I'm considering making a novel about something weird that really happened sort of: an island that was on every map of the world, but never really existed.

The real deal is called a Phantom Island, and the one that snagged my attention is called Sandy Island of New Caledonia. TL;DR version: we thought it was there as it was on a lot of maps, it ended up in the OpenSource Global Coastline Vector, NASA used it to adjust focus on the satellite cameras, it ended up on Google Maps and everything else because it looked different, and someone eventually went there for research and... "Where'd the island go???"

Now for the novel, the theory is that it's some kind of time-travel research lab that got zapped to our time, and is hidden by tech that messes up any way to find it: to hide it from satellite cameras, it makes them look 30 miles south into open ocean; it messes up satellite phones and GPS, so no communication and you think you're far to far north; and some other things to mess up any tech from outside that wants in.

I'm still working on the plot, but does anyone have any ideas as to what sort of modern tech could possibly be developed to serve these roles in concealing the island? And have any other ideas? The idea is to make it make sense that nobody can find the island/laboratory, but people can leave there, and come back if they know what they're looking for. Its a time manipulation research lab from sometime in the future, stranded in today's world, so although I'd love it if we used "possible tech" that we are working on and may develop, it is a future-themed sci-fi so go nuts.

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    $\begingroup$ Probably not what happenned to Sandy Island, but map makers often put a dummy, invented island or two in their maps. That way, if those islands appear in another map, they have some proof that the map is actually a copy of theirs $\endgroup$
    – SJuan76
    Dec 31, 2014 at 11:23
  • $\begingroup$ @SJuan76 It might be had to argue a full copy; or can cartographers not draw their inspiration heavily from other maps? I don't know the "rules" of cartography. $\endgroup$
    – TylerH
    Dec 31, 2014 at 14:45
  • $\begingroup$ It's like a book. You can quote one, but when that quote is 270 pages long out of 271 you are likely to be sued. $\endgroup$
    – Oldcat
    Jan 5, 2015 at 23:38

3 Answers 3


Ok, so you have to decide: is your research lab from a different time? Or a different place? (i.e. are the limited to modern technology?)

The answer to that will affect where things go from here.

Things to think about:

To "hide" from satellites (without theoretical/impractical meta-materials), you either have to be covered in camouflage which looks so much like water that high-quality pictures can't distinguish it (hint: this is hard)... or you have to hack into the satellites and digitally edit their images before they're sent down.

To prevent people in ships/planes from strolling past, you may be on the right track with confusing their GPSs. This'll be hard to do without causing their GPS to just stop working because it's confused. (note: it's relatively easy to fake a signal... but if you can't suppress the other signals, you'll just have a GPS unit with confusing information, resulting in unspecified behavior). You could play with changing the transmission of error-corrections, but that's another can of worms.

Ships will probably be the easiest to change the course of because they're relatively slow so a very, very slow change in course might not be terribly perceptible. Aircraft, on the other hand, will be high enough that you'll have to send them REALLY far around you for them to not see you.

Which leads me to another thought: generate massive amounts of fog. If your island is ALWAYS covered in a huge cloud of fog, satellites, aircraft, and ships won't be able to see you... though some people might get curious about the unexplainable fog and send a research team to find out.

But here's my parting thought: hiding an island is hard; hiding something ON the island might not be nearly as hard.

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    $\begingroup$ Well, if you had metamaterials.... ;-) $\endgroup$
    – Shokhet
    Dec 31, 2014 at 5:06
  • $\begingroup$ Ooooh metamaterials! I have to research that, it could be interesting... I read something about it, while it can't act as a color filter, it could be used to make a refraction shield so images of the shield get light from the ocean to the side instead! Interesting, now to work out the architecture of the shield... maybe a bubble dome around the island... $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2014 at 6:14
  • $\begingroup$ I think it may be overly complicated after all......... hmm. Meh, the plot needed work anyway. Satellite hacking and fake GPS transmitters sound like the best bet tho... That, combined with popping in and out when they get the time travel stuff working is probably enough to keep the lab hidden. The one part of the plot I have set is that they were in the future, messed up a test, and sent the entire island back in time. who said time machines only warp themselves and the things inside? $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2014 at 6:29

To make it look like water... why not cover it with water? So it's not an island but an underwater pocket that appears to be open-air to the inhabitants, but is a sunken dome on the outside.

Hide just the presence on the island: it appears wild because the lab and population is always elsewhen when someone looks. So why is it in our time at all? Need a good excuse.

How big is it? Maybe it's tiny and easier to overlook. Maybe it's bigger on the inside.

Where would it be? If its part of an archipelago it will already be overrun with humans. But among the thousands of islands and ilets in an island nation some of them are private, have no commercial value for development, or are nature preserves. A crag that is unsuitable for building on might be replaced with a fake cover and nobody notices.

If the island is isolated, in the middle of the open ocean, you have the problem of a huge mountain in the ocean that would be there. So is it confused with a sea mount that stops 30 feet from the surface? That ties in with the submerged idea.


To add to iAdjunct's answer about GPS, GPS has an intentional signal degradation function known as Selective Ability that adds a pseudorandom vector to the signal (spanning all satellites) so that a specific area has all of its GPS signals degraded by an equal amount, causing a fix to be wrong by approximately 100m. This will ensure all GPS satellites report the same wrong number, so the GPS receiver will not be confused.

If you are capable of hacking and modifying the GPS satellites, it is not impossible to make them set their Selective Availability vector to something like 50km (causing them to miss the island completely). Of course, this hack will have to ensure that the rest of the GPS fabric in the vicinity of the island is also gradually "warped", so that people don't notice it by the sheer 50-km discontinuity.

Another caveat would be the recent introduction of additional GNSS, such as Russia's Glonass, ESA's Galileo, and China's Beidou. All of these will have to be hacked to prevent multichannel GPS receivers from figuring out the hiding function.

  • $\begingroup$ The selective degradation adds uncertainty, not error. So a user would not be able to report his location well but this would not keep him from sailing into the region and seeing your island. $\endgroup$
    – Oldcat
    Jan 5, 2015 at 23:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Oldcat I disagree with your interpretation. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Differential_GPS#History "to avoid providing such unexpected accuracy, the C/A signal transmitted on the L1 frequency (1575.42 MHz) was deliberately degraded by offsetting its clock signal by a random amount, equivalent to about 100 meters of distance" Furthermore, if the SA signal was not an error, differential GPS will not be able to correct for it, since it would vary between the dGPS site and the receiver. $\endgroup$
    – March Ho
    Jan 6, 2015 at 6:34
  • $\begingroup$ As you write yourself - the signal reduces GPS accuracy. It doesn't move you 50 miles off line so that you miss the island entirely. And it only does so for a very small distance, so an island or even a boat would be in visual range either way. You could drive a car on a road with the degraded signal. Everyone did so for years. $\endgroup$
    – Oldcat
    Jan 15, 2015 at 23:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Oldcat did you even read the answer? $\endgroup$
    – March Ho
    Jan 16, 2015 at 6:22

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