Lonely Planet Writer

Stunning rare satellite image shows the Sahara Desert dusted in snow

This winter has seen a number of countries and regions experiencing intensely cold weather, and it seems that even the Sahara Desert, one of the hottest places on Earth, saw the rare occurrence of freshly fallen snow.

The image of the Sahara Desert dusted in snow, as captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission.
The image of the Sahara Desert dusted in snow, as captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission. Image by ESA / CC BY 2.0

Released on 12 January 2018 by the European Space Agency, an incredible image captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission shows the rugged orange-brown dunes and mountains of northwest Algeria, right on the edge of the desert, dusted in white powdered snow. Occurring during the first week of January, the snow was reported to be up to 40 centimetres thick in some places. According to the ESA, snow can be common in the High Atlas Mountains, however, the image depicts snow on the lower Saharan Atlas Mountain Range, which experiences different conditions.

The Sahara Desert in Algeria.
The Sahara Desert in Algeria. Image by Hichem Merouche / CC BY 2.0

“Although temperatures plummet during the night, snowfall is very unusual in the Sahara because the air is so dry. It is only the third time in nearly 40 years that this part of the desert has seen snow,” the European Space Agency said. The town of El Bayadh can be seen towards the bottom left of the image, as well as a rectangular cultivated forest which shows up in red due to special processing applied to the image to display the sparse vegetation easily. According to reports, the majority of the snow had melted by the end of the following day.

The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission also captured images of California's wildfires last December.
The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission also captured images of California’s wildfires last December. Image by ESA / CC BY 2.0

The two Copernicus Sentinal-2 satellites each carry a high-resolution camera onboard for the purpose of photographing Earth’s surface from space in 13 spectral bands. The mission is mostly used to track changes in Earth’s land and vegetation, as well as monitoring desertification. Last December, the mission captured amazing images of California’s wildfires, with one picture showing smoke and flames from the fierce blaze near northwest Los Angeles.