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10 Famous Unsolved Mysteries Easily Explained by Science

#5.
Ghosts (and Other Things)

The Mystery

Ghosts have been spotted all over the world since time immemorial, typically in dark, spooky places, where anyone or anything could jump out at you. Something like one-third of people believe in ghosts. Could all those people really be wrong? Yes. But are they?

Getty
Drumroll ...

Yes again.

The Solution

We've talked a bit about ghostly origins before, specifically how infrasound can cause hallucinations and feelings of dread. That doesn't necessarily cover all ghost experiences, but some Swiss researchers think they've found something that might account for the rest: During a routine study on a 22-year-old epileptic patient, scientists found that a small electric shock to the left temporo-parietal junction, the part of the brain responsible for self/other distinction, caused the patient to see someone else in the room with her. When the shock stopped, the person disappeared.

Getty
Really, she was torturing her imaginary childhood friend. Think about that for a minute.

As they attempted further experiments, the patient complained of feeling the other person behind her even while she was lying down. When the researchers attempted to have her read from a card, she reported that "the shadow tried to interfere, saying, 'he wants to take the card' and 'he doesn't want me to read.'"

Via lnco.epfl.ch
Thanks, Switzerland. We hated sleeping peacefully anyway.

The scientists now suspect that some sort of overstimulation of the left temporo-parietal junction could account for several forms of schizophrenia as well as a litany of paranormal experiences like ghosts, shadow people, out-of-body-experiences, doppelgangers, guardian angels and a thing called the Third Man Phenomenon, which is when people in extremely stressful situations report seeing another person following them around.

Getty
Usually their boss.

Well, either that, or scientists have just concretely proved that ghosts hate literacy.

#4.
Ley Lines

The Mystery

What do Stonehenge, the Great Pyramid of Giza and Ayers Rock have in common?

Getty
Apart from hippie flash mobs?

All have a reputation as mystical, even magical places with strange histories and events surrounding them. But there's another thing: They're all interconnected by a giant mystical network. One that, in fact, may connect every single magical site everywhere: Ley lines are ancient, powerful linear alignments of mystical places that may allow us to tune in with -- or even tap into -- the power of Mother Earth. While they're powerful in themselves, the true power of ley lines lies in the fact that they form a grid of raw natural magic, allowing magicians to pull power from distant sites. It's like an Internet made of sorcery.

Getty
Pictured: The Internet.

The Solution

The powerful, mysterious and unspeakably ancient linear alignments we know as ley lines were actually born in 1921 from the mind of an amateur archaeologist named Alfred Watkins. One day, old Al noticed that some ancient features of the British landscape sort of followed the same line, kind of, if you tilted your head a little maybe. He then promptly devoted his life to researching these lines he just made up, and after literally months of research, he unleashed his ley line theory to the unsuspecting public, who are always suckers for a good mystical one-dimensional figure.

Getty
For example, 75 percent of British people cannot tell you exactly what the Queen does.

There was only one little problem: Ley lines did not really exist. Alfred Watkins made them up.

*Gasp* No!

Now, we're not saying he did it on purpose -- Watkins was a serious man and a respected authority in many fields, so it is possible he genuinely believed he had stumbled upon something profoundly curious. And he never tried to attribute any mystical properties to the lines himself; all he ever claimed was that ley lines were probably pathways for trade or ceremonial purposes within the British Isles -- everything else was invented by later, less archeologically inclined crazy people, who had no problems bringing magic and even aliens into the equation. Although, to be fair, we'd wager that those people have never had a problem bringing magic and aliens into any equation.

Getty
"Dragons plus aliens equals a trip to the medicine cabinet again."

#3.
Corpse Candles

The Mystery

So you're wandering the marshes alone at night, for reasons we generously assume are not crime-related, when you suddenly see a flickering light appear out of nowhere. It startles you, but after the initial shock, you find yourself intrigued. You need to get to the bottom of this. Striding confidently (drunkenly?) toward the light, you find to your extreme annoyance that it flees from you. When you turn to move, the mushy soil suddenly starts to suck you in, and the candle vanishes. You realize, too late, that you have been tricked. You will never see your family again. Your bones will never be found: You have become just another victim of corpse candles, also known as will-o'-the-wisps, spooklights and ignis fatuus.

Via Wikipedia

They're eerie, elusive lights that resemble flickering candles or luminous fog. Throughout history, they've haunted marshes, bogs and swamps, and they've been attributed to everything from fairies to ghosts to aliens. They often disappear when approached, and the few brave souls who have managed to venture close have reported they're cool to the touch, despite clearly being composed of flame.

The Solution

Corpse candles tend to appear at night and invariably in spooky places such as marshes, shallow lakes and old graveyards. Therefore, people have been mostly too busy moving toward the general direction of "away" to pay very close attention. Some of the more inquisitive minds of the 19th century, however, did attempt to study the phenomenon. When owls, bioluminescent fungi and other natural causes had been ruled out, the remaining erratic behavior was chalked up to that oldest and least believable of UFO explanations: marsh gas.

Via Wikipedia
John Dalton, fishing for marsh gas. But he did end up developing atomic theory from this, so that's not too crazy, we guess.

And despite the protesting screams of literally dozens of fat men with ill-fitting T-shirts and anal-probe flaps sewn into their trousers, marsh gas can and does totally produce an eerie-looking, low-temperature "flame" through a chemical reaction called chemiluminescence. But hell, those alien enthusiasts may be onto something: "UFO Probe Drones" does sound way cooler than "bright fart-gas balls."

#2.
