Saudi Arabia Canyonlands

Crews aboard the International Space Station are trained to use low sun angles to add a strong three-dimensional effect to flat landscapes--well illustrated by this image of central Saudi Arabia. The main river (image lower right), located 120 km (75 miles) south of the capital city Riyadh, has eroded its bed down into the rock layers making a small canyon 250 m deep (820 feet). This in turn has led all its tributaries to dig their own canyons--with the resulting elaborate, leaf-like pattern landscape that casts shadows in the late afternoon sun, attracting the astronaut's eye.

This detailed image--the area covered is only 12.5 km (7.7 miles) across--shows a road following the main river. River beds are often the smoothest places in deserts for wheeled vehicles, connecting villages that also occupy river beds and terraces next to rivers, for access to well water. Dark dots in the main river bed are trees that only grow in the river beds where their roots are able to reach subsurface water.

The center of the small plateau surface in the center of the image is a slightly different color from the area surrounding it. This is a lighter-toned layer of sedimentary rock, one of many in the area. Other thin layers make benches within the canyons (image lower left)--in the same style as seen in the Grand Canyon of the USA but on a much smaller scale.

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This service is provided by the International Space Station program and the JSC Earth Science & Remote Sensing Unit, ARES Division, Exploration Integration Science Directorate.
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