    snow covered sand dunes?

  12. Anoop V Mohandas says:

    It depicts Sand Dunes Barachans type from Taklamakan Desert,China..

  13. Elizabeth Bero says:

    Rare cloud formations over sand dunes, Michigan?

  14. Ivan Ballin says:

    Could it be sand dunes in the Fachi Bilma sand sea in Niger?
    Google earth does not show the same detail, but a search of Google Images brings this up as a possibility.

  15. Nicole Mueller says:

    I believe this is some type of natural coastal dried salt bed. As the sea water evaporates under the hot solar rays, millions of pure white salt crystals are left behind. The top of the mounds appear to be denser and this could be the fact that the salt is drier in this part and so more compact. Beautiful white wave like patterns similar to whipped cream or ice-cream are formed from the original water left behind . The light brown ridges visible between white waves are sand and some of the remaining salt sea water yet to evaporate with the help of our solar energy

    This could be located in any of the coastal countries with drier climates with enough sun and seawater nearby. Portugal for example has salt beds in the south. However, it could be one of the African coastal countries or Gulf states too!

    This satellite image is interesting because it shows the beautiful patterns nature can produce and how special it is to see our planet from above. It is also tricky as could also be a snow and ice covered area. Satellite images are powerful tools to remind us of the importance of protecting our blue planet and letting nature take its own course.

    Thank you!

    Nicole MJ
    Ocean Literacy Educator
    Sharks Educational Institute (SEI) Portugal (NGO)

  16. Jens K. N. Petersen says:

    Just guessing: Sand dunes in Westaustralia

  17. Karen Lottes says:

    I think it shows the sand dunes in Junggar basin in China. Looks like part of a satellite image that was shared in the past. Personally I love the symmetry of the dunes, the way nature gets everything in the right place.

  18. Mehul says:

    Some sort of desert environment covered with snow, maybe Kelso dunes in the Mojave following the intense snow build-up across California this month?

  19. Philippe S. Cohen says:

    Sand dunes in snow in the Taklimakan Desert.

  20. M.A.Rege-Volpe-Ghunsawn says:

    The satellite image is interested because it shares a beautiful patterns
    Nature can products
    I hope this image it’s snow covered with sand dunes which makes a beautiful patterns
    Thank you

  21. M.A.Rege-Volpe-Ghunsawn says:

    Snow covered sand dunes?

  22. M.A.Rege-Volpe-Ghunsawn says:

    This satellite image .
    I hope is in the Sahara desert?

    It’s an interesting picture like a snow wave covered with sand I hope ?

  23. Nuri says:

    Seems to me that the image is from the same area that we received in september 2011 with the description: “a sand dune field within the Burqin-Haba River-Jimunai Desert near the borders of China, Mongolia, Russia, and Kazakhstan” At least, orientation of the wind pattern and color of the sand matches. Resolution of the image, however does not allow me to be 100% certain.

  24. Roy Dacke says:

    Uyuni Salt Flat, Bolivia

  25. Nerissa-Cesarina Urbani says:

    Sand masses of Desert shaped by wind.

    Perhaps Marzuq Sand Sea

  26. Urbani Nerissa says:

    Sand dunes Fachi-Bilma in the Fachi-Bilma erg?

  27. Cesarina Urbani says:

    Mammoth clouds seen from above

  28. Walter D'Alessandro says:

    snow covered sand dunes, probably close to Ain Sefra, Algeria

  29. Richard says:

    Possibly the Parque Nacional dos Lençóis Maranhenses?

  30. Roland says:

    Given the (rightly) worry about climate change, I think this photo must be from the Brunt ice shelf breakup in Antarctica.

  31. Amna Afzal says:

    Sahara Desert

  32. Maria Lowdermilk says:

    New Mexico

  33. OMAR says:

    This is snowfall in the Sahara desert in Algeria !

  34. Masataka Yamamoto says:

    Snow in the Taklamakan Desert in China ???
    This area is close to the Siberian cold air mass, and in winter the temperature drops below -20°C.
    It sometimes snows.

  35. KhairX says:

    Without any discussion, it is the Algerian Sahara

  36. Michelle says:

    It looks like the sand dunes in Colorado with snow on them.

  37. Mekri Abdelatif says:

    It’s most likely to be in the Sahara Desert , probably in the region of Algeria , shot after it snowed the past few weeks , to be more precised , It might be in the Semi Arid aeas of Algeria

  38. KhairX says:

    Algerian desert :0

  39. Razi ullah baig says:

    Cold desert in winters(snow) . skardu, pakistan

  40. Khaireddine says:

    Snowfall in the desert in Algeria

  41. Stuart Hopwood says:

    Reckon it’s a cloud formation over the Pacific Ocean.

  42. Andy says:

    Snow covered desert near Yuli County, Bayingolin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture, Xinjiang, China

  43. sergio biagini says:

    good morning
    for me is the snow fallen on the dunes in some african or arabian desert.
    best whishes

  44. Seb Hudson says:

    Fog in the Namib.

  45. Emily Simmons says:

    Sand dunes peaking above low level clouds. Maybe in Namibia.

  46. Mónica Zamora says:

    Orographic clouds/fog due to the wake behind dunes in the Sahara (no idea of the place honestly but it should be close to the sea so that strong humid wind could lead to something as rare as this)

  47. Mihaela Stretea says:

    Snow cover sand dunes of desert

  48. Mihaela Stretea says:

    I think snow cover sand dunes of desert

  49. Mihaela Stretea says:

    I think snow cover sand dunes of desert
    Looks rare and interesting

  50. Karen says:

    Gobi desert Asia

  51. Andrzej Szuksztul says:

    I think the area shows sand dunes of Taklamakan Desert in winter
    Usually the Tarim Basin, in which sandy desert is located, gets little precipitation, averaging between 50 to even just 5 mm per year.
    But in winter, after a rare snowfall, the large sand dunes – which can reach up to 300m height – show a picteresque white-beige contrast.

  52. Matheus Fischer Meyer says:

    The Lençóis Maranhenses, in northern Brazil.

  53. Brizzle says:

    Storehouse of snow dumped on the middle east
    or chinese deserts, not sure which one. ?‍♀️

  54. Ivan Kordač says:

    Fog in desert dunes… I cant imagine where

    Very nice from above

  55. Jon Paz says:

    Looks like snow covered wind swept sand dunes a desert. Most likely North Africa.

  56. wendy C says:

    Great sand dunes National park covered in snow

  57. Cayce says:

    Snow covered sand dunes, maybe Great Sand Dunes NP. But could be multiple other areas of dunes on almost every continent. Don’t think that is a layer of gypsum.

  58. Shelley Loveless says:

    White sands national monument in New Mexico

  59. Mihaela Stretea says:

    It looks like snow covering dune desert
    Is a rare and interesting phenomenon

  60. Mihaela Stretea says:

    Sahara or Gobi desert

  61. Stavros Zormpalas says:

    Dried salt sediment in a coastal desert with an art like texture.

  62. Lincoln Fok says:

    Advection fog on sand dunes. Fog in the interdune while the crests of the dunes are visible in brown.

  63. Henry Levy says:

    It looks like shallow areas of the Great Barrier Reef with the dark stripes above water. The symmetry of the patches and stripes looks like water sculpturing.

  64. Christine says:

    I wrote on Twitter, believe it’s volcano ashes. How do we find out what it is?

  65. Ana Boljanac says:

    Sea turtles have buried their eggs on the beach in the Great Barrier Reefs