Can You See The Great Wall Of China From Space?

Can You See The Great Wall Of China From Space?

One enduring myth about the Great Wall of China is that it’s the sole artificial structure visible from space. This myth emerged in 1938 when space travel was not a reality.

However, astronauts who’ve journeyed into space have debunked this claim, asserting they couldn’t discern the Great Wall from their celestial vantage point. Various reasons challenge the long-standing belief and why it isn’t as easy today as it was years ago to see the Great Wall of China from space.

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Can You See The Great Wall Of China From Space? Debunking A Persistent Myth

Since time immemorial, stories and myths have played a pivotal role in shaping our beliefs, sometimes so profoundly that we accept them as truth without a second thought. One enduring myth claims that the Great Wall of China is the only man-made structure visible from space. But how did this idea come to be, and is there any validity to it?

The Genesis Of The Myth

The first recorded mention of this myth dates back to 1938, well before humans ventured into space. Richard Halliburton’s book “Second Book of Marvels – The Orient” claims that the Great Wall is the only man-made object visible from the moon with the naked eye.

Richard Halliburton’s 1938 book said this about the Great Wall of China:

Astronomers say that the Great Wall is the only man-made thing on our planet visible to the human eye from the moon.

Richard Halliburton – Second Book of Marvels – The Orient

It’s curious how such a statement could be made in an era when space travel was still a distant dream. And how even an astronomer who had never been to space could even say they could see the Great Wall of China from space, much less the moon.

Halliburton and others would have known of the famous Great Wall of China. So, one could attribute its origin to being seen from space to the generosity of the Great Wall itself.

The Great Wall stretches over 13,000 miles; the wall is undeniably impressive. I remember when, in 1986, we were traveling by train from Xian to Urumqi. China; all along our train route, we could see sections of the Great Wall of China off in the distance.

The wall was often broken down but just a few hundred meters away from our train tracks; other times, it was further in the distance, but that illustrated to me how long and massive the Great Wall of China was.

That is why when you consider the length of the wall and its historical importance, architectural brilliance, and the sheer human effort required to build it, the idea that it might be visible from space doesn’t seem too far-fetched. But therein lies the danger of conflating emotional significance with physical visibility.

Astronauts Weigh Into Seeing The Great Wall Of China

The actual test came with space exploration. If anyone could debunk the myth, it would be those who’d seen Earth from the beyond. This question naturally arose as early astronauts ventured into space and the Moon. And the consensus?

You typically can’t see the Great Wall of China from space, at least not with the naked eye.

Great Wall of China View From Space
The image capturing a portion of Inner Mongolia, approximately 200 miles north of Beijing, was snapped from the International Space Station on November 24, 2004. A yellow arrow in the photo indicates a location est
imated at 42.5N 117.4E where the wall can be seen. Red arrows highlight other segments of the wall that are also visible. Photo courtesy of NASA.

In 1965, astronaut Ed White couldn’t spot it from Gemini 4. Similarly, in 2003, Yang Liwei, China’s first astronaut, stated that he couldn’t see the Great Wall from space, further shaking the myth’s foundation.

Moreover, when astronauts like Eugene Cernan and Jay Apt viewed Earth from the vantage point of space, they attested to seeing natural features like oceans, continents, and even large cities more readily than the Great Wall.

Three Possible Avenues Of Visibility

Great Wall of China View From Space
Great Wall of China View From Space

While the naked eye might not discern the Great Wall from the vastness of space, there are specific circumstances under which one could potentially glimpse this magnificent structure:

  1. From Low Earth Orbit with Aid: The International Space Station (ISS) orbits Earth at about 420 kilometers. From this vantage point, seeing the Wall under perfect conditions with binoculars or cameras with powerful zoom lenses is possible. However, distinguishing the Wall from natural formations or roads can be challenging. Part of this can be that large sections of the wall are crumbling.
  2. Optimal Lighting and Atmospheric Conditions: Like any photograph, the proper lighting can make a difference. If the Sun casts shadows on the Wall at just the right angle, and if atmospheric conditions are apparent, it might momentarily enhance its visibility. However, such moments are fleeting and rare.
  3. Modern Imaging Technology: Today, satellites equipped with high-resolution cameras can capture intricate details on Earth’s surface, including the Great Wall. So, technically, we can ‘see’ the Great Wall from space, but through the mediation of technology rather than the human eye.

The Coloration And Pollution Factor

Another significant reason the Great Wall is less visible from space is its coloration. The wall is made of earthy materials that closely resemble the natural terrain of northern China. It doesn’t stand out like, for instance, the greenhouses of Almeria in Spain, which are readily visible from space due to their distinct, reflective characteristics.

Moreover, the increasing pollution levels over parts of China and the world can further reduce visibility. Smog and atmospheric haze scatter sunlight, making surface details like the Great Wall even harder to discern.

Unfortunately, the belief that the Great Wall of China is visible from space with the naked eye is more myth than reality. Like many myths, its origins are rooted in admiration for the marvel it celebrates, but when scrutinized with scientific evidence, it doesn’t hold up.

However, this in no way diminishes the Wall’s historical and architectural significance. Whether seen from a mountaintop, an airplane, or through the lens of a satellite camera, the Great Wall remains an enduring symbol of human ingenuity, perseverance, and our eternal desire to leave a mark long after we’re gone.

Listen To Our Podcast About Mythbusters Of The Cosmos: Can You See The Great Wall Of China From Space? Below or by clicking here.

Mythbusters Of The Cosmos: Can You See The Great Wall Of China From Space?

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Where Does The Great Wall Of China End?

The Great Wall ends at what is known as the Jianyu Pass; this Jianyu Pass is the westernmost part of the Great Wall and also was known as the “First and Greatest Pass Under Heaven.” Some called it is the gates at the Jianyu Pass, the Gate of Travelers, and the Gate of Sighs.

You can learn more by reading Where Does The Great Wall Of China End? by clicking here.

How Long Did It Take to Build the Whole Great Wall of China?

The Great Wall of China took over 2,000 years to build. The building span over many Chinese Dynasties or for about 22 centuries. The construction of the wall ended in the Ming Dynasty in 1644. The Great Wall is one of the most significant human-made construction projects globally; the Great Wall is over 21,196 kilometers or 13,171 miles. There are over 25,000 watchtowers scattered throughout the Great Wall structure.

To know more about How Long Did It Take to Build the Whole Great Wall of China? by clicking here.

Are There Dead Bodies Inside The Great Wall Of China?

Bodies would not have been buried right into the wall, but they could have been buried in the earth near and even under the wall. They would not have put them right into the wall, as it would have caused structural damage when the bodies decomposed. The bodies are probably buried right by the wall, under some stone, and other slabs.

You can learn more by reading Are There Dead Bodies Inside The Great Wall Of China? by clicking here.