"The new submarine was photographed by the commercial Quickbird satellite in late 2006 and the image is freely available on the Google Earth Web site," wrote Hans Kristensen on the Strategic Security Blog.
If you want to see more unusual images captured by Google Earth check out PC World's image gallery on strange sights in Google Earth.
"The Jin-class appears to be approximately 35 feet (10 meters) longer than the Xia-class [submarine], primarily due to an extended mid-section of approximately 115 feet (35 meters) that houses the missile launch tubes and part of the reactor compartment," Kristensen wrote.
But the picture was not clear enough to resolve a debate over whether the Jin-class submarine has tubes for 12 or 16 nuclear-tipped missiles.
Discovery of the submarine image is likely to cause consternation within China's military, which generally keeps as low a profile as possible. If so, it wouldn't be the first time that Google Earth has caused worry inside China's government. In 2006, government officials reportedly expressed concerns over Google Earth imagery of the Zhongnanhai leadership compound in Beijing, an area normally off limits to prying public eyes.