The Great Wall of China visible from space?

Since the thread is renewed…

I’m not sure how those are “composites”. They are extremely magnified and thus close focus, but each image appears to be a single image, not a composite of multiple shots of each bug.

The thing is, since the data is collected in swaths anyway, any image showing multiple swaths at once is a digital composite. But the very process that allows them to make any picture this way is what allows them to correctly make the clear sky composites. Just substitute the swath that doesn’t have clouds.

But as you say, this is a far thing from “fake”. All image content is from that location and is correctly aligned with all other image content.

The reason you can’t see the Great Wall of China is because of simple physics. The word in physics to describe the reason why is called “resolution”.

To see the Great Wall of China from a geo-orbitting satellite would require a big lens, really big. And I’m too drunk and tired to calculate now. Maybe 10 meters in diameter? Any sober physics professors out there?

Veneriable Slacks

Only problem is that “space” starts much lower than geosych orbit.


Apparently, what we call the ‘edge of space’ right now is the Kármán line, a paltry 62 miles or so (100 km) above sea level. That’s roughly the point where the atmosphere has become so thin a craft at that height might as well not have wings at all: It would need to go fast enough to orbit the Earth to maintain its altitude. (To fly in an atmosphere you need to go fast enough the wind beneath your wings supports you, which is a function of how dense the air is, with thinner air requiring higher velocity; to orbit, you need to go fast enough your momentum counters the force of gravity such that you’re constatly falling and always miss the ground, which is a function of the acceleration due to gravity, which decreases as the inverse square of your distance from the ground (don’t make me go into barycenters or I swear to Gődel I’ll make you compute the gravitational attraction between Uranus and mine). The Kármán line is roughly where those velocities are equal, rounded to a nice number of kilometers.)

(There are other definitions, such as the one we use to determine who gets to be called an astronaut.)

By comparison, a geosynchronous orbit is about 22,236 miles (or about 35,786 Canadian) above mean sea level; this is an orbit such that the craft goes around the Earth at the same speed the Earth itself rotates, maintaining a fixed position in the sky.

Our friend, the Bad Astronomer, has regularly posted videos taken from the space shuttles of the night side of Earth with city lights clearly visible. E.g.,

One of the first historical tales of city lights being visible at night was during John Glenn’s Friendship 7 flight when he commented on seeing lights, turned out that some folks in Perth turned a bunch of lights on just to make it easier for him to spot them.

While the better “Earth at night” photos are composites of longish exposures from higher orbits, seeing cities at night from low orbit is basically unavoidable.

That picture shows a clear light at what must be the Falkland Islands, only city, Port Stanley, population 2,115. I am skeptical.

Why? Light has the distinct feature of standing out from dark. Port Stanley is a modern city with electricity and lighting surrounded by darkness. Looking at the map, you can see the outline of the islands and undersea terrain features by shading.

Comparing to a different region, look at Alaska. There are lights showing in the Aleutian islands. One of them is clearly Unalaska, the largest city in the Aleutians, which has a population of 4,376 as of 2010, according to Wikipedia. Another light shows west of there. The best I can tell, that appears to be Adak, population of 326. It’s a little hard to tell because (a) that image is stretched differently than the wiki map of Alaska, so island geometry is a little trickier to pick out; (b) I’m relying on Wiki for identifying the population centers of Alaska, which I realize is not the best source. (Pulled a different map search, found Adak.)

Which does make the darkness of North Korea curious, but I don’t know enough about the geopolitics to make sense of it. I do see lights associated with most of the major cities on this map.

A vast majority of the Google Maps “satellite” images are orthophotos, taken from a series of flights and then stereo-graphically corrected for relief displacement and whatnot. A “single” shot taken from a satellite, or an airplane, would have a lot of “distortion” and would not overlay with other layers, like road networks, political boundaries, etc. Rectified color orthophotos of all of the US were flown and compiled in 2010, that’s mostly what you’re seeing in the US.

I’m not sure that’s totally correct. All one has to do is open Google Earth, and proceed to Area 51 for example. There, you can see runways, aircraft on the runways, etc. The magnification is pretty high. Since Area 51 is clearly marked on aeronautical charts as a prohibited (flight) area, regardless of altitude. No pilot would fly in that airspace without significant consequences, unless they had a clearance to do so.

[Aside]In Cecil’s mail last week, someone asked why the Great Wall of China is called that, when it’s made out of bricks.[/aside] ::: duck :::

In the mid-to-late 1990s, Geographer Denis Wood wrote a very interesting chapter, in his book The Power of Maps, about the digital processing that went into the “Earth as viewed from Space” illustrations, including the “Night” one with the famously dark North Korea. The discussion is in the context of how few of us realize how much human massaging even the most “natural-looking” image requires, let alone any “authoritative-looking” map where all kinds of decisions had to be made about what to include and how to show it.

Sorry, but it is correct. As another poster mentioned, it’s obvious what parts of GE or GM are air photos vs. what parts are sat. images – even though there is variation in resolution within those two categories.

I can’t speak to the specific example you mention, but I’m sure that, generally speaking, the same national governments which fund full-coverage aerial photography projects (among other things, from which to create public-domain topographic maps) will allow any temporary variances from their own aeronautical laws and regulations necessary to complete those projects.

(This isn’t to say that some sensitive details don’t occasionally get altered or obscured before the photos or maps are made available to the public. But nothing as big as a runway. These days, especially, that kind of thing wouldn’t work for very long…even India has had a great worldwide high-res sat imagery available for sale since 15 years ago.)