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  #1  
Old 07-29-2009, 02:33 PM
Colophon Colophon is offline
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What is this weird pattern of streets in China? (Google Maps)

http://maps.google.com/?q=%2B40%C2%B...,0.068665&z=14

The above link shows a weird maze-like pattern of what appear to be streets or cleared strips, 20 metres wide, occupying a rectangular area 1km x 1.8km oriented north-south. The location seems to be a rugged desert area in Gansu province in northern China.

The lines almost look superimposed, they are so geometrically perfect, but if you zoom in you can see they are really there on the ground.

So what the heck are they? They don't go anywhere outside the rectangle.
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  #2  
Old 07-29-2009, 02:57 PM
Keeve Keeve is offline
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I don't know, but here are some ideas/clues:

Watch the scale at the bottom left. That stuff is visible at the "1 mile/km" level, and it ought to be visible (but half-size) at the "2 mile/km" level. But I don't see them at all. That suggests it to be someone playing with the photo files.

The general color of the lower part of the photo is bluish on the "2"-level photo, but grayish on the "1". They were clearly taken at different times. Maybe the "1" is more recent, and the roads were built in-between.

Put those coordinates into Bing maps, and there's no roads. But it could be an old picture, like on Google's older picture.
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  #3  
Old 07-29-2009, 03:06 PM
NinetyWt NinetyWt is offline
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I don't think they're roads. You can still see the relief of the terrain in some of them. Almost like they're painted there.
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  #4  
Old 07-29-2009, 03:10 PM
Keeve Keeve is offline
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Originally Posted by NinetyWt View Post
I don't think they're roads. You can still see the relief of the terrain in some of them. Almost like they're painted there.
I totally agree. But if so, then it is something real, as opposed to mere Photoshop Vandalism of the mapping files. Who did it, and why? There must be a very interesting story behind it.
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  #5  
Old 07-29-2009, 03:23 PM
Skammer Skammer is offline
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In the upper right corner, there's a bit that's not even attached to the rest.

I think it's photo manipulation - not really roads, or paint, or anything like that. I don't know the purpose, though.
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  #6  
Old 07-29-2009, 03:40 PM
Pleonast Pleonast is offline
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I think it's photo manipulation. It looks like a "washout" type image effect--everything above a certain brightness gets brightened to white. Leaving the darker areas intact. See the upper right area.

The fact that the pattern is restricted to a single data cell is highly suspect. Compare the size to other data cells in the area. (You can see them by slight changes in the overall color of the cell.) For example, at 40d37.902, 93d 45.611.

My guess is that this is a copyright trap of some sort. If anyone stole large blocks of the data indiscriminately, the proper owner could look for specific errors to prove the source of the data.
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  #7  
Old 07-29-2009, 03:47 PM
MrSquishy MrSquishy is offline
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Originally Posted by Pleonast View Post
My guess is that this is a copyright trap of some sort. If anyone stole large blocks of the data indiscriminately, the proper owner could look for specific errors to prove the source of the data.
Sounds like a good guess. But I bet there are less conspicuous ways to do that. It seems kind of weird they'd "ruin" that whole tile for that purpose.

I bet Google Maps is experiencing record demand for that map tile right now! Tangentially related link that I think is cool: http://hotmap.msresearch.us/ (I think it only works in IE)
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  #8  
Old 07-29-2009, 04:01 PM
DSYoungEsq DSYoungEsq is offline
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They do not appear on the Yahoo maps image of the same area.
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  #9  
Old 07-29-2009, 04:09 PM
DSYoungEsq DSYoungEsq is offline
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There is more weirdness to the west of there. Something that looks like, but isn't quite, airport runways. And then another crazyquilt of lighter stripes.

My guess: it's something military and the files are altered at the insistence of the Chinese govt.
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  #10  
Old 07-29-2009, 04:17 PM
Green Cymbeline Green Cymbeline is offline
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I don't think it's image manipulation; it looks to me like the ground is actually painted white. You can see shadows in the white areas where there are slight ridges in the ground. You can also see tire tracks in and around that whole area, which could be from vehicles working on whatever it is. Some of the tire tracks even follow along the edges of the white strips which suggest that it is not an image manipulation, but that it's actually there.

