North Korea nuclear test site, as seen from Google Maps.
Google Maps Shows North Korea's Nuclear Test Site
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Feb. 12 2013 10:23 AM

North Korea's Not-So-Secret Nuclear Test Site, as Seen on Google Maps

North Korea appeared on Tuesday to have followed through on its long-promised plan of conducting its third nuclear test, detonating what state media called a "smaller and light" nuclear device in a sealed tunnel that was carved horizontally into a remote North Korea mountain. The incident has much of the international community on edge, and quickly drew a sharp rebuke from President Obama, who called it "a threat to U.S. national security and to international peace and security."

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

While the blast served as something of a warning shot to the world at large, it also represents a signal flare from the reclusive nation's nuclear test site for amateur Internet sleuths. The blast set off a brief seismic wave, which provided the U.S. Geological Survey the chance to more or less pinpoint the exact location of where the it occurred: 41.301°N, 129.066°E. Type those coordinates into Google Maps and do a little scrolling, and you'll discover both an aptly titled "Nuclear Test Road" and, eventually, a handful of gray buildings labeled "Nuclear Test Facility."


Those labels, as you may remember, are a new feature to Google's map of the reclusive nation that were added late last month with the help of its "citizen cartographers" via an interface known as Google Map Maker. As the Washington Post explained then, the Wikipedia-like program allowed users to submit their own data, which was then fact-checked by other users. Before North Korea was almost entirely unlabeled; now it includes designations for everything from city subway stops to city-sized gulags and, yes, apparently even semi-secret nuclear test sites.

While the test site in question appears to have been labeled even before today's blast, the USGS coordinates clearly serve as another in a string of data points for those cartographers looking for confirmation. The satellite images, and accompanying labels, are also pretty interesting to look at.

The blast site, as pinpointed by the USGS:


Nuclear Test Road leading into a mountain:


And a close-up of what certainly now appears to be a nuclear test site, at 41.278047°N,129.087372°E:


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