Unsolved mysteries like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster continue to entice the minds of the imaginative. Yet our planet is inherently bizarre, as Earth is not just any normal world. Weird natural phenomena already proven to exist on Earth are certainly more than sufficiently bizarre to astonish us. In this account, we’ll talk about some true facts that will increase your appreciation of this bizarre, sometimes mystical, but scientifically explainable world in which we exist.
The Blue Mountains Eucalyptus Clouds
Known as a favored food of Koalas, eucalyptus trees are a classic feature of the Australian landscape and a symbol of nature down under. Yet few might stop to consider whether eucalyptus trees could contribute to air pollution through their natural release of strong aromatic compounds. The concept of a cloud is familiar: water vapor or even crystals at different concentrations produce the wide variety of forms and colors, including white, light grey, or dark grey. But a remarkable place in Australia offers a much more unusual and ghostly form of cloud activity that has a remarkable biological origin. The blue haze over the Blue Mountains of Australia (named for the phenomena)is attributed to volatile organic compounds released by the trees, including potentially harmful isoprene.
Because of the phenomena of haze being formed as a result of eucalyptus tree-derived essential oils, research is being conducted on approaches to model air quality in areas of Australia hosting eucalyptus, with close attention being paid to isoprene emissions from the eucalyptus trees and possible impacts to air quality and human health. The emissions are termed “BVOCS,” or Biogenic Volatile Organic Compounds. Southeastern Australia, a region including — but not limited to — the famed Blue Mountains is an epicenter for the release of BVOCS with their high eucalyptus concentrations.
Scientists can classify most hard objects in our world as simply being rocks, minerals, native elements, fossils, or even meteorites. But a certain type of natural object presents a greater challenge to the inquiring minds of researchers. At different sites around the globe, mysterious glassy objects can be found lying on the ground among normal materials. Named “tektites” (from a Greek word for melted or molten), the strange, often shiny silica-rich objects are made up of glass of natural origin that has been the subject of much scientific speculation.
Now generally thought to consist of glass formed by collisions between meteorites and the Earth’s surface at hypervelocity speeds, tektites were first described in ancient China by the Tang Dynasty writer Liu Sun in 900 BC. Since then, tektite discoveries all around the world have continued to puzzle and fascinate the scientists who study them. Considered to be formed by the sheer heat and pressure of meteorite impacts and their interactions with the ground where they hit, tektites show a strewn about pattern, yet share composition characteristics with the portions of the Earth’s surface where they were found. Specific “strewn fields” where tektites are found include the Australasian, Central European, Ivory Coast, and North American strewn fields.
While commonly referenced, ball lightning remains the subject of controversy as a mysterious and potentially hazardous natural phenomena. Most frequently encountered during storms associated with regular lightning, ball lightning has many unusual characteristics that have been reported, including smells and hissing sounds. Ball lightning appears as small-to-medium sized glowing spheres that may move about in an erratic manner, potentially causing damage and injury. Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China researcher H. C. Wu has put forward microwave bubbles as an explanation for the bizarre phenomenon known as ball lightning.
While the true cause and formation methods of ball lightning remain a matter of continued investigation and scientific curiosity, one of the challenges in studying ball lightning arises through the difficulty in studying the phenomenon. While widely reported, ball lightning is fleeting in its “lifespan” and a means of creating true ball lightning in a lab has not been found. Stranger theories about ball lightning have included speculation that it arises from plasma or even small black holes. Interestingly, ball lightning has been reported to come through glass windows, sometimes leaving holes or appearing inside an airplane mid flight. Balls may range in size from less than an inch to over eight feet in diameter.
You might wish for something other than a rainy day, but mere H20 rain might be welcomed with open arms in lieu of a much more unsettling alternative. The expression “raining cats and dogs” is not as far from the truth as it may sound. From time to time around the globe, creatures such as frogs, fish, and invertebrates rain down from the sky, perplexing viewers or just grossing them out. Meteorological phenomena with a sucking action is apparently to blame.
In many natural environments, high concentrations of certain animals occur, such as spawning, schooling, or migrating fish or huge gatherings of amphibians such as frogs. When a storm involving high winds, such as a tornado or a waterspout, gathers momentum it could logically strike an area home to large numbers of small creatures vulnerable to being sucked up into the vortex. It is believed that quantities of fish, frogs, and other creatures being hurled down from the sky were recently picked up by a tornado or waterspout and then released as the lifting force of the storm weakened. The phenomenon has been under consideration for a long time, as there are ancient accounts of creatures falling from the sky. And we know what you’re thinking, and the answer is yes: Sharknado is a lot closer to being scientifically feasible than we ever could have guessed.
