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Scientists undiscover Pacific island

If you were planning a vacation getaway to Sandy Island, a tiny speck in the Coral Sea between Australia and New Caledonia, you're out of luck. Despite frequently on maps and charts, including Google Earth, it doesn't actually exist. The Sydney Morning Herald reports

When the voyage's chief scientist, Maria Seton, and her crew sailed past where the island should be, they found nothing but blue ocean.

"We became suspicious when the navigation charts used by the ship showed a depth of 1400 metres in an area where our scientific maps and Google Earth showed the existence of a large island," Dr Maria Seton, a geologist from the University of Sydney, said.

"Somehow this error has propagated through to the world coastline database from which a lot of maps are made."[...]

Steven Micklethwaite from the University of Western Australia said, "We all had a good giggle at Google as we sailed through the island, then we started compiling information about the seafloor, which we will send to the relevant authorities so that we can change the world map."

As you can see from the ambiguous black smudge on the Google image above, the program seems to have been a bit confused by the nonexistant landmass. In this era of rising sea levels, it's not unusual for islands to disappear beneath the surface, but based on depth readings at the site, this island seems never to have existed. Live Science notes that a group of New Caledonian ham radio operators actually disproved the island's exitence a decade ago, but the scientific delegation from Australia should hopefully help make it official.

A librarian in New Zealand has traced the first mention of Sandy Island back to a "chart created by the Hydrographic Office of the British Admiralty in 1875". The chart's author had included this disclaimer:

"Caution is necessary while navigating among the low lying islands of the Pacific Ocean. The general details have been collated from the voyages of various navigators extending over a long series of years. The relative position of many dangers may therefore not be exactly given."

However, future chartmaker seem to have ignored the warning and the mythical island got passed down through the generations until it turned up on Google. 

Had it existed, Sandy Island would have been in French waters (New Caledonia is a French colony), but for what it's worth, it doesn't seem to appear on any of Paris' official maps so it's not really a loss to anyone. (If only we could make a few East China Sea islands disappear.)

"Phantom islands" like the Brasil -- the mythical rock west of Ireland that appeared on charts until the 19th century -- were once fairly common. There's something encouraging in knowing that in the age of Google, there's still some room for discovery... or undiscovery.

"We became suspicious when the navigation charts used by the ship showed a depth of 1400 metres in an area where our scientific maps and Google Earth showed the existence of a large island," Dr Maria Seton, a geologist from the University of Sydney, said.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/where-did-it-go-scientists-undiscover-pacific-island-20121122-29ro4.html#ixzz2DS4hMyWo

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The Syrian rebels arm up

 

Well, this is new. The above video is perhaps the first recorded example purporting to show a Syrian military helicopter downed by rebels using a surface-to-air missile. The insurgents, of course, have been desperate to acquire these weapons in order to counteract the regime's increasing reliance on air power. However, the opposition's international allies have been loathe to provide such missiles, out of fear they could fall into the wrong hands. 

The video claims to be filmed in the Aleppo countryside, near to the Sheikh Suleiman military base. A second video appears to show the helicopter crashing to the ground. Sheikh Suleiman has been besieged by the rebels for months, and a rebel commander told the AFP recently that it would fall in "a matter of days."

It's not only SAMs that rebels have gotten their hands on in recent days. Insurgents also overran a military base belonging to the 46th Regiment, near Aleppo, last week. The invaluable Brown Moses blog has a rundown of the equipment seized, which includes tanks, truck-mounted guns, rocket launchers, and long-range artillery. It's possible that the missiles that struck the helicopter at Sheikh Suleiman was also seized from the 46th Regiment's arsenal. 

Of course, as the rebels make gains across the country, radical groups are also getting their hands on military equipment. In this video, purportedly filmed in the eastern governorate of Deir Ezzor, members of the jihadist organization Jabhat al-Nusra show off their spoils -- including a tank. While Bashar al-Assad still sits on the throne, these radical groups may be able to make common cause with the broader opposition -- who will control these weapons of war after the regime falls, however, remains an open question.