The fact that it's not in the wider zoom or in Yahoo maps is easily explainable - they use images shot at different points in time, and the white lines are new, so they wouldn't show up on older images.

Colophon, how did you come across this image? I am very intrigued.

Perhaps it's an area for ATV or motorcross riders? Although I kind of doubt that is a popular pastime in rural China. Maybe markings for mining, or military exercises??
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  #11  
Old 07-29-2009, 04:28 PM
HorseloverFat HorseloverFat is offline
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Directly west is more and it looks like bombs have been dropped on it. Im voting military related, especially if its related to this:

http://www.gearthblog.com/blog/archi...cale_mode.html

Last edited by HorseloverFat; 07-29-2009 at 04:32 PM.. Reason: fixed url
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  #12  
Old 07-29-2009, 05:14 PM
Colophon Colophon is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nyctea scandiaca View Post
Colophon, how did you come across this image? I am very intrigued.
I write for a blog that highlights interesting images on Google Maps. A reader submitted this image.

MrSquishy, that map is cool. I wonder what causes the lines of "more viewed" tiles - presumably people navigating from city to city? (Also note the peak around 0 degrees lat/0 degrees long).

As for the Chinese mystery, I am leaning towards the military explanation... http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&sour...,0.004292&z=18

Last edited by Colophon; 07-29-2009 at 05:17 PM..
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  #13  
Old 07-29-2009, 05:22 PM
Colophon Colophon is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pleonast View Post
I think it's photo manipulation. It looks like a "washout" type image effect--everything above a certain brightness gets brightened to white. Leaving the darker areas intact. See the upper right area.

The fact that the pattern is restricted to a single data cell is highly suspect. Compare the size to other data cells in the area. (You can see them by slight changes in the overall color of the cell.) For example, at 40d37.902, 93d 45.611.
.
I think from zooming in that it is actually there on the ground.

The data cell idea almost convinced me, but the cells are not the same size as the rectangle on the ground...

http://maps.google.com/maps?q=%2B40%...,0.068665&z=14

The cell seems to be 1.3 x 1.95km (approx) rather than the 1km x 1.8km of the mystery pattern.
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  #14  
Old 07-29-2009, 07:31 PM
Backcountry Medic Backcountry Medic is offline
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Not that it helps to solve the question at all, but there is also a similar pattern a ways to the west (past the runways) that appears to be under construction. You can find it here:

http://maps.google.com/maps?q=40.456...,0.033002&z=15

My thought is that it might be some kind of satellite tracking or target aquisition grid. Something big and distinct enough to be seen from space, but unique enough to ensure that the proper area is acurately being tracked. It's totally in the middle of BFE China, definetely an interesting question.
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  #15  
Old 07-29-2009, 09:54 PM
Dobbs Dobbs is online now
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I note that going more or less southwest about 7 miles from Colophon's original link, I see what appears to me to be a big transformer yard under construction -

http://maps.google.com/?q=%2B40%C2%B...,0.025063&z=16

and following the 'roads' mostly west from there, is -

http://maps.google.com/?q=%2B40%C2%B...,0.006266&z=18

Whatever is going on in the area, it looks like it isn't finished yet.

But where are all the people that should be working on this? I see a very few vehicles that could be bringing in workers and supplies. Maybe it was all started, and abandon?
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  #16  
Old 07-29-2009, 10:05 PM
The Seventh Deadly Finn The Seventh Deadly Finn is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Backcountry Medic View Post
Not that it helps to solve the question at all, but there is also a similar pattern a ways to the west (past the runways) that appears to be under construction. You can find it here:

http://maps.google.com/maps?q=40.456...,0.033002&z=15
I don't think that one's under construction; I think it's older than the one in the OP. It's pocked and pitted and dust has blown over it. If someone told me this is what a bombing range looks like from space I'd believe them, but I don't have that expertise myself.

Bombing range is still my guess, though.
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  #17  
Old 07-29-2009, 10:23 PM
Simplicio Simplicio is online now
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It's almost precisely 1x2 km, and the area around it is at better resolution then the larger region.

