What Did Google Earth Spot in the Chinese Desert?

January 11th, 2013

Via: Wired:

Late last month, former CIA analyst Allen Thomson was clicking through a space news website when he noticed a story about a new orbital tracking site being built near the small city of Kashgar in southwestern China. Curious, he went to Google Earth to find it. He poked around for a while, with no luck. Then he came across something kind of weird.

Thomson, who served in the CIA from 1972 to 1985 and as a consultant to the National Intelligence Council until 1996, has made something of a second career finding odd stuff in public satellite imagery. He discovered these giant grids etched into the Chinese desert in 2011, and a suspected underground missile bunker in Iran in 2008. When the Israeli Air Force destroyed a mysterious facility in Syria the year before, Thomson put together an 812-page dossier on the so-called “Box on the Euphrates.” Old analyst habits die hard, it seems.

But even this old analyst is having trouble ID’ing the objects he found in the overhead images of Kashgar. “I haven’t the faintest clue what it might be — but it’s extensive, the structures are pretty big and funny-looking, and it went up in what I’d call an incredible hurry,” he emails.

4 Responses to “What Did Google Earth Spot in the Chinese Desert?”

  1. GaryC Says:

    The comments over at Wired have mostly come from people who want to turn this into the typical American Left/Right debate. I sent the following – The subject matter of this story was China, and what they might building in the desert, not whether the USA is mad, bad, and dangerous to know. Fellow Americans, can’t you see that it’s not always about US? For whatever reason, our national narcissism kicks in whenever the discussion turns to matters international in nature. Ever since the collapse of the USSR, our leaders have been sending troops all over the globe, getting in other people’s business, trying to achieve Full Spectrum Dominance ™ like the volcano-dwelling villain in a Bond film. The international consensus seems to be against that kind of anti-social behavior. Bottom line: We have geeks who fly drones that kill other peoples’ children halfway around the world like it was just another video game. How evil is that? Whatever China is building out there can’t be that bad.

  2. JWSmythe Says:

    Do you find it a little interesting that they would like you to email to them with your guesses?

    Crowd sourcing, or a first level test for prospective candidates?

    No need to approve this message. Now that I’ve written it, I think you’re the better audience.

  3. alvinroast Says:

    I love these kinds of puzzles and find Satellite Imagery For The Masses an interesting subject.

    What struck me when looking at these photos was the huge range of possibilities – most of them not particularly sinister. I was reading the article below at the same time and realized that there are countless projects on a huge scale that are happening in a hurry. They probably feel the need to construct giant data centers for the same reasons as the US as well as storage facilities for all of their commodities purchases. The scale of a centrally managed economy of over a billion people is really staggering. Where do you store millions of tons of rice if you’re afraid of a popular uprising? They displaced over a million people to build the Three Gorges dam and have built entire cities that sit empty. The pressure to keep the ball rolling is intense and the scale of devastation when it collapses will be horrific:

  4. JWSmythe Says:

    I went through the area pretty carefully, and matched up features to other areas, and did some research. The area of unusual activity that the story noted is strip mining. They’re most likely pulling gypsum and jade from the ground, as those are both abundant in the area and close to the surface. It is, unfortunately, very boring.

    What was uglier was the entrances to coal mines in the city. Coal in the area is done in subterranean mines. (i.e., hole in the ground, without removing the surface. I found at least two entrances to those mines

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