Is The Great Wall Of China Really Visible From Space?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Is The Great Wall Of China Really Visible From Space?

Travelers are especially fond of soaking up arcane facts about the world we live in, like which country has the most lakes (Finland), or what year the Coliseum was completed (80 A.D.), and then subsequently arguing over whether that statement is actually right or not (are we talking about freshwater lakes or just regular lakes, and what size of body of water constitutes a lake?).

But one “fact” that seems to be repeated over and over but which doesn’t seem to get much objection to is the old adage: The Great Wall of China is the only man-made object visible from space. Seems like a fun fact, given that the wall dates back to the 5th century B.C. What, we humans are so indept that we haven’t bothered to create anything as vast and important in that time period?

NASA decided to tackle the question by asking who else but an actual Chinese astronaut who could provide first-hand knowledge as to what you can and can’t see while being hurled around the Earth at 17,000 mph. Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei nearly sent his country into convulsions when he declared that he could not make out the wall from his view from outer space.

Thankfully, a short time later, Leroy Chiao, another Chinese astronaut, decided to give it a go while orbiting over Inner Mongolia after what had been a snowy day back on Terra Firma. Using a 180mm lens on his digital camera, Chiao snapped shots of the wall in all its glory. Turns out, given the Great Wall was built of Earthen materials, from space it tends to bleed into its surrounding environment. But when viewed on a sunny date following a snowfall, its distinct shape was able to stand out, and the Great Wall was indeed visible from space. Phew.

However, that’s actually not all you can see from space. Cue Debbie Downer Kamlesh P. Lulla, NASA’s chief scientist for Earth observation at Johnson Space Center, who — when he’s not lecturing Kindergartners about the unlikelihood that the country’s fiscal safety nets will be solvent by their retirement ages — notes that you can see plenty from space. Cities at night are clearly visible, as are “cities . . . during the day too, as [well as] major roadways and bridges, airports, dams and reservoirs.”

Most, like the Great Wall, are technically barely if not at all visible using solely the naked eye, but visible nevertheless.

By Matt Stabile



Matt Stabile Bio PictureMatt Stabile is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of You can read his writings, watch his travel videos, purchase the book he co-edited or contact him via email at any time at (@TheExpeditioner)

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