A strange and beautiful world
Some of the strangest, most beautiful sights in the universe occur right here on planet Earth. Before humans developed the miraculous tool of scientific methodology, our earlier selves devised all sorts of myths and legends for how these phenomena came into being, many originating with the spirit world – although alien invasions have factored into a lot of recent wishful-thinking attempts at explanation. As we document below, some of these wonders of the natural world have already been explained – sometimes simply, sometimes after many decades of research and thought – by scientists; the origins of others, though, continue to elude us.
It was once believed by a certain subset of theorists that the thousands of geoglyphs scratched into a high desert plateau in Peru were the work of extraterrestrials trying to mark a landing site for their spaceships. But this Unesco World Heritage site is undeniably the work of ancient humans; the representation of a condor, a massive bird of prey, seen here, along with massive depictions of killer whales, flowers, hummingbirds and monkeys, was the mind-boggling handiwork of the prehistoric Nazca people, who etched these lines between 200 BCE and 500 CE. Why and how? Those are questions that remain to be answered. Some scientists believe they’re somehow connected to the Nazca’s searches for drinking water, or that they represent constellations seen in the night sky. But how they were accomplished without sophisticated engineering tools is anyone’s guess.
The Namib Desert in Namibia is home to mysterious circles of vegetation, creating a landscape that mathematician Corina Tarnita described to Science Friday as looking “like a polka dot dress”. Measuring between 3 and 20 metres in diameter, these circles of barren vegetation are not actually the work of fairies, or, according to local legend, of the gods leaving behind their footsteps. Still, the real cause remains elusive, with scientists hypothesising that they are created by thirsty plants stretching out for water in an arid locale; or that underground networks of termites have munched the vegetation into shape.