Sandy IslandType in the words "Sandy Island" into a 'Google Maps' or 'Google Earth' search and hit Enter. It will immediately zoom in on a small area of the Coral Sea, to the northeast of Australia, where Sandy Island is located... or will it?
A group of Australian scientists were curious about the island because the local sea floor has been measured at around 1400 m below the sea's surface, which would make having a thin strip of land — roughly 25 km long and 5 km wide — right in the middle of that area quite unusual. However, when they arrived at the coordinates, the island wasn't there.
"We wanted to check it out because the navigation charts on board the ship showed a water depth of 1,400m in that area — very deep," said Dr Maria Seton, a marine geophysicist from the University of Sydney, according to BBC News.
[ More Geekquinox: New thought-reading devices could hack into the human brain ]
"It's on Google Earth and other maps so we went to check and there was no island. We're really puzzled. It's quite bizarre." she said.
In contrast to the rest of the region, which Google Earth and Google Maps show in spectacular detail, there is only a black splotch where the island should be, with Google Earth going one step further to outline where the island should be in red.
The island appears on other maps, too. In this map of the Oceania, the island is clearly visible just north of the intersection of 160 degrees East longitude and 20 degrees South latitude (look between the Coral Sea Islands and New Caledonia).
According to Brisbane's newspaper The Courier Mail, claims were made on the website 'www.abovetopsecret.com' that the French government proclaimed it a phantom island, and it was supposed to have been removed from its records in 1979, or that it could be a deliberate error inserted into the map, something mapmakers sometimes do so that they can identify their work for copyright purposes.
It's interesting, though, that if you use the 'historical imagery' tool in Google Earth, it does seem to indicate that something is there. The image that gets overlaid onto the area populates the southern half of the 'splotch' with what appears to be an island, or perhaps an island-sized mass submerged under the water.
[ More Geekquinox: UN report states that worldwide efforts to curb climate change are failing ]
So, did the island never exist and it was just an erroneous record? Was the island there in the past, but rising sea levels submerged it? Is it where Lost took place?
"We just don't know, but we plan to follow up and find out." said Seton.
Geek out with the latest in science in weather.
Follow @ygeekquinox on Twitter!