I've been doing quite a bit of research on how to hide an entire continent (that's located on Earth, mind you) and I've only found one even slightly possible solution which is the following: prior to the first clear satellite image of the Atlantic Ocean/Western Hemisphere (which if I'm not mistaken was taken on November 10, 1967, by ATS-3) was revealed to the public, the United Nations General Assembly Convened to discuss the clearly visible continent, the debate lasted for quite a while but eventually most member states agreed to never reveal the existence of the continent and to never exploit its resources and things of that sort, subsequently NASA was forced to conceal the continent using advanced photo editing.

Now, my question is, would this be realistic/possible? If not, are there any plausible solutions that don't include magic or any such thing?

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    $\begingroup$ How large of a "continent" are you talking about? Is there anything on it that is A Clear and Present Danger That Must Not Be Allowed To Escape? $\endgroup$
    – notovny
    Commented Sep 24, 2022 at 21:23
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    $\begingroup$ You are of course aware that there many private companies supplying satellite imagery to anybody who has a credit card, and that quite of few of these companies are not American? (And NASA is not the American Geographical Society. In general, even the smallest pieces of land were known loooong before satellite imagery became a thing. Ships are not trains, they don't go on fixed tracks. By the late 17th century ships had gone over all the unfrozen part of the Atlantic. There is no way for any island larger than a small rock to remaining undiscovered in the Atlantic after 1700 or so.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Sep 24, 2022 at 21:43
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP they were so good at finding islands, they even found islands that didn’t exist! $\endgroup$
    – Topcode
    Commented Sep 24, 2022 at 21:50
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    $\begingroup$ This is awfully close to your question How to hide a continent? asked a year ago. Worse, it's probably a duplicate of For how long can I hide the discovery of a new continent?. The only difference is the specific condition of the UN trying to keep it a secret, which is unbelievable bordering on impossible (@JohnDallman's answer treats that). $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Sep 24, 2022 at 22:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Topcode Your correct, but you're also not correct (setting the humor aside, which is good!). It wasn't that they found islands that didn't exist. What they had were lousy map making techniques due to limited abilities to discern where they really were. A continent, on the other hand, is the proverbial elephant in the room. There would be ocean currents impossible to explain save for the presence of the continent. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Sep 24, 2022 at 22:41

8 Answers 8


Your example is not possible. During the several centuries when sailing ships were the dominant carriers of international trade, they went essentially everywhere. The vagaries of the wind meant they could not follow precise routes, and they always had to keep a good lookout to avoid accidents. All of the uninhabited land in the world was discovered and located on maps during that period. Nothing big enough to be a continent - which I assume means at least as large as Australia - could have escaped discovery.

You could technically have a new large island discovered in the next few decades, as the polar caps melt. But it's a very technical discovery, since it just amounts to the discovery that a chunk of Antarctica or Greenland is a separate island. That's already suspected to be the case, and the newly revealed land would have been under an icecap for thousands of years.

An island, but definitely not a continent, could have escaped notice in the Arctic Ocean for a while. It was known by the late nineteenth century that there was an ocean current flowing through the Arctic. An extra island in the Arctic would not have been discovered until Arctic exploration started seriously after that. It would have been found by about 1960. Again, the island would have been covered with ice for thousands of years.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, biggish islands continued to be discovered in the frozen parts of the oceans well into the 20th century. For example, the entire Severnaya Zemlya (= Northern Land) archipelago, 14,000 square miles, was only discovered in 1913. I assume that this kind of land is not what the question is about. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Sep 24, 2022 at 22:36
  • $\begingroup$ Ships didn't just go "everywhere" due to wind, they were actively searching for new lands to trade with and later colonize. $\endgroup$
    – ventsyv
    Commented Sep 26, 2022 at 17:52

No, because people just flew wherever they wanted before that.

