Keeping it Cool in the Outback


The heat in the South Australian outback town of Coober Pedy gets extreme. 

The heat in the South Australian outback town of Coober Pedy gets extreme. The hottest summer temperatures in this treeless, rocky desert reportedly reach 52 degrees Celsius (126 degrees Fahrenheit). Despite this, many of the town’s approximately 2,000 residents have found it’s possible, if not comfortable, to exist in the harsh environment: About half of them live underground.

The discovery of opal in the area led to the establishment of the town and ultimately to its unconventional style of architecture. Located about 850 kilometers (530 miles) north-northwest of Adelaide, the opal fields were given the name Coober Pedy, an aboriginal term meaning “white man in a hole,” in 1920. The town’s growth started to take off in the late 1960s, driven by an increased demand for opal, a supply of workers seeking fortune, and improvements in mining tools.

The OLI (Operational Land Imager) on Landsat 8 acquired this image of Coober Pedy on November 6, 2023. Outlines of human settlements and remnants of mining activities stand out against the parched red surroundings. The geologic setting provided favorable conditions for the colorful gemstone to form. Opal is chemically similar to quartz but lacks its highly ordered crystalline structure. It formed in abundance around Coober Pedy millions of years ago when dissolved silica precipitated out of groundwater and filled in cracks in the sandstone.

Read more at NASA Earth Observatory

Photo Credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Wanmei Liang, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey