What Are These Mysterious Lines In China's Desert?
November 14, 2011 2:20 PM   Subscribe

Some Google Earth enthusiasts have found a strange and unexplainable grid pattern in the middle of China's Gobi Desert.
posted by reenum (70 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
It went like this: "Hey, guys, you really want to mess with people? You know about Google Earth? Let's arrange these...."

Or, someone could just go ask...
posted by HuronBob at 2:23 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Need to send the Street View car past there...
posted by Jimbob at 2:27 PM on November 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


As an ex-surveyor, just looking at the size of some of those exhausts me.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 2:30 PM on November 14, 2011


I didn't see any discussion of technical artifact possibilities, even just to exclude them.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 2:30 PM on November 14, 2011


The Google Earth link didn't work for me so I hacked it a bit.
posted by desjardins at 2:35 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Some of the white-line ones don't make any sense to me, but a couple of them look to be fairly obvious military test sites.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:36 PM on November 14, 2011


ALIENS.
posted by ostranenie at 2:38 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I didn't see any discussion of technical artifact possibilities, even just to exclude them.

Besides the fact that it doesn't really look like one, and that this isn't the first time that China has built giant weird rectangles of stuff in the middle of nowhere, you'll notice that if you zoom out 3 levels from desjardins's link that the anomaly appears in two completely different sets of imagery.

I haven't the faintest idea what it is, though.
posted by theodolite at 2:39 PM on November 14, 2011


Has anyone been keeping tabs on Christo?
posted by vverse23 at 2:40 PM on November 14, 2011 [12 favorites]


They kinda look like the beginnings of a residential neighborhood... and then the bubble burst and nothing was built there.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 2:40 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Unexplainable" does NOT mean "I don't know", it means "nobody knows". Quite a lot of people could explain what they're for, they merely do not choose to disclose.
posted by wilful at 2:43 PM on November 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


Someone should figure out which city these street patterns are in, assuming they are practice targets of some kind.
posted by Harry at 2:44 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


The government says it's due to poor farming, but I know what's going on, Stuart.
posted by Capt. Renault at 2:49 PM on November 14, 2011 [26 favorites]


Looks like it could make a lot of tinfoil hats
posted by double block and bleed at 2:50 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I knew it. First, China gobbled up the American manufacturing sector. Now, they're taking over our lunatic prankster crop circle industries. Call me cynical, but the Obama administration bears some responsibility here. I mean, do we even have a national lunatic prankster crop circle industrial policy anymore?
posted by el_lupino at 2:50 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Has anyone been keeping tabs on Christo?

I was thinking Michael Heizer.
posted by LionIndex at 3:02 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


ALIENS.

SILENCE RIDICULOUS HUMAN! DO NOT MAKE SUCH ACCUSATIONS LIGHTLY! EVERYONE KNOWS THAT THERE ARE NO ALIENS, AND THAT THERE ARE NO SPACE CRAFT CLOAKED, HOVERING OVER THE MAJOR CITIES OF THE WORLD. STOP TALKING HUMAN, YOUR MOUTH IS STUPID AND STRANGE AND YOU DO NOT KNOW ABOUT THE THINGS OF WHICH YOU SPEAK.

NOW. PAY NO MORE ATTENTION TO THESE GRIDS, THEY ARE NOTHING. THEY ARE NOT EVEN THERE, IT IS SWAMP GAS THAT IS CONFUSING THE CAMERA. PAY IT NO MIND.

THAT IS ALL.

posted by quin at 3:04 PM on November 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


THERE ARE NO SPACE CRAFT CLOAKED, HOVERING OVER THE MAJOR CITIES OF THE WORLD

Every time you get bad reception on your smartphone, the reason is cloaked alien spacecraft.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:05 PM on November 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


Verizon own spacecraft?
posted by desjardins at 3:07 PM on November 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


And the light blue rectangles a bit to the west look like giant tailings ponds.
posted by sneebler at 3:07 PM on November 14, 2011


My guess is that they are for testing the visual auto-piloting of cruise missiles. Using high contrast ground features separates the navigation and control components from the image acquisition components.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:08 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Eh, this is old news from pre-2009, weird that suddenly everyone thinks these have just been revealed. Chinese Military Weirdness.

One thing we do know, thanks to Google Earth’s historic imagery feature, is when the “maze” in our first photo was built. A photo dated April 14 2005 shows it partially completed, but by May 30 it was all finished.

Some interesting comments in the Google Sightseeing article.
posted by The Discredited Ape at 3:11 PM on November 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


el_lupino Congress?
posted by carping demon at 3:11 PM on November 14, 2011


The "airport-like" pattern and adjacent bright cyan structure look to me to be about off by magnetic declination. Kind of cool when thought of that way. The "decoy" is not only easier to spot, but also where you'll end up if not properly accounting for the earth's magnetic field not aligning to the poles.
posted by meinvt at 3:14 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Look at the one's in desjardins link, it's especially wierd that you can see topographic features made out within the lines, almost as if whatever is creating the contrast is only at a certain elevation. I swear I'm not high either.
posted by Big_B at 3:25 PM on November 14, 2011


Enhance!
posted by chillmost at 3:28 PM on November 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


Looks like an Ai Weiwei concept.
posted by marvin at 3:30 PM on November 14, 2011


Maybe it's a reproduction of the streets in some city (one not laid out on a grid) surrounding a particular target the Chinese military thinks it may need to bomb precisely. Anybody know an algorithm for searching map data for an an arbitrary subsection of unknown scale?
posted by The Tensor at 3:33 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


The very large "gridlike" features occur quite a bit around the area, and are huge. However, when you zoom in it shows that they're track marks from vehicles, and that numerous non–rectilinear marks accompany them. If I had to guess, I would wonder whether it was possibly due to some kind of vehicle–mounted surveying in desert regions. A vehicle travels a certain amount in one direction, turns back on itself, but this time 100m further along. On so on. When they break at end of day, they leave the grid and take the quickest route possible. The same goes at the beginning of the day, when they drive over the desert to take up their position from yesterday.
posted by Jehan at 3:33 PM on November 14, 2011


$5 this ends up being a viral ad campaign for a Chinese ski resort
posted by jpdoane at 3:35 PM on November 14, 2011 [9 favorites]


This one is awesome. Zooming in you can see it is vehicular tracks as Jehan said.
posted by Max Power at 3:37 PM on November 14, 2011


A vehicle travels a certain amount in one direction, turns back on itself, but this time 100m further along. On so on. When they break at end of day, they leave the grid and take the quickest route possible. The same goes at the beginning of the day, when they drive over the desert to take up their position from yesterday.

Mineral surveying of some kind?
posted by Jimbob at 3:40 PM on November 14, 2011


They kinda look like the beginnings of a residential neighborhood... and then the bubble burst and nothing was built there.

even the giant target-shaped one with busted MiGs in the center? i, for one, would live in that subdivision. think of the fun the kids would have climbing around in those things, while the parents sit on benches looking on.
posted by ninjew at 3:40 PM on November 14, 2011


Obviously the Great Grid of China.
posted by effluvia at 3:40 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Isn't it obvious? It's Chinese Burning Man.
posted by keep_evolving at 3:41 PM on November 14, 2011 [11 favorites]


Mineral surveying of some kind?

Possibly? I'm not knowledgeable about surveying or different ways it can be done. I hope somebody else can chip in.

Also, if you look at the trackmarks on these grids, there are interspersed numerous "dot" patterns. The ones going left to right have 3 rows of 10 dots each, and the north to south have 4 rows of 6 dots. Sampling? Probes?
posted by Jehan at 3:44 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's part of the the Chinese effort to combat desertification, The Green Wall of China.
posted by Catfry at 3:45 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's part of the the Chinese effort to combat desertification, The Green Wall of China.

That makes a lot of sense.
posted by Jehan at 3:47 PM on November 14, 2011


Mineral surveying of some kind?

Close.. Energy, food, and smithore.
posted by pashdown at 3:57 PM on November 14, 2011


Possibly? I'm not knowledgeable about surveying or different ways it can be done. I hope somebody else can chip in.

I'm aware that petroleum companies will conduct seismic surveys in grids. Here is one in Sudan, although it doesn't look quite the same.
posted by Jimbob at 4:01 PM on November 14, 2011


Ancient Egyptians?
posted by sexyrobot at 4:14 PM on November 14, 2011


If only we had a gigantic iPhone with QR Reader...
posted by chavenet at 4:17 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


el_lupino: "I knew it. First, China gobbled up the American manufacturing sector. Now, they're taking over our lunatic prankster crop circle industries. Call me cynical, but the Obama administration bears some responsibility here. I mean, do we even have a national lunatic prankster crop circle industrial policy anymore?"

Well I dunno about that, but one of the cabinet positions I intend to implement when I take office is that of the Shaman General, though I'm not sure who could fill it now that Leary, McKenna, Gonzo and RAW are all dead. And don't you dare tell me Pinchbeck.
posted by symbioid at 4:34 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


China's version of HAARP, but there's will actually work to change weather. The green wall is just a decoy to lead us to believe they are stuck with conventional methods.</tinfoil hat>
posted by morganw at 4:53 PM on November 14, 2011


I suspect it is to test the resolution of things just like google earth. It is already known maps of China in Google Maps are offset to obscure actual physical latitude/longitude. These things are probably just to test how accurate pics making it to the public are.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:07 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Goddammit, Google Maps, now I've missed two buses.

My, Earth really is full of things.
posted by maryr at 5:13 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh shit - speaking of HAARP and "Mind Control" Wasn't there some bullshit thing in like the 80s with "Russian Mind Control Weapons/Beams"??? Anybody have info on that? Lulz must be had!
posted by symbioid at 5:18 PM on November 14, 2011


Maybe this?
posted by sarae at 5:21 PM on November 14, 2011


I suspect it is to test the resolution of things just like google earth. It is already known maps of China in Google Maps are offset to obscure actual physical latitude/longitude. These things are probably just to test how accurate pics making it to the public are.