It wasn't till around the 1950s and 1960s that radar and regulations got advanced enough to track most planes. Hobbyists and rich people and businesses could fly their planes wherever, and they'd certainly notice any large landmass. You can commonly see 200 kilometers away, and people took a lot of routes depending on the winds.

As such, a bunch of people would have seen the continent, and probably tried to make it a refueling stop.

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    $\begingroup$ In fact, the fist transatlantic commercial flight was Pan Am in 1939. That forces the OP's timeline back to the 1940s if we ignore the Age of Sail, which pushes the timeline back to the late 1500s. Of course the Vikings got to Canada around A.D. 1,000 so all that was needed to discover the continent were a few convenient islands to hop across. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Sep 24, 2022 at 23:55

Without changing history, and it being a year-round dry landmass: nearly impossible, however...

I can think of two options.

OPTION 1: Cyanobacteria covering the entire landmass

These are bacteria which appear blue to cyan in color and can grow in a variety of different environments. The goal here is to have the landmass be covered by a bluish tarp which would ensure that you can't quite see it until you view the entire landmass at once, such as with a satellite. Ideally the type of bacteria covering would have three traits.

Firstly, the bacteria should be relatively toxic to humans. Having the bacteria be toxic ensures that any ships and people who reach the landmass are not able to tell anybody that it happens to exist. This would create a region which people avoid due to no know successful voyage through it but not direct knowledge of the continent.

Second, this bacteria should appear to be nearly indiscernible from ocean water but not exactly the same. The idea here would be that it seems that due to the similarity in color the water, from the surface or air where only a portion of the landmass is in view, is simply a sandbar, reef or debris present in the water. Once it is determined that the ENTIRE region is the same color and that color is not quite ocean water it would slowly become clear that this is in fact a very unique continent not a difficult to navigate portion of the ocean.

Finally, to constrain the cyanobacteria to the continent it should not be able to survive very well in ocean water. This will severely limit the potential for previous contact with the bacteria to occur which in turn will further enforce the idea that this portion of the ocean simply has weird colored water.

In summary: Cover the entire landmass in bacterial camouflage which is toxic to those who are unfortunate enough to reach the landmass

OPTION 2: Very, very specific geography and a series of barriers to navigation until the 20th century

In theory a landmass which has very specific geography could likely evade discovery as a continent until you have a clear picture of the entire Atlantic Ocean. Specifically if it was difficult to navigate during the age of sail, large enough for its extend to be indeterminate from a commercial plane and if the core landmass was surrounded by difficult to navigate waters.

There are a few stages to this:

First, basing this continent well inside (minimum 50 Km to deal with the horizon on ship which has, say a 100m mast) inside of a gyre should make it more difficult to reach in the age of sail in the first place until we have self propelled ships, since travel is slower inside of these regions it makes it more difficult to navigate to and possibly map the potential landmass.

Second, Make a large series of reefs, rocks, sandbars and barrier islands surrounding the continent which cannot be easily seen from inside the gyre, an area with established currents and good prevailing winds, such as the Sargasso sea. Also, you are not able to see ANY of the continent itself as of yet, and the closest island/sandbar/reef/rock needs to be at least 50 Km away as well. Ideally you would want to establish that this barrier region can only truly be navigated at all by VERY small watercraft, which can't reach the region unassisted. The reason for this is to make a barrier which is notoriously difficult to navigate which is inside of an area known for calm winds. The pairing of these two factors would nearly force sailors to avoid this area until the 19th century where you could then attempt to navigate a steamship inside of this region. Given the historic difficulty of navigating these waters major shipping would likely avoid the region. Since larger ocean worthy ships would not be able to pass this barrier region and there does not appear to be any landmasses in the region it becomes less likely that an expedition to this region would occur in the first place.

Third, the continent itself should not appear to be connected until you view the entire area at once, and width should be at ideally around 600 to 700 Km to ensure that the exact extent of the content can't be determined from a commercial plane. The geography of the continent comes into play here, if the continent is mostly marshland with very few to no obvious land-forms then even it would be very difficult to determine that it is in fact a continent-sized landmass from the surface. Given it is difficult to reach in the first place it is likely that nearly nobody would attempt to search for land within the region.

