The world is a huge place full of amazing and mysterious things. Some of these wonders are the work of the earth itself creating spectacles that leave people in awe. Other wonders are manmade - sometimes for science, sometimes for art, and sometimes for reasons that we can't understand. For most of history, you'd have to travel to these sites yourself to get a good look at them. Television and still images are able to bring people closer, but there's still something about being in control of your own exploration that a TV show can't quite capture.
But Google Earth has changed the way people explore the world. It's now possible to get an HD view of nearly anyplace on the planet from overhead satellite imagery. In many of these places, it's even possible to zoom in and get a good look at your surrounding from street view and various photo spheres. While a lot of what you'll find consists of mundane looks into everyday life, you can also expect the unexpected.
Here are 25 of the most amazing and surprising finds on Google Earth.
25 Grand Prismatic Spring - Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA
Yellowstone National Park is home to many extraordinary natural wonders and thousands of people go to visit every year. Old Faithful may be the most famous, but the Grand Prismatic Spring is easily the most impressive - especially when viewed from the satellite images of Google Earth.
According to Yellowstone Park, the spring is deeper than a 10-story building and steaming hot water travels from a crack in the earth up to the surface. It's known for its vibrant colorful rings and a deep blue center. These colors are the result of thermophile bacteria that live on the water's surface.
24 The Guitar Shaped Forest - Córdoba, Argentina
If you peruse the farmlands of Argentina, you might stumble upon an unusual looking forest that has been planted in the shape of a guitar. The forest is the work of local farmer Pedro Martin Ureta. It consists of over 7,000 cypress and eucalyptus trees and is nearly two-thirds of a mile long.
Ureta and his four children planted every single one of the trees themselves to honor the memory of his wife and their mother, Graciela Yraizoz. Their labor of love is now a favorite site for piolets and passengers to observe on their travels. There's nothing else quite like it in the world, and now many more people can appreciate the intricate design on Google Earth.
23 A Pond Full of Hippos - Katavi National Park, Tanzania
Katavi National Park is in a very remote area of the country and isn't as frequently visited as other parks in the area. So while you may not be able to venture there on a safari trip of your own, you'll be amazed to discover that you can observe some of the wildlife right from Google Earth.
The Katavi National Park website claims that the park is in one of the last untouched areas in the entire country, and offers wildlife a pristine place to reside. The park is known for having seasonal lakes that fill with water after heavy rains, attractive large herds of hippos to drink and bask in the fresh water.
22 The Bat Signal - Okinawa, Japan
Rooftop art isn't all that uncommon around the world, and Google Earth is a great place to discover some of the best. In some cases, it's messages written by talented graffiti artists and it's often used as a form of advertising for clever corporations, but sometimes the artwork is just pure clever fun.
That's the case on the top of this factory in Okinawa, Japan. The factory sits near an airport and painted the design on its roof to give visitors something fun to look at while coming and going. The Batman logo is widely recognized by people all over the globe and this certainly makes for a fun bit of art to spot on Google Earth.
21 UFO Sighting - Romania
Sometimes determining what an object is all a matter of perspective. This was certainly the case when UFO enthusiasts found what they believed to be a UFO landed in a grassy area of Romania. For years enthusiasts have scoured Google Earth in an attempt to find proof of life from other planets.
Unfortunately for the believers, the unique structure turned out to be nothing more interesting than a water tower with an interesting top. Although it's easy to see how someone could mistake the building for an extraterrestrial aircraft. But it's still fun to visit the site and ask, what if?
20 Barringer Meteor Crater - Winslow, Arizona
In the northern desert of Arizona, you can view the massive impact site of a meteor hitting the ground. It might be difficult to imagine a giant fireball streaking across the sky, but to give you an idea of just how big it was - the crater has a 1.2km diameter.
According to the Barringer Crater Company, the meteor hit the earth roughly 50,000 years ago and the result can still be seen today. It hit the ground with the same force of 2.5 million tons of TNT, leaving a massive imprint behind. The meteor itself weighed about 300,000 tons and was traveling at 26,000 miles per hour as it fell from the sky.
19 Diagon Alley - London, UK
Anyone who has read the Harry Potter novels or seen the movies is certainly familiar with Diagon Alley - a charming shopping village that Harry and his friends frequent throughout the series. Now you can get a first-hand view of the alley from Google Earth by visiting the Warner Brother's Studio Tour in England.
In addition to Diagon Alley, visitors can get a look at other memorable locations like the cupboard under the stairs, the Hogwarts school bridge, and the Great Hall. You'll also be able to spot authentic props and costumes that were used during the filming of the movies.
18 Fort Bourtange - the Netherlands
In the village of Bourtange, Groningen, Netherlands lies an unusual looking piece of land that's caught the attention of Google Earth users from around the world. But it's not just a creative architectural choice - these star-shaped forts were once considered to be cutting-edge defense systems.
