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NB: This is not a duplicate of another question. Despite this question being different and clearly stating and demonstrating how it is different below, it has been marked as a duplicate. If you agree, please vote for this to be re-opened. In the other question, the OP asks how an inhabited base could be cloaked from enemy detection. The answers suggest things like living underground, using electric cars, and other things to make the technology more low-key. This island has no habitation, and no technology, so these things would be irrelevant and alter the answers given.

So, this is gonna be one of the last in the basic "overcoming impossible obstacles" phase in planning my possible book project. After that's done, you'll probably be seeing less of 'that guy with the island'.

What I want to know is how a 55,000km2 island in the Indian Ocean could be kept hidden from any country's mapping satellites (and Google Maps), until the year 2019 when it was discovered (from the surface) by local fishermen. In my last question, many people brought up the issue of the island being undiscovered for so long, and there was lots of talk about cover-ups and stuff like that. I recommend you check that out in the link above to get some inspiration if you're planning on answering. (Look in the comments section of the question block.)

So, there are a few conditions to consider that will need to be a product of the cover-up (or whatever other way you guys come up with.). First of all, if it was a cover-up, there would have to be a reason why the organization who originally found the island wasn't there when the island was "discovered" by the rest of the world.

The second condition is that the first people to set foot on the island are a team of researchers - not the US military, or any other military force. Again, on my last question, some people believed that if the government had been kept in the dark for so long, they would assume a threat and send military units to quarantine the island. I believe JBH, who took part in the discussion in the previous question, said he(?) knew how this condition would be achieved, so I'll be interested to hear from him.

I would also be interested to hear if there are any other ways the island could have remained hidden besides an illegal cover-up, are there any other phenomena, natural or synthetic, that could achieve this?

Note: This is not a duplicate of the question "What would it take to keep a large island in the East Pacific hidden?". This one has different conditions to that one, conditions which would alter the answer to the question.

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    $\begingroup$ Somehow I doubt that'll fool US military satellites, especially since its 55,000km2 in size (That's like the size of Sri Lanka.) Also, you can tell whether its an island via different types of satellite imagery, not just true colour ones. Thanks for contributing though! $\endgroup$ – SealBoi Apr 6 '18 at 10:58
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    $\begingroup$ Not even remotely plausible. This is going to have to be an absurdity you hang a lampshade on. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Apr 6 '18 at 14:25
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    $\begingroup$ It was hidden under another, larger island which everyone knew about. :-) $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Apr 6 '18 at 18:17
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    $\begingroup$ Vibranium powered force field obtained from Wakanda. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Apr 7 '18 at 12:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Carl Witthoft You might be on to something. It is known that Antarctica is not a single land mass but there are many islands under the Antarctic ice sheet (possibly some not yet discovered). With carefully selected melting you could create an airspace over the island and even surround it with water. Technically, this wouldn't be an underground island. $\endgroup$ – Vince O'Sullivan Apr 7 '18 at 21:33

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The island was (after the initial discovery in the mists of time) never unknown, it was just ignored. There are a lot of uninhabited, uninhabitable islands all over the seas, and they garner little to no interest save frome cartographers. If it is unknown, every Jane Shmoe that stumbles upon it (reading radar data from satellites, looking at aerial surveillance, boating by) will look at the incontrovertible evidence of an island before her eyes, then look at the charts, and begin writing a memo about it, because 'I found an island, Yay!'.

So the island was (fraudulently/erroneously) mischarted and marked as inhospitable (no potable water, no flat terrain, no accessible coastal features,...), useless (no anchoring possible, geological features denote no economically viable mineral deposits,...) and dangerous (bays are full of rocks, frequent severe weather warnings). Now the island is seen a thousand times, and dismissed a thousand times.

Scientists will not be deterred, though, if the island suddenly gets interesting by whatever means (satellite data implies deposits of coolnewfaddium / data from genetic analysis of neighboring coastal species can only be explained by those species having lived right there / the booster stages of SpaceX would ideally touch down in that exact spot - can't we build a platform there?).

