Strange Spikes Slashing Across Siberia Puzzle Astronauts

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

Houston, we have a question: What are these weird spiky shapes we're seeing as we fly over Siberia? That's what astronauts were asking this June, when the sight of strange, dark-green features running along Siberia's Kulunda Steppe left them stumped, according to NASA's Earth Observatory. The curving features streak across the plain near the Ob River and can be seen from the International Space Station (ISS) when it flies over the Northern Hemisphere's 52nd parallel, the highest latitude of its orbit.

Fortunately for the ISS astronauts' burning curiosity, researchers at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston had answers. The spikes are a side effect of the geology of the region: Folded surface rocks (shaped by tectonic forces) dip lower than the surrounding land, creating long, linear valleys filled with pine forests. From space, the pines appear as a darker shade of green than the surrounding agricultural fields, according to the Earth Observatory. The spikes also appear in a winter scene snapped by an ISS astronaut more than a decade ago, in 2003. In that image, snow covers the fields surrounding the folds.

— Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience contributor

Editor's Note: If you have an amazing nature or general science photo you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, please contact managing editor Jeanna Bryner at

This is a condensed version of a report from LiveScience. Read the full report here. Follow Stephanie Pappas on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+.