Google Earth: Photos Reveal Mysterious Sand Dune Shapes

Taklamakan Desert Dunes

(Image credit: Kiwi Mikex | Flickr)

The sand dunes of the Western Chinese Taklamakan desert were once filled with caravans traveling the Silk Road.

China's Taklamakan Desert

(Image credit: Kiwi Mikex | Flickr)

Though little remains, several kingdoms arose in the desert to support the Silk Road trade

Taklamakan Desert From Space

(Image credit: The Real Kvass | Flickr)

In 2010, physicist and amateur archaeologist Amelia Carolina Sparavigna began looking for traces of these lost kingdoms in satellite images

Sand Dune Pattern

grid pattern in china desert

(Image credit: Amelia Carolina Sparavigna)

In the dunes, she found a mysterious grid of dots laid out like a chessboard. The patterns spanned 4.8 miles (8 kilometers) across

Sand Dune Pattern Up Close

(Image credit: Amelia Carolina Sparavigna)

By looking at old satellite images and news reports, Sparavigna learned that large nickel reserves had been found in the area. She deduced that the strange dots were drilling holes for geological surveys done before mining

Faint Dots

Another Google Earth view of the strange grid patterns found in China's desert.

(Image credit: Google Earth)

Another Google Earth view of the strange grid patterns found in China's desert.

Pattern Emerges

grid pattern in china desert

(Image credit: Google Earth)

A closer view of the desert pattern reveals what appears as bands of dots.