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article imageExpert says Chinese Gobi Desert structures spy satellite targets

By JohnThomas Didymus     Nov 16, 2011 in Technology
Beijing - After a Google Maps satellite spotted a series of mysterious structures located in Gobi Desert areas that China uses for military, space and nuclear industrial activity, the Internet came alive with speculation on what they might represent.
Based on the proximity of the strange structures to Jiuquan, the headquarters of China's space program, most speculations have suggested that the structures have space/military significance. All sorts of suggestions have been made about what the structures might represent.
The Daily Mail says some people have been trying to overlay the strange structures on to various U.S. city maps. But significantly, most of the speculation is based on worries that reflect the anxiety in the West, particularly in the U.S., about China's growing military might and technological expertise.
A close up of the site, according to The Daily Mail, shows planes and burnt-out trucks. This has increased speculations about what sort of facilities these mysterious structures might represent.
According to PCMag.com, one of the images represents huge structures in areas north of the Shule River. The image is a rectangular grid that looks like a map of city streets without the buildings. The structure is about a mile long and 3,000 feet wide. Some have said it is a replica of the streets of Washington D.C. A second image taken north of the Shule River is also of a grid structure but is littered with debris of exploded vehicles. Some alien and UFO enthusiasts have speculated that the images have connections with alien life. Is this China's version of Area 51?
Other images are even more bizarre, PCMag.com says. There is one made up of squares more than 18 miles long and another that has three jets in the middle with debris radiating out from the center with some unidentified buildings. Another is reported to look like an airport.
Space.com says that Jonathan Hill, research technician and mission planner at the Mars Space Flight Facility at Arizona State University, claims that the structures are spy satellite calibration targets. According to Jonathan Hill,
"Satellite cameras focus on the grids, which measure approximately 0.65 miles wide by 1.15 miles long, and use them to orient themselves in space."
Hill says we should not be surprised if China is using the structures to calibrate its spy satellites. According to Hill, the U.S. also has calibration targets. Space.com quotes Hill describing details of the structures:
''The 65-foot-wide white lines that make up the grids are not made of reflective metal as many news sites have suggested. '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."
The size of the calibration targets, according to Hill, suggests that the Chinese spy satellite cameras have relatively poor ground resolution.
The structures with fighter jets parked at the center, according to Hill, are calibration targets for orbital radar instruments. These structures can help China's military learn how to hide their military operations from other countries with spy satellites. Hill concludes:
"I think we're seeing some sort of military zone/test range, which explains the large amount of equipment and technology in an otherwise remote area. Sometimes the truth can be just as interesting, if not more so, than the conspiracies that people come up with."
More about Gobi desert, Google maps, spy satellite calibration, China
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