The island being known implies it belongs to some nation, so if that would be a snag for the plot, just have it smack in the middle of a disputed border. Not the 'i want it'-kind, but the kind where having the border there would incur responsibility for something unwanted (refugees, spill, SAR-responsibility, ...) so the two or more nations that could have a claim can't be bothered to set boot on the island lest the others use that as precedent.

The sheer size might make it interesting for something (dumping, research station) so there probably needs to be some ongoing effort by the shadowy oranisation (SO) in regards to making it seem like the last place one would like to be -

  • SO: "We'll try and use it as a dump, ok?"
  • National goverments:"We're not per se responsible, but go ahead"
  • SO:"Everyone died horribly!(Though not interestingly - no viruses or cool megafauna) - Why did you allow this? You owe us a gazillion bucks!"
  • National government: "We owe you squat, first of all, it's not really our territory, secondly its clearly labeled as DeadDontInsideOpen; but the next application for doing something there will surely be denied!"
  • SO:"Awwwww..."

--- Uninteresting deaths: Weather-related: mudslide, flash-flood, foundering; Terrain-related: Rock-slide, Vehicles getting stuck, Anchorages breaking loose. Biology related: Malaria (known strains), Fungal respiratory complications (known species). --- Interesting deaths(Avoid): CO/CO2-bubbles from the ground, catastrophic methane bubbles from the sea-floor, over-statistical occurrence of freak waves (but you can massage the statistics), pirates, volcanism, unknown strains of deadly disease

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    $\begingroup$ By "charted as" i meant "fraudulently/erroneously charted as". There is potable water galore, the coast is approachable with splendid beaches, there might even be diamonds big as fists lying around - the main thing is that nobody ever checked, after that first Characterization of '1/5 - steer clear'. $\endgroup$ – bukwyrm Apr 6 '18 at 12:17
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    $\begingroup$ This really doesn't work with an island as big as the one described, it will be economically interesting just becasue it has so much uninhabited land, which will be obvious with the first charting and even more obvious with the first satellite image. It is also impossible to make a coastline that large entirely inaccessible. Worse for a insland that size "no economically viable minerals" is something that is only going to established by people on foot looking. $\endgroup$ – John Apr 6 '18 at 15:13
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    $\begingroup$ Basically, the island should become somebody else's problem. I agree with John that it might be a little too big as currently planned in order for the no-one-wants-it and no-one-bothers-to-double-check really to work well. $\endgroup$ – Narusan Apr 6 '18 at 15:16
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    $\begingroup$ the problem is the size of the island, many countries will want it just for living space. it is stretching believability that the island was no colonized during the exploratory ages you are talking about an island approximately the same size as Ireland. That is a lot of living space. $\endgroup$ – John Apr 6 '18 at 16:22
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    $\begingroup$ Countries have planted research stations on basically uninhabitable, extremely isolated desolate rocks like the Kerguelen Islands, Svalbard, and Jan Mayen. So that a place that big had no one bother with it is, well, laughable. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Apr 6 '18 at 17:34
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Can't be done. Demonstrated by a single image:

The Blue Marble image

One of the most reproduced images in history, this is The Blue Marble, taken by the Apollo 17 crew on December 7, 1972. Basically the entire Indian Ocean. Mainland Asia in on the horizon at the top, and going around the horizon is Indonesia and Australia just over the horizon, with Antarctica clearly visible on the bottom. If you recreate the view in Google Earth, it's easy to see where everything is. It's also clear there's no place to put an island the size of Tasmania where no one could see it. The only place where it wouldn't be visible in this image is in that large cloud bank southeast of South Africa, but that would have been trivially discovered centuries before this picture was taken.

If you know where to look, you can also see the cloud pattern caused by the Kerguelen Islands, which are a lot smaller, isolated, and mapped in 1754.

And this is one image.

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The trick here is not to keep it hidden per se, but to put it in a place that people won't go looking for it.

Looking through the comments in the previous question, it's clear that something that size would have appeared in satellite maps of the planet since the 1970s and let's face it; at 55k Km2, we're talking the size of Tasmania, which is pretty hard to miss.

