15 Unexplored Corners of the Earth

istock
istock

There aren’t many frontiers left in the world. Explorers have scaled the world’s tallest mountains and taken samples from Antarctica’s deepest subglacial lakes. You can visit remote, exotic locales like the Galapagos from your web browser. And yet, some hidden corners of the Earth still remain essentially uncharted, home to very few people and investigated by only the most daring travelers. Here are some of the coolest unexplored places around the globe.

1. Vale do Javari, Brazil

This region, home to at least 14 of the Amazon’s uncontacted tribes, is one of the most isolated places in the world, in part by design. An estimated 2,000 indigenous people live autonomously from the Brazilian government in an area about the size of Austria. The tribes’ right to live in isolation is protected by a federal agency charged with preventing outsiders from invading indigenous territories.

2. Northern Patagonia, Chile

Home to temperate rainforests, glaciers, fjords, and hot springs, northern Patagonia is one of Chile’s wildest landscapes. It’s the country’s most sparsely populated region, and has only been accessible by highway since the ‘80s. The Northern Patagonian Ice Field remains one of the largest masses of ice outside the polar regions.

3. Kamchatka, Russia

Russia’s eastern peninsula is home to some of the most spectacular volcanic activity on Earth, with more than 300 volcanoes, including one that has been erupting continuously since 1996. It’s home to the most diverse range of salmon species and is the most densely populated brown bear habitat in the world. However, the region was closed to Westerners until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and even before that, only 400,000 people (all with military clearances) were allowed to live in the territory, which is around the size of California. 

4. New Hebrides Trench, Pacific Ocean

Located off the eastern coast of Australia, scientists didn’t delve into this submarine trench in the South Pacific seafloor until the end of 2013. When researchers from the U.K. and New Zealand sent underwater robots into this crack in the ocean floor almost four and a half miles deep, they found prawns and eels totally unlike those found in other deep-sea trenches.

5. Northern Forest Complex, Myanmar

Many of the subtropical forests located on the steep slopes of the easternmost stretch of the Himalayas are virtually untouched by human activity. Deep within the forests in Myanmar’s Kachin State lies the largest tiger preserve in the world. It’s also home to bears, red pandas, and gibbons. 

6. Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, Madagascar

Named for the unique, massive limestone formations known as tsingy (Malagasy for “walking on tiptoes”), this 600-square-mile national park and wilderness preserve is located on Madagascar’s western edge. The labyrinth of jagged, needle-shaped limestone was formed by erosion over a period of millions of years, and the resulting habitat of gorges, canyons, and forests is a natural fortress. A huge number of species of plants and animals are endemic to the region, meaning they’re not found anywhere else on Earth, and there are plenty that haven’t even been discovered yet. While its southern tip is open to the public, much of the reserve is off-limits to tourists. 

7. Southern Namibia

The Namib is estimated to be the world’s oldest desert, and it’s one of the driest, least-populated places in the world. Dunes dominate the southern part of the harsh desert, and there are few paved roads. At 1,256 feet tall, the giant Dune 7 is believed to be the tallest sand dune in the world.

8. Star Mountains, Papua New Guinea

This remote region in western Papua New Guinea contains the Hindenburg Wall, a limestone network of plateaus more than a mile high. The 30-mile-long series of bluffs features nearly undisturbed ecosystems high above the ground. A recent biological survey of the area found 1,109 animal and plant species, almost 100 of which were new to science.

9. Sakha Republic, Russia

The Siberian Sakha Republic (also called Yakutia) covers 1/5 of Russia (about the same amount of land as India), with a large swath of the territory located above the Arctic Circle. Its climate is one of the world’s most extreme: Average temperatures in January are as low as -46 degrees Fahrenheit, and most of the land is covered by permafrost. Lichen and moss make it a favorite habitat for reindeer. Though mining has taken its toll on the region’s pristine wilderness, parts of it remain untouched, like the Lena River Delta, a gorgeous refuge and breeding ground for wildlife.

10. Greenland

Though Vikings landed in Greenland around 1000 CE, we’re still discovering parts of the far-northern region. Six new, untouched islands off the coast were discovered as recently as 1999, and much of the inland part of the country is still uninhabited. Some 80 percent of the island is covered by ice cap.

11. Mount Namuli, Mozambique

This almost 8,000-foot-tall peak is the largest of a series of mountains that have developed much like separate islands, with very different species making their homes on the different peaks. Last year, a group of biologists and rock climbers teamed up to conduct field work in the region, where rock climbing is sometimes the only way to get at unexplored habitats.

12. Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

New Zealand’s largest national park was shaped by glaciers and contains some of the country’s oldest rocks. The vast wilderness is home to a unique diversity of animals, like the takahē, a flightless indigenous bird thought to be extinct for decades until it was rediscovered in the park in 1948, and the kākāpō, the world’s only flightless, nocturnal parrot. Fiordland’s 2.9 million acres are some of the wildest lands in the Southern Hemisphere.

