This Incredibly Hostile Desert Looks Beautiful (From Above)

This colorful image may look like a work of modern art, but it’s actually a false-color satellite image of Rub’ al Khali—the largest contiguous sand desert in the world, and home to insanely hostile conditions.

Situated on the southern Arabian Peninsula, it’s a harsh environment: There’s usually less than 1.4 inches of precipitation per year, temperatures often exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and strong winds form sand dunes that can tower in height to 820 feet. That’s what you can see shown in bright yellow in these images acquired by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 satellite. Meanwhile, shades of brown and purple show the presence of minerals, including salt and gypsum. It’s probably nicer to look at on screen than in person.



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About the author

Jamie Condliffe

Contributing Editor at Gizmodo. An ex-engineer writing about science and technology.