False facts that actually changed the world

We believed in an Eden at the North Pole, so we explored the Arctic

In our age of Google Earth, it’s hard to imagine not knowing what’s lurking in every corner of the globe. But it wasn’t really that long ago that we didn’t have the foggiest idea what was at the North and South Poles, and imagination can be a dangerous thing.

In the 16th century, explorers told some pretty tall tales about what they believed was at the North Pole: a warm, open sea, as explained by io9. One major part of the theory claimed that the region’s endless days would be enough to melt any ice that might have been there. Another aspect of the theory postulated that since massive ice floes could only happen in freshwater anyway, there wouldn’t be any in the Arctic. That meant sailing straight across the pole would be something of a shortcut, and intrepid explorers spent the next few hundred years trying to do just that.

It was as late as the 1850s that explorers were coming back with bits and pieces of information that seemed to lend credence to the idea that there really was an open ocean at the North Pole. It was only in 1879 that it was confirmed that no, there was no open ocean there. Those hopes finally ended with the ill-fated expedition of George Washington de Long.

In an ironic twist, however, we might just be making this legend come true after all.