In every corner of the globe, we are surrounded by the wonders and mysteries of nature. From the curious behaviour of the animals to the strange occurrences happening around Earth’s atmosphere, we will probably always be perplexed by what our weird world has to offer. The top scientific minds on the planet are certainly baffled, but the quest to discover and understand is what keeps scientists so fascinated. We often turn to the scientific community to answer these questions, but sometimes they can’t even produce a reason.
The British physicist Professor Brian Cox certainly relishes in the uncertainty of nature, admitting that he’s very much at home with the unknown: ‘”I don’t need answers to everything. I want to have answers to find.” Then Professor Cox and like-minded scientists should have a ball with this list! Science has been able to turn plenty of theories and legend into fact in our short time on this Earth, but there is much global phenomena that still has scientists completely baffled and some may continue to do so for generations.
Is it possible for balls of fire to rise up out of the river of their own free will? How can some animals find their way home so effectively? And are we really the only ones here? After centuries of progress, science is still struggling to explain these questions. But I say, give them break. A lot of these don’t even seem to make sense! Here are 15 world phenomena that are still utterly puzzling — even to the brightest minds.
15. The Mysterious Australian Sea Monster
Scotland has its unexplainable legend with the Loch Ness and so does Australia, in the form of the ‘Hook Island’ sea monster. The mysterious underwater creature — resembling a creepily overgrown tadpole — was supposedly caught on camera by a couple holidaying off the coast of Queensland in 1964. According to the couple, the colossal sea creature came towards them and opened its mouth before swimming away again.
Like Loch Nessie and other sea monster legends, much will have been lost in translation about the true origins or validity of the Hook Island monster. Many different photos of the supposed sea monster can be found online, but none can really prove or disprove the creature’s existence. Could be a mutant eel, could be a gigantic fishing net. One thing’s for sure, this thing gives us the creeps!
14. ‘Burping’ Black Holes In Space
Since black holes are essentially a mass cosmic vacuum cleaner, swallowing entire galaxies and planets in its path, it’s no wonder that what goes in must eventually come out again. As it turns out, black holes can ‘burp’ out gas and colossal waves of it too.
In early 2016, scientists discovered a black hole relatively close to Earth that was expelling large amounts of gas. Researchers from the University of Texas were fascinated by the phenomenon but could only guess as to why this was occurring. Allegedly, this burping could be a way to even out the size of galaxies or could provide clues as to how stars are formed in the first place. Let’s be thankful that black holes are only burping. Vomiting black holes could be catastrophic!
13. The ‘Naga Fireballs’ In Thailand
Every year at the end of the Buddhist Lent, a beautiful and other-worldly event happens on the Mekong River in Thailand. Hundreds of fireballs are sent shooting up out of the river. But these ‘fireballs’ aren’t lanterns or part of some elaborate firework display — they occur naturally and spontaneously and nobody can quite figure out why.
These beautiful flaming orbs known as the ‘Naga fireballs’ have appeared to rise up from out of the Mekong River every year during autumn. The fireballs earned the name ‘Naga’ because many locals believe that they come from a mythical serpent of the same name which haunts the river. This is certainly the coolest explanation. More plausible is the theory that the ‘balls’ are just methane bubbles rising up to the surface. Whatever the real reason, science can’t explain this striking natural phenomenon either!
12. Suicidal Whales
When most of us see a whale stranded on the beach, we tend to assume they could be injured and perhaps unable to swim against the current. Many whales and dolphins found beached are in fact found to be suffering an injury or some sort of ailment that makes them too weak to swim. But there have been some rare cases where completely healthy whales have become stranded (sometimes in large groups) and this has bewildered biologists for centuries.
Masses of healthy beached whales and dolphins has raised a dark question among marine scientists: are they doing it deliberately? Since whales travel in social groups, some have theorized that healthy whales go looking for injured members of the group and accidentally become stranded themselves, but many individual cases have suggested that dolphins may be trying to end their life. Scientists are yet to pinpoint the reason behind these tragic and disturbing findings.
