This is, of course, not the first time that a strange satellite image has caused controversy.
In 2011, people reviewing images on Google Maps spotted a tangle of mysterious, connected white lines in the Chinese desert. The strange images spurred a furor on the Web, where amateur sleuths offered learned (and not-so-learned) opinions about their function, ranging from UFO landing strips to top-secret military bunkers. The lines were eventually identified as a grid used to calibrate Chinese spy satellites.
As satellite images become more common, these sorts of "mysterious" photographs will also likely become more common unless the public becomes more educated about satellite imagery. After all, only photographs that are ambiguous and mysterious enough will come to the public's attention. If a photograph is crystal clear and unambiguous, no one will pay attention to it, because its identity is obvious.
On the other hand if a photograph is too ambiguous, it is likely to be ignored or deleted as an obvious mistake of such poor quality that it's worthless — it's the same reason we don't see the worst photos that people take with their cellphones, because they're soon deleted. For an image to be "mysterious" it needs to fall into that Goldilocks zone of being just clear enough to give an idea of what it might be, but not clear enough to actually tell what it is.
Though there have been many Loch Ness monster hoaxes dating back decades, most reports of the mysterious aquatic beast are simply mistakes and misidentifications — and this Nessie satellite photo is only the latest.
Benjamin Radford is deputy editor of "Skeptical Inquirer" science magazine and author of seven books, including "Lake Monster Mysteries: Investigating the World's Most Elusive Creatures." His website is www.BenjaminRadford.com.
Original article on Live Science.
Copyright 2014 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.