13. Cape Melville, Australia

Walled off by forbidding granite boulders piled hundreds of feet high, Cape Melville is only around 900 miles from Brisbane, one of Australia’s biggest cities—but the rainforest habitat might as well be a world away. Virtually inaccessible except by helicopter, scientists discovered three completely new species of animals in the area in 2013.

14. Son Doong Cave, Vietnam

The world’s largest cave contains its own river and even a jungle. At more than 5.5 miles long, it’s cavernous enough to house a skyscraper! The first expedition set off to explore this underground world in 2009 before being stymied by a 200-foot-tall wall of calcite inside. Much of the surrounding network of over 150 caves near the Laos border remains unsurveyed. 

15. North Sentinel Island, India

Located in the middle of the Bay of Bengal off the southernmost tip of Myanmar, North Sentinel Island technically belongs to India, but few outsiders have made contact with the Sentinelese people. There’s a three-mile exclusion zone surrounding the island, where somewhere between 50 and 300 people are estimated to live. The locals’ hostile reactions to outsiders’ attempts at contact have left much of the island unexplored.

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6 Amazing Facts About Sally Ride

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

You know Sally Ride as the first American woman to travel into space. But here are six things you might not know about the groundbreaking astronaut, who was born on May 26, 1951.

1. Sally Ride proved there is such thing as a stupid question.

When Sally Ride made her first space flight in 1983, she was both the first American woman and the youngest American to make the journey to the final frontier. Both of those distinctions show just how qualified and devoted Ride was to her career, but they also opened her up to a slew of absurd questions from the media.

Journalist Michael Ryan recounted some of the sillier questions that had been posed to Ride in a June 1983 profile for People. Among the highlights:

Q: “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?”
A: “There’s no evidence of that.”

Q: “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?”
A: “How come nobody ever asks (a male fellow astronaut) those questions?"

Forget going into space; Ride’s most impressive achievement might have been maintaining her composure in the face of such offensive questions.

2. Had she taken Billie Jean King's advice, Sally Ride might have been a professional tennis player.

When Ride was growing up near Los Angeles, she played more than a little tennis, and she was seriously good at it. She was a nationally ranked juniors player, and by the time she turned 18 in 1969, she was ranked 18th in the whole country. Tennis legend Billie Jean King personally encouraged Ride to turn pro, but she went to Swarthmore instead before eventually transferring to Stanford to finish her undergrad work, a master’s, and a PhD in physics.

King didn’t forget about the young tennis prodigy she had encouraged, though. In 1984 an interviewer playfully asked the tennis star who she’d take to the moon with her, to which King replied, “Tom Selleck, my family, and Sally Ride to get us all back.”

3. Home economics was not Sally Ride's best subject.

After retiring from space flight, Ride became a vocal advocate for math and science education, particularly for girls. In 2001 she founded Sally Ride Science, a San Diego-based company that creates fun and interesting opportunities for elementary and middle school students to learn about math and science.

Though Ride was an iconic female scientist who earned her doctorate in physics, just like so many other youngsters, she did hit some academic road bumps when she was growing up. In a 2006 interview with USA Today, Ride revealed her weakest subject in school: a seventh-grade home economics class that all girls had to take. As Ride put it, "Can you imagine having to cook and eat tuna casserole at 8 a.m.?"

4. Sally Ride had a strong tie to the Challenger.

Ride’s two space flights were aboard the doomed shuttle Challenger, and she was eight months deep into her training program for a third flight aboard the shuttle when it tragically exploded in 1986. Ride learned of that disaster at the worst possible time: she was on a plane when the pilot announced the news.

Ride later told AARP the Magazine that when she heard the midflight announcement, she got out her NASA badge and went to the cockpit so she could listen to radio reports about the fallen shuttle. The disaster meant that Ride wouldn’t make it back into space, but the personal toll was tough to swallow, too. Four of the lost members of Challenger’s crew had been in Ride’s astronaut training class.

5. Sally Ride had no interest in cashing in on her worldwide fame.

A 2003 profile in The New York Times called Ride one of the most famous women on Earth after her two space flights, and it was hard to argue with that statement. Ride could easily have cashed in on the slew of endorsements, movie deals, and ghostwritten book offers that came her way, but she passed on most opportunities to turn a quick buck.

Ride later made a few forays into publishing and endorsements, though. She wrote or co-wrote more than a half-dozen children’s books on scientific themes, including To Space and Back, and in 2009 she appeared in a print ad for Louis Vuitton. Even appearing in an ad wasn’t an effort to pad her bank account, though; the ad featured an Annie Leibovitz photo of Ride with fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell gazing at the moon and stars. According to a spokesperson, all three astronauts donated a “significant portion” of their modeling fees to Al Gore’s Climate Project.

6. Sally Ride was the first openly LGBTQ astronaut.

Ride passed away on July 23, 2012, at the age of 61, following a long (and very private) battle with pancreatic cancer. While Ride's brief marriage to fellow astronaut Steve Hawley was widely known to the public (they were married from 1982 to 1987), it wasn't until her death that Ride's longtime relationship with Tam O'Shaughnessy—a childhood friend and science writer—was made public. Which meant that even in death, Ride was still changing the world, as she is the world's first openly LGBTQ astronaut.