11. Animal Migration
All animals are pretty amazing in their own way, but some are exceptionally smart when it comes to getting from A to B in the world. Certain species in the animal kingdom have such a knack for navigation, you could assume that they have their own built-in GPS system, since they’re able to find their way home again after travelling for hundreds of thousands of kilometres (some of us still rely on Google Maps to find restaurants!).
This amazing navigational skill is used in different ways for certain animals. Loggerhead turtles, for example, are born knowing exactly where they are on the planet and use their magnetic field like a map to help them seek out the best feeding grounds! This tells us that specific species can tap into their environment and use their instincts to help guide them in the right direction. Experiments into the navigational skills of loggerhead turtles and the like are ongoing, but how they posses this amazing quality still largely a mystery.
10. Why We Sleep
Most would agree that sleep is needed to repair and recharge our bodies, but why did we begin sleeping in the first place? And if it’s such an important process, how come there are other life forms that don’t need to sleep at all? Some scientists have theorized that those who don’t need sleep have evolved to cope without it in order to remain alert for predators. Those that can sleep have evolved the ability to hide from predators (and even then, humans still rely on coffee and the snooze button to feel fully alert).
While this helps to explain why sleep can be a help or a hindrance to your survival, it still doesn’t quite answer why we sleep exactly. Lifestyle magazines recommend that 8 hours sleep a night is perfect, but who’s to say what amount we need and how we adopted this cycle in the first place. All this confusion is making me sleepy.
9. The Absence of Extraterrestrial Life
Monty Python’s Eric Idle once sang (rather brilliantly) “Pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space, cos there’s bugger all down here on Earth.” The human race are a fairly intelligent and extraordinary bunch, but it’s pretty depressing to believe that we are the only life forms in existence. Our universe stretches 92 billion light years side to side, containing billions of galaxies that are home to millions of other planets. So why has no-one paid us a visit?
Some might suggest other life forms know about us but choose not to acknowledge us (perfectly plausible). As for a scientific guess? It seems experts are as much in the dark as we are. There could have been countless attempts at connecting with Earth since time began and we just didn’t realize it. The universe is simply too vast for us to ever know for sure.
8. Dark Matter
Dark matter is named so because it doesn’t interact with light and is pretty much invisible. So before scientists could even get to grips with understanding this head-scratching phenomenon, they had to first discover it. Now that’s dedication to your field! It was thanks to a young astronomy student from Washington that this elusive dark matter was first uncovered.
From observing the Andromeda Galaxy, Vera Rubin noticed that the particles at the edge of the spiral were moving as fast as the centre particles — thus defying Newton’s laws of motion. Some unseen ‘matter’ had to be controlling how stars and galaxies behaved. As of now, we know that dark matter makes up around 84 percent of the universe. As for how dark matter does what it does? Science is still largely stumped.
7. The Placebo Effect
It shouldn’t make sense that a weak, diluted solution can treat pain in some patients as well as a strong painkilling drug like Morphine. It is possible, however, and this is the puzzling conundrum of the placebo effect. Many experiments with saline solution have been shown to have a positive effect on certain patients, even showing improvement in conditions as complex as Parkinson’s disease.
When Italian scientist Fabrizio Benedetti administered saline placebos to a group of Parkinson’s patients, the effects helped to reduce their tremors and muscle stiffness. This is no doubt a wonderful outcome, but scientists still can’t make sense of why the placebo effect is able to work. Are some brains more capable of willing themselves to overcome pain and expect a positive outcome, or do the miraculous effects go deeper than this? It still remains a mystery.
