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Giant Chinese Desert Mystery Structure Solved 161

Velcroman1 writes "Slashdotters read Monday about strange symbols in the Gobi Desert recently imaged and indexed by Google Maps. Alien landing zones? Some military thingy? Bizarre art project? Nope. The grids of zigzagging white lines seen in two of the images — the strangest of the various desert structures — are spy satellite calibration targets, according to one NASA scientist."
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Giant Chinese Desert Mystery Structure Solved

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  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @07:09PM (#38092234) Homepage Journal

    So... they correspond to something on the ground they want to match, I betcha. They may have added a few lines to mask their intent, but the drawings to the west look like airfieds and I imagine the two which look like random stuff in a rectangle do match some city roads, somewhere.

  • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @07:17PM (#38092332)

    They're just using it as a controlled environment to test out some new radar based spy satellites and possibly to test countermeasures against similar satellites orbited by other nations. The quasi-random grid layouts are the most visually striking, but I think the fighter jet surrounded by carefully positioned radar reflectors is more interesting. In theory you could mess up the image enough to camouflage your planes from satellite based radar. I could imagine the same being true for some of the qausi-grid layouts as well, they could be testing for multi-path effects or any number of other things.

  • by BitZtream ( 692029 ) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @07:29PM (#38092500)

    The 'structures' are lines painted on the ground used for target practice.

    Its a documented bomb range with an airport and a simulated airport to bomb as well.

    If you bother to zoom out on Google Maps you can figure it out fairly quickly, oh and a few Google searchs will reveal that we've known this for years.

  • Re:Why Needed? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by X0563511 ( 793323 ) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @08:13PM (#38093040) Homepage Journal

    Because you have corps that build things that need exorcise too? Might as well have one big project with multiple uses.

    Logistics guys get practice... logisticing?
    Engineer guys get practice building.
    Sat guys get free calibration and practice doing their stuff.
    Bombardiers and other munitions guys get practice shooting at it.
    Intel guys get practice doing damage assessments.
    R&D probably gets a chance to test a bunch of stuff, too.

    The list goes on. The question is "why not?"

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 17, 2011 @08:35PM (#38093324)

    You don't have the slightest fracking idea of what you're talking about.

  • Re:Bombs.. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by icebike ( 68054 ) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @08:44PM (#38093408)

    Doesn't explain why some of the structures have heavy bomb damage.

    Assuming no foreign power has been bombing China- I can't fathom why China would bomb their own calibration units.

    (unless it was to test what would happen- before an enemy did it to them)

    Its pretty clear this is a heavily bombed area, the whole vicinity is riddled with bomb craters. Just a few clicks away from the strange lines is a
    runway mock-up, with a shadow mock-up offset from it. Exploring this area [] you can zoom in on this target ad see what appears to b missile booster stages laying around, generally facing east-to-west. They can't be tanker trucks, because they are narrower than the nearby dirt road tracks.

    Zooming out from that link shows the two mock airfields.

    I'm sure all the major intelligence agencies of the world have very much better photos than these.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 17, 2011 @08:59PM (#38093560)

    Here's my theory about the weird assemblage of lines and angles.

    They are to test the people tasked with interpreting imagery from spy satellites -- not the optics of the satellites themselves.

    Here's how it would work:

    1. The powers-that-be paint lines of varying lengths intersecting at varying angles, and over a non-flat surface (note the evidence of water drainage over some of the lines).

    2. They use their spy satellites to capture imagery of the lines at various distances and elevations.

    3. Their interpreters use these images to reconstruct the lengths/angles of the various lines.

    4. The powers-that-be check the interpreters' reconstructions with what they know was actually painted on ground.

    5. The interpreters learn how to accurately reconstruct measurements from spy satellite imagery, and thereby gain knowledge of what other countries are doing.

    6. Profit! (or something) :-)

  • Re:Bombs.. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Martin Blank ( 154261 ) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @09:37PM (#38093780) Homepage Journal

    GPS is now so heavily used by so many segments of the civilian world that no nation can afford its loss unless it was about to be annihilated. The more precise signals can be re-encrypted, as they were for a long time, but the basic signal is too ingrained for the US to completely shut down GPS (or remove all access to it).

  • Re:Bombs.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jarik C-Bol ( 894741 ) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @09:57PM (#38093900)
    you never repurposed anything? Perhaps the area once was a bomb range (cold war era perhaps) and they have repurposed these vast tracts of government owned land into satellite calibration areas. Hell, look at this: []
    That is near where i live. On google earth it looks like an air base mockup. from the ground, you can't even see the thing. That *was* an air base about 50 years ago. Now its a few foundations and a crumbling runway. Things look a lot different from above.
  • by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday November 17, 2011 @11:12PM (#38094250) Journal

    Nope just use Google images to check out the AZ desert and White sands in NV and you'll see similar targets like bullseyes and zig zag and all kinds of other targets. It is simply a cheap and easy way to calibrate a spy sat since all you need is a piece of desert and some white paint. IIRC there are also some bombers and fighters left in the middle of the desert in NV near an abandoned runway that is used for practicing taking shots of aircraft on the ground, its easy practice since its always in the same place and same position so it is easy to compare.

    If anything to me the interesting part is how much more poor the resolution on the Chinese sats are to the Americans since the Chinese targets are fricking huge and the bullseyes they have in AZ go down to some pretty tiny center targets. I'm sure in another decade though they'll have it tight enough they'll be able to read the license on a car, they'll just need a GUI in VB like the CSI guys.

There's no future in time travel.