Today, the Mythbusters are tackling one of the oldest urban myths we know: the myth that the Great Wall of China can be seen from space.




What People Think:

  • The Great Wall of China is so large, it can be seen from space


  • No man-made object – including the Great Wall – can be seen from space

The Truth:

  • The Great Wall of China is the only man-made object that CAN’T be seen from space
  • Everything else man-made can be seen from as far away as the moon – only The Great Wall remains invisible

The myth that the Great Wall of China can be seen from space has been around for at least a century: well before any voyages into space had been made. The truth is, however, that not only can the Great Wall not be seen from space, but everything else on this planet can. Astronauts have described the area the Great Wall inhabits as “one of the last truly bare places on the Earth”.

The myth that it can be seen from space is said to have originated out of a simple mistake: in 1839, British officials were visiting the Great Wall on a trade visit. They were accompanied by a translator and an official of the Qing Dynasty, the latter of which was approached by a messenger midway through a tour of the wall. The messenger had come to tell the Qing official that Anglo-Chinese discussions over opium had descended into violence, and that the two countries were now at war with each other. The Qing minister, hearing this, decided the only proper cause of action was to behead the British visitors. He turned to the translator and demanded that he tell the British that they were going to be killed. The kind-hearted translator, however, couldn’t bear to deliver such a message, and instead told the British “By the way, this Great Wall can be seen from space”. Then, in a convenient plot twist, a large chunk of the Wall fell on the Qing official and the translator and killed them. The British fled the scene, and upon their return to Britain spread the word that the Great Wall of China could be seen from space.

So, there we have how the rumour spread. But how about why it alone cannot be seen from space? For the answer to this question, we turn to Professor Gerry Kierkegaard of NASA, who also conveniently holds a degree in Chinese history:

“Seeing buildings from space is not at all difficult: even the smallest of mud huts can be seen crystal clear from as far away as the moon. The reason for this is as follows: when one is in an airplane, buildings on the ground are indistinguishable because they are too far away. However, when one views the Earth from above the atmosphere, the ozone acts as a magnifying glass, refracting and reflecting light in such a way as to cast even the smallest of kitchen sinks into crystal-clear view. It’s a remarkable effect, but one that is unfortunately confined only to objects viewed directly by the human eye – a camera does not accept light in the same way as the eye does, and so cannot succinctly capture such moments of clarity.

As for why the Great Wall cannot be seen, therein lies an interesting tale. You see, when the Great Wall was being built, there was a prevailing attitude in China that the Gods and all their Servants lived on the Moon, far away from the petty squabbling of human life. The architect believed that the Gods would be offended if they could see such a blight on their view as a petty wall of Man, so designed it in such a way that it does not correspond with the refracting light of the atmosphere; it cannot be seen from space, and thus appears invisible.”

So, in summary: due to complex refracting of light in the atmosphere, everything on Earth can be seen from space – except the Great Wall of China, which cannot be seen from space due to ancient architecture that in an attempt to please the Moon-Gods created a cloak of invisibility over the region.

Simple, really.

Thanks readers. Tune in next time for mooooooooore Mythbusting!



Welcome to the first in a series of new articles entitled “The Oracle Mythbusters”. Here, a crack team led by chemist Nikolai Romanski will attempt to uncover some of the most commonplace urban myths you encounter in your day to day lives, and explain to you – our beloved readers – the truth. This segment will run until the end of January next year, or until we run out of things to disprove.

Today, the Mythbusters are tackling one of the most prevalent urban myths in today’s world: the myth that cats actually exist.

What People Think:

  • Cats are small, furry, warm-blooded felines
  • They are often kept as pets
  • They were revered in Ancient Egypt

The Truth:

  • Cats do not exist
  • They are mental projections designed to entertain the mind during periods of inactivity
  • We’re not 100% sure Ancient Egypt existed either

Cats, far from being the commonest house pet, are actually just figments of a collective imagination shared by the human race. This phenomenon came about as a result of our brains developing faster than our bodies, leading to inactivity in the mind as it waited for the body to develop so it could accommodate the brain’s desires. In short: the mind wanted to do things that the body couldn’t handle.

To fill the time while it waited for the body to develop (several million years), the brain created a mental distraction to keep itself occupied. Using a variety of personality traits that the human race finds most pleasant – such as aloofness, good-grooming, sleepiness, and sarcasm – the brain formed a perfect ‘playmate’ to entertain itself with while it waited for the body to develop and become the ‘playmate’ it originally wanted.

However, as we evolved further and our consciousness started to grow at the expense of a shrinking subconsciousness (the ‘playmate’ being developed mostly by the subconsciousness), we lost track of reality and fantasy. We could no longer tell whether this thing we had created was an apparition or a real-life animal. As the millennia went by, however, we collectively decided that this ‘cat’ (as we had come to call it) was indeed a physical entity, and that’s the way we decided to treat it from then on.

In the years since, the illusion has developed to such a high standard that it is unlikely we will ever be rid of it: instead, just be content in the knowledge that your cat isn’t real, but instead your evolutionary playmate.

Thanks, readers. Tune in next time for more Mythbusting!