Fact or Fiction: The Great Wall of China is one of the seven modern wonders of the world and is China’s most famous monument. It’s the go-to destination for all foreign tourists in the land of the dragon.
However, the Great Wall of China, which spans a humongous length of 21,196 km, is often said to be the only man-made structure visible from space. This view has been prevalent for nearly a century and has become such common knowledge that it’s taught in GK and school books as a fact.
Today, we put this belief to the test. Dive in to find out whether the view that the great wall of China is visible from space is fact or fiction.
The Great Wall of China, a modern Wonder of the World
The Great Wall of China, the world’s largest military defence structure, was built over 2000 years ago by the Qin Empire of China to defend itself against the Huns in the north. The wall was later extended, strengthened, or restored by following empires and once spanned over 21,000 km in length.
Today, the longest and best-preserved section of the wall runs 8,850 km and was constructed during the reign of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). The Great Wall of China is of tremendous importance to China. It has become a symbol of unification of the country, representing the valour and fight of Chinese empires against invading northern tribes.
Why is it believed that Great Wall of China is visible from Space?
The belief that the Great Wall of China can be seen from space has existed for nearly 300 years. In 1754, English scientist and antiquarian Rev. William Stukeley first suggested that the Great Wall of China may be visible from the Moon due to its gigantic length.
Similarly, in the 19th century, famed Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli observed large channels on Mars, which were mistranslated into English as "canals." This led to the belief that Martian structures seen from the Earth were artificial constructions and that if they were visible here, then giant structures on Earth, like the Great Wall of China, would also be seen from space.
However, the mainstream prevalence of the notion of the Great Wall of China being visible from space was sparked by a 1932 Ripley’s Believe It or Not! illustration. It called the Wall "the mightiest work of man, the only one that would be visible to the human eye from the moon," without any proof to back the claims. And thus, the presumption that the Great Wall of China is the only man-made creation that can be seen from space originated.
Image Source: photography of China
Can the Great Wall of China be seen from Moon?
Finally, we address the core issue at hand. Is the Great Wall of China visible from space or the Moon? The answer isn’t so straightforward, but in plain terms, it’s a big "No!"
NASA’s Apollo mission disproved the notion. Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon, was asked in numerous interviews if he saw the wall. Armstrong apparently saw no man-made structures from the lunar surface and only saw continents, lakes and scattered spots of white on blue.
The Apollo 12 Lunar Module Pilot and the fourth person to walk on the Moon, Alan Bean, similarly said: "The only thing you can see from the Moon is a beautiful sphere, mostly white, some blue and patches of yellow, and every once in a while some green vegetation. No man-made object is visible at this scale."
Is the Great Wall of China visible from Space?
We’ve proved that the Great Wall of China can’t be seen from the Moon, but what about space in general or lower Earth orbit? The answer is still no. China’s own astronaut, Yang Liwei, the first Chinese man in space, debunked the myth in 2003 when he admitted that he didn’t see the Great Wall. Liwei's statement on the Great Wall link to outer space had such a huge impact in China that textbooks stating the opposite were ordered to be revised.
Celebrated Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and former commander of the Internation Space Station has also said that he didn't see the Great Wall of China from space.
In 2004, NASA astronaut Leroy Chiao recorded a photo of the Great Wall of China from the International Space Station (408 km from Earth) under favourable conditions, which showed the wall. However, only due to magnification, less cloud cover, little to no pollution and snow in the nearby region is the wall even remotely visible from outer space. And even then, high resolution cameras and advanced telescopes are required.
Moreover, the wall is the same color as its surrounding in most parts of China and isn't situated at a high enough altitude, like Mt. Everest, to stand out, making it hard to locate the wall from outer space and that too against the same contrasts. It's virtually impossible to see the Great Wall of China with the naked eye from outer space without magnification, much less the Moon or any other celestial body.
The following image was taken from the ISS in 2004 and shows the visible sections of the Great Wall of China. Ask yourself, do you see a giant wall?
Even with the arrows pointing to the supposedly visible section of the Great Wall of China, it's extremely difficult to see it.
Image Source: NASA
The Great Wall of China is a marvellous architectural feat no doubt, but that fact holds no weight beyond the Earth. In the vastness of space, the Wall, like most of Earth’s structures, is but a tiny speck. However, it is possible to see the Great Wall of China from space (low Earth orbit) through magnification and under favourable conditions. But that isn't saying much, since cameras today can capture a person mowing their lawn from hundreds of miles out in the space. Hence, we can conclude that the belief that the Great Wall of China is the only man-made structure visible from space or the moon is fiction.
Is the Great Wall of China visible from outer space?
No, the Great Wall of China is not visible from space, at least not with the naked eye. It takes special instruments, magnification, favourable environmental conditions, and high-resolution cameras to even get a glimpse of the Great Wall of China. Even then, many astronauts haven’t been able to identify it accurately.
Can the Great Wall of China be seen from the Moon?
No man-made structure can be seen from the Moon, including the Great Wall of China. The Moon is 384,400 km away from Earth, and at that distance, no artificial structures are visible. Only the continents, clouds, and oceans can be seen. The Great Wall of China is barely visible from low earth orbit (2,000 km) and the ISS (420 km), and even that can't be achieved without magnification.
Which man-made objects can be seen from space?
The Pyramids of Giza, the artificial islands of Dubai, the greenhouses of Almeria, Spain, and city lights are some human-made creations visible from outer space without magnification.