Google Earth is awesome. It allows us to view any corner of our beautiful planet with just a few clicks. Those who are afraid of flying or simply interested in checking out a specific country can easily zoom in on a specific location. Also, if you plan to travel somewhere and wish to make plans ahead, it’s a good place to start. Google Earth compiles these images from various sources. The satellites revolving around our planet in geosynchronous orbit snap low-resolution images from tens of thousands of miles away from Earth. Then, satellites closer to Earth as well as airplanes, kites, drones and even hot-air balloons capture higher-resolution images. These images are then compiled to form 3D and 2D maps of Earth. The imagery is available for everyone to use for free and some people who have taken advantage of this service have sometimes stumbled upon some crazy things. Here’s a look at some of the strangest things people have stumbled across on Google Earth.
1. Ambrym, Vanuatu volcano
Ambrym is not only one of the most active volcanoes of Vanuatu, but in the world. Its most active craters often contain small lava lakes. The large basaltic volcano with a 12-km-wide caldera is believed to have formed during a major plinian eruption about 1900 years ago. Occasionally, explosive eruptions occur from the craters, mostly because of water-magma interaction. The eruptions produce tall clouds of ash, and can cause serious health problems in the local population because the ash contaminates groundwater. However, if you ever wish to see this magnificent volcano ready to erupt, you can always head to Google Earth.
2. Costa Concordia wreckage
In January of 2012, the Costa Concordia capsized, killing 32 people. The vessel was carrying 4,252 people, when it hit an underwater rock off Isola del Giglio near Tuscany. The ship that capsized more than half a decade ago is being dismantled in the port of Genoa. The 144,500-tonne ship is unrecognisable as workmen are ripping the ship apart, scavenging for anything that can be reused. The incident is considered as Italy’s worst maritime disaster since the Second World War. The captain who abandoned the ship right after it capsized was arrested later and held responsible for manslaughter. Google Earth managed to capture the ship being salvaged by Italian workmen.
3. Somewhere in Russia
This image was not captured from Google Earth or Maps. In fact, it was captured from a Russian counterpart known as Yandex Maps. At the beginning of the 20th century, Russia had a higher homicide rate – nearly ten per 100,000 people per year. Individuals are not allowed to carry guns acquired for self-defense. A license only serves as a carrying permit for hunting and sport firearms. Citizens of Russia cannot own guns that shoot in bursts or have magazines with more than a ten-cartridge capacity. However, there are always crime bosses and gangs who consider themselves outlaws. This image captured by Yandex Maps shows a man carrying a Saiga rifle; a semi-automatic version of the AK-47. Hope president Putin didn’t see this or he would have been “Putin” chains (pun intended).
4. Yodok, one of North Korea’s most notorious labor camps
North Korea is known for enforcing punishments that are inhumane. Any man, woman or child who is suspected of being a spy will be thrown into a prison specially designed to destroy them both physically and mentally. Prisoners are often beaten with a balk about 5cm thick, have their teeth pulled out and forced into hard labor. The prison camp’s famous torture method is the so-called pigeon torture. Prisoners hands are tied behind their back and they are handcuffed so they could neither stand or sit. This also limits them from sleeping at night and the punishment could last from weeks to months until the man or woman gives then what they want.
Many defectors have shared their harrowing stories with the world. They describe the poor living conditions and the brutality of the guards. Although North Korea denies that they have such labor camps, defectors say otherwise. Also, Google Earth managed to capture one the of the labor camps, Yodok.
5. Sprawling swastika
Archaeologists who were browsing the northern Kazakhstan in Central Asia, discovered more than 50 geoglyphs with various shapes and sizes; including a massive swastika. The landscape art was partly made from timber and mostly earthen mounds. The swastika is a design that was used in ancient times and the discovered geoglyphs range from 90 to 400 meters. The reason why we haven’t discovered this is because of the fact that they are hardly visible from the ground while easily seen from the sky. Swastikas were not associated with religion in the olden days.
