Objects on Earth visible from space: The Great Wall of China, Palm Islands and many, many more!

There are many spectacular sights to see from space stations orbiting the Earth, from giant creations of nature to mysterious atmospheric phenomena to massive man-made structures. Learn about the most interesting objects on Earth visible from space and those around which only myths have grown.

Great Wall of China

[NASA/GSFC/MITI/ERSDAC/JAROS and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

The Great Wall of China reached its familiar form in the 15th century thanks to the efforts of representatives of the Ming Dynasty. Since 1987 it has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List and in 2007 it was named one of the seven new wonders of the world.

These fortifications stretch for as long as 2,400 km, which has helped spread the popular myth that the Great Wall of China can be seen with the naked eye from space. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The structure is too narrow and blends in too much with its surroundings to be visible from such a distance. From time to time, however, there are reports that it can be seen from Earth’s orbit, but these, too, are pushed by people who have had the opportunity to experience looking at the Earth from such a perspective. The only opportunity to admire the Great Wall of China from above is by flying in a passenger plane — but don’t expect a spectacular view, as it is barely noticeable then.

Garbage Island

[Photo: L. Lebreton, B. Slat, F. Ferrari, B. Sainte-Rose, J. Aitken, R. Marthouse, S. Hajbane, S. Cunsolo, A. Schwarz, A. Levivier, K. Noble, P. Debeljak, H. Maral, R. Schoeneich-Argent, R. Brambini, and J. Reisser, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is far more visible from space than the Great Wall of China. However, this should be no cause for rejoicing — it is estimated that the mass of the drifting cluster of plastic waste is around 100 million tons, with an area of over 1.6 million km²!

The floating debris poses a huge threat to animals living in the ocean’s skies. Many of them mistake the floating plastic for food, which eventually leads to their death. It is estimated that more than one million birds and 100,000 mammals per year die as a result of ingesting plastic waste.

As with the Great Wall of China, there is controversy over whether the Pacific Garbage Patch can actually be seen from space. Oceana, a group that works to protect the oceans, claims that the phenomenon cannot be seen from a space station because it is not a compact mass.

Great Barrier Reef

[Photo: Douglas H. Wheelock, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

The Great Barrier Reef in Australia is the largest living organism in the world! It is a wonder that can be seen with the naked eye from space. From this perspective, the fabulous colors of the reef are not discernible — the structure looks more like a white streak against the blue ocean, but it is still clearly visible.

Its width varies from 2 to 150 km in different places and the total length is estimated at 2600km. A significant number of species living within the Great Barrier Reef are threatened with extinction. Among them is the largest known animal in the history of the Earth — the blue whale.

The reef has functioned as a marine park since 1975 and has been protected since 1981. It has also been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since then.

Pyramids of Giza

[NASA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

The complex of tombs was created by the ancient Egyptians about 4500 years ago and is visited by tens of thousands of tourists from all over the world every year.

From space perspective, the human eye is able to see all three structures, but the most impressive is the Great Pyramid of Pharaoh Cheops.

Grand Canyon

[Photo: NASA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

The Grand Canyon is located in Arizona in the United States of America — it is 446 m long and reaches a depth of 1,600 m. It is impossible to explore all its nooks and crannies during one visit. Astronauts, however, do not have this problem — they can see the whole complex from space.

This largest canyon in the world is one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.

Palm Islands in Dubai

[Photo: NASA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

This artificial archipelago was the idea of Dubai’s Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum to attract more tourists to the city. He wanted to triple the number of visitors, but Dubai’s very short coastline was an obstacle to this idea — it was feared that potential visitors would cancel their trip if they could not book an apartment with a view of the water. The formation of artificial islands was to make the United Arab Emirates the most popular and luxurious tourist destination in the world. The Sheikh’s plan has been a success. The number of tourists who visit Dubai every year has increased from 5 to 15 million!

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