It was built in 1593 under the orders of William the Silent, star-shaped forts gave soldiers a panoramic view of the area, along with the protection of a moat. You can still visit the fort today. It's been perfectly preserved and offers visitors a unique look into the past at the fort and the surrounding historic villages in the tiny town.
17 Cementerio de Aviones - Tucson, Arizona
Where do airplanes go when they're not being flown anymore? Some observant Google Earth users recently discovered the answer to that question just outside of Tucson, Arizona. The Davis-Monthan Air Force Base is known as the largest aircraft boneyard in the world.
The base began storing aircraft just after WWII. The dry and hot conditions make it easy to preserve the aircraft which are sometimes broken down and used for parts in other planes. The seemingly endless rows of airplanes make for an eerie view on Google Earth, but you can actually take bus tours of the base.
16 The World's Largest Swimming Pool - Algarrobo, Valparaíso, Chile
Google Earth users who are perusing the Chilean coast have been surprised to discover another massive body of water right beside the ocean. But this one is man-made, and it's actually the largest swimming pool in the world.
This huge swimming pool can be found at the San Alfonso del Mar resort in Algarrobo, Chile. It's an impressive 3,324-feet long and has a total area of water measuring 19.77 acres and holds 66 million gallons. In order to recreate the size of this pool, you'd need to combine 6,000 average-sized backyard swimming pools.
15 Journey Through Time and Space - London
Doctor Who fans were thrilled to discover that they could venture into the TARDIS on Google Earth. Visiting the Earl's Court Police Box and clicking on precisely the right spot will take visitors out of London and straight to the famous set of the long-running sci-fi show.
Once inside, you can click around the various pathways and get a good look at the classic set from all angles. Visitors are limited to the main room of the set, but it's an excellent opportunity for fans of the show to see if it really is bigger on the inside.
14 Star-Shaped Park - Lisakovsk, Kazakhstan
A mysterious pentagram-shaped etching in a remote area of Kazakhstan was a cause for concern when it was recently discovered by curious Google Earth users. The closest town is nearly 12 miles away, and many thought it might be a sign of nefarious activity. But what looks like an ominous warning from the sky is really just the shadow of a park constructed in the Soviet Era.
According to LiveScience, the star was a popular and common symbol up until 1991. Stars such as this were used to decorate everything from flags to clothing and buildings, so archeologists weren't terribly surprised to discover a park in this shape. The park is abandoned now, but the roadways forming the shape still exist.
13 Desert Lips - Sudan
Anyone who zooms in on the desert in Sudan will be surprised to discover a giant landmass resembling a pair of bright red lips. The lips are just over half a mile long, and really stick out from the rest of the surrounding arid landscape. But what caused it?
No one is quite sure why the lips appear in the desert. Many people suspect that the illusion is just the result of different colored sand being outlined by the trees which cause it to stand out from the surrounding sand even more vividly.
12 Another Life Form - Chile
Giant and mysterious land art has been speculated to be the result of aliens visiting Earth for centuries. Upon discovering this massive piece of art carved into the land in Chile, many people thought that they may have discovered a self-portrait created by an extraterrestrial life form.
While it's unlikely that the artwork came from outer space, no one seems to know exactly how or why it appeared. Given that the portrait is easily visible from Google Earth's satellite images though, it's safe to say that someone put in a good deal of time and effort to create it.
11 A Giant Herd of Buffalo - Kigosi Game Reserve, Tanzania
If you zoom in on the Kigosi Game Reserve in Tanzania, you'll discover a massive herd of buffalo running through the open space. The game reserve is home to many endangered and unique species of animals and birds. While they offer safaris and other excursions, it's uncommon to catch a group of animals this large on satellite imagery.
African Buffalo are massive animals similar to the American Buffalo that many people are familiar with. But they're considered incredibly dangerous animals. According to some reports, over 200 people are attacked and injured by them every year - making Google Earth one of the best places to get a look at them.
10 The Scarecrow Village - Nagoro, Japan
One of the more unusual towns that users have discovered on Google Earth's street view is Nagoro, Japan. Instead of the typical foot traffic that you see in most city centers, you'll find tons of stuffed scarecrows masquerading as locals. The unique citizens of the village have earned Nagoro the nickname "Scarecrows Village."
According to NPR, the scarecrows are the creation of Tsukimi Ayano, who has been making them for over a decade. She started creating them to fill in the void left by the village's declining population. Some of the scarecrows are the result of the characters she creates in her imagination, while she uses others to pay tribute to members of the community who have passed away.
9 The International Space Station
Not all of the interesting points on Google Earth require you to stay on the planet anymore. Google recently partnered up with NASA to give Google Earth users an inside look at the International Space Station as it orbits the planet, giving people a fascinating view of the world.
