Phenomenal Wonders Of The Natural World
WebEcoist and Environmental Oddities
The mysterious moving stones of the packed-mud desert of Death Valley have been a center of scientific controversy for decades.
Rocks weighing up to hundreds of pounds
have been known to move up to hundreds of yards at a time.
Some scientists have proposed
that a combination of strong winds and surface ice account for these movements.
However, this theory does not explain evidence of
different rocks starting side by side
and moving at different rates and in disparate directions.
Moreover, the physics calculations do not fully support this theory
as wind speeds of hundreds of miles per hour
would be needed to move some of the stones.
When a thick lava flow cools, it contracts vertically
but cracks perpendicular to its directional flow with remarkable geometric regularity
- in most cases forming a regular grid of remarkable hexagonal extrusions
that almost appear to be made by man.
One of the most famous such examples is
the Giant’s Causeway on the coast of Ireland (shown above),
though the largest and most widely recognized
would be Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.
Basalt also forms different but equally fascinating ways
when eruptions are exposed to air or water.
Blue holes are giant and sudden drops in underwater elevation
that get their name from the dark and foreboding blue tone they exhibit
when viewed from above in relationship to surrounding waters.
They can be hundreds of feet deep
and while divers are able to explore some of them
they are largely devoid of oxygen that would support sea life
due to poor water circulation – leaving them eerily empty.
Some blue holes, however, contain
ancient fossil remains that have been discovered, preserved in their depths.
Red tides are also known as algal blooms
- sudden influxes of massive amounts of colored single-cell algae
that can convert entire areas of an ocean or beach into a blood red color.
While some of these can be relatively harmless,
others can be harbingers of deadly toxins
that cause the deaths of fish, birds and marine mammals.
In some cases, even humans have been harmed by red tides
though no human exposure are known to have been fatal.
While they can be fatal,
the constituent phytoplankton in ride tides are not harmful in small numbers.
While many see these apparently perfect ice circles
as worthy of conspiracy theorizing,
scientists generally accept that they are formed
by eddies in the water that spin a sizable piece of ice in a circular motion.
As a result of this rotation,
other pieces of ice and flotsam wear relatively evenly at the edges of the ice
until it slowly forms into an essentially ideal circle.
Ice circles have been seen with diameters of over 500 feet
and can also at times be found
in clusters and groups of different sizes as shown above.
True to their ominous appearance,
mammatus clouds are often harbingers
of a coming storm or other extreme weather system.
Typically composed primarily of ice,
they can extend for hundreds of miles in each direction
and individual formations can remain visibly static
for ten to fifteen minutes at a time.
While they may appear foreboding
they are merely the messengers
- appearing around, before or even after severe weather.
A circumhorizontal fire rainbow arc occurs at
a rare confluence of right time and right place for the sun and certain clouds.
Crystals within the clouds refract light
into the various visible waves of the spectrum
but only if they are arrayed correctly relative to the ground below.
Due to the rarity
with which all of these events happen in conjunction with one another,
there are relatively few remarkable photos of this phenomena.
Sinkholes are one of the world’s scariest natural phenomena.
Over time, water erodes the soil under the planet’s surface
until in some cases, quite suddenly,
the land above gives way and collapses into the earth.
Many sinkholes occur naturally
while others are the result of human intervention.
Displacing groundwater can open cavities
while broken pipes can erode otherwise stable subterranean sediments.
Urban sinkholes, up to hundreds of feet deep
have formed and consumed parts of city blocks, sidewalks and even entire buildings.
Named after peak-hooded New Mexican monks (lower right above),
penitentes are dazzling naturally-forming ice blades
that stick up at sharp angles toward the sun.
Rarely found except at high altitudes,
they can grow up taller than a human and form in vast fields.
As ice melts in particular patterns,
‘valleys’ formed by initial melts leave ‘mountains’ in their wake.
Strangely, these formations ultimately slow the melting process
as the peaks cast shadows on the deeper surfaces below
and allow for winds to blow over the peaks, cooling them.
Ever wonder the truth about UFOs?
Avoided by traditional pilots but loved by sailplane aviators,
lenticular clouds are masses of cloud
with strong internal uplift that can drive a motorless flyer to high elevations.
Their shape is quite often mistaken
for a mysterious flying object or the artificial cover for one.
Generally, lenticular clouds are formed
as wind speeds up while moving around a large land object such as a mountain.
Light pillars appear as eerily upright luminous columns in the sky,
beacons cast into the air above without an apparent source..
These are visible when light reflects just right off of ice crystals
from either the sun (as in the two top images above)
or from artificial ground sources such as street or park lights.
Despite their appearance as near-solid columns of light,
the effect is entirely created by our own relative viewpoint.
Like light pillars, sundogs are the product of light passing through crystals.
The particular shape and orientation of the crystals
can have a drastic visual impact for the viewer,
producing a longer tail and changing the range of colors one sees.
The relative height of the sun in the sky
shifts the distance the sundogs appear to be on either side of the sun.
Varying climactic conditions on other planets in our solar system
produce halos with up to four sundogs from those planets’ perspectives.
Sundogs have been speculated about and discussed since ancient times
and written records describing the various attributes of our sun
date back the Egyptians and Greeks.
Fire whirls (also known as fire devils or tornadoes)
appear in or around raging fires
when the right combination of climactic conditions is present.
Fire whirls can be spawned by other natural events
such as earthquakes and thunderstorms,
and can be incredibly dangerous,
in some cases spinning well out of the zone of a fire itself
to cause devastation and death in a radius not even reached by heat or flame.
Fire whirls have been known to be nearly a mile high,
have wind speeds of over 100 miles per hour
and to last for 20 or more minutes.
This last phenomena is something most people have seen before
- beautiful orange moon hanging low in the sky.
But what causes this phenomena
- and, for that matter, does the moon have a color at all?
When the moon appears lower on the horizon,
rays of light bouncing off it
have to pass through a great deal more of our atmosphere
which slowly strips away everything but yellows, oranges and reds.
The bottommost image above is true to the hues of the moon
but has enhanced colors to more clearly show the differences in shade
that illustrate the mixed topography and minerology
that tell the story of the moon’s surface.
Looking at the colors in combination with the craters
one can start to trace the history of impacts
and consequent material movements across the face of our mysterious moon.