Google Earth Or Out Of This World?


By Nick Pope

Internet forums are buzzing with talk of bizarre, futuristic-looking structures that have been found in a remote part of China. But what are they? Lost cities? Secret military bases? Might there even be a connection with UFOs and aliens?

The modern day explorers who have found these weird objects are not brave adventurers in the style of Indiana Jones. Neither are they more highbrow heroes like Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon, cracking the Da Vinci Code. These are ordinary people, sitting at home, in front of their computers, using Google Earth to search for discoveries that they believe might change the world.

Google Earth was launched in 2005 and uses a mixture of satellite images and aerial photographs to offer users a window on the world. The program is immensely popular and has been downloaded over a billion times. At first, people used it to look for things like their house, school or place of work. After that, the focus shifted to famous buildings and landmarks. But then people realised that they could use it to take a look at places they’d never normally be able to visit, such as secret military bases. In a society where people are worried about Big Brother and the so-called ‘surveillance society’, suddenly everyone could become a spy themselves and turn the tables on the powers that be.

Even before Google Earth, people occasionally spotted something strange on an aerial photograph. The most famous case involved a structure that some people believe to be the remains of Noah’s Ark. In 1959 the Turkish Air Force were taking photos as part of a mapping survey. One of the images showed a strange shape that looked like the remains of a boat. In later years, various researchers claimed that this might be Noah’s Ark. According to the biblical story, God destroyed the world in a flood because people were evil, but instructed Noah to build a ship and fill it with two animals of every species. According to the story, the ark came to rest on a mountain, which many believe to be Mount Ararat in Turkey, near where the 1959 picture was taken. Another aerial photo in the same area shows a second structure, labelled the “Ararat Anomaly”. This picture was taken by a US spy plane, fuelling more conspiracy theories.

When Google Earth was first launched, excited UFO hunters used it to focus on locations such as the super-secretive base known as Area 51. Part of Edwards Air Force Base in Nevada, this is where many believe the wreckage of an alien spacecraft that supposedly crashed in Roswell in 1947 was taken. There are many different theories about Area 51. Some believe the Roswell UFO was ‘back-engineered’ here, so that the US Government could build and test-fly its own UFOs. Others claim aliens are working alongside American scientists on this project, while others think that Area 51 is where secret projects into time travel and teleportation are carried out. Google Earth hasn’t verified any of these claims, but conspiracy theorists have a theory about that too: once Area 51 was widely known (there’s a fictional portrayal of the base in the 1996 sci-fi blockbuster Independence Day) the secret projects were moved elsewhere.

Recently, the focus has moved away from Area 51 and onto a number of weird structures in the Gobi desert in China. What is going on in this remote and desolate area?

One structure looks like a giant spider’s web. Is it a man-made crop circle? Have Chinese scientists cracked the code and is this an attempt to establish communication with aliens? Sceptics point out that military aircraft in the centre of this weird pattern make it more likely that this is some military experiment to do with stealth aircraft that are invisible to radar.

A bright, silvery-blue coloured runway many times longer than a normal landing strip has also spawned conspiracy theories. While intelligence experts suspect this is something to do with China’s space program, or a secret, prototype aircraft, some ufologists think this is China’s version of Area 51 and speculate that the Chinese may also possess crashed UFOs, or be working with aliens.

Another image captures what looks like a second, more elaborate runway, but there are two problems with the runway theory. Firstly, the sheer size of this thing – four times longer than a normal runway. What on earth (or maybe elsewhere!) would need something that big? Secondly, the brightness of the colour – it looks reflective, but why would you build a shiny runway? It’s a genuine mystery.

Another structure consists of 16 massive squares, in four rows and four columns that themselves form an even larger square. Some of these structures seem to have suffered bomb damage, which suggests that this is a weapons-testing facility, but the conspiracy theories won’t go away. Some people have even suggested that patterns like this may be part of a lost city – the remains of some previously unknown civilisation.

The most bizarre patterns consist of white grids. What makes them so remarkable is the sheer size – some of these patterns are nearly 20 miles long – and the fact that they’re in the middle of nowhere. One conspiracy theory suggests that these grids are representations of US cities, being used as training grounds for an invasion. Some people have even tried to overlay these images with US street maps, in attempts to find a match.

One massive grid-like pattern resembles a maze or a jigsaw. Experts disagree about this. One analyst thought they might be targets for spy satellites, so that they can be calibrated. Another disagreed and said that all you'd need to do this would be a simple structure like a cross, not something as big and complex as this.

Maybe these patterns are being created as part of some bizarre psychological warfare plot to make other countries fearful that China has developed some new super-weapon. Maybe it's just designed to tie up Western spy agencies in hours of speculation. It's even been suggested that the patterns are a hoax - an immense practical joke.

While the debate about these structures continues, the search for the weird and the wonderful is moving even further afield. Google Moon and Google Mars now enable people to take their search beyond Planet Earth. UFO and conspiracy forums claim that artificial structures can be seen there, too. But that’s another story!

A slightly edited version of this article was published in The Sun on 9th December 2011 on the centre pages.