That said, there are plenty of places on Earth that we just don't go looking for things. One of the reasons that Google (allegedly) fudges the details of the Pentagon on Google Earth is that everyone wants to see it. They also know roughly where it is. It's therefore the Google Earth version of clickbait. People will actively search for it.

So what else will they search for?

Anything that's in their way, really. On the oceans, that essentially means on trade routes. Why? Because modern container ships are very expensive and the last thing you want is your brand new ship running aground on something that no-one knew was in its way. Other than that, if there's no known population from an island somewhere that has made contact with the outside world yet, then it may very well stay hidden on grounds that our age of naval discovery is more or less over and we think we know all there is to know about what's out there.

The point being; if you want to hide an island, keep it off the official trade routes. The problem is that almost all the Indian Ocean is a trade route. But, this is at least a place to start.

Personally? I'd place it as south as possible, preferably between the southern tip of Africa and Antarctica. I'd do that because of the Roaring 40s. People generally don't want to sail ships any further south of the southern tip of Africa than they have to because the winds and turbulence can be horrific. If they're staying as close to South Africa as they can when switching between the Indian and South Atlantic oceans, it's possible that there could be an island close to Antarctica (but not so close that it becomes a research target) that no-one has ever noted it.

In reality, the chances of an island that's around 85% the size of Tasmania remaining hidden on the globe is next to impossible. If I was going to hide an island of that size, I'd do it in the South Pacific simply because it's bigger and has less trade route action than anywhere else on Earth. But, if I was forced to hide an island in the Indian Ocean, the best advice I could provide would be to put it where the ships aren't.

One final word of warning; if you put an island between South Africa and Antarctica, only drink the white wines they produce, not the reds. Both Tasmania and New Zealand are famous for their whites which fare much better in colder climates. While the reds of Margaret River (WA) and the Clare Valley (SA) border on legendary, your island simply can't have the climate to support them and NOT be discovered.

If you want your island to produce a spectacular red, the only place you can hide it is the South Pacific. Both the Atlantic and Indian oceans have traffic on them that would preclude an island that size being significantly north of Antarctica.

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  • $\begingroup$ Wow, very nice. But, one of the key components of the story is the wildlife that inhabits it - which would only really work in the Indian ocean (Mix of African and Asian fauna), as well as its tropical climate. $\endgroup$ – SealBoi Apr 6 '18 at 11:32
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    $\begingroup$ Damn, I'm lucky - the coordinates I chose for the island are right in the middle of a sizeable hole in the trade route network. $\endgroup$ – SealBoi Apr 6 '18 at 11:33
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    $\begingroup$ "Sizeable hole" isn't the same as "undetectable." dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3745728/… Depending on how flat, mountainous, or volcanic your island is, it could be seen from as far as 150 miles away. There's also the issue of migratory birds leading people to its shores, and migratory sea life leading fishermen to its continental shelf. $\endgroup$ – KernelOfChaos Apr 6 '18 at 13:23
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The Island has a weird mineral in the soil that manifests a previously unknown quantum effect called quantum-duality. At CERN, they crack a new particle, the discovery of which predicts that an ancient meteor consisting of this mineral may have impacted the earth creating a quantum vacuole, which ships or any known elements from the periodic table would pass right through unless they had a critical mass of the weird mineral in them.

Under these conditions, the quantum vacuole is penetrated and instead of simply passing though to the other side of the the vacuole, the ship and all on it merge into the quantum alternative, which is the island. For this reason, it has never been spotted by any satellite, voyager or adventurer thus far and the fauna and flora on the island remain secluded behind the quantum vacuole boundary, where they simply appear on the opposite side, re-entering the vacuole as they appear to leave it. The effect is so seamless that they see through to the other side of the vacuole without realising that it is in fact looped round.

Explaining how the fauna and flora got there in the first place would involve bio accumulation of the mineral in certain species's egg shells, which enables them to penetrate the quantum vacuole and populate the island that way.

