Patterico's Pontifications


Tim Rutten: Why, You Can See the Great Wall of China and the California Aqueduct from the MOON!!!!!!

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 8:58 pm

Tim Rutten, cut by the Los Angeles Times, is now spewing his nonsense at the Daily Breeze, the South Bay paper that many read as alternative to the nonsense put out by the Dog Trainer. Fact-checking was never Rutten’s strong suit, and it looks like he slipped one by the editors:

Think California’s recent rain storms solved the state’s water crisis?

Well, they didn’t, and to understand why, you have to go beyond the uncertainties of our state’s climate and into our unique — often confounding — economic and political history.

When American astronauts stood on the moon and looked back toward Earth, there were only two works of man that they could glimpse with the naked eye: One was the Great Wall of China and the other was the California Aqueduct.


It’s certainly news to NASA that you can see the Great Wall of China from the moon:

It has become a space-based myth. The Great Wall of China, frequently billed as the only man-made object visible from space, generally isn’t, at least to the unaided eye in low Earth orbit. It certainly isn’t visible from the Moon.

If you can’t see the Great Wall from low Earth orbit (around 100-1240 miles) it’s going to be a little tricky to see it from about 239,000 miles.

The theory that the wall could be seen from the Moon dates back to at least 1938. It was repeated and grew until astronauts landed on the lunar surface.

“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,” said Alan Bean, Apollo 12 astronaut. “No man-made object is visible at this scale.”

But what does NASA know, compared to the great knowledge of Timothy Rutten?

Bean ain’t the only astronaut to say this. Here is Neil Armstrong:

AMBROSE: I wanted to ask, I have heard or read somewhere that there are only two man-made objects on Earth that can be seen from the Moon, and that one of these is the Chinese [Great] Wall and the other is the Fort Peck Dam [Montana]. [I wonder if some Montana governor said that! — Patterico]

ARMSTRONG: I would challenge both. We could see continents, could see Greenland. It stands out, just like it does on the globe in your library, all white. Antarctica we couldn’t see because there were clouds over Antarctica. Africa was quite visible, and we could see sun glint off a lake. It might have been Lake Chad. I’m not certain which lake it was, but we could catch that reflection, sun reflection…. But I do not believe that, at least with my eyes, there would be any man-made object that I could see. I have not yet found somebody who has told me they’ve seen the Wall of China from Earth orbit. I’m not going to say there aren’t people, but I personally haven’t talked tothem. I’ve asked various people, particularly Shuttle guys, that have been many orbits around China in the daytime, and the ones I’ve talked to didn’t see it.

I’m beating this into the ground, but it’s fun. Here is Dr. Karl at ABC Science:

It’s claimed that you can see the Great Wall of China from the Moon.

That’s one big claim, but let’s take this apart brick by brick.

. . . .

Many other authors, publicists for travel agencies and even the drunk guy down at the pub kept on repeating this story. But is it true?

Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon, said about the Great Wall of China, “It is not visible from lunar distance”. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, his co-pilot said, “you have a hard time even seeing continents.”

So we can’t see the Great Wall from the Moon, which is about 400,000 km away. But could you see it from the Space Shuttle? It flies in Low Earth Orbit, 300-530 kilometres up.

The astronaut William Pogue, who flew in space on Skylab 4, was able to see the Great Wall, but only with binoculars, and with lots of practice.

(Tim Rutten, for purposes of this blog post, is “the drunk guy down at the pub.”)

As for the notion that the California Aqueduct is visible from space, well . . . as best as I can tell, the sources for that preposterous notion include Andy Warhol, renowned for his deep knowledge of astronomy and physics, and Pat Brown (who was so proud of his pet project that he predicted it would join the Great Wall of China as one of only two manmade objects that could be seen from the Moon!) (Except, didn’t we just show that, um . . .?).

C’mon, Rutten. Even the drunk guy down at the pub could recognize that for the puffery it is.

Thanks to JVW, who has demanded a correction. Here’s hoping the Daily Breeze is more conscientious about facts than the L.A. Times was. I’d like to think so, but . . . they’re publishing Tim Rutten, aren’t they?

31 Responses to “Tim Rutten: Why, You Can See the Great Wall of China and the California Aqueduct from the MOON!!!!!!”

  1. I think it’s important to remind ourselves on a regular basis that our media betters . . . aren’t.

    Patterico (9c670f)

  2. Well done, P. I’ll post this link to Rutten’s column on the Breeze’s online site.

    JVW (9946b6)

  3. ’mon, Rutten. Even the drunk guy down at the pub could recognize that for the puffery it is.