6. The Arizona Airplane Boneyard
The Airplane Boneyard or Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona is one of the most amazing (and creepy) views on Google Earth. Located in Tucson, Arizona, the area has a large population of military and retired personnel. The Air Force Base was activated in 1924 and is the Largest Military Aircraft Boneyard. The reason why this specific location was selected for a major base is the fact that the area has low humidity which ranges from 10%-20%, meager rainfall of 11″ annually, hard alkaline soil, and high altitude of 2,550 feet allowing the aircraft to be naturally preserved for cannibalization or possible reuse. The geology of the desert also allows the aircrafts to be moved around without having to pave the storage areas.
7. Tu-160 strategic bombers when they start their engines at Engels Air Force Base in Russia
The Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack is the world’s largest operational bomber which is nicknamed the White Swan by the pilots. The heaviest combat aircraft ever built remains committed to both low-level penetration (at transonic speeds) and high-level penetration at speeds of about Mach 1.9. The picture above makes it clear that when the Tu-160 Blackjack starts its engines you do not want to be standing behind it.
8. Google Earth captures car accident at an interchange in South Haven, MI
When we get a chance to look at the whole world with just a few clicks, the first thing we all do is look at our own house. Similarly, a man who was using Google Earth to view his house and street was browsing through the roads when he noticed that the imagery has caught an accident. To everyone’s amazement, the accident was caught just moments after it had happened. Hopefully, the drivers were uninjured.
9. Alma College that burned down May 28, 2008, was caught on Google Earth
On May 28, 2008, Alma College, a girls’ private school in St. Thomas, Ontario in Canada that operated from 1881 and 1988 burned down. Although primary school and music classes were still taught on campus until 1994, the property was sold and then used as a set for movie production. Some of the movies shot there include Silent Hill (interior shots) as well as the 2009 film Orphan. On May 28, 2008, two fellow secondary school students climbed through a back window into Alma College where they set fire to a mattress found under a stairwell. Although the 15-year-old boys did not mean to cause damage to the retired campus, all hell broke loose. The fire went out of control and destroyed the entire property.
The boys were arrested and charged with arson. They were both given two years probation, the maximum allowed under the Youth Criminal Justice Act and were to undertake 240 hours of community work.
10. Google Earth has a photo of 9/11
On September 11, 2001, 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four airplanes and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States. Two of the planes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., and the fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Almost 3,000 people lost their lives during the 9/11 attacks, which triggered major U.S. initiatives to combat terrorism.
The above image was captured by Google Earth. Since the intensity of the smoke isn’t very thick, the image could have been captured just a few hours after the towers collapsed.
11. Pripyat, the town evacuated and abandoned since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986
Following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, tens of thousands were evacuated from the neighbouring city of Pripyat. On April 26, 1986, disaster happened when scientists were testing to see how much power needed to be generated to keep the No. 4 reactor operating in the event of a blackout. The Chernobyl Nuclear Station exploded, spewing radioactive chemicals into the air. Approximately 30 people lost their lives due to the explosion and related radiation exposure, with several thousand additional lives lost due to higher cancer incidence possible over the long term. More than 49,000 residents had to be immediately evacuated. The town closest to the No. 4 reactor was Pripyat, a city of 49,000 founded in 1970 to house workers from Chernobyl.
12. Life-sized dolls taking over a small town in Japan.
The village of Nagoro in southern Japan has fewer than 35 inhabitants. One of its residents, 69-year-old Ayano Tsukimi creates life-sized mannequins and places them around her tiny village in a bid to replace her neighbours when they die. More than 10,000 towns and villages in Japan are depopulated and according to Tsukimi, the mannequins ‘bring back memories’ of her friends – ‘it reminds me of the old times’. Visitors know they’ve arrived at the of Nagoro when they see the life-sized figures made of cloth and stuffed with cotton and newspapers. Tsukimi has been making them for more than a decade.