sandy island
Sandy Island was first recorded by the whaling ship Velocity in 1876. Image Credit: Google Maps

In late 2012, Sandy Island, which was supposedly located in the region between Australia and New Caledonia, was “undiscovered”. In other words, it was declared that it doesn’t exist.

Click start to play the Weekend Crossword, which explores the names of all the imaginary lines around the Earth that people have agreed upon, as a standard in geography.

In times past, explorers would travel on ships to uncharted territories in the hopes of finding new lands and establishing colonies. But in the South Pacific, a mysterious island that had popped up on maps (even Google Maps) and showed up as a black polygon on Google Earth, had to experience the opposite – an “undiscovery” or deletion from all maps – because when a group of Australian scientists sailed there, they found open water instead of land.

But how does a supposed island make its way onto maps, when in reality, it doesn’t exist?

According to an April 2013 report in the US-based science news website LiveScience, Sandy Island was first recorded by the whaling ship Velocity in 1876, and was first mentioned on a British Admiralty chart in 1908. But since several expeditions failed to find the island, it was removed from some official charts related to the region in the 1970s. Still, it remained on other maps and made its way into digital databases, like the World Vector Shoreline Database, developed by the US military.

So, what did the crew of Velocity see?

Some scientists think they may have mistaken a giant pumice raft for land. Pumice forms when lava cools quickly – it traps gas within and creates rocks that are so light, they can float. Sandy Island sits along a pumice superhighway, so to speak – in 2012, an erupting undersea volcano called Havre Seamount caused pumice to drift off the coast of New Zealand, and it covered a whopping 22,000 square miles. Sandy Island is in the same region.

When Sandy Island was “undiscovered”, an obituary for the island was published in newspapers around the world.

In an age where we’ve mapped our entire world and there’s not much more scope for discoveries of new lands (or even fake lands), the Sandy Island hoax was a great reminder of how our vast planet can still surprise us!

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