An expedition goes exploring the world aboard a ship impregnated with a critical mass of the mineral manufactured at CERN at great cost and great secrecy. The plot can be filled with intriguing inferences from Einstein and references from other intuitive geniuses through the ages who predict that such a thing would exist. They criss cross the ocean systematically until they stumble upon the island's quantum vacuole.

This makes the whole thing plausible because who knows what they will discover about the universe next at CERN.

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    $\begingroup$ Cute, even if it violates a few dozen laws of physics. $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Apr 6 '18 at 18:17
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    $\begingroup$ To quote our great ancestor: "It always seems impossible, till it's done." $\endgroup$ – wwmbes Apr 7 '18 at 6:18
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    $\begingroup$ When Quantum Entanglement was discovered, it too violated the laws of physics. The universe determines the laws of physics, while physicists try to understand them. The ego is the quirk in the human mind that makes us believe that we determine the laws of physics for the universe to follow, until we discover an alternative explanation for our observations and painfully have to re-evaluate our beliefs, often censuring the oracles who bring the news of our delusions to our attention. Perhaps like observations of quasars, which offer an alternative to the Big Bang theory. A twist to the plot... $\endgroup$ – wwmbes Apr 7 '18 at 6:36
  • $\begingroup$ no, it did not violate the laws. Action at a Distance still is unviolated. Physicists don't " believe." They test and alter as necessary. $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Apr 9 '18 at 15:30
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I agree with bukwyrm that hiding a significant island is completely impossible. So how to keep it unexplored?

  • It was visited occasionally by European sailors in the 16th and 17th century, and they told pretty incoherent stories which are a minor part of common myth and folklore. "Lions and tigers and bears, oh my."
  • Since the 18th century, the island has been claimed by the Kingdom of Plot.
  • In the late 19th century, the king of Plot made a deal with the British Empire. Coaling stations on another Plottian island possession against preferential trade and defense deals. These treaties have held since then. Unlike most African or Asian countries, the Kingdom of Plot has never been a colony of any imperialist power, except for those ports on 99-year leases (since extended).
  • For reasons of their own, the Plottians did not want visitors on most of their terrain. A bit like Japan in the early 19th century. The rest of the world is vaguely aware than not even Plottians are allowed to visit some islands. This has become a cliche of cheap adventure stories and movies, and for that reason all sensible persons will dismiss wild tales as rumor.
  • In the early 21st century, the King of Plot got himself a batch of new advisors. Free trade and all that.

Now you can make the call who goes in and how. A few scientists with x tons of cargo on an one-time visa? A corporation that got the exclusive oil contracts?

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55,000 sq km island is just too big to be hidden. It absolutely has to appear on satellite pictures, and even without satellites, ships were unlikely to miss it.

It looks like the largest island discovered with the help of satellite imagery is Landsat Island in Canada. Its size is 25 m by 45 m (yes, meters, without the kilo- prefix).

So the only somewhat plausible and realistic explanation that I see is a conspiracy.

Let's imagine that this island had been away from usual shipping routes and escaped detection until first satellites were launched. Then, in early 1960s, it was simultaneously discovered by US and Russia. Both countries made secret expeditions (sorry, can not avoid that) and both wanted to claim the land for themselves. Naturally, the issue had become a very contentious one and led to what has become publicly known as "Cuban Missile Crisis" of 1962.

After cooler heads prevailed, it was decided that this island should remain a no-man's land, and, for the best, its existence kept in secret. This was relatively easy to do in 1960s, but as other countries launched their own satellites, it had eventually become clear that the charade could not be kept for long.

Finally, in 2019, some sailors discovered the island and made it public before government agents could intercept the information. Naturally, the world was very surprised. At the same time, world powers, now including China, are still honoring their old agreement of military non-involvement. Which means that the island is open for explorers!

