The supergroup Band Aid sang that “there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas” in their 1984 hit “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” but that’s come pretty close to happening this year. As a rare snowfall blanketed the Sahara Desert on December 19, NASA’s Landsat 7 satellite passed overhead, capturing an extraordinary shot of the barren sands coated in white.
The space agency has released plenty of otherworldly views of the earth taken by satellites over the years, but it’s still hard to grasp that these are sand dunes, not mountains, covered in snow.
It hadn’t snowed in the Sahara Desert since February 1979, making the light dusting that fell near the border of Morocco and Algeria this week a historic event. That’s not because the desert is so hot—temperatures, while averaging 100 degrees in the summer, do dip below freezing on occasion in the winter—but rather due to the scarcity of precipitation of any variety. The arid region generally only gets a few inches of rain annually.
In addition to NASA’s satellite imagery, the striking-looking snowfall, which melted after just one day, was captured by local photographer Karim Bouchetata in his hometown of Ain Sefra, Algeria, nicknamed “The Gateway to the Desert.”
“Everyone was stunned to see snow falling in the desert, it is such a rare occurrence,” he told the Independent. “It looked amazing as the snow settled on the sand.”
In 2013, a series of photographs purporting to show the pyramids and the Sphinx in Egypt after a freak snowstorm were proven to be a hoax, but the Saharan snow for 2016, while fleeting, was undeniably the real deal.
Follow artnet News on Facebook.