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Can you really see the Great Wall of China from the Moon?

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Can you really see the Great Wall of China from the Moon?

It is one of the greatest urban myths that astronauts can see the Great Wall of China from the surface of the Moon. They cannot.

Astronaut Michael Collins in his book Liftoff (1988) wrote that there is a false notion that the Great Wall of China is visible from the Moon. Collins orbited the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.

Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong has stated many times that the Great Wall is "definitely not visible from the Moon". Apollo 8 and 13 astronaut Jim Lovell made very careful observations and says that "the claim is absurd". Apollo 15 astronaut Jim Irwin has said that seeing the Great Wall from the Moon "is out of the question".

Fellow Astronaut William Pogue orbited the Earth in the Skylab Space Station in 1973 to 1974. The altitude was about 300 miles (482.8 kilometres) above Earth. Pogue wrote in his book, How do you go to the bathroom in Space? (1991) that he could see the Great Wall of China from the space station, but he needed binoculars to do so.

Astronaut Jay Apt orbited the Earth a total of 562 times on four Space Shuttle missions from 1991 to 1996. Apt wrote in the November, 1996 National Geographic: "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 180 miles up!"

The Great Wall of China is only about 20 feet (about 6 metres) in width. That is not a big target to see from the Moon - an average of 238,855 miles (384,400 kms) away!

Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to s.juan@edfac.usyd.edu.au

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