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Mysterious Google Earth images may be Chinese satellite targets

November 17, 2011 |  2:01 pm

Gobi Desert

Has someone found the answer to the mystery of the curious Google Earth images of the Gobi Desert?

That's what Fox News implied when it ran this headline on its website Thursday:  "Google Maps Mystery Actually Spy Satellite Targets, Expert Says."

Ah, so it wasn't the remnants of an alien civilization after all.

The story cited the analysis of Jonathon Hill, a research technician at the Mars Space Flight Facility at Arizona State University, who told a website called Life's Little Mysteries that the strange lines were probably painted onto the land surface and used to calibrate China's spy satellites.

"They have gaps in them where they cross little natural drainage channels and the lines themselves are not perfectly filled in, with lots of little streaks and uneven coverage. I think it's safe to say these are some kind of paint," Hill said. He noted that if the lines were made of white dust or chalk, the wind would have caused them to streak visibly.

For an opinion on this theory, we called Brian Weeden, who works on space policy and security issues for the nonprofit Secure World Foundation.

According to Weeden, the Chinese satellite target theory explains some, but not all, of the werid images.

"It seems plausible that at least some of them would be targets -- especially the one that looks like a big bull's eye," he said. "But some of them look pretty crazy."

And that one with the weird lines? "That one with all the lines is really weird. I have no idea what that could be," he said.

As Weeden pointed out, the image is deceptive because it doesn't give a good sense of scale. But those weird lines are huge. The grid is 0.65 miles wide by 1.15 miles long.

And so the mystery lives on.

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-- Deborah Netburn

 Image: A screen grab from Google Earth showing coordinates 40.452107,93.742118.

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