Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Massive networks of stripes appear in Chinese Desert--visible from space (slashgear.com)
215 points by learc83 on Nov 14, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 70 comments

This structure[1] is so large that you can see it when you zoom out to view all of China.


This should be on top. It explains what this area is and its scale.

Specifically, the area is a collection of evaporation ponds for the production of potash, an excellent fertilizer.

WP has an image of it[1] and states that it is a Potassium Chloride factory at Lop Lake[2]. It's not visible on Bing Maps[3], so perhaps it's relatively new.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lop_Nur,_Xinjiang,_China....

[2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lop_Lake

[3]: http://www.bing.com/maps/?v=2&cp=40.509883876307235~90.7...

Try switching to "Map" view (vs. "Satellite" view) -- the whole region around that huge facility was a big lake. Did they suck it dry?


Using the map scale, it looks like it was a triangular shaped lake measuring 70 miles by 60 miles by 60 miles.

I think that area is part of the Turpan basin which has been a salt mining zone for centuries. I'm totally guessing here, but the Google Maps images look like a massive salt evaporation facility.

Note that the above link is NOT what is referenced in the original post.

If you zoom in, you can see it's not a single structure or building. Most of the area (all the blue parts) is some kind of liquid, probably water. Zoom in far enough and you can see buildings on the edges of the pools.

Follow the little blue line upwards from the structure and you'll see a dam clearly pumping water, and the canals extend up to around 50km.

The Map View also shows a large area around it as a huge lake, so I'm guessing they drained the lake. Still pretty impressive in my opinion.

They've got a pool table out in the middle of the Gobi? I'm feeling a little underprivileged.


Looks like a salt evaporation pond to me. like:


or a little closer to home:


Unrelated to the article.

You want this: http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&ll=40.458148,93.393145

Looks to be a water treatment centre. On a rather large scale.

Or evaporation mineral collection ponds or something of that nature. The facility in Wendover on the salt flats is pretty large too though there's no ponds like these images appear to show. There's lots mineral collection ponds like this in California and Nevada.

Wendover: http://maps.google.com/?ll=40.696778,-113.939209&spn=0.4...

Owens lake has evaporative collection ponds that can be really bright red some times, the salt itself is pink: http://maps.google.com/?ll=36.411336,-117.892742&spn=0.1...

The one in China is 10X bigger.

That's the Gobi desert. There isn't a whole lot of water to treat, let alone polluted water. It looks like salt production on a truly massive scale.

That's not the Gobi desert. It's in Eastern Turkestan, not in Mongolia.

Taklamakan Desert. Looks like they're mining something...


According to the thread on reddit people have posted about these on the internet up to 5 years ago. The most plausible explanation on the thread seems to be that the criss-cross pattern is a test range for autonomous cruise missiles, designed to mimic city streets.

Here is a quote from the thread: "It is an optical test range for autonomous cruise missile targeting systems, to simulate the street grids of cities. If you check the scale of the grid on google earth (+40° 27' 6.89", +93° 44' 20.77") you'll notice that the grid is the size of several city blocks. If you look here (40.479272,93.47713) they have a fake airport painted out over ditches, creeks and inclines. There is also a paved runway short way away, with random bomb craters in it.

The round circle with the 3 jets in the middle is a blasting test range, used to test the dispersion, and effectiveness of explosions over a varying ranges." [1]

[1] http://www.reddit.com/r/worldnews/comments/mbth1/china_googl...

Generally large structures like this are related to mining as that is a process that can take large swaths of land and convert it into a few hundred thousand tons of the 'good stuff.'

That being said, the old MX silos could be seen from space but they were pretty clearly revetments and launchers connected by rail lines. Generally large infrastructure often gives away its intent which is why modern despots prefer building everything underground.

One of the comments suggest it was the result of lithium mining..."These sites clearly represent the process of lithium mining and extraction. Sedimentation trenches are dug to extract lithium iron phosphate to create batteries." Sounds reasonable.

The other ones looks like bombing sites.

I like the "visible from space" superlative. In this day and age when you can see a guy on a bike from space.

Whenever anybody uses that phrase I can't help but think of David Attenborough. In "Planet Earth", there were at least a dozen things which "are so large, they are visible from space."

This is tangential but Attenborough's narration of Planet Earth was awful. He contradicted himself with his superlatives every other episode.

I remember seeing window screens in a similar pattern in China.

For an example, see




Check out this [1] post on the google earth forums from 2006. Has some more interesting ideas on what it could be, and potentially an answer for part of it. It also has a great KML (kmz) of the different features.

From [1]: "This Site was a Chinese missile test centre, and a lot of area is developed for tourists attraction. but some facility such as the fake runways are still under military control.

"1950s, this site was chose by Soviet scientists as the first Chinese nuclear weapon test site, but the Chinese authority refused this suggestion due to its small scale and location. and just used it as missile test facility."

