What did Google Earth spot in the Chinese desert?

Since Google Earth launched in 2005, there have been dozens of mysterious images (supposed planes and bunkers, even the face of Jesus) captured by the satellites used for the virtual mapping program. But according to Allen Thomson, this one may be the weirdest.

Thomson, a former CIA analyst, was recently using Google Earth while searching for an orbital tracking site in southwestern China when he spotted something strange constructed in the middle of the Kashgar desert.

"I haven't the faintest clue what it might be," Thomson wrote in an email to Wired. "But it's extensive, the structures are pretty big and funny-looking, and it went up in what I’d call an incredible hurry."

Thomson, who served in the CIA from 1972 to 1985, "has made something of a second career finding odd stuff in public satellite imagery," according to Wired. The website explains:

He discovered these giant grids etched into the Chinese desert in 2011, and a suspected underground missile bunker in Iran in 2008. When the Israeli Air Force destroyed a mysterious facility in Syria the year before, Thomson put together an 812-page dossier on the so-called "Box on the Euphrates." Old analyst habits die hard, it seems.

Wired is soliciting theories from readers to pass along to Thomson; but at this point, the desert structure remains a mystery.

Theorizing about unexplained images from Google Earth has become a global parlor game.

In 2007, a Google Earth user spotted what was initially thought to be a cruise missile flying over a Utah desert. Others claimed it was simply a "jet airliner with dark-colored wings."

In 2010, a Brooklyn-based photographer discovered an image of what appeared to be a commercial airplane hidden in a housing complex in Bushwick. (Some users claimed it was a film set; others thought it was simply a low-flying plane caught by Google's satellite.)

Google Earth users also spotted what looked like a large plane submerged in the Atlantic Ocean near JFK Airport, sparking plenty of conspiracy theories.

The same year, a British man purportedly using Google Earth "to assess potential vacation spots" discovered what he said was the face of Jesus on Hungarian farmland. “I’m not a religious person looking for images of Mary or Jesus in everything," Zach Evans told the Sun newspaper (via the Daily Mail), "but this is obvious."