Scanning the monotonous, tan-colored surface of the Sahara Desert, an astronaut aboard the International Space Station saw small, dark patches next to a long, ragged cliff in Egypt’s Western Desert. The dark patches are date and olive groves in the Bahariya Oasis (population 27,000), one of several small places in Egypt’s deserts where people can live. The town of Bawiti, where most people live, is harder to detect.
The steep cliffs surround a depression in the desert surface, at the bottom of which lies a small lake. The depression is punctuated by a flat-topped hill (mesa) surrounded by lower cliffs. Bahariya is one of several large depressions west of the Nile that are deep enough to reach underground water.
The oasis has a rich history, going back at least to Egypt’s Middle Kingdom (2000-1800 BCE), when agricultural products from the oasis were exported to the Nile Valley. Alexander the Great may have passed through this oasis, even though it is so remote (380 kilometers southwest of Cairo). The Valley of the Golden Mummies in Bahariya purportedly holds as many as 10,000 undisturbed mummies of Roman and Greek aristocrats, dating from 332 B.C.E. to 395 A.D. Aqueducts built by the Roman Empire are still used today to carry water to groves and farms.
In recent years, a new road between Bahariya and Cairo has brought significant traffic in tourists coming to see the remnants of ancient life. A nearby iron mine also supports many people from Bahariya.
In a wider astronaut view, the groves of the oasis appear as small dark patches (image center) against the wider, vegetation-less desert surfaces. In another panoramic view of the Nile Delta and Mediterranean Sea, the specks of the Bahariya date and olive groves (lower left) almost disappear in the Western Desert.
Astronaut photograph ISS045-E-55907 was acquired on October 10, 2015, with a Nikon D4 digital camera using a 1150 millimeter lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 45 crew. The image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by M. Justin Wilkinson, Texas State University, Jacobs Contract at NASA-JSC.