Agree with the bombing range idea, anything else would have more surrounding buildings and infrastructure. I bet the crazy grid is supposed to be a network of streets in a town, and the practicing pilot (or smart bomb or whatever) is supposed to be able to make out and hit a particular intersection despite the patternless street layout , as if they were making a targeted strike on a particular house in wartime.
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  #18  
Old 07-29-2009, 10:29 PM
Green Cymbeline Green Cymbeline is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Backcountry Medic View Post
Not that it helps to solve the question at all, but there is also a similar pattern a ways to the west (past the runways) that appears to be under construction. You can find it here:

http://maps.google.com/maps?q=40.456...,0.033002&z=15

My thought is that it might be some kind of satellite tracking or target aquisition grid. Something big and distinct enough to be seen from space, but unique enough to ensure that the proper area is acurately being tracked. It's totally in the middle of BFE China, definetely an interesting question.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Simplicio
It's almost precisely 1x2 km, and the area around it is at better resolution then the larger region.

Agree with the bombing range idea, anything else would have more surrounding buildings and infrastructure. I bet the crazy grid is supposed to be a network of streets in a town, and the practicing pilot (or smart bomb or whatever) is supposed to be able to make out and hit a particular intersection despite the patternless street layout , as if they were making a targeted strike on a particular house in wartime.
With the second example of almost the same type of pattern painted on the ground, I would totally agree that it's some sort of bombing exercise range, especially if you look really close, you can see what appear to be little craters in a row where bombs have hit the ground - at least that is what it looks like.

I wonder if the US military uses any sort of similar technique? I am sure our military has their eyes on this area and watch it carefully.
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  #19  
Old 07-29-2009, 11:41 PM
commasense commasense is offline
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Don't you people get it? The Chinese are communicating with aliens!
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  #20  
Old 07-30-2009, 01:54 AM
Erdosain Erdosain is online now
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There appear to be several runways in the area, and each looks to be between one and two kilometers long. However, there are no support buildings as far as I can tell (unless one of the squares stained with oil is actually a roof). What would be the point of landing military aircraft way out in the middle of nowhere with no logistical support? What size of plane could land on these runways? Fighter jets, bombers, prop planes, 747s? Would the apparent lack of infrastructure mean that only certain types of planes could land?

Secondly, why does Google Maps have such detailed images of what is ostensibly desert? If you go to the east or west, large patches of land are not available in such detail. How does Google (or whoever they get their images from) decide what areas to have in this level of detail?

Thirdly, it was my impression that this level of detail in Google Maps comes from aerial photographs rather than satellite imagery. However, the Chinese government surely wouldn't have allowed aerial photography in what seems to be a sensitive area. So are Google Maps made from satellite imagery or aerial photography?

Fourthly, is there any chance the Chinese government could (or will) disappear these images? I seem to remember Google agreeing to help them censor web searches.

This link from Colophon is definitely the creepiest of the bunch: http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&sour...,0.004292&z=18
Nothing good is happening under those blue roofs!
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  #21  
Old 07-30-2009, 02:20 AM
Simplicio Simplicio is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Erdosain View Post
There appear to be several runways in the area, and each looks to be between one and two kilometers long. However, there are no support buildings as far as I can tell (unless one of the squares stained with oil is actually a roof). What would be the point of landing military aircraft way out in the middle of nowhere with no logistical support? What size of plane could land on these runways? Fighter jets, bombers, prop planes, 747s? Would the apparent lack of infrastructure mean that only certain types of planes could land?
One of the runways has several craters on the end. Since in an air-war you want to blow up an enemies runways so they can't launch their planes, it seems possible the runways are "dummies" meant for bombing practice or testing as well.


