What is this weird pattern of streets in China? (Google Maps)

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. :confused:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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)

They do not appear on the Yahoo maps image of the same area.

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.

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??

Directly west is more and it looks like bombs have been dropped on it. Im voting military related, especially if its related to this:

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&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=40.489205,93.500184&sll=40.489398,93.500326&sspn=0.0039,0.006899&g=40.489205,93.500184&ie=UTF8&t=k&ll=40.490998,93.510352&spn=0.002513,0.004292&z=18

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…

The cell seems to be 1.3 x 1.95km (approx) rather than the 1km x 1.8km of the mystery pattern.

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:


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.

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 -

and following the ‘roads’ mostly west from there, is -

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?

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.

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.

Don’t you people get it? The Chinese are communicating with aliens!

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!