The Crocker Arctic Land Expedition

There's a lot of competition for biggest fail in the world today, but I still say that it's hard to fail harder than the failed Crocker Land Expedition. It's not so much the whole massive cost, ships stuck in ice, frostbite on a glacier, ill-equipped-rescuers etc., and not even the highly-suspicious killing of one of the Inuit guides.

More it's the fact that the big ‘island’ they were setting out to explore didn't bloody well exist – the whole thing was an expedition to a mirage, thought to be a Fata Morgana caused by an atmospheric inversion layer.

These layers cause distortions and refractions above the visible sea level, which can create apparent walls and islands rising up as well as stretched or floating phantom ships.

This page on Australian Min Mins, though to be due also to atmospheric distortion effects, makes for very interesting reading as far as explaining all sorts of floating lights people have observed throughout the world.