Just northwest of Tozeur, Tunisia, lays a barren stretch of desert that's home to great swaths of sand and not much else. As the wind whips its way through that sand, it gives rise to large, crescent-shaped structures known as barchans. Barchans are something like movable mountains: they tend to migrate in the same direction as the desert winds, going, literally, where the wind takes them. Which has made them something of an enigma to scientists: How do you measure the movement of sand upon sand upon sand? How do you know how far the barchans are traveling when it's so hard to tell where the mounds end and the ground begins?
Enter George Lucas. Because the land just northwest of Tozeur, Tunisia, it turns out, is also home to the set that served as the backdrop for Mos Espa, the early home of the young Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. And the site, according to a collective of scientists who have researched the matter, "now lies between the arms of a large 'pudgy' barchan dune."
So those scientists did what any good scientists would do: they put the set to use. For, you know, scientific purposes. They used the set's buildings -- the fading architecture of Tatooine -- as fixed geographic points. From there, they were able to measure the movement of the dunes with an assist from imagery provided by Google Earth. The team, using Mos Espa as their reference, compared satellite imagery from 2002, 2004, 2008, and 2009, rounding out those images with in-person visits to the site.