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9 Remote Islands You Probably Didn’t Know Existed

Whether it’s because of Instagram’s alluring travel shots or the increasing accessibility of flights, today’s travelers are jet-setting across the globe at record-breaking rates. Previously isolated destinations like Iceland and Antarctica are now welcoming an almost unmanageable amount of tourists.

But fear not, aspiring explorers: Remote, nearly untouched destinations do still exist. With significant prep, planning, and funds, you can try to visit these nine remote, under-the-radar islands.

1. NIUE

Niue isn’t just a remote island—it’s one of the smallest countries on Earth. Located about 1500 miles northeast of New Zealand, between Fiji and the Cook Islands in the South Pacific Ocean, Niue is a tropical paradise with top-notch natural adventures including limestone caving, swimming alongside wild spinner dolphins, and exploring one of the world’s largest raised coral reefs. The island is a self-governing nation in free association with New Zealand, and saw its first inhabitants more than 1000 years ago. Niue is more accessible than most remote islands: Air New Zealand offers weekly flights to Niue’s Hanan International Airport.

2. BOUVET ISLAND

The uninhabited, volcanic Bouvet Island is located 1600 miles southwest of Cape Town, South Africa—and almost any other inhabited land mass—making it one of Earth’s most remote islands. Discovered by French naval officer Jean-Baptiste Charles Bouvet de Lozier in 1739, the island was claimed by the UK in 1825, and then claimed by its current occupant, Norway, in 1928. Today, the island, which was the setting of 2004 film Alien vs. Predator, is considered a nature reserve; its residents include fur seals and penguins. Bouvet Island is accessible by select cruise ships, but according to Polar Cruises, landing at Bouvet Island is so unpredictable they allocate two days (days 13 and 14 of the typical itinerary) to actually make it.

3. TRISTAN DA CUNHA

Another remote island in the South Atlantic Ocean, Tristan da Cunha is a hop, skip, and a one-week, 1750-mile boat ride from South Africa. The island is a dependency of the British overseas territory Saint Helena, and was discovered in 1506 by a Portuguese sailor, Tristão da Cunha, but the waters were so rough he couldn’t even land his ship. With a population of 275 residents (and a ban on new residents), Tristan da Cunha is the world’s most remote inhabited island. Residents are primarily Christian and farming is the main source of income. Getting to Tristan da Cunha is anything but easy; travel is done entirely by ship or expedition cruise.

4. BEAR ISLAND

Part of Norway's Svalbard archipelago, Bear Island (Bjørnøya) is a 110-square-mile nature reserve located halfway between Norway and Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard group. Bear Island’s terrain is rough and rugged, with near-vertical cliffs, sea caves, strong winds, and few protected bays for docking boats. While the island has no human residents, it’s home to an enormous variety of seabird colonies. Polar bears visit on rare occasion. Similar to most uninhabited islands, getting to Bear Island is tough—but these three brothers show it can be done. They hitched a ride with a cargo ship and spent two months surfing the isolated, icy waters.

5. NORTH SENTINEL ISLAND

By NASA Earth Observatory image created by Jesse Allen, using data provided by the NASA EO-1 team. Caption by Rebecca Lindsey - Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On North Sentinel Island, 750 miles from Myanmar in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, you can’t snap selfies or binge-watch Game of Thrones. The Sentinelese tribe, considered one of the world's last uncontacted peoples, have remained cut off from the rest of the world for 60,000 years. That means no Internet, no HBO, and, as a handful of unfortunate travelers have discovered, no outside visitors. Dubbed “the hardest place to visit on Earth,” the Sentinelese greet visitors to the island with spears and arrows. Researchers observing by helicopter are shot at with arrows and stones.

For that reason, little is known about the Sentinelese tribe. Here’s what we do know: They typically eat coconuts, fish, turtles, and small birds; they survived the 2004 tsunami, and the entire population could be wiped out by disease if they come in contact with outsiders (which has become an issue over the past 10 years). Can you visit North Sentinel Island? Out of respect for the tribe and for your own life, the answer is probably no.

6. ITTOQQORTOOMIIT, GREENLAND

While not technically an island, Ittoqqortoormiit—one of the most remote parts of the already remote island of Greenland—is covered by ice and snow for nine months of the year. In size, Ittoqqortoormiit is approximately as large as Great Britain, but in population? Just 450 souls. The town is filled with colorful wooden houses and offers plenty of Arctic scenery. In summer, icebergs float down nearby Scoresby Sund, the longest fjord on earth. Ittoqqortoormiit is accessible by cruise ships or by air, with two weekly flights from Iceland and West Greenland.

7. HANS ISLAND

Though it has no natural resources—really, it's just a barren slab of rock—Canada and Denmark are constantly “battling” to claim this half-square-mile territory, which is located between Ellesmere Island and northern Greenland. The island is named for Hans Hendrik, a Greenlandic hunter and explorer who joined several 19th-century British and American expeditions to the far north. Fortunately, the current battle for control of Hans Island requires no ammo, weapons, or injuries. In perhaps the friendliest fight ever, the Canadian and Danish militaries regularly wage a “whiskey war”—leaving a bottle of Danish snaps or Canadian whiskey and their country’s flag atop Hans Island for the other country’s military to find. Can you visit Hans Island? Perhaps, but given its size and lack of amenities, there are few (if any) actual tours out there.

