The Earth, Google Style
Google Earth compiles images from various sources, from satellites in geosynchronous orbit that snap low-resolution photos from tens of thousands of miles above Earth, to satellites closer to Earth that capture higher-resolution shots and even aerial photos taken from airplanes, kites, drones and even balloons. The imagery is available to anyone who downloads the software, and archaeologists have taken advantage of the rich resource.
From a boneyard of military planes, to a polka-dot pattern created by ants, to mysterious structures etched into the Gobi Desert and even a phantom island in the South Pacific, Google Earth brings some wacky places to light. Here's a look at some of the strangest.
(Originally published on LiveScience on April 18, 2013.)
Google Earth has spied some old artistry etched into the surface of the planet, including wheel-shaped structures that may date back some 8,500 years, making them older than Peru's geoglyphs called Nazca Lines. Some of these spoked designs that dot Jordan's Azraq Oasis seem to be positioned in a way that aligns with sunrise on the winter solstice. A team of scientists with the Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East (APAAME) have been investigating wheel structures (also called "works of the old men") with satellite imagery available through Google Earth. The wheels vary in their design, with some showing spokes that radiate from the center, others with just one or two bars rather than spokes and still others not circular at all and instead shaped like squares, rectangles or triangles, the researchers have found.
The wheels seen in this image are in the Azraq Oasis and have spokes with a southeast-northwest orientation, possibly aligning with the winter solstice sunrise. [See More Images of the Wheel Structures of the Mideast]
In an obituary for the island published in April 2013, the researchers explained why the phantom landmass had been included on some maps for more than a century, pointing to some human errors and a possible pumice raft.
Lake of blood?
Wild View Elephants
Many online comments linked the site with devil worship, nefarious religious sects or denizens of the underworld. Alas, the pentagram turns out to be the outline of a park made in the form of a star; the star is marked by roadways that are now lined with trees, making the star shape even more distinct in aerial photos.