Riddled with holes
The civil war in Syria has imperiled hundreds of archaeological sites, including causing damage to all six of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country, which is considered one of the oldest occupied areas of the Earth. Satellites, in particular, have shown much of this devastation, with some of the strangest imagery showing destruction in Apamea. There, Google Earth images have revealed the entire ancient Roman city has been pockmarked with holes dug by looters since the start of the civil war.
"It looks like the surface of the moon," Emma Cunliffe, an archaeology researcher at Durham University in England, who has published a report documenting archeological damage in Syria, told Live Science in 2013. "In eight months, the looted area exceeded the total excavated area."
Lake of blood?
Outside Sadr City in Iraq, at coordinates 33.396157° N, 44.486926° E, lies a blood-red lake. There is, as yet, no official explanation for the color of this strange body of water.
An odd polka-dot pattern near the cinder cone volcano dubbed Vulcan's Throne on the north rim of the Grand Canyon may have a simple explanation: ants. Turns out, the desert around the Grand Canyon is home to red harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex barbatus). These pesky critters can create nesting mounds spanning some 47 inches (120 centimeters) across and are typically surrounded by bare ground up to 108 square feet (10 square meters), according to physicist Amelia Carolina Sparavigna, a specialist in image processing and satellite imagery analysis at the Politecnico of Torino in Ital. Sparavigna discusses her theory in a scientific paper posted online on Jan. 11, 2016. (The paper has yet to be peer-reviewed.) The mounds may be responsible for the aerial pattern of scattered circles, though Sparavigna says on-the-ground confirmation is needed.
The world's largest island-in-a-lake-on-an-island-in-a-lake-on-an-island is a narrow, four-acre strip of land in Canada located at exactly 69.793° N, 108.241° W. The nameless island (that little-tilde shaped squiggle of green) lolls across the center of a small lake, which is itself encapsulated by a slightly larger island. That resides inside one of a series of long finger lakes located 75 miles inland from the southern coast of Victoria Island, a land feature in Northern Canada. This little "sub-sub-sub island" would never have received its strange distinction if not for careful trolling of Google Earth by map geeks around the world. In all likelihood, no human has ever actually set foot there. [Zoom through the island layers]
The Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz., is where U.S. military planes go to die. Dubbed "the boneyard," this 2,600-acre cemetery of steel at coordinates 32 08'59.96" N, 110 50'09.03"W is closed to the general public, but Google Earth provides a high-resolution glimpse of what's inside: virtually every plane the military has flown since World War II — from the B-52 StratoFortress to the F-14 Tomcat — in various stages of decay. A bit of trivia: The boneyard at Davis Monthan was used as the backdrop in the music video for "Learning to Fly" by rock music legend Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The band was shown performing amongst various aircraft hulks.
Hamad bin Hamdan al Nahyan, a billionaire Sheikh and member of Abu Dhabi's ruling family, has had his name carved into the sandy surface of al Futaisi Island, an island he owns in the Persian Gulf. At half a mile tall and 2 miles long altogether, the letters HAMAD may be the world's largest; regardless, they're visible from space. Normally, words written in sand wash away, but these letters are large enough to form waterways that absorb the encroaching tide. Indeed, at the time these satellite photographs were taken, said tide can be seen flowing through the letters all the way to the M.
Wild View Elephants
Thought you might never get to see a herd of African elephants in the wild? Luckily, satellites captured a few high-resolution images of a herd on the move in Chad, at coordinates 10.903497 N,19.93229 E.
Found etched onto the desert floor near Mesa Huerfanita, New Mexico, are two large diamonds surrounded by a pair of overlapping circles. Author John Sweeney claimed that the site marks a hidden bunker belonging to the Church of Scientology. According to their website, scientology "is a religion that offers a precise path leading to a complete and certain understanding of one's true spiritual nature and one’s relationship to self, family, groups, Mankind, all life forms, the material universe, the spiritual universe and the Supreme Being," according to the organization's website. And such symbols on the desert floor are reportedly there to help guide these scientologists who return to Earth after fleeing a planetary "Armageddon," writes the Daily Mail. Of course, the symbols will likely remain a mystery.
Newfound Google Earth images have revealed an array of mysterious structures and patterns etched into the surface of China's Gobi Desert. According to experts, this is a secret military base, and the structures are used for a variety of purposes including weapons testing, spy satellite calibration and testing of radar instrumentation. The most elaborate feature, an intricate grid of perfectly straight lines that weave back and forth every few hundred feet for 20 miles (33 kilometers), is most likely a Yagi antenna array, a device used for weather tracking and other atmospheric research. [More Photos: Strange Structures in China's Gobi Desert]
Considering the number of people who troll Google Earth in their free time, it isn't surprising that enormous advertisements have started popping up in remote areas for their viewing pleasure—a concept known as "mapvertising." The world's largest Coca-Cola logo, for example, can be seen on a hillside in Chile; it is said to be made of 70,000 empty coke bottles. A 87,500-square-foot picture of Colonel Sanders — the KFC logo— appears at 37.646163° N, 115.750819° W just off Extraterrestrial Highway in Nevada.