Quote:
Thirdly, it was my impression that this level of detail in Google Maps comes from aerial photographs rather than satellite imagery. However, the Chinese government surely wouldn't have allowed aerial photography in what seems to be a sensitive area. So are Google Maps made from satellite imagery or aerial photography?
If it is a bombing range, I'm not sure it's so sensitive. After all, the CIA can probably figure out that the Chinese test their bombs somewhere without needing ariel pics. You can get high-res pics of nellis AFB bombing range in the US as well. Apparently craters don't have very high intelligence value.
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  #22  
Old 07-30-2009, 02:39 AM
Anaglyph Anaglyph is offline
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It's also visible and more zoomable in google earth. there is a second, more decayed looking similar feature to the west of it and two landing-strip like features between the two
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  #23  
Old 07-30-2009, 02:45 AM
Crown Prince of Irony Crown Prince of Irony is offline
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I checked out the whole area in Google Earth, and it throws off a very creepy vibe - these lines are definitely not superimposed. If you enable the "Digital Globe" layer you can see that according to Digital Globe's archives, these lines have been there at least since May 2005, but were only partially visible in April of 2005, and were not at all visible in February of that year. The Digital Globe images are small, but clear enough to show that clearly this feature appeared in the first half of '05.

Maybe it's an archeological dig of some kind? I did see that around 10-15 miles to the southeast, there are some archeological sites with photos posted.

This still does not explain the creepy blue buildings though.
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  #24  
Old 07-30-2009, 02:58 AM
Erdosain Erdosain is online now
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Originally Posted by Crown Prince of Irony View Post
Maybe it's an archeological dig of some kind? I did see that around 10-15 miles to the southeast, there are some archeological sites with photos posted.

This still does not explain the creepy blue buildings though.
I thought about the archeology too, after seeing the "ruins of Hecang City" pics on Google Maps. However, there aren't any similar types of lines or runways near the photos of Hecang City or the photos of the western end of the Great Wall, which you'd think would be the most fertile area for archeology. It also appears that there are popular rock features about 10 miles to the west of this site, too, with lots of pics in Panoramio. The whole area looks really cool (like the desert scenes in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). I wonder how tight the security is up there.

Last edited by Erdosain; 07-30-2009 at 02:59 AM.. Reason: I don't know west from east, apparently
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  #25  
Old 07-30-2009, 03:04 AM
Crown Prince of Irony Crown Prince of Irony is offline
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Oooh, oooh, oooh - I forgot that Google Earth has a "historical imagery" feature that lets you view earlier images. And I caught them in the act!

Imagery from April 15th 2005 shows them in the middle of construction - oddly enough, it looks like they've either laid down chalk or possibly concrete, and that it has lasted pretty much intact for 4 years in a presumably harsh environment - very odd.
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  #26  
Old 07-30-2009, 03:16 AM
Crown Prince of Irony Crown Prince of Irony is offline
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My wife an I were just discussing this as I pulled the screen grabs - it looks like the final product has some lines that seem to flow with the terrain, like most of those starting at the north of the image, and some lines that seem completely arbitrary, like those on the middle of the west side.

Putting my tinfoil hat on, I surmised that maybe the arbitrary lines are actually coded hanzi characters that become apparent when the other, terrain-restricted lines are accounted for. Or maybe I'm just going batshit since it's late and I'm tired.

Either way, I feel like an uber-CIA analyst right now. This is so fun - I think I have a new addiction to replace Battlefield 1943.
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  #27  
Old 07-30-2009, 04:01 AM
Erdosain Erdosain is online now
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Yes, I totally wish this was my full-time job. The idea about the characters is interesting, though I wonder what could be worth the expense and hassle to write? John 3:16? Ha!

For what it's worth, there is a dam to the south of the site that has characters visible from Google Maps on it, though I'm guessing it translates as something boring like "Peking Hydroelectric Concern, Ltd."
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  #28  
Old 07-30-2009, 05:02 AM
Gymnopithys Gymnopithys is offline
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"This still does not explain the creepy blue buildings though."


Target buildings. Bomb craters all around. One building hit. White debris around.
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  #29  
Old 07-30-2009, 06:06 AM
Colophon Colophon is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Crown Prince of Irony View Post
Oooh, oooh, oooh - I forgot that Google Earth has a "historical imagery" feature that lets you view earlier images. And I caught them in the act!

Imagery from April 15th 2005 shows them in the middle of construction - oddly enough, it looks like they've either laid down chalk or possibly concrete, and that it has lasted pretty much intact for 4 years in a presumably harsh environment - very odd.

