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at the NASA Langley Research Center

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Yarlung Tsangpo

Yarlung Tsangpo River in China

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Yarlung Tsangpo River in China

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The mighty river featured in this image is called the Yarlung Tsangpo as it courses through the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China, and is then known as the Dikrong during its passage through India's state of Arunachal Pradesh. Further downstream, the river widens and becomes the Brahmaputra. Its waters eventually empty to the Bay of Bengal. The large river flows from the left side of the image, below center, and traverses the image, angling northeast toward the upper right. It then makes a hairpin turn and continues to flow in a generally southward direction near the right-hand side of the image.

This Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) image covers an area measuring approximately 297 kilometers x 221 kilometers, and was captured by the instrument's vertical-viewing (nadir) camera on April 12, 2001.

There are many interesting facts about the Yarlung Tsangpo:

  • Within the image area, the river flows across an international boundary into an area where over 100 species of orchids grow. The verdant green hues present in the lower right image corner are characteristic of Arunachal's lush vegetation, which includes over 400 types of orchid.

  • The translation of the name "Tsangpo" is "purifier", although the river has at least three names from as many languages.

  • Sedimentary rocks of sandstone containing grains of magnetic minerals that record the alternating pattern of the Earth's magnetic field have been found north of the river, near the Tibetan capital of Lhasa.

  • A Japanese expedition attempted to navigate the the river in 1993, but lost one member of their team in the gorge near Namche Barwa peak, and the American team sponsored by the National Geographic Society in 1998 had to turn back after their most experienced kayaker was lost along the same stretch of the river.

  • The Yarlung Tsangpo is the highest major river in the world, with an average elevation of about 4000 meters. At least two peaks within the image area rise to over 7000 meters: Namche Barwa at 7756 meters and Gyala Peri at 7150 meters.

  • The myth of Shangri-la, as described in James Hilton's 1933 novel "Lost Horizons", is believed by a number of explorers to have been geographically inspired by the deepest gorges and waterfalls of the Tsangpo.

  • One hundred million years ago, the Indian subcontinent is thought to have been located thousands of kilometers closer to the equator. Geological evidence points to the collision of the subcontinent with Asia about 40-50 million years ago. The impact slowed the northward movement and led to the formation of the Himalayas.

  • A 30-meter (100-foot) waterfall had been reported by Kintup, an illiterate tailor from Sikkim who explored the Tsangpo for several years in the 1880's. However, the expedition led by Frank Kingdon-Ward in the 1920's discovered only a 21-meter (70-foot) waterfall (Rainbow Falls). The legendary 30-meter falls was not re-discovered until 1998.

MISR was built and is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Terra spacecraft is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD. The MISR data were obtained from the NASA Langley Research Center Atmospheric Science Data Center in Hampton, VA.

Image credit: NASA/GSFC/LaRC/JPL, MISR Team.