Photo: Sand Dunes in the Fachi-Bilma Erg As Seen From Orbit

This detailed hand-held digital camera's image recorded from the International Space Station highlights sand dunes in the Fachi-Bilma erg, or sand sea, which is part of the central eastern Tenere Desert. The Tenere occupies much of southeastern Niger and is considered to be part of the larger Sahara Desert that stretches across northern Africa.

Much of the Sahara is comprised of ergs -- with an area of approximately 150,000 km2, the Fachi-Bilma is one of the larger sand seas. Two major types of dunes are visible in the image. Large, roughly north-south oriented transverse dunes fill the image frame. This type of dune tends to form at roughly right angles to the dominant northeasterly winds. The dune crests are marked in this image by darker, steeper sand accumulations that cast shadows.

The lighter-toned zones between are lower interdune "flats". The large dunes appear to be highly symmetrical with regard to their crests. This suggests that the crest sediments are coarser, preventing the formation of a steeper slip face on the downwind side of the dune by wind-driven motion of similarly-sized sand grains.

According to NASA scientists, this particular form of transverse dune is known as a zibar, and is thought to form by winnowing of smaller sand grains by the wind, leaving the coarser grains to form dune crests. A second set of thin linear dunes oriented at roughly right angles to the zibar dunes appears to be formed on the larger landforms and is therefore a younger landscape feature. These dunes appear to be forming from finer grains in the same wind field as the larger zibars.

The image was taken with digital still camera fitted with a 400 mm lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center. high res (1.3 M) (83 K)

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