Nice work! The plot thickens. Still, I'm sure the Chinese military isn't up to anything sinister...
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  #30  
Old 07-30-2009, 10:27 AM
DSYoungEsq DSYoungEsq is offline
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I am getting error messages trying the links from Crown Prince of Irony. Google claims they are not on the site!
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  #31  
Old 07-30-2009, 11:12 AM
runcible spoon runcible spoon is offline
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Crown Prince of Irony just lived up to his username, I think.
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  #32  
Old 07-30-2009, 11:15 AM
Skammer Skammer is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Erdosain View Post
This link from Colophon is definitely the creepiest of the bunch: http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&sour...,0.004292&z=18
Nothing good is happening under those blue roofs!
When I click that link it brings up an image of MY HOUSE!
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  #33  
Old 07-30-2009, 11:23 AM
Colophon Colophon is offline
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Originally Posted by Skammer View Post
When I click that link it brings up an image of MY HOUSE!

Yeah the copied link is futzed so it shows the last map you viewed (or something). The link I originally posted is fine:
http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&sour...,0.004292&z=18

Last edited by Colophon; 07-30-2009 at 11:23 AM..
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  #34  
Old 07-30-2009, 11:33 AM
Hypnagogic Jerk Hypnagogic Jerk is offline
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Originally Posted by DSYoungEsq View Post
I am getting error messages trying the links from Crown Prince of Irony. Google claims they are not on the site!
Hit refresh (or click on the address bar and hit enter).
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  #35  
Old 07-30-2009, 12:09 PM
Crown Prince of Irony Crown Prince of Irony is offline
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Originally Posted by DSYoungEsq View Post
I am getting error messages trying the links from Crown Prince of Irony. Google claims they are not on the site!
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hypnagogic Jerk View Post
Hit refresh (or click on the address bar and hit enter).
That's odd - last night they were coming up fine for me. But Hypnagogic is right - now you have to hit refresh to get the image to show up.

I linked directly to them from my picasaweb account which doesn't expose the rest of my picasa albums - I could have just put them in a public album, but I don't want want the Chinese to have ready access to pictures of my house and family.
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  #36  
Old 07-30-2009, 12:27 PM
DSYoungEsq DSYoungEsq is offline
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Originally Posted by Hypnagogic Jerk View Post
Hit refresh (or click on the address bar and hit enter).
Thanks
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  #37  
Old 07-30-2009, 04:25 PM
Troy McClure SF Troy McClure SF is offline
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Originally Posted by MrSquishy View Post
Sounds like a good guess. But I bet there are less conspicuous ways to do that. It seems kind of weird they'd "ruin" that whole tile for that purpose.
It wouldn't be unheard of.
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  #38  
Old 07-30-2009, 06:09 PM
MrSquishy MrSquishy is offline
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Originally Posted by Hypnagogic Jerk View Post
Hit refresh (or click on the address bar and hit enter).
Or replace the spaces in the URLs with %20.

Your way is easier though.
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  #39  
Old 07-30-2009, 06:16 PM
Bryan Ekers Bryan Ekers is online now
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What's the matter with you people - don't you recognize the Chinese character for "Kilroy was here"?

Last edited by Bryan Ekers; 07-30-2009 at 06:18 PM..
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  #40  
Old 07-30-2009, 06:36 PM
DSYoungEsq DSYoungEsq is offline
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What's the matter with you people - don't you recognize the Chinese character for "Kilroy was here"?
Win.
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  #41  
Old 07-30-2009, 07:06 PM
gaffa gaffa is offline
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They ordered a set of Nazca Lines in kit form but lost the instruction sheet.
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  #42  
Old 07-30-2009, 07:16 PM
Fubaya Fubaya is offline
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Originally Posted by Crown Prince of Irony View Post
Imagery from April 15th 2005 shows them in the middle of construction - oddly enough, it looks like they've either laid down chalk or possibly concrete, and that it has lasted pretty much intact for 4 years in a presumably harsh environment - very odd.
The Google Earth lines from the OP have actually been floating around since
2006.
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