6. The Mysterious ‘Wow’ Signal
On August 15th 1977, an excited astronomer at Ohio State University detected 37 seconds worth of a mysterious signal from outer space. Other signals, like the ones caused by thermal emissions from other planets, usually cover a wide range of radio frequencies. This one, however, showed up in a narrow frequency range and came from roughly 220 light years away — prompting astronomer, Jerry Ehman to write ‘Wow!’ on the radio telescope’s printout.
Some other scientists have quickly dismissed the ‘Wow’ signal as none other than interference from transmissions made on Earth. Spoilsports! As of yet, there has been no way to prove who may be right or wrong. Something’s out there somewhere, just a few hundred light years too far for anyone to make a solid assumption.
5. The Quietest Place In The World
In a location outside of Durango in Mexico, there’s an area known simply as ‘the silent zone.’ According to the local legend ‘radios don’t work properly in the silent zone’ (this almost sounds like the tag-line of a sci-fi horror film). Many believe that radio waves cannot be transmitted here because of everything from aliens and magnetic fields to supposed ‘earth energy.’
Apparently, a rocket containing radioactive elements crash landed in the Durango desert region after being used by the US army as part of a training program. Since the rocket was discovered in 1970, more people have become fascinated by the silent zone. How this creepy location got its reputation as the quietest place on Earth is not known for sure by scientific minds, so legend is all we have to go by at this point.
4. Why Humpback Whales Sing
For decades, the beautiful sound of whale song that male and female humpbacks communicated with was thought to be linked in some way to their mating ritual. This has since been debunked completely, which has urged some scientists to consider another theory — could whale song have more to do with friendship than courtship?
Eduardo Mercado, a neuroscientist at the University of New York believes so, theorizing that male humpbacks could be singing to help new whales find their way around the ocean. Mercado’s thinking is that when males enter a new area, they choose a song that matches those of other whales in the same area, inviting them to explore with them. Sounds plausible, but this is still just a theory. The beautiful mystery of the humpback song continues!
3. The Alien Radio Signal
Outer space radio pulses like the ‘wow’ signal are pretty rare occurrences. But they’re even rarer when the signal appears to repeat itself. This is the kind of signal a team of Canadian research scientists observed in 2016 using the 305-m Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico – the world’s largest radio telescope. The radio waves emitting from deep space were unusually fast, suggesting a pretty powerful galactic event was in progress.
In the past, rapid radio bursts have been linked to stars exploding into supernovas or suns being swallowed by black holes. The repetition of these pulses, however, could suggest some kind of sequence — which may well point to alien contact. Far more powerful radio telescopes would be needed to locate the origin of these bursts, but this could be one step closer to discovering alien life.
2. The ‘Australian Stonehenge’
A lot of information is known about England’s Stonehenge monument in Wiltshire and how it came to be, but Australia’s version of Stonehenge is something of an enigma. For one thing, the site in New South Wales is quite badly damaged and its exact location has remained a secret since its initial exploration back in 1939.
Considering the estimated age of this ancient stone formation Down Under, it’s a wonder it’s still standing. Whereas England’s Stonehenge was erected in the Neolithic period (2500 BC), Australia’s stone arrangement is said to date back to the Palaeolithic age — around 2.5 million years ago. The stones are believed to hold inscriptions of the earliest forms of human language. Unfortunately, the damage has made scientific investigation into it almost impossible.
1. Earthquake Warning Lights
Earthquakes are unpredictable and can easily devastate towns and cities without warning. But if the phenomenon of ‘earthquake lights’ is to be believed, nature may have a warning system in place. Earthquake lights appear as white or blue flashes in the sky (sort of like a colourful form of lightning). These occurrences have apparently been recorded for centuries in the US, but science only started to take notice of these weird warning signs when pictures were taken of them during the Matsushiro quakes during the 1960s.
Science is flummoxed as to what causes them to appear exactly, but the brief flashes and glowing colours apparently indicate frictional heat and electrical charge. Their cause may not be scientifically set in stone yet, but this is the coolest science theory we’ve heard in a while — kind of like a life-saving rainbow.
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