    Ah, Patterico me boyo, ye know me too well.

    JVW (9946b6)

  4. 3. LOL.

    From the other side you can’t even see the Earth.

    gary gulrud (e2cef3)

  5. the California Aqueduct is a terrifying deathtrap, but here is a good video for how not to become a statistic

    happyfeet (8ce051)

  6. The only man-made artifacts you are likely to notice are the North American and European power grids, at night.

    Kevin M (dbcba4)

  7. Pat Brown. . . was so proud of his pet project that he predicted it would join the Great Wall of China as one of only two manmade objects that could be seen from the Moon!

    The California Aqueduct is going to be the ruin of the (formerly) Golden State. Why? Because Jerry Brown is so desperate to have a permanent monument to his administration in the same way that his dad had the aqueducts and the California State University system that Gov. Moonbeam is going to force upon us his stupid high-speed rail boondoggle. He probably knows deep down inside that it’s a colossal ripoff, but it’s about the only thing he can build in this day and age that would last half a century after he is gone.

    JVW (9946b6)

  8. I hope he never wrote an article mocking Sarah about seeing Russia from her house. Oh, that would just be too delicious.

    elissa (3a8451)

  9. 5. The Aqueduct is a ‘Water Resource’.

    Wonder if one can see the Mississippi from the Earth facing side of the Moon? Maybe with a Celestron 10 inch?

    gary gulrud (e2cef3)

  10. It will be interesting to see who, if anybody in the media, finds a way to come to Rutten’s defense.

    elissa (3a8451)

  11. The only problem with fresh water on earth is that it is not always where we want it to be. Hence the terrifying deathtraps.

    If you want to live someplace with plenty of fresh water, move to Minnesota. If you don’t want to die from too much solid water killing you, move to California and expect to pay a lot when Mother Nature does not cooperate.

    Or learn how to mine water like coal or other resources to make it affordable regardless of location. By that, I mean, for goodness sake, there is plenty of it. It isn’t going anywhere. Earth is a water planet.

    Ag80 (eb6ffa)

  12. Wait, I forgot to ridicule Rutten for abject ignorance of science. For a journalist, he is absolutely ignorant of anything approaching knowing what he is talking about.

    For example, ask any common second grader: Can you see the Great Wall of China from the moon?

    The second grader would logically respond: “What?”

    If pressed the second grader might say: “The moon is in the sky at night and Mommy read the story about Goodnight Moon when I was in kindergarten.”

    And there you have the sum knowledge about science in important journalism today according to my intelligent strawman.

    Whom I talk to on a regular basis. He is a smart strawman.

    Ag80 (eb6ffa)

  13. Tim Rutten, cut by the Los Angeles Times, is now spewing his nonsense at the Daily Breeze

    I seem to recall his name as a rather prominent fixture of the LA Times back when I was reading that paper on a regular basis many, many eons ago—before the era of today’s internet.

    I don’t want to use the phrase “wow, how the mighty have fallen” (ie, either Rutten or the LA Times, or visa versa) since that’s not necessarily applicable or applicable at all. So I’ll instead say, wow, it’s like watching a car crash in slow motion.

    Mark (6d2ab2)

  14. but it’s about the only thing he can build in this day and age that would last half a century after he is gone.

    please… people are going to be stealing the electrical cables off the high speed fail RoW as fast as the lazy unions slugs can get around to stringing it.

    hell, given the funding issues, and the fact they’re going to use union crews on the project, they will likely still be w*rking on it 50 years from now.

    redc1c4 (abd49e)

  15. Everything that our intrepid astronauts said is correct, but we forget that Timesmen are more discerning than your average space traveler, and so see things that escape the detection of mere mortals.

    askeptic (2bb434)

  16. Wrong you are Mr. Patterico! Seen the Great Wall of China, the California Aqueduct, and the Washington Monument from the moon, Yoda has! Seen them all from the planet of Coruscant and Dagobah, Yoda has too! Seeing them from such distant locations, no problem for powerful Jedi Master! Secret is, squint eyes, reach into pocket of robe, and pull out holograms of each object that seeing you want! Even view them from galaxy far, far away, you can!

    Yoda (557254)

  17. Key phrase being “with the naked eye.”

    Barack Obama can read the license plate on your car in your driveway from low-earth orbit if he wants to, no matter where your driveway is in the world. That’s been true, too, of his last several predecessors, although none of them were so likely to send a drone with Hellfire missiles to said location.