Halos of the Sun & Moon
Rainbows are familiar as the result of the sun shining through raindrops of water with prismatic effect. Yet a lesser known effect is responsible for the mysterious looking halos seen forming around the sun, or the ghostly versions that appear around the moon. In the higher parts of the Earth’s atmosphere, water is represented in the form of tiny, widely scattered ice crystals. At certain times, these ice crystals may be abundant in concurrence with bright sunlight and moonlight at a given time of day or night with a minimum of cloud cover obscuring the view from the Earth’s surface.
The result is the formation of halos from the sunlight (or sunlight reflected as moonlight) that refract through ice crystals in the Earth’s atmosphere. The halos may cause the sun to look like the small glowing center of a much larger celestial object, maybe even a supernova for the sci-fi inclined. The moon, in contrast, may take on an exceptionally mystical look with a field of moonlight much larger and more varied than usual. While the visually arresting events may seem to signify something of great cosmic significance, nothing has really changed except for some ice in the sky.
We’re used to water looking bluish, or even brown or light green if there is a lot of algae. But certain waterbodies around the world boast colors so extreme they look like an imaginative child took a few boxes of crayons and totally reimagined the usual order of the natural world. Lake Hillier is one of the most striking examples of water color craziness in nature. Located on Middle Island in Australia, the lake is separated from the ocean by an exceedingly narrow strip of low-lying land. The bright pink coloration of the lake recalls the feathers of a flamingo contrasting with a lawn, presenting a mystery as to whether it’s of biological or mineralogical origin. But it is natural, and not harmful to humans.
Kawah Ijen Lake in Indonesia, in contrast, is an opaque blue color far beyond the natural bluish look of waterbodies in the intense, mineralized coloration of its water. The location of this lake is a surprise too: at the top of a volcano. This lake is the largest of high acidity on the planet, with potentially lethal risks due to volcanic and associated geothermal activity, with toxic gases released at dangerous thresholds.
Wildfires may be terrifying, and tornadoes may be disastrous. A combination of these disasters might sound like the stuff of scary science fiction and provoke much imagination. Yet what might be termed a “firenado” is certainly real. The bizarre phenomena occurs as tornado activity meets forest fires. Alternatively, tornado formation can be provoked by the existence of a forest fire with its variations in heat and air movement patterns. Once a fire tornado is started they can go for a long time, causing a great degree of devastation.
One notorious “firenado” that was part of the Carr Fire close to Redding in Northern California, which claimed several lives — including that of a firefighter swallowed by the firenado. The hot winds were so severe that a metal pipe was wrapped around a tree. Fire tornadoes consist of swirling eddies brought about by the heat of an existing fire. The rotating hot mass gets a life of its own as it pulls in hot gasses and becomes a swirling column, tube or funnel of flame. The “firenado” can set fire to whatever it touches as it travels, and also toss burning objects aside, spreading the fire farther. While not rare, the phenomenon simply needs to become better known in order for fire tornado safety risks to be understood and respected.
Flammable Methane Ice
The concept of explosive or otherwise flammable icy environments might seem ludicrous to many. Explosions are, by nature, not wet or cold but extremely hot and dry… or at least flammable fuel-filled and hot. Cold, wet ice environments seem simply antithetical to a fiery and hellish explosion. But while the concept of hell freezing over is used to imply never, a frozen lake can quickly produce patches of fiery fury under certain scientifically explainable circumstances, namely methane accumulation. To avoid a blast of flames from the ice, you might want to hold off a moment on discarding that match or cigar from the side of a boat in icy waters in certain northern lakes.
Accumulation of organic, rotting matter as inherent in especially stagnant waters, combining with cold weather and resultant ice sheet formation, may trap large quantities of methane bubbles. The flick of a lighter close to a hole in the ice even just 2 to 3 inches wide can cause a mushroom cloud of fire over five feet tall to burst forth. The moral of the story? Careful when ice fishing! Certainly, it would not be wise to use anything with an open flame to melt ice on many frozen lakes!
Ball lightning is bizarre enough, but few people are aware that lightning bolts do not always come down from the sky. We might take it for granted that just as what goes up must come down, lightning descends rapidly from the sky to strike the Earth. But not always. An exceptionally weird form of lightning exists that means you could be struck by lightning coming from the ground, while theoretically in the air. Upward lightning consists of bolts that shoot eerily from terrestrial surfaces and structures into the sky.
Dendritic, or tree-like in pattern, the bolts reach toward the skies, completely confusing the unprepared viewer of the strange phenomenon. The reason for the phenomenon is centered on differences in electrical charge, but the explanation does not make the perplexing sight of lightning striking at the sky from a terrestrial object any less disconcerting to witness. American atmospheric scientist Tom A. Warner has used a high-speed camera to document lightning bolts. A significant number of lightning bolts recorded by Warner have included lightning forking up into the sky from objects connected to the Earth’s surface. The bolts resemble typical lightning in shape, just turned upside down.