Optionally, like the first option, have most all the land area covered by various levels of special cyanobacteria or similar blue-green appearing organism. In this case, without viewing the entire area it would appear from above that the region just has strange colored water by anybody who gets close or only views a specific portion of the region by plane. The difference in the water color would become apparent only when the entire area is viewed as a whole by satellite.

In Summary: People would know that there was a large portion of the Atlantic which is difficult to navigate for one reason or another but can not determine that is a single connected landmass until viewing the area as a whole.

Both ideas would likely lead to indirect knowledge before the satellite photo but no confirmed discovery. In either option it would not seem likely that people would want to live in this region.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horizon https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barrier_island https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horse_latitudes https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sargasso_Sea https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ATS-3 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyanobacteria

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    $\begingroup$ The bacteria idea is very interesting, sadly i am not sure it will pass a more thorough analysis. Satellite image is usually taken in a lot of different wavelength to allow to see different features in more details, so you would need a large amount of bacteria that react as ocean water in visible light and several IR bands. Not impossible, but it might be too many coincidence all at once to be believable to be just unguided evolution. Unless... $\endgroup$
    – bracco23
    Commented Sep 26, 2022 at 8:43
  • $\begingroup$ The idea would be that you know it's a continent only when it's a satellite taking the image. In general if you had a bacteria that appears as ocean water under visible light that should cover hiding the continent until in and around the 1920's to 1950's at least (I would need to confirm when IR cameras and sensors became common) Regardless if the satellite takes a variety of the EM spectrum the satellite would be the first thing to confirm that the continent is there in the first place $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 27, 2022 at 2:37


What happens if a country decides to violate the agreement and settle the new continent? The international community would have to sanction that county, but do that without saying why they are sanctioning them. If they can’t sanction them then they need to go to war over something they can’t explain to your average person. Both scenarios won’t go over well in most countries. Because of that, there is no reason not to exploit the new continent.

  • $\begingroup$ three can keep a secret if two of them are dead, and the third is cursed to speak only in spoonerisms $\endgroup$
    – No Name
    Commented Sep 26, 2022 at 2:40

Charles Fort was right.

new lands

Several times, in the course of this book, I have tried to be reasonable. I have asked what such repeating phenomena in one local sky do indicate, if they do not indicate fixed origins in the sky. And if such occurrences, supported by many data in other fields, do not indicate the stationariness of this earth, with new lands not far away--tell me what it is all about. The falling stones of Chico--new lands in the sky--or what?-- New Lands p. 535


Charles Fort compiled many accounts of anomalous falls from the sky - stones, animals, huge blocks of ice - weird stuff. On trying to account for where these materials were coming from, he posited unseen lands just above the atmosphere, and went into a little detail about what must be going on in these lands.

In your world, satellite images showed Fort was right. There are lands above the upper atmosphere, invisible from the ground. They can be seen from satellites and also by orbiting spacecraft but they are too high to be accessed by planes.

The exact nature of these lands remained unclear. In the fiction, an SCP Foundation-like entity takes charge of keeping this secret and also investigating the Fortean New Lands. As with other anomalous phenomena, the world governments keep their mouths shut.


The Ocean of Death:

Obviously, if you are going to have an extra continent, the landmasses need to be arranged differently. On our Earth, weather and such would be altered by an extra continent, so I think some differences would be merited.

On your world, you have a smallish uncharted continent in the middle of the only and very large ocean almost completely devoid of islands. Your existing habitable landmasses are all closer and more broken up, with numerous passages and navigable routes with fair weather generally. People can get to every known place in the world in ships that for most of history were not overly seaworthy because they didn't have to be.