The space station tour gives viewers a unique look at what it's like to live and work in the astronaut's headquarters. You can visit all 15 modules of the space station along with the two visiting vehicles that were docked there at the time. The tour includes information on what the daily life of the astronauts is like as well.
8 The Lion King - Dunstable, UK
A massive lion carved into a chalk hill has been capturing the attention of curious Google Earth users. The hill is a well-known landmark to locals but recently found fame as "The Lion King" in the satellite images.
According to the BBC, the lion is 483-feet long and is England's largest hill design. It overlooks the Dunstable Downs and is meant to indicate the location of the Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire. It was originally constructed as a warning to low-flying aircraft that the zoo was near so that they wouldn't scare the animals.
7 Desert Breath - Egypt
When people first stumbled upon this strange series of circles just off the road in the Egyptian desert, many believed it to be a crop circle-like message from another planet. But it was eventually determined to be a creative land art installation designed by three Greek artists known as D.A.ST. Arteam.
On their inspiration, Danae Stratou, one of the artists on the team, said, "In our mind’s eye the desert was a place where one experiences infinity. We were addressing the desert as a state of mind, a landscape of the mind." Desert Breath still exists today, but it is slowly deteriorating as time passes.
6 Potash Ponds - Moab, Utah, USA
No one expects to stumble across technicolor ponds in the middle of the desert, but if you venture to Moab, Utah, that's exactly what you'll find. These ponds are not a natural phenomena but are man-made bodies of water constructed to collect potash. Potash is a potassium-containing salt that's commonly used in fertilizers.
According to Gizmodo, the ponds are actually dyed a vibrant deep blue to attract and retain heat from the sun, which helps to accelerate the evaporation process. As the water evaporates, the water begins to lighten and change color. Depending on when the satellite catches the 300-day long process, you might see the water as light blue, purple, or a greenish yellow.
5 Pacman in the Desert - Las Vegas, Nevada
Hidden away just north of Las Vegas is this unusually shaped piece of land in the middle of the desert. It might be difficult to tell at ground level, but the land bears a striking resemblance to the beloved arcade game character, Pacman.
Originally released in 1980, Pacman is one of the longest-running video game series of all time and one of the most famous from the golden age of arcade gaming, leading to all kinds of fan tributes from all over the world. There's no telling whether or not this piece of land was intentionally created to look like the character, but those who have discovered it on Google Earth can't ignore the similarities.
4 Lava Lake - Ambrym, Vanuatu
The Ambrym volcano in the island nation of Vanuatu is well known for its active eruptions and bubbling lakes of lava. So in an effort to bring people closer to some of the most impressive and desolate corners of the planet, Google decided to show off the inside of a bubbling lake of lava.
According to LiveScience, two explorers were given 360-degree cameras and they captured the entire trek. They brought the cameras right up to this lava lake, and you can follow their entire journey in street view. It's also pretty impressive to look at the giant red lava lakes overhead in a traditional satellite view to get a sense of how large they actually are.
3 Nazca Lines - Peru
The Nazca Lines are a series of ancient geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert. No one is sure what their origin is or why they were created. The glyphs are comprised of nearly 300 individual figures including a bird, a snake, a spider, and various plants.
This huge display of ancient artwork covers over 380 square miles of land. They're made up of over 10,000 individual lines, some of which are nearly 100 feet wide and 5 miles long. Because of their immense size, the designs are difficult to see unless you're high on a hilltop or in a plane, making Google Earth the perfect place to discover them for yourself.
2 Flight Simulator - Can You Land a Plane?
Google Earth gives users a fun way to explore the planet with its flight simulator feature. Many people overlook this feature, but it's a great way to take in all that Google Earth has to offer without struggling to think of interesting locations or coordinates to search for.
To use the flight simulator, you'll need to have Google Earth downloaded to your computer - web browsers don't currently support the feature. Select Tools and Enter Flight Simulator to get started. There are a few different aircraft to choose from and you can start your journey from any airport. Mastering the controls will take a bit of practice, but flying through Google Earth is well worth the effort.
1 Swim with Sharks
In the Voyager section of Google Earth awaits a journey into the deep sea. There you can swim with different shark species in various oceans around the world. This unique perspective gives users a view of the ocean and the animals that inhabit it that you don't find in many places.
The nonprofit organization The Ocean Agency provided images from oceans in 26 countries allowing everyone to get close up and personal with one of the ocean's most infamous creatures. The photos include all kinds of sharks - from Great Whites to Bull Sharks and Blacktip Sharks. Exploring the ocean on Google Earth definitely gives you a new perspective of what's swimming below the surface.
Sources: Google Earth, LiveScience