Although, I'm not sure on the factuality of this statement, however has a link to a people.com.cn file about the area.

[1] http://bbs.keyhole.com/ubb/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&N...

the original gizmodo article has more info - http://gizmodo.com/5859081/why-is-china-building-these-gigan...

That last picture is extremely weird.

(A 1:20 scale model of the border between India and China? It's too small to train on directly, and it's too large to see all at once for higher-level planning.)

It seems like it might be a a good low-tech way (and possibly even with modern battlefield GIS available) to thoroughly familiarize mid-level and lower officers with the terrain. It's hard to overestimate the value of a good, physical sense of the land in a places that remarkably rugged. It won't replace local info on the ground, but I'd certainly rather go into a place like that with commanding officers who aren't trying to reconstruct chunks of the Himalayas in their head on the fly. If you've got the spare manpower, the space, and you're planning ahead... why not?

For political/military strategists to take an morning stroll on? See if any bright ideas pop up?

It's eerie.

The very-large antenna looking road-thingy they link to is explained here:


Found another one not far to the east of the "window" pattern:


Could this just be a glitch in image processing? Otherwise, there are quite a bit of things going on around this area.

Someone needs to write a pattern matching algorithm to compare the voronoi-looking image to the street layout of various cities. Seems like it would be a 1:1 representation, given the size.

Dunno what that would indicate, but the results may be interesting...

A massive Keynesian Stimulus program, no?

Found this[1] as well while poking about - fairly tall structure, unique curved shape, nothing but a road, some outbuildings and some antenna masts for miles in any direction. Thoughts on what it might be?


If you take the road south from there, there's a giant round bunker like building


If you keep following that it looks like the blurry road thing crosses a river and ends in another round bunker.

No obvious parking, otherwise could be employee accommodation of some sort. Hard to tell how narrow those spines are. I'm guessing four storeys tall?

Are those air fields to the northeast? They have the same kind of coloring as the evaporation ponds, but the look like runways to me.

http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&ll=40.49081,93.510867&... looks interesting as well.

http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&ll=40.45374,93.743119&... another similar looking grid further east.

dang! no street view available

The image displayed in the article looks reminiscent of a Voronoi diagram.


And from that Wikipedia article, it appears they have some applications in mining. Maybe that's related to the salt mining comments above?

Voronoi Polygons have been used in mining to estimate the reserves of valuable materials, minerals or other resources. Exploratory drillholes are used as the set of points in the Voronoi polygons

Interesting idea, but I don't see why they'd then construct a huge set of roads to connect every vertex. Or why they'd drill that many drillholes in less than a square km.

Agreed. I think I just wanted it to be cooler than it was :)

Anyone know a good place to get old satellite imagery? Be interesting to see if you can see the construction process.

Google Earth -> View -> Historical Imagery

A lot of the sites have been there over 5 years. Some of the older imagery has inadequate imagery to tell.

Internally, at google.

> Are these some sort of alignment or targeting grids for space weapons or what?

Obviously. I like his thinking.

It's like a QR code for the planet.

Having done business in China and knowing a little bit how some of the good people there think; my bet is that the square pattern(s) which looks like Voronoi diagram are just a Chinese version of the Crop circles http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crop_circle. They like to do things in major scale in China.

Couple of the pictures were clearly geology/mining related and one is a military training area. No biggies.

I think China needs to get their Roomba fixed.

That is quite funny. A nice upbeat tone to the rest of the comments :)

China's own Burning Man to scale for China's population?

Underground nuclear testing facility that collapsed?

Maybe it's their version of NORAD underground?

NORAD is built into a mountain for a good reason. China has plenty of mountains, so if they have a NORAD I assume it's under one of those.

My understanding is that NORAD can withstand megaton hits so long as they are > 1 mile away. With modern technology, it seems unlikely that NORAD would be missed by a full mile.

It makes the amount of sky you have to protect from inbound RVs much smaller. A smaller cone for your anti-missile interceptors.

@johngalt: Great counterpoint.

@jacquesm: Maybe Santa is more Stallman-esque than we give him credit; perhaps he doesn't enjoy being tracked?

Santa would be most upset.

The third image, the circular one, is just a solar array, right?

Doubt it. It's not uniform, there's no central tower, and retired jets would be a damn weird solar array component. My money would be on a radar or blast test site that's been abandoned.

There's what looks like a pretty tall tower just to the south of that circle. http://g.co/maps/ct7qm

I will come out and admit that when I read "network of stripes" I was thinking "oh, a story about RAID".

This is interesting too, though. Most likely it is a military installation similar to what exists in the US.

They may be trying to communicate with a starman waiting in the sky, who'd like to come and meet us, but he thinks he'd blow our minds.

This place is ripe for bots that speak Bocce.

These represent the layouts of streets in Washington,DC and lower Manhattan. They are testing their low cost, nuclear tipped, artificial intelligence controlled cruise missiles on simulated targets.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact