Crazy structures in the Chinese desert

As reported by a handful of readers, a popular story about “strange lines in China” is making its way around the internet. There are a variety of odd-looking items in the area of the Kumtag desert, but this one is the most striking:


You can view that location in Google Earth by using this KML file.
The big question is: what is it? Some theories I’ve seen floating around online:
• Calibrating grid for a Chinese spy satellite.
• Lines drawn with white material.
• Dust dug by machinery.
• Street map of Washington, DC.
There’s certainly other possibilities as well. What do you think it is?
(via Gizmodo)

About Mickey Mellen

Mickey has been using Google Earth since it was released in 2005, and has created a variety of geo-related sites including Google Earth Hacks. He runs a web design firm in Marietta, GA, where he lives with his wife and two kids.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.


  1. it’s unused track fro future stage of Formula 1

  2. If you use historical imagery, you can see that they were in the process of painting it 4/13/2005…

  3. I like the “calibrating grid for chinese spy satellite” 🙂

  4. Look to the west of this strange line. You will find some others stranges “things” !
    The most stranges is ay 31.5km. You can see an approximately 1 kilometer suqare of side. It seems to be excavated…
    Really strange !

  5. ET has to know, where to land!

  6. Greetings: My interpretation is that they are “painted” on the landscape. There is certainly no relief at ground level, as the local drainage and outwash fans continue uninterrupted across the margins and surfaces of these lines. I also like the idea of a calibrating grid, why go way out in nowheresville to do it?
    The historical imagery does define the construction timeline, as well as the “aging” of the paint jobs.
    Between the noted assembly and the square one to the west lies several in which can be discerned an inner structuring of the “paint job” that suggests 3-meter wide stripes.
    Finally, the stripe at 40.46, 93.54 looks to me like three mine shafts and a landing pad for mine tailings. Perhaps this is an attempt at widely distributing a thin veneer of tailings

  7. Psst. A GEC discussion, beginning in June 2006:

  8. Old missile test site, no longer used and now popular tourist spot. Similar to some areas in Nevada and Arizona in the US.

  9. IDK other than they are painted lines. You can see where dirt and elements have covered the lines on the ground.
    Best guess,A Road crew that drank too much plum wine?

  10. The London 2012 Olympics logo as the first image in a new set of Nazca lines.

  11. My guess is that the lines are painted there to measure the erosion of the mountain. Some of them seem to follow the flow of the water that is coming from the mountains during rainy seasons, others might just be intersecting to see how much dirt is washed away from the upper areas to the lower areas.
    There are no bomb craters or evidence of military activity whatsoever, so I don’t think it is anything military…. nevertheless, it IS built in an area that is used for a lot of military activity. If it is something military, I would guess it is some sort of map….. of a potential enemy target.

  12. To the right of the grids, there is an area with some kind of buildings, 3 of them have been colored in blue….why?

  13. @edgar
    It is common in China to have dormitories for construction workers painted blue. There are likely hundreds of other possibilities, but that is the first thing that came to my mind.

  14. Looking to the west, you can find some places where blast debris indicate a very violent end to some structures (which you can see intact in historical imagery). For example:
    40.487416° 93.458307°
    40.490952° 93.510789°

  15. you can see the area under construction if you change the imagery date to 4/15/2005

  16. I hate to think it, but it looks to me as someone has “overlaid” a semi-transparent map of lines over the areas in question. Who? I have no idea. I could do the same thing in Paint Shop Pro.
    Zoom in as clear as you can get and you’ll see every bit of rock, ledges, gullies, etc. has a white finish on them. Kind of hard to do if you are going to “paint” it.

  17. In the 4/15/2005 imagery, you can see near the top group of lines, that some of the lines ‘under construction’ (top left) have run, following wheel ruts in the desert. That tells me that these 60 ft. wide lines are made of something laid down on top of the desert surface. It is interesting that all lines fit inside a rectangle. that had me thinking originally that it was an overlay image embedded in the base layer.

  18. DFPawlowski says

    It appears that the gypsum or salt outlines dropped on to the China desert are a mock up of the highway network for South Korea that surround Seoul. The give away was a mention elsewhere to the use of this same area of China as home to a 1:20 mock up of the Indian frontier that appears to have served as a kind of nuclear aiming sand box simulation for bomber pilots, missile teams (CEP), or war gamers. The map like outline above appears to be a simple but truncated outline drawing of the major highways in South Korea that would be useful if you are practicing high altitude precision bombing for a nuclear strike training mission. If you go to Google maps and explore the imagery there for this region of China you will also find two simulated airports that have served as bombing targets, zoom in in an area off to the side and you will notice a bombed out cluster of blue roofed buildings that match the foot print of the famed “Blue House” found in Seoul. Espeically given the previous use of this area for simulating India by the Chinese military? Zooming down on the “Highways” at Goggle maps for the area in the image above shows bomb craters that would resemble nuclear strike results at this scale of a “map”. Has anyone mentioned South Korea as a likely target for Chinese war games? Possibly used by visiting North Koreans for a sneak attack? ‘Nuff said.

  19. I was a little disappointed no one saw the three fighters in the circles further west…

  20. there’s also this 40.460532,93.393137

  21. Busted:
    This was discovered in 2005 already
    Not sure if it’s true, but check it out. Makes sense.

  22. The “Grids” are roads, why they are there is the interesting part… I also found this, which I find even more strange, are those entrances, motorways, irrigation-canals… ? I dont know ?

  23. The “grids” and the “airport” are almost identical to structures in Taipei. I will be posting more soon. They could be target practice for missiles, but it is much more likely that these have been put there to *seem* like target practice for missiles going into Taipei in order to scare the Taiwanese in the upcoming election.

  24. According to this article, Chinese satellite calibrators. 🙂

  25. Spiegel (German News) solves some of the secrets:
    Read the article in German:,1518,798197,00.html

  26. Amazing, thanks G-maps
    @MIke : the the 40.460532,93.393137 dont work!!!

  27. I tend to agree with Mr. Hills assertions on the China Gobi Desert analysis … I’d like to add to the story for the 2 sites with the geodetic markers
    If you scan thru the one to the east over time in Google Earth with the time lapsed databases you can see the construction process underway. One can correlate the April 13, 2005 image and the May 2005 image. In the earlier (April 13, 2005) image one will find fairly large construction dump trucks at Latitude 40.450514 North: Longitude 93.73624 East Altitude 2.33km and the pattern is not completed at 40.453058 North: 93.743189 East and Altitude . If one observes the same area (May 2005) it’s evident that the pattern at Altitude 4.9km isn’t complete. At the same locations on Sept 16, 2006, the construction equipment is gone and the present pattern completed.
    Further, look at the coordinates Latitude 40.491315 North: Longitude 93.510845 East Altitude 2.3km for a North antenna and Latitude 40.490607 North: Longitude 93.510957 for a South antenna. From March 6, 2009, observe two satellite communications antenna radomes housing parabolic microwave antennas of roughly 15m in diameter. They must cover elliptical orbit satellite communications (consistent with Low Earth Orbit [LEO]) operations … Also consistent with ground observation capabilities.
    Scanning forward in time until the data on June 13, 2010 notice that the radomes have been removed and several buildings are gone. All consistent with an initial calibration phase that Mr. Hill suggests.

  28. I was a little disappointed no one saw the three fighters in the circles further west

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