The advent of easily-accessible satellite imagery in the form of Google Maps and Google Earth has likely raised some security experts’ blood pressure over the years. Local law can restrict aerial photography or satellite imagery of sensitive sites; when Google gets imagery from commercial entities or government agencies, those sites sometimes come pre-blurred. Over time, though, laws have been changed, new sources of imagery have become available, and Google has quietly lifted the veil on many of these secretive sites.
1. Area 51
Area 51 has been claimed to exist in plenty of Hollywood movies including the blockbuster flick Independence Day. It is supposed to be a restricted and secret military base of the US forces. If legends are anything to go by, the Area 51 exists 83 miles north of Nevada. Apparently, the area is said to have a moonlike surface as well. Speculations are rife that this place is used for the development and testing of aircrafts and weapon systems by the US military―claim that the US Government always denied. The place is referred to by many other names including Homey Airport, Groom Lake, Dreamland, Paradise Ranch, Home Base and Watertown and is scrutinised minutely at all times to prohibit any kind of foreign intrusion.
As different as the name of this place is, Mezhgorye will make you believe that what happens in Russia stays in Russia. This place is actually a town in the Republic of Bashkortostan, Russia, which has always restricted the entry of visitors. Forget travellers, not even the Russian citizens from other parts of the country can enter this place. As far as the rumours suggest, the residents of this town are working on a highly classified project around Mount Yamantaw. Legends suggest that this particular mountain is the possible location of a number of Russian secrets, including treasures, a nuclear program, even a bunker which can be used during war, or a huge warehouse of coal. Let Russia keep their secrets, but the bad news for travellers is that it is a beautiful place and that is quite evident from the satellite images of Google Maps as well.
3. Snake Island
Located off the coast of Brazil, Ilha de Queimada Grande, is popularly known as snake Island. Scientist have estimated that more than 4,000 snakes live on the 110-acre of this land, which means you get to witness one snake for every six square yards. And mind you, I am not talking about any ordinary snakes. The Island is a home of the golden lancehead, one of the most venomous vipers in the world. Travelling on this island is prohibited only because of this reason.
Ah, HAARP. The High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program is better known for what it doesn’t do than what it actually does. HAARP is an Alaska-based program for studying the ionosphere, an upper layer of the atmosphere, in hopes of developing better radio communications. To conspiracy theorists, it controls the weather and chemtrails and the minds of populace and … you get the idea. Various blog posts and news items claim that HAARP’s facility in Gakona, Alaska, was once blurred on Google Earth. A look through the program’s history page shows no deliberate censorship of the facility, though there are large defects in the satellite data that partially cover the site until 2013. Operation of the research facility was transferred from the United States Air Force to the University of Alaska Fairbanks on Aug. 11, 2015, allowing HAARP to continue with exploration of ionospheric phenomenology via a land-use cooperative research and development agreement. HAARP is the world’s most capable high-power, high-frequency transmitter for study of the ionosphere.
5. Surtsey island
Although a beautiful place to look at from a distance, the sad part is that you will never be given access to the Surtsey island. Said to have been formed as a result of a volcanic eruption in 1963, the only people who have ever set foot on this island are a handful of scientists. Located in the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago off the southern coast of Iceland, the island is believed to be a place used as a living laboratory where scientists study the course of ecological succession. If explained in other words, it is a place where scientists run numerous experiments and thus observe the interaction between animals and plants without any sort of human intervention.
6. Bhabha Atomic Research Center
BARC, or the Bhabha Atomic Research Center, is the home of India’s nuclear power research program. It’s in Mumbai, and its appearance on Google Earth has been a headache for India’s officials. In 2005, the then-president of India, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, called for new laws to obscure India’s sensitive sites; in 2006, the nation’s defense and science agencies started looking into how to obscure or downgrade the available imagery. Little came from these efforts; the sites remain clear. But India’s concerns were perhaps warrented. In 2011, the nonprofit Institute for Science and International Security used Google Earth imagery to suggest that the country might have been building a new uranium-enrichment facility.
7. Room 39
It is already very difficult to get into North Korea and don’t ever imagine trying to get into Room 39. It is a mysterious North Korean government facility that is said to be a center of several illegal operations including counterfeiting $100 bills, international insurance fraud and production of drugs. Many claim that Room 39 is the major reason for Kim Jong’s continued power, enabling him to buy political support, funds and nuclear weapons. The organization is estimated to bring in between $500 million and $1 billion per year or more and is involved in illegal activities, such as counterfeiting $100 bills, producing controlled substances, and international insurance fraud. Room 39 is the largest of three influential so-called Third Floor offices along with Office 35 tasked with intelligence and Office 38 which handles legal financial activities. Room 39 is believed to be located inside a ruling Workers’ Party building in Pyongyang, not far from one of the North Korean leader’s residences. All three Offices were initially housed on the third floor of the building where Kim Jong-il’s office used to be, hence the moniker “Third Floor”.
8. Noordeinde Palace, the Netherlands
The Dutch are rather famous in satellite-imagery-loving circles for their enthusiastic pixelation. On Google Earth, the country was dotted with pixelated splotches covering military bases, government buildings and more. Dutch law changed in 2013 to lift this censorship, and the Netherlands have become considerably clearer since. Most of the censored areas in the Netherlands used the large, pixelated mask still seen in Noordwijk aan Zee to obscure sensitive sites, but Noordeinde Palace in The Hague got a more personal touch. The office building of the country’s kind was once painstakingly blurred pixel-by-pixel with a much more delicate hand than usually used on the country’s satellite imagery. Until 2013, the palace, as seen on Google Earth, looked like something out of an old Atari game.