10 amazing (and bizarre) drone discoveries

From search-and-rescue missions to accidental discoveries of fossils and crimes, drones have been behind some fascinating discoveries.

REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Unmanned drones provide a view into places that were previously inaccessible. In some cases, drones are deployed specifically for search-and-rescue missions, helping law enforcement find missing persons or criminals on the loose. In others, hobbyists have stumbled across incredible findings while just taking their drones out for a spin. Here are some of the most amazing, and strangest, discoveries thanks to unmanned drones.

See also: How to get into drones for cheap

New species of sea anemone (and fish that swim upside down)

Earlier this year, scientists with the National Science Foundation's ANDRILL drilling program in Antarctica released findings from a 2010 routine test deployment of a cylindrical drone called SCINI, or Submersible Capable of under Ice Navigation and Imaging, according to io9. While submerged underneath the ice, the drone captured video of the world's first known sea anemone that lives exclusively off of ice. The sea anemone, along with fish spotted in the water, swam upside down, treating the bottom side of the ice's surface as its floor. The NSF said the sea anemone also suggest the possibility of alien life in freezing areas, such as Europa, one of the Jupiter's moons.

Mystery crocodile terrorizing livestock in Crete

A less scientific discovery of a mysterious species was made after a drone flew over a manmade lake on the Greek island of Crete. According to Sky News, nearby farmers were baffled when their ducks and lambs started disappearing from, until a flying drone captured video of a six-foot crocodile swimming in the lake where they often drank and swam. While some locals used the opportunity to sell crocodile souvenirs, others simply wondered how it got there; crocodiles are not native to the area.

Cow thief in North Dakota

In June 2011, police in Grand Forks, North Dakota, found themselves in a standoff with a farmer whom they sought to arrest for refusing to return his neighbors' cattle that had wandered onto his property, according to U.S. News & World Report. After a 16-hour standoff with a SWAT team, law enforcement requested the help of a Predator drone owned by the Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Patrol, which ultimately led to the suspect's arrest. It was the first use of a drone in a domestic police pursuit, and although the defendant argued that the use of the drone was illegal, the court disagreed, and sentenced him to three years in prison.

River of blood in Dallas

In January 2012, a hobbyist drone pilot in Texas came across a "blood red creek" leading from a meatpacking plant to the nearby Trinity River, sUAS News reported. Initially skeptical that it could actually be what he thought it was, the pilot alerted the Coast Guard, which reported the incident to the Texas Commission on Environment Quality, which investigated the meatpacking plant about 40 minutes later. Not long after, the Environmental Protection Agency executed a search warrant of the premises alongside the Texas Commission on Environment Quality, according to the report.

REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Marijuana farms

Surprisingly, criminals appear to be using drones to uncover illegal pot farms just as much as law enforcement. In April, local UK newspaper The Halesowen News reported on a growing trend among criminal drone pilots who sought out easily accessible marijuana farms where they could steal the drugs, the idea being that the original owner of an illegal marijuana farm isn't likely to report the theft to the police. One anonymous thief told the newspaper that the crops are "fair game" and warned criminals "if you break the law then you enter me and my drone's world."

1,000-year-old village in New Mexico

Earlier this year, archaeologists deployed an aerial drone equipped with thermal imagery technology that helped spot a 1,000-year-old village underneath the ground in northern New Mexico. The scientists had suspected that the area was home to ancient Pueblo ruins, but without the combination of the drone and thermal imagery technology, finding it would have required "a decade of work," Dr. John Kanter, University of North Florida archaeologist, told KRQE.

Ancient petroglyphs on cliffs in Utah

Bill Clary, a Colorado man who owns a drone-selling business called Got Aerials, posted video captured by a drone to YouTube in March that showed ancient petroglyphs, or pictographs, etched onto the wall of a cliff. Jerry Spangler of the Colorado Plateau Archeological Alliance told the Salt Lake City affiliate Fox13 that the design of the petroglyphs suggest they were left by native tribes who lived in the area as far back as 500 B.C.

REUTERS/Yaseen al-Bushy

Missing 82-year-old man in Wisconsin

Upon hearing that local police had been searching for an 82-year-old man with dementia for three days last week, a Colorado man who just happened to be visiting his girlfriend in the area deployed his personal drone to help their efforts. Just 20 minutes later, he spotted the missing man in a nearby bean field, and shortly afterward police were able to rescue him unharmed, local NBC affiliate WMTV reported.

Car crash victim in Canada

In what was called the first reported instance of a drone saving a life, police in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, deployed a drone with an infrared camera to help track down a man who was disoriented in a car crash and had wandered from the scene without his jacket or shoes, according to The Verge. Police had initially arrived at the scene after obtaining a GPS signal from the victim's call to the police, but relied on the infrared camera on a Draganfly drone to pinpoint his location. Had they not, police said the man likely would have died in such cold conditions.

Missing persons (both alive and deceased)

A recent federal court case recently ruled in favor of a group called Texas EquuSearch, which had challenged an FAA ruling against its use of unmanned drones for search-and-rescue missions. On its site, the nonprofit group lists the missing persons, both alive and deceased, that it has discovered through the use of drones.

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