    Beldar (fa637a)

  18. I recall he thought himself the Bin Laden expert, when john miller actually was,

    narciso (3fec35)

  19. OT: I thot it was dem Amish that were causing the re-emergence of childhood diseases.

    Just normal devolution entering a Dark Age.

    gary gulrud (e2cef3)

  20. So what? I can see Obama’s phony Birth Certificate from my living room.

    ropelight (8b6241)

  21. Let’s do the math.

    What is the resolution of the unaided human eye? From across a 100yd football field, I can see a hand (4 inches) but not make out individual fingers (1) inch. Let’s call it 2 inches, vs 100yds, or 3600 inches. Perhaps 1 part in 1,800.

    The moon is 240,000 miles away. One part in 1,800 is 133 miles. Therefore, I should be able to see things that are about 133 miles wide from the moon. The aqueduct is 33 feet wide.

    tomhynes (a2e520)

  22. 6. Comment by Kevin M (dbcba4) — 3/17/2014 @ 9:19 pm

    The only man-made artifacts you are likely to notice are the North American and European power grids, at night

    Not the grids themselves, but you can see where they are.

    You can’t see the Great Wall of China, but you can see the boundary between North and South Korea.

    But from how far away, I don’t know.

    Sammy Finkelman (20c5cc)

  23. You can just watch NASA TV’s coverage from the ISS and wait for a shot out the cupola window to tell that you can’t see a damn thing on Earth from a 200-mile orbit, let alone the moon.

    CrustyB (5a646c)


    South Korea, as seen from space, at night.

    That line in the middle of the picture, at the northern boundary of South Korea, would be the DMZ.

    The Great Wall of China maybe can’t be seen, but the Great Wall of the Korean peninsula can be (or its consequences)

    That very bright spot of light is Seoul, South Korea..

    Sammy Finkelman (20c5cc)

  25. The DMZ, however, has also turned into an impromptu wildlife preserve. Ecologists have documented a number of endangered animal and plant species that now call the DMZ home. Two endangered species of crane, as well as the incredibly rare Korean tiger, are just a few of the many animals that have managed to establish themselves in the DMZ, amid a sea of over a million landmines. The DMZ covers a wide variety of ecological zones: mountains and valleys, swamps and coastline… all virtually untouched by modern hands for over half a century. Wildlife preserves of this sort are unheard of elsewhere on the peninsula.

    It goes on to say, that North Korea, in spite of its underdevelopment, is no wildlife preserve.

    Sammy Finkelman (20c5cc)

  26. In a couple years, Tim Rutten’s career trajectory will take him to proofreading an email newsletter subscribed to by his immediate family plus 3 or 4 others. But one of those 3 or 4 will be Patterico, who will critically destroy him once again. I mean, Tim’s gotta make stuff up to make a living, OK? Let it be.

    Brian (989469)

  27. Ah the California Aqueduct. As a young lawyer–fresh out of Boalt Hall class of 1968, and newly admitted to the bar, I got a chance to make my maiden argument on a civil motion before Judge Hugo Fisher of the San Diego County Superior Court. The motion was based on a parol evidence rule question. Hugo had been on the bench for about four years at the time, and he was kind to novice lawyers. He heard me out, asked how that legal theory applied to the facts at hand–and had me stumped. He told me to go home, come back the next day and try again. I did. Sharpened up my argument, cogitated all night long, and appeared before him at 130 the next afternoon (the calendar call for law and motion in San Diego in those days). My new argument showing how the law did in fact apply to the facts at hand was rewarded with, “A very interesting argument. Brilliant indeed. But I’m still going to rule against you.”

    What does that story have to do with the California Aqueduct? Well Hugo’s Superior Court judgeship was bought and paid for with a vote on the California Aqueduct. Hugo was a California State Senator in the early 1960’s. Pat Brown, the current Governor Brown’s father, needed just one more Senate vote to get his California Aqueduct bill through. Hugo provided that vote—and Judge Hugo Fisher got the judicial seat.

    Judge Fisher was a nice guy, and a fairly decent judge. I appeared before him on several occasions and his rulings were generally correct.

    Skeptical Voter (12e67d)

  28. The joke used to be Shuttle astronauts could see the Great Wall and Green Bay Packers’ defensive tackle, Gilbert Brown, from space.

    PCD (11c26f)

  29. The Daily Breeze is the Oakland of newspapers: There’s no there, there.
    And Patterico could have a lot of fun investigating the connection between the coverage the Centinela Valley school district has received in recent years (at least until a month ago) and the relationship of one of that district’s assistant superintendents and the paper (hint: look at the byline on their skiing pieces in the sports section).

    Nick M. (f8e14b)

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