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  • $\begingroup$ While I doubt that two governments would agree to leave an island alone and then hide its existence (such that a third entity could walk in and claim it), I've gotta give a +1 simply for the sailors making it public before the government could squelch the information. With modern technology making it easier for people to report a discovery to a wider audience more quickly, I could see that being a good plot reason why whatever protection was in place broke down in 2019. Perhaps the govm't was blocking cell frequencies, but a new technology was developed that they failed to block, for instance. $\endgroup$ – A C Apr 7 '18 at 23:57
  • $\begingroup$ @AC There wasn't any cellular reception, for some reason... Probably weather related. However, the ship was carrying what amounted to a portable transmission tower so the occupants could use Instagram and call for help (if needed). Oh look! Another island - this one isn't on the map. Strange. I'll just take a quick captioned picture for my 400k followers... $\endgroup$ – wizzwizz4 Apr 8 '18 at 11:37
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    $\begingroup$ ...um, y'all do realize that cell towers have limits, right? Once you're 50+ km offshore of a landmass with cell service, it's pretty much guaranteed you won't have cell service. Not having cell service on the ocean is normal. No magical intervention required. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Apr 8 '18 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, sailors would have definitely made it public... sometime in the 16th century. Maybe if you're really overbearing on the international conspiracy of all governments threatening to follow all sailors for the rest of their lives and murder them and their families if they ever spoke of it - that might get you into the 18th century if you're lucky. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Apr 12 '18 at 17:41
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I personally prefer the answer @bukwyrm has given, though you could also take another approach.

The only other ways an island (that is not magic or has supernatural weather/magnetic effects) could realistically be hidden like that are:

  1. If it only recently appeared. For example due to an inactive underwater volcano suddenly becoming active and creating land.
  2. If it was hidden by governments, like military bases are on Google Maps.

or, a more improbable, but possible third option:

  1. The island is within the range of a highly territorial nation who approach any activity in the area with hostility but haven't come across the island themselves.

Undiscovered islands are pretty much impossible in this current day and age with cameras and observation everywhere.

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    $\begingroup$ Some other people were speculating that a sinister entity other than a nation could be messing with primary satellite imagery and fooling even military mapping satellites. As for how and why, I'm not sure. $\endgroup$ – SealBoi Apr 6 '18 at 11:38
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe an oil company that wants to drill there and doesn't want other oil companies to know? They have a lot of money and political influence, so they could probably pull something like that off. $\endgroup$ – basklein Apr 6 '18 at 11:59
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    $\begingroup$ conspiracy theories about hiding satellite images break down when you realize many competing nations have satellites. $\endgroup$ – John Apr 6 '18 at 15:18
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    $\begingroup$ The proposal is for an island that's bigger than England. Such a thing can't "just appear" by volcano. It's also so big that it would have to be in international waters, and couldn't possibly be missed by a country that zealously guarded its "back yard". (And that wouldn't stop satellite mapping anyway.) $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Apr 6 '18 at 16:45
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    $\begingroup$ @David Richerby - The Republic of Ireland is 72,000km2 - and that's without Northern Ireland. Britain is at least twice the size of Ireland. 55,000km2 is 10,000 km2 smaller than Sri Lanka. Even that is fairly massive, I know, but I'm going with this guy's idea of an oil company charting it as dangerous and non-valuable. I know that it would probably still be settled, but I think I'll just have to let this one go. $\endgroup$ – SealBoi Apr 7 '18 at 18:42
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Probably won't work for (typical) wildlife, but I could see hiding some amount of space in the cone/magma chambers of an underwater volcano a la Bond villain. The original cone could be weathered down to appear to be a small, inhospitiable island, but under the surface of the ocean lies a vast unexplored cave, basically. If there was a plateau in the center vertical satellite photographs might make the cone appear shallower than it really is, with the space hiding under the overhang of the upper cone. You'd have to come up with some explaination of why the space hadn't collapsed or filled with water. (Some kind of natural pump powered by geothermal or radioactive heat, or a long lost technological civilization.)

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure if you interpreted my question correctly. I more meant an actual island, with trees, animals etc. rather than a fake island. It's a very cool idea, but not really appropriate for my question. $\endgroup$ – SealBoi Apr 6 '18 at 13:12
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It couldn't.