Everyone agrees the planet is bigger. But due to custom and religion, there is a widespread belief that all land is clustered around the known landmasses. There is also a general belief that in the great ocean there are terrible predatory monsters (which there may be - imagine megalodons and giant squid that can survive near the surface). The weather in the ocean is horrible, with titanic storms rolling off the ocean. Anchored floating coral-like structures float just beneath the surface. Throughout the age of sails, no ships survived journeying out into the ocean, including a large and fairly recent one with only a handful of survivors who turned back to confirm the hazards and monsters (maybe the monsters are real, or just an excuse for failure and bad planning).

Only fools journey into the ocean, ships aren't generally built for rough conditions and deep oceans, and there are very real hazards that kill all those who venture there. The distances are such that other trade routes are faster and more efficient. With the large inedible megafauna, there are few easily obtainable fish or other resources. With no refueling stations and treacherous storms, no attempt to fly over the ocean has succeeded.

People pretty much gave up trying to cross the ocean. I mean, what's the point?


You only option I think is to have a large volcanic area which

  • undergoes periodic eruption, producing scattered low islands all across its extension. Think of something like Ferdinandea island, but on a larger scale

Ferdinandea Island (also Graham Island, Graham Bank or Graham Shoal; French: Ile Julia) is a certain volcanic island/seamount in the Mediterranean Sea near the island of Sicily that has, on more than one occasion, risen above the Mediterranean via volcanic action and soon thereafter been washed away. Since 300 BC this cycle of events has occurred four times. The top of the island is presently 6 metres below sea level.

  • is quiescent between each eruptive period, so that the newly formed volcanic islands and archipelagos are quickly reduced to shallow waters by the oceanic environment

In this way the continent is most of the time just laying below the water surface, except for those brief periods of time when the volcanic activity makes it surface and weather.


Geology that is just right.

The center of the island is intensely cold. This naturally makes the air above the center of the island cold, and hence it descends. As it nears the ground it has to go sideways and so there is a constant wind blowing away from the island except at high altitudes, where you get sucked in and would be lucky to survive.

Ships and low level planes get blown away. High altitude planes get sucked in and destroyed by turbulence. No word of the island gets out.

So how could the center of the island stay so cold? I suggest the rocks of the island form a giant natural thermoacoustic heat engine. Such an engine uses sound or vibrations to move heat from one place (the center of the island) to another (hot spots on the edge of the island)

The vibrations need a power source. I can suggest more amazingly fortuitous geology and tidal power - as the tides come in and out it forces air through small tunnels that produce just the right sounds to drive the heat engine.

Or, you could have a natural nuclear reactor, which boils water deep underground and the steam produces the vibrations as it escapes.

Your island is now unapproachable, but a hell-scape of constant freezing storm winds adjacent to places of unspeakable heat. A few oases of livable conditions exist where they are sheltered from the wind but not too close to any of the heat engine's outputs. Strange sounds dominate the island, causing psychological problems for anyone who sets foot there. If anyone has got to the island and escaped, they probably think it is haunted.

In time, the wonderful just-right geology will erode and the effects fade. That could be soon or in thousands of years. Some well placed explosives could destroy the heat engine.

  • $\begingroup$ Sailing ships can and routinely do make progress against the wind. At least since the 12th or 13th century, sailing to a destination into the wind has not been anything special. And I have no idea why one would think that airplanes cannot fly into the wind. (And you are grossly underestimating the amount of heat which would need to be moved. For example, Iceland is still frozen although it has many volcanoes which heat up a tiny little area around them; at best, this maximally improbable refrigerator might cool a correspondingly tiny area.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Sep 25, 2022 at 13:02
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP - I knew that and totally agree with you. The question asked if there was a way to make a continent unknown without recourse to magic. This doesn't involve literal magic :-), though it stretches science well past breaking point. Yes, you can get to the island, but you have to try extra hard and why would you? It cooks you, freezes you, irradiates you, and makes you believe in ghosts. Not a holiday destination at all. $\endgroup$
    – Simon G.
    Commented Sep 25, 2022 at 13:34

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