Claim: The Great Wall of China is the only man-made object visible from the moon.
Origins: The claim
that China’s Great Wall is the only
If we take “space” to mean a low Earth orbit such as the one traveled by the Space Shuttle (roughly
Human Interactions section) shows that pictures taken from low orbit reveal human-built structures such as highways, airports, bridges, dams, and components of the Kennedy Space Center. Secondly, even though other objects are visible at this distance, according to Shuttle astronaut Jay Apt, the Great Wall is barely discernable, if not invisible:
We look for the Great Wall of China. Although we can see things as small as airport runways, the Great Wall seems to be made largely of materials that have the same color as the surrounding soil. Despite persistent stories that it can be seen from the moon, the Great Wall is almost invisible from only
An object that can barely be seen from a height of
The only thing you can see from the moon is a beautiful sphere, mostly white (clouds), some blue (ocean), patches of yellow (deserts), and every once in a while some green vegetation. No man-made object is visible on this scale. In fact, when first leaving earth’s orbit and only a few thousand miles away, no man-made object is visible at that point either.”
(The Great Wall of China can be discerned in radar images taken from space, but not in ordinary photographs.)
Where did this belief come from? The exact source is unknown, but an important citing comes from Richard Halliburton’s Second Book of Marvels, the Orient,
published in 1938, which states that “Astronomers say that the Great Wall is the only man-made thing on our planet visible to the human eye from the moon.” Halliburton was an adventurer-lecturer whose travel writings were extremely popular and sold quite well during the first half of the twentieth century (and who wasn’t above spinning tall tales in order to enthrall an audience), and if he himself wasn’t the originator of this factoid, he undoubtedly helped it to spread widely.
An even earlier source, Henry Norman’s 1904 The People and Politics of the Far East states: “Besides its age it enjoys the reputation of being the only work of human hands on the globe visible from the moon.”
Whatever its source, since the Great Wall claim antedates man’s launching of satellites (and thereby the possibility of photography from space) by decades, it was not the outgrowth of a misinterpreted photograph taken by satellite or a manned space mission. The Great Wall of China extends for some
Last updated: 19 July 2014
Apt, Jay. Orbit: NASA Astronauts Photograph the Earth. National Geographic Society, 1996. ISBN 0-792-23714-5. Burnam, Tom. More Misinformation. New York: Lippincott & Crowell, 1980. ISBN 0-690-01685-9 (p. 100). Halliburton, Richard. Second Book of Marvels, the Orient. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1938. Norman, Henry. The People and Politics of the Far East. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1904. (p. 215). Pogue, William R. How Do You Go to the Bathroom in Space? New York: Tor Books, 1991. ISBN 0-312-87295-X.