An astronaut aboard the International Space Station captured this photograph of circular farming patterns in Sharq El Owainat in southwest Egypt. The remote agricultural outpost in the Sahara Desert lies approximately 290 kilometers (180 miles) from the nearest city and 210 kilometers (130 miles) from the Toshka lakes.
The Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System, buried beneath the sand, allows patches of agriculture to survive in the middle of the desert. The aquifer is the only source of water for Egyptians living away from the Nile River. More than 95 percent of Egypt is uninhabitable desert with an average annual precipitation of 0 millimeters.
The crop circles are a result of center-pivot irrigation, an efficient method for water conservation in agriculture. Groundwater from the Nubian aquifer is drawn up from wells in the center of the circles, and it is sprayed or dripped out of long, rotating pipes that pivot around the center.
Most of the crops pictured here are likely potatoes (darker green circles), wheat (lighter brown circles), or medicinal and aromatic plants such as chamomile. The light, tan-colored crop circles likely have undergone controlled burning to remove excess plant matter and essentially clean up the land for the next crop. Catering to the populace of the New Valley Governate, these crops are transported on a desert road that leads to Abu Simbel (about 200 miles to the east), Dakhla Oasis (200 miles north), and the Sharq El Owainat Airport.
Astronaut photograph ISS049-E-33726 was acquired on October 6, 2016, with a Nikon D4 digital camera using a 1600 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 49 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 Andi Hollier, Hx5, JETS Contract at NASA-JSC.