8. SOCOTRA ISLAND

Described as “the most alien place on earth,” Socotra Island has 800 rare species of flora and fauna, including several that are up to 20 million years old. One-third of Socotra’s species are found only on the island, making it the Indian Ocean’s answer to the Galapagos. The 80-mile-long island is part of Yemen, and despite its listing as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site, it still remains off most travelers’ radar. It’s home to 50,000 residents who reside in the archipelago’s main cities like Hadibu and Qalansiyah. Most visitors arrive to Socotra via Yemenia Airway and Felix Airways; a stopover in Yemen (about 240 miles away) is required. Travelers can also arrive by sea, but because the island receives two annual monsoons and suffers from offshore piracy, air travel is the way to go.

9. LONGYEARBYEN, SVALBARD

The world’s northernmost town with a significant population, Longyearbyen is located on the Arctic island of Spitsbergen in Svalbard. Longyearbyen’s winters get pretty frigid—12° F is the usual high—and all houses are built on stilts to avoid sinking and sliding when the island's top layer of permafrost melts in summer. In terms of tourism, Svalbard offers impeccable opportunities to view the aurora borealis, not to mention one-of-a-kind views of the native reindeer, polar bears, walruses, foxes, seabirds, and whales. The island has a few relatively inexpensive accommodations, and direct flights are available from Oslo and Tromsø, Norway.

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One Day, You May Not Have to Take Your Laptop Out at the Airport
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TSA security lines might be a little less annoying in the future. According to Condé Nast Traveler, the agency will soon test new airport scanners that allow you to keep your liquids and laptop in your carry-on bag during security screening, a benefit currently only available to those who have been accepted into the agency’s PreCheck program.

The ConneCT scanners have met the TSA's "advanced technology detection standards," according to the company that makes them, Analogic, meaning that they can be tested out at airports across the U.S.

Computed tomography scanning technology is regularly used in hospitals and research labs for everything from diagnosing cancer to studying mummies. The imaging technique uses x-rays that rotate around whatever object is being imaged to create 3D images that provide more detail than those created by the regular x-ray scanners currently used to inspect carry-on luggage.

The ConneCT scanners have been in the works for 10 years. The devices have x-ray cameras that spin around the conveyor belt that holds your bag, creating a 3D image of it. Then algorithms help flag whether there's something suspicious inside so that it can be pulled aside for further screening by hand. They've already been tested in airports in Phoenix and Boston, but haven't been used on a national level yet.

But don't expect to see the high-tech scanners at your local airport anytime soon. According to the TSA, they have to undergo yet more testing before any of the machines can be deployed, and there’s no timetable for that yet.

Until then, as you're packing your liquids, just remember—you can always just freeze them.

[h/t Conde Nast Traveler]

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Big Questions
What Are the Northern Lights?
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Over the centuries, many have gazed up at one of the Earth’s most fascinatingly beautiful natural wonders: the Northern Lights. In the past couple of weeks, some lucky American stargazers have gotten the chance to see them from their very own backyards—and could again this week, according to Thrillist. But what are they?

Before science was able to get a read on what exactly was happening in the night sky, ancient tribes had their own theories for what caused the jaw-dropping light show. Many early beliefs had roots in religion, such as that the light was a pathway souls traveled to reach heaven (Eskimo tribes) or that the light was an eternal battle of dead warriors (Middle-Age Europe). Early researchers were a bit more reasonable in their approximations, and most surrounded the idea of the reflection of sunlight off the ice caps. In 1619, Galileo Galilei named the lights the aurora borealis after Aurora, the Roman goddess of morning, after concluding they were a product of sunlight reflecting from the atmosphere.

Today, scientists have come to the general agreement that the lights are caused by the collision of electrically charged solar particles and atoms from our atmosphere. The energy from the collisions is released as light, and the reason it happens around the poles is because that's where the Earth’s magnetic field is the strongest. In 2008, a team at UCLA concluded that “when two magnetic field lines come close together due to the storage of energy from the sun, a critical limit is reached and the magnetic field lines reconnect, causing magnetic energy to be transformed into kinetic energy and heat. Energy is released, and the plasma is accelerated, producing accelerated electrons.”

"Our data show clearly and for the first time that magnetic reconnection is the trigger," said Vassilis Angelopoulos, a UCLA professor of Earth and Space Sciences. "Reconnection results in a slingshot acceleration of waves and plasma along magnetic field lines, lighting up the aurora underneath even before the near-Earth space has had a chance to respond. We are providing the evidence that this is happening."

The best time to see the Northern Lights is during the winter, due to the Earth’s position in relation to the sun (shorter days means darker night skies). And by the way, it’s not just the North Pole that puts on a show—there are Southern Lights, too. There are also aurora borealis on other planets—including Mars—so rest assured that future generations born “abroad” will not miss out on this spectacular feat of nature.

Haven’t seen them yet? Traditionally, the best places to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights are in Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Greenland, northern Canada, and Alaska. Maybe you'll get lucky this week and sneak a peek from your very own window. Check out Aurorasaurus for regular updates on where they are showing.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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