You're staring right into the "Eye of the Sahara," a mysterious site located in Mauritania, West Africa.
The breathtaking photograph, taken by Dutch Astronaut Andre Kuipers, offers a close-up glimpse of the massive rock formation (40 kilometers in diameter) known as the Richat structure from the International Space Station as it swung over the Sahara Desert on the Atlantic Coast. The image was captured on March 7 with a Nikon D2Xs camera, according to officials at the European Space Agency.
Long thought to be an Asteroid crater, further examination by experts found that the site's features were unique and lacked signs of shock metamorphism, a form of land deformation usually left in the wake of such a powerful impact. For instance, an analysis of rock samples did not turn up any Coesite, a form of silicon dioxide that's created in the aftermath of a sizable impact or atomic explosion. And recent evidence suggests that the various layers of rock were actually shaped by natural geological processes such as erosion and hydrothermal waters.
Still, the structure's unknown originals have spawned numerous web sites offering up a wide range of explanations, from the scientific to the wildly imaginitive. Some of the more speculative theories out there include claims that the formation may have been of extraterrestrial origin or that the circles are actually the remains of the three rings of Atlantis.
Experts have called for further investigation to figure out how the site came to be. But what do you think?
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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com