Nasa astronaut and photographer Ricky Arnold is orbiting on the International Space Station
This is what the UAE's Empty Quarter looks like 408km above Earth
Nasa recently released images of the impact of tropical cyclone Mekunu on the Empty Quarter – and now an American astronaut has taken another eye-catching picture of the sprawling UAE desert from space.
The picture, captured by Nasa astronaut Ricky Arnold, shows clouds suspended above the “ochre canvas” of the Rub’ al Khali, “a massive and mysterious wilderness of towering dunes and ancient dry lake beds,” he wrote in a post on Twitter.
Mr Arnold, who recently tweeted a night-time picture of the Gulf region showing illuminated cities in countries including the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman, is orbiting Earth on the International Space Station.
The Empty Quarter is the world’s biggest sand sea, occupying more than 225,000 square miles of land – making it larger than France.
It spans four countries: the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen and has been inhabited by people for thousands of years.
It was regularly used as a route by trade caravans in 300 AD and is rumoured to be the site of Ubar, the so-called Atlantis of the sands and a fabled frankincense trading hub.
In May, tropical cyclone Mekunu tore through the region, dumping three times Oman’s annual rainfall – 278 millimetres – on the vast area in 24 hours. The deluge created temporary lakes between the sand dunes.
The event was highly unusual as on a normal year the desert receives less than three centimetres of rain. However, it has not always been as arid as it is now, having once contained lakes and rivers. Fossils of hippopotamus and water buffalo have been found under the sand.