Sorry, but it's completely implausible. 55,000km2 about the size of Croatia or West Virginia. Such an island would be naked-eye visible from space and completely obvious to passengers on commercial aircraft. Ok, so the astronauts are in on the conspiracy and there is surprisingly little commercial air traffic over the Indian Ocean (pause the animation, select 2D, scroll over there and hit play). So maybe you could put this huge island somewhere out of the way. But then there are no "local fishermen" who might stumble upon it.

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    $\begingroup$ Even tiny little islands far away from any trade routes or places of interest in the Indian Ocean were recorded by European explorers two centuries before sailors had a way of even measuring their longitude. With Île Amsterdam having been discovered in 1522, something one thousand times larger (big enough to have noticeable weather effects from very far off) is not going to escape notice by intrepid explorers. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Apr 12 '18 at 17:57
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Due to a systemic effect of air current dynamics in the global climate scale, that spot is under permanent cloud coverage. Think the center of a swirly pattern of air masses that got classified and studied separately. This hides the island from satellites. Nobody bothered to check their maps had valid data for all the surface of the Earth, they just assumed so.

Being far away from shipping routes does the rest.

Optional: global warming has just, or is about to, alter that balance and dissipate cloud coverage for the first time since the 1960's.

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The island could be in a gap in the trade network, and home to some plantlife with ocean-colored leaves or flowers covering the entire island. This would likely hide it from satellites reasonably well.

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    $\begingroup$ satellite images use multiple spectra, color will not be enough to hide them. $\endgroup$ – John Apr 6 '18 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ On the other hand, As noted elsewhere here a lot of previously undiscovered material is found by people randomly surfing Google Earth. google earth doesn't show multiple spectra, only visual. If the island is ocean-coloured or otherwise camouflaged visually, then that's a major avenue of potential eyes to find it that gets cut out of the loop. $\endgroup$ – Ruadhan Apr 6 '18 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ but we are not talking about a spec, we are talking about someplace the size of ireland which would be easily seen in military and weather scans. $\endgroup$ – John Apr 6 '18 at 16:29
  • $\begingroup$ And not all satellites use visual light. RADARSAT-1 and 2 used radar, for example, with a ground resolution of 100 meters, a scan width of 500 km, and a polar orbit that could image the entire planet in 24 days; that mission started in 1996. The Shuttle Radar Topography Mission imaged basically the whole planet between 60 N and 56 S over 11 days in 2000. Camouflage wouldn't have helped hide an island. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Apr 7 '18 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ Fair point, I totally forgot about radars $\endgroup$ – SigmaOne Apr 7 '18 at 19:19
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Despite answers to the contrary, it is actually possible to have an unexplored island of that size if you cut the condition that it existed before.

The island did not exist before 2019 when it was actually created by a megathrust earthquake.

The enormously powerful earthquake triggering the 2004 tsunami catastrophe actually raised the sea floor by several meters. So it may be plausible that an earthquake in the Central Indian Ridge will raise the area around the Seychelles, Maledives and the Chagos Archiple around meters which will increase the area enormously if we take a look at sea maps (I will add that later).

Now a geologist may come to the conclusion that the areas are still too far from the actual tectonic plate to have that effect, but at least it is not completely idiotic.

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I'm not sure if this is completely possible or not:

1) The area around the island has lots of underwater rocks that come near the surface. Very few ships can safely approach (you need not only high grade sonar to know where everything is, but a propulsion system that lets you pick your way through the rocks while the current tries to dash you into them), it's considered a do-not-go area for this reason.

2) The geography plus extensive geothermal activity create a perpetual cloud cover. Satellites have gotten very few looks at the land. The land is also pretty much low lying and flat so it doesn't stand out on radar. Given all the shoals it wouldn't exactly be shocking for there to be some bits sticking out, even if they were seen nobody would care.

3) The dominant plant life has a mutation that causes it to be blue. What glimpses have been obtained look enough like water that nobody has noticed.

I do have a problem with local fishermen finding it, though--for it to be hidden this long it can't be local to any inhabited areas! Can you replace your local fishermen with fishermen in a disabled vessel drifting at sea?

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protected by Renan May 7 '18 at 18:06

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