Whether it's a lost purse or an entire galaxy, the thing you're looking for is almost always the last place you look. Read on to learn about some amazing finds that were right under our noses the whole time.
1. AN OVERLOOKED AVANT-GARDE PAINTING
When an art historian settled in to watch movies with his young daughter, he expected to relax and tune out. Instead he was shocked back into work mode when a long-lost avant-garde painting appeared onscreen behind the human parents of a certain talking mouse. The rare and expensive painting had been missing since 1928; the film’s set designer later said he’d bought it at an antique store for a mere $500.
2. A LITTLE WHALE
The 24-foot-long whale that washed up on an Alaska beach looked familiar to biologists. It also looked … different. The animal resembled a species called the Baird’s beaked whale, but it was far too small and its skin was a strange color. DNA tests revealed that the specimen belonged to an entirely new species. But it turns out that wasn't the only one; the same genetic code was found in a whale skeleton that had been hanging up in a nearby high school gym.
3. PREHISTORIC EARTHWORKS
Historians believed a 42-foot mound in East Yorkshire, UK, had been constructed by the Normans in the 11th century. But when archaeologists began excavating, they soon realized the site was much, much older—by about 1,500 years.
4. AN ASTRONAUT’S PURSE
Movie stars aren’t supposed to keep their costumes or props, and astronauts aren’t supposed to keep their equipment. But sometimes they do it anyway. The first man on the Moon passed away in 2012. Not long after, his widow was cleaning out their house when she found a white bag containing a camera, mirrors, clips, and other equipment. She brought it to experts, who immediately realized that the bag was the same one the astronaut had supposedly left on the lunar surface during his mission. Whoops.
5. A MISSING MASTERPIECE
A legendary surrealist painter pulled the ultimate art prank when he made one of his masterpieces vanish into thin air. Art historians had long given up on locating the artist’s beautiful nude painting when it appeared—or part of it, anyway. X-rays of several of the painter’s other works revealed that he had cut the nude portrait into pieces and stuck it to other canvases before painting over it.
6. A BRAND-NEW CRAB
China’s booming pet trade has turned many in the fishing business into exotic animal spotters. Because of this, scientists have begun to visit pet markets in search of strange species. In early 2016, they found one: a grumpy-looking freshwater crab that no one had ever seen before. The orange crustacean they dubbed Yuebeipotamon calciatile was so different from others that it was declared not only a new species, but an entirely new genus.
7. A WHOLE BUNCH OF BEETLES
Victorian naturalists used to go out into the field with a net and a collecting jar and scoop up any interesting organism they could find. Scientists are a bit more methodical in their investigations these days—a fact that may result in some missed opportunities. One biologist doing some old-fashioned exploring on the side of a Hawaiian volcano in 2015 discovered 74 new species of predatory beetles.
8. AN ANCIENT MONUMENT
The desert city of Petra, Jordan, sees more than half a million visitors each year, and archaeologists have been digging there for centuries. Yet until 2016, nobody had spotted the enormous structure laying less than a mile outside the city. Drone photography and satellite images revealed a monument as large as an Olympic-sized swimming pool just under the sand. Pottery found at the site suggests that the monument is a staggering 2150 years old.
9. SURPRISE REEFS
Scientists mapping the seafloor near Australia’s Great Barrier Reef were astounded to discover fields of enormous circular mounds beneath the coral. The donut-shaped mounds were Halimeda bioherms, or reef structures made of calcified green algae.
10. SOME VERY ANTIQUE JEWELRY
Two young archaeologists had popped into a shop in Dabene, Bulgaria, to buy cigarettes when they saw something very unusual: a local woman wearing a striking gold necklace. The woman said her husband was a farmer, and that he’d found the jewelry while plowing his field. Examination of the necklace revealed that it dated back to the Bronze Age, and subsequent excavations in the village have uncovered a huge hoard of Thracian gold.
11. AN ACTUAL DINOSAUR
Scientists at a South African museum were startled to learn that a familiar specimen was not what they thought it was. The fossilized remains of a 200-million-year-old herbivore had been sitting in the museum since the 1930s, labeled as an Aardonyx. But when researchers took a closer look they realized the bones belonged to an entirely new species, which they christened Sefapanosaurus zastronensis.
12. A ROYAL TREE
The Wentworth elm was extinct, or so botanists thought—wiped out in the 1980s and '90s by Dutch elm disease. Then they paid a visit to the queen’s house. Experts conducting an inventory of the flora on the grounds of the queen of England’s home in Scotland discovered two enormous living Wentworth elms, each more than 100 feet tall, existing happily on the royal grounds. Experts hope to use cuttings from the trees to restart the population.
13. A RARE BIRD
How they missed this one is anyone’s guess: A loud-mouthed bird with bright feathers was recently identified in the bustling city of Phnom Penh. The Cambodian Tailorbird naturally makes its home on the lowland scrub of the floodplain. As urbanization spreads and the floodplain disappears, the bird moved further toward the city, until eventually someone spotted it.
14. A SNEAKY WORK OF ART
It was a nice enough painting: a lovely little still life of poppies and wildflowers in a jar. Its owner, an antique dealer, enjoyed it for decades until his death. When it came time to evaluate the worth of the man’s estate, art appraisers became very suspicious of the painting’s provenance. The artist's monogram, originally believed to read "PS," was eventually deciphered as "PG"—the initials of a very famous French painter known for his beautiful still life paintings.
What look like clouds of glowing dust may in fact be clouds of stars upon stars upon stars. Earlier this year, astronomers using a high-powered space telescope reported finding numerous bright but distant galaxies hidden in plain sight in an area of the sky previously thought to contain only a single galaxy.