Virtual Exploration: 14 Amazing Google Earth Finds

Illicit pot plantations, floating cars, bloody lakes and possible clues to the location of Atlantis – all of these things and more have been spotted on Google Earth, that mesmerizing satellite imagery software that allows you to explore every corner of the globe without ever leaving your seat. Some people may find Google’s ubiquitous cameras invasive, but there’s no doubt that it plays an important role not just in voyeurism and entertainment but in science, as well – and it has even led a man to what may be billions in buried treasure.

Bloody Lake in Iraq

(image via: google maps)

Is it the site of some stomach-turning atrocity? A dumping site for slaughterhouse blood, as suggested by a BoingBoing commenter? Nay, the extremely vivid red hue of this lake outside Sadr City in Iraq is most likely due to something much less exciting – like chemical pollution or a wastewater treatment process.

Ancient Fish Trap in Wales

(image via: the daily mail)

Swimming or boating in the waters of Teifi Estuary in Wales, you’d never guess that the rocks beneath the surface were anything other than a natural reef. But archaeologists using Google Earth to study geological features instantly recognized it as something else entirely – a vast man-made fish trap built some 1,000 years ago. Back then, fish would have been trapped in the V-shape during low tide, but the stones have since sunken into the sand.

Pot Plantation in Switzerland

(image via: gearthblog)

When marijuana farmers planted their illicit crop in an open field in Switzerland as if it were corn or broccoli, they apparently weren’t counting on a Google Earth satellite spying on their land. Aerial images of the site caught the attention of police in 2007, but earlier photos seem to indicate that the farmers got away with it for at least a decade.

Heart-Shaped Island in Croatia

(image via: google sightseeing)

What exotic locale could be better for a romantic vacation than a heart-shaped island off the coast of Croatia, complete with a border of sandy beaches? It’s now known as “Lover’s Island”, but even its owner didn’t realize how perfectly heart-shaped it really is until he was inundated with requests by sentimental folks who saw it online.

Airplane Graveyard in Arizona

(image via: google maps)

What happens to old airplanes when they’re no longer safe to fly? Apparently, they get dumped into a vast aircraft graveyard in the middle of Arizona. These planes sit until their useful parts are fully exploited, and desert conditions keep them from corroding in the meantime.

Flying Car in Australia

(image via: the register)

Glance at this Google Earth image, and you’ll likely do a double-take – yes, that white car parked all by its lonesome in the grass certainly does appear to be floating at least ten feet in the air. It’s still not clear exactly what was happening here, as the flat black shape lacks the reflections that a dark-colored vehicle might have sported and is perfectly situated to be the white car’s shadow.

Conflict Zone Scale Model in China

(image via: google maps)

It looks ordinary enough to those unfamiliar with China’s landscape, but this little plot of earth is actually a roughly 1:500 scale model of a disputed border region between China and India. Located near what seems to be a military complex, the model likely serves as an important visualization tool for officials planning action.

Gravity-Defying Parking Job in The Netherlands

(image via: google maps)

Many odd sights found in Google Earth have been proven mere computer anomalies, but there’s no denying that this car is actually parked on the side of a building. However, there’s also a perfectly reasonable (but still amazing) explanation: it’s a piece of public art by Theo van Laar.

Buried Treasure in Texas

(image via: google maps)

Could a Google Earth geek really have located billions of dollars in buried treasure, all through aerial imagery? Musician Nathan Smith believes that he did, investigating an unusual shape and deciding that it must be the wreck of a Spanish barquentine from 1822 that sunk in the area of Aransas Pass. Legally, the treasure is Smith’s if it’s located in a waterway and he gets to it first. Unfortunately for him, that formerly underwater area is now dry land and belongs to a family that isn’t keen on a bulldozer invasion.

Hidden Fighter Jet in France

(image via: google maps)

Why, oh why would a fighter jet be tucked away in what appears to be a residential parking lot? It seems like an odd place to rest. Perhaps it’s a model of some sort, given that it’s located next to the Paris Institute of Technology.

Tantalizing Underwater Structure in Turkey

(image via: google maps)

When eagle-eyed Google Earth explorers spotted a strange pattern in the water off the coast of Turkey, they couldn’t help but see a tantalizing glimpse at what could be the remnants of a long-forgotten civilization – Atlantis, perhaps? But alas, Google quickly rained on their parade, saying “What users are seeing is an artifact of the data collection process. Bathymetric (or sea floor terrain) data is often collected from boats using sonar to take measurements of the sea floor. The lines reflect the path of the boat as it gathers the data.”

Underwater Explosion in Mexico

(image via: google sightseeing)

Did Google Earth’s cameras just happen to catch an underwater earthquake at the very moment it occurred? A gas eruption, perhaps, or a meteorite at the moment of impact? Not quite. The harsh, frigid water of reality was thrown upon speculators when a commenter at Google Sightseeing pointed out what appears to be a jet ski in the center of the ripples.

Undiscovered Species Unmasked in Mozambique

(image via: google maps)

It has never been easy to get to the mountainous region of Mozambique in Africa, thanks to difficult terrain and civil war – so it has remained mostly untouched and undiscovered. But the virtual sightseeing capabilities of Google Earth piqued the curiosity of a group of British scientists who were amazed to find an unexpected patch of green. They decided to set out on foot, and discovered hundreds of new species in just three weeks.

Ancient Human Ancestor in South Africa

(image via: google maps)

Another scientist found that using Google Earth to keep track of various known caves and fossil deposits in South Africa paid off in a big way: namely, helping him identify an ancient human ancestor. Professor Lee Berger from Witswatersrand University in Johannesburg found a correlation between the site locations and then, using Google Earth’s aerial imagery, identified 50 previously unidentified caves and fossil sites – one of which contained the bones of a new hominid.

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