Marco Waltenspiel, Amy Chmelecki and Marco Fuerst fly with their wingsuits above the heart island near Zadar, Croatia, November 30, 2016
© Wolfgang Lienbacher / Red Bull Content Pool
Exploration

7 incredible world wonders discovered on Google Earth

An Arctic ice river, a spinning island, the world’s biggest natural bridge and a two-million-year-old hominid skeleton are a few of the amazing things people have discovered exploring on Google Earth.
By Will Gray
8 min readPublished on
If you think there’s nothing left to discover on this planet, go check out Google Earth. Modern-day satellite imagery makes it possible for anyone to explore for undiscovered treasures with just a laptop and mouse – but it is still far from easy to actually discover a new world wonder.
Since Google Earth was created, only a handful of people have uncovered truly amazing previously undiscovered natural places. And here are seven of the best.

1. Twin Galaxies

  • Where: Greenland 
  • Discovered: 2017 
  • Discovered by: Sarah McNair-Landry, Erik Boomer and Ben Stookesberry
  • Co-ordinates: 71.3183N 050.7094W / 71.3639N 051.0817W
Kayaker near glacier in Greenland.
Sheer vastness
This pair of meltwater streams flowing over the Arctic ice cap became the most northerly rivers ever paddled after they were spotted in grainy Google images of Greenland’s far north. A trio of explorers used the find as the basis for an expedition, documented in the film Into Twin Galaxies, that involved kite-skiing 1,000km over the ice cap to reach the rivers, then paddling their unexplored waters. McNair-Landry said: “Google Maps is the main reason we found the rivers, but it had horrible resolution in the north and the only images we found were from August 2012 – so there was still a lot of unknown.”

2. Spinning island

  • Where: Ojo de la Tierra, Paraná Delta, Argentina
  • Discovered: 2016 
  • Discovered by: Sergio Neuspiller, film director and producer 
  • Co-ordinates: 34°15'07.8" S 58°49'47.4" W
This mysterious floating island, nicknamed ‘The Eye’, is constantly on the move, spinning around in a slightly larger circular lake in a remote swamp in north-east Argentina. It was discovered when a horror movie director was searching for filming locations and a site visit has since revealed methane gas under the water is probably helping it float –  but nobody knows how it was formed. 

3. Fairy bridge

  • Where: Xianren, Guanxi Autonomous Region, China
  • Discovered: 2010 
  • Discovered by: Jay Wilbur, Natural Arch and Bridge Society (NABS) 
  • Co-ordinates: 24°41'15.80" N 106°47'59.94" E
Fairy Bridge is the world's biggest natural arch at 120m and is found in China.
Fairy Bridge, the world's biggest natural arch
This 120m natural arch, the world’s biggest, might still lay unknown to most of the world in remote China were it not for the educated eye and keen detective work of an American arch fanatic and climber Jay Wilbur. He spotted the potential arch, which crosses the Buliu River, online and used a Panoramio image posted by a local photographer to confirm it. He then took a seven-person team on a three-hour rafting trip to measure it – and found it to be 33.6m longer than the previous biggest in Utah. 

4. Hidden rainforest

  • Where: Mount Mabu, Mozambique 
  • Discovered: 2005 
  • Discovered by: Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, UK 
  • Co-ordinates: 16°17'52"S 36°23'39"E
At the top of the remote 1,700m high Mount Mabu, this 43-square-km rainforest is home to many animals not previously known to science, including new species of chameleon, snake and butterflies. It was found by a group of scientists searching for potential conservation project sites and, after several scoping trips, an expedition in 2008 saw an international team of 28 scientists hike in to explore it.
They found it to be the largest medium-altitude rainforest in Africa and, in doing so they also saved it – because the Mozambique government subsequently established conservation measures to prevent logging. 

5. Ancient hominid skeletons

  • Where: Cradle of Humankind, Maropeng, South Africa
  • Discovered: 2008 
  • Discovered by: Prof Lee Berger, Witswatersrand University, SA 
  • Co-ordinates: 25°53'42.0"S 27°48'05.0"E
Lee Berger crouches down next to a sediba skeleton in a library.
Lee Berger and sediba skeleton
The ‘Cradle of Humankind’ is a burial ground for many two-million-year-old fossils of our ‘hominid’ ancestors and it's where a new species of hominoid, with human hips but tiny ape-like feet, was discovered. By combining satellite views with his 30 years of on-site research, Berger found over 500 likely cave sites. In one, he and his son Matthew found the well-preserved skeleton of a young boy along with three others nearby. 

6. Kamil Meteorite Crater

  • Where: Kamil Crater, Egypt 
  • Discovered: 2008 
  • Discovered by: Vincenzo de Michele, ex-curator Civico Museo di Storia Naturale, Milan, Italy 
  • Co-ordinates: 22°1'5.89"N 26°5'15.69"E
Kamil Crater is a 45m diameter, 3m-high crater discovered in 2008 in Egypt.
The Kamil Crater was first noticed in 2008
This 45m diameter, 3m-high crater, which still has the lines of exploded particles spreading from its centre, is the best-preserved small impact site in the world – and one of only around 175 that have ever been confirmed. It was first noticed on Google Earth in 2008, its presence was confirmed using clearer satellite images taken in 1972, and a site visit revealed it to be an extremely rare rayed crater, more usually found on Mars.
Scientists found over 5,000 pieces of iron meteorite at the site and estimate the original meteorite was around 1.3m wide, weighed 5-10 tonnes and hit the Earth at about 3.5km per second. This kind of impact happens every 10 to 100 years and finding this one, which happened around 2,000 years ago, allowed scientists to gain more information on the risks they pose to the planet.

7. Heart-shaped island

  • Where: Galesnjak, Zadar Archipelago, Croatia
  • Discovered: 2009 
  • Discovered by: Unknown
  • Co-ordinates: 443°58'41.24"N 15°23'1.14"E
Marco Waltenspiel, Amy Chmelecki and Marco Fuerst fly with their wingsuits above the heart island near Zadar, Croatia, November 30, 2016
Wingsuit flyover of Heart Island
Uninhabited ‘Lovers Island’, on the Croatian coastline, was relatively unknown until its heart-shaped outline was spotted from overhead in 2009 – and now it’s flooded with requests for romantic getaways. OK, so the barren island’s shape was actually first revealed by Napoleon’s cartographer in 1806, when he first mapped it. But he didn’t have the power to spread the message to billions like Google. Red Bull adventurers Marco Waltenspiel, Amy Chmelecki and Marco Fürst flew over it wearing wingsuits in 2016.