Monday, August 24, 2009

7 Awesome Acts of Nature (That Science Can't Explain)

We may look down on all the primitive peoples who are confused by lightning and think thunder is the voice of the gods, but the truth is to this very day there are natural phenomena that our scientists still don't being to understand.

We're talking about events that are witnessed by thousands, photographed, well-documented and yet are utterly baffling. Such as...

Naga Fireballs

What would you do if you were walking along a tropical river at night and it suddenly began burping up egg-sized balls of red light? It happens every year in October along the Mekong river (the same one featured in classic Vietnam movies like Rambo II and the flashbacks from Rambo III). The phenomenon is known as the Naga Fireballs, and experts agree that it is "just weird as shit."

"'Weird as shit,' I said, I don't understand what other questions you could have."

What happens is this: starting under water, tens to thousands of glowing red lights are seen rising out from the bottom of the river, then lifting hundreds of feet into the sky before disappearing.

It literally appears that the river is spitting out flaming M&Ms. They have never harmed anyone, and don't even seem to touch anything let alone set anything on fire. However, both of those facts were probably unavailable to dull the ferocity of the pant-crapping that took place when the event was first witnessed.

The Naga Fireballs are viewed by thousands of people every year, and a healthy number of videos documenting the phenomenon are hosted on YouTube, which is the most reliable scientific journal on the Internet next to Wikipedia.

So, What do the Smart People Think is Happening?

The number one theory suggests that fermented sediment in the river, things such as decomposing remains and animal waste, release bubbles of self-immolating gas that rise to the surface and combust. That's right, the best explanation science has come up with for the Naga fireballs is essentially that it eats too much meat. Suspiciously absent from this theory is a reason why the phenomenon occurs around the same time every year. Unless the Mekong eats a regimented diet of Activia yogurt, those meat eaters among us have to be somewhat suspicious of such a regular rate of expulsion.

The locals are simply unwilling to accept any scientific explanation for the Naga Fireballs, preferring to preserve a sense of mysticism. Scooby-Doo could roll up in the Mystery Machine and uncover a giant underwater cannon shooting phosphorous balls into the sky and he'd probably be told to fuck off. Also, they would probably eat him.

Star Jelly

It is no surprise that shit falls from the sky during a meteor shower (that's pretty much 90 percent of the definition). But sometimes what rockets to the Earth is not what you would expect. Rather than a big hunk of stone or metal, sometimes people find what looks like a jellyfish that splattered down from outer space.

Or a ballistic space dildo.

There have been reports for over a century of people finding what the Germans call sternenrotz (which literally means "star snot") in conjunction with meteors falling from the sky. It's usually clear or yellowish, smells awful and disintegrates after being handled, much like one of our erections. Despite being described thoroughly in numerous newspaper and police accounts for over 150 years, no one has ever really been able to study it in depth because the substance falls apart too quickly to allow for a sample to be obtained.

Case in point: in 1950, four Philadelphia police men found a six-foot lump of star jelly outside of town. When they tried to pick it up, it dissolved into "odorless, sticky scum." No doubt they all took a shower afterward and couldn't look each other in the eye ever again.

So, What do the Smart People Think is Happening?

Most scientists are more than happy to say witnesses are full of shit and leave it at that, but some at least try to explain it. The glob found by the policemen in Philadelphia was a half mile away from the Philadelphia gas works, so some assert that it was a discharge of some sort (which is simultaneously plausible and just as unlikely as space boogers).

Other theories have included bird vomit, frog spawn vomited up by other animals and generally a bunch of other vomit-related ideas. The goo could also be mundane types of algae slimes that people just happen to notice around the time of a meteor fall. By far the most ball-crushingly awesome theory claims that star jelly is the remains of atmospheric beasts, mythical creatures that some claim float around in the atmosphere. Why we're not constantly scraping such creatures from the windshields of airliners is not explained.

Blue Jets and Red Sprites

While they may sound like two squads of a gay relay team, blue jets and red sprites are actually the names of what occurs above the clouds during a lightning storm. Only visible from space or from an airplane (or from a space airplane), these things look like the exhaust ports on a Megazord and we are totally putting them on our Christmas list.

Sprites and jets are always associated with lightning storms. Sprites are red most of the time and happen as high as 50 miles off the surface of the ground, while jets shoot directly out of the tops of storm clouds, sometimes traveling as far as 30 miles up into the Ionosphere.

So, What Do the Smart People Think is Happening?

Top minds are pretty sure the phenomena has something to do with whatever is causing the lightning we see in every storm, but beyond that, they don't seem to know. They know the sprites kick off as a result of a lightning strike on the ground, but the jets seem to fire whenever they goddamn please.

Jets also sometimes come in the form of the imaginatively named gigantic jets, which can shoot up as high as 43 miles above the cloud cover and look like something you uppercut your opponent into after a spirited game of Mortal Kombat. For now, science is content to shrug its shoulders and see what else is on The Discovery Channel.

Earthquake Lights

As far back as 373 BC people have claimed to see weird lights in the sky during earthquakes, and sometimes for minutes before the shaking actually starts, as seen in this video:

They seem to occur in China quite often, probably because the government only permits people to see a rainbow if they are moments from cataclysmic natural destruction. The lights were also witnessed during the recent earthquakes in Peru.

"Hey, check out the rainbow!"
"Yea, that's cool. The garage just fell on grandpa, by the way."

So, What Do the Smart People Think is Happening?

There are a number of theories surrounding earthquake lights, but unfortunately none of them are very conclusive. One suggests that the imminent earthquake releases gases that are electrically charged in the air, while another says that the tectonic stress fucks with the magnetic field of the earth and creates an aurora.

Yet another claims that the ground beneath contains a lot of quartz, which sparks up like Blanka from Street Fighter 2 when shaken by a tremor. Not one of these theories has a shred of evidence to back it up, though, so really we would accept any theory as long as we can tie it to some kind of fighting game reference.

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