Seems like a lot of effort to go to when, you know, you could go look up the resolution of QuickBird and figure it out.
posted by Jimbob at 5:32 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Whoa, those big blue rectangular jobbies are amazing.

Everybody in the pool!

No, seriously. Everybody.
posted by emelenjr at 5:45 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is a potash plant in Lop Nur. Lots of discussion and links in the Reddit thread.
posted by srkit at 6:03 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile, at the Pentagon....
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 6:13 PM on November 14, 2011


It is already known maps of China in Google Maps are offset to obscure actual physical latitude/longitude.

Cite?
posted by odinsdream at 6:31 PM on November 14, 2011


My 5 year old son explained it to me: Someone there discovered chalk and just drew it. To me, it resembles genetic antenna designs.
posted by jabah at 6:38 PM on November 14, 2011


shakespeherian: "THERE ARE NO SPACE CRAFT CLOAKED, HOVERING OVER THE MAJOR CITIES OF THE WORLD

Every time you get bad reception on your smartphone, the reason is cloaked alien spacecraft.
"

So, you're telling me that AT&T doesn't just suck?
posted by Samizdata at 6:40 PM on November 14, 2011


I don't think these are aerial imagery test patterns. Those tend to look more like this...
posted by tss at 6:41 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


With some strategically placed pylons you could create a ton of go kart tracks out of that.
posted by juiceCake at 7:06 PM on November 14, 2011


An even Colder War.
posted by procrastination at 7:30 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


As noted by srkit, these locations are near Lop Nur, Lop Nur which is where the Chinese nuclear weapons program carried out most of its tests and is their equivalent of the Nevada Test Site in the U.S. or Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan.
posted by FuturisticDragon at 7:58 PM on November 14, 2011


There should really be a Scorched Google Earth game.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:04 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


The big blue rectangles look a lot like mineral mining on Great Salt Lake. You can see the flow pattern out of the basin that goes to the ponds. They may be mining water.

They have deserts there that blow dust clear to Utah. Maybe they are going to plant some trees, it seems I remember a project to plant on the Gobi desert to get the dust down. Look near Vernal Utah on Google Earth and see how natural gas exploration looks. Roads honeycombed all over big valleys, with no apparent pattern, except the pattern of ugly.

There were some wooie guys writing about an abandoned alien space port out on the Chinese desert and huge chunks of baked porcelain, the shattered remnants of a 3-D world map. Yeah, I love the wooie guys. You can make anything up you wish on the internet, and work to sell it, for the heck of it.

I am sure there are some nifty "cooker weapons" in orbit these days. Putting a city grid on to size what a great idea for satellite target practice. I even read about a company out of Switzerland that makes weather, they were selling rain to Bahrain, by some patented technique. Wouldn't it be great if there were nothing sinister about the patterns on the Chinese Desert? If you travel the deserts of the US, you will see all kinds of patterns there, old mining efforts, weapons storage, secret this, abandoned developments, you name it. There are all kinds of abandoned development projects in the Utah mountains as well, as if they started development, so that no one can stop them over environmental issues, calculated grand daddy action.
posted by Oyéah at 8:06 PM on November 14, 2011


They're giant BLITs, and we're all toast.
posted by Zippity Goombah at 8:45 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


odinsdream: "It is already known maps of China in Google Maps are offset to obscure actual physical latitude/longitude.

Cite?
"

It's something I've heard about here in China from a few different people. Quick search yields this forum discussion.
posted by arcticseal at 9:53 PM on November 14, 2011


I thought you said giant BLTs. I love those.
posted by maryr at 11:24 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Catfry: "It's part of the the Chinese effort to combat desertification, The Green Wall of China."

It could be some sort of project to mitigate global warming or change the local climate through increasing Earth's albedo. Maybe they're testing a material that reflects heat back into space, and need to know how long it persists in the environment before the sand and wind covers everything over.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:42 AM on November 15, 2011


It's possible the Chinese are really just that fucking insane. This could be the Honey Badger of nations.
posted by pjaust at 2:03 PM on November 15, 2011


Apparently they're calibration patterns for Chinese spy satellites.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:08 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I remember a few years back someone found those little calibration patterns on google maps in AZ and did a neat little write up about the mystery. Unexplained target-like crosses in remote areas of the desert that nobody seemed to have heard of or noticed before. ISTR they even hiked out to a few and photographed them from the ground.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:26 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's another AZ calibration mark/cross a couple miles due east of the one mentioned in the article. Wish I could find that old page...
posted by 2N2222 at 8:38 PM on November 16, 2011


Yep, satellite calibration targets. I was almost right.

Regarding how maps of china are altered, check out this post on hacker news. It includes a link to some evidence as well as a discussion in which some people in the industry chime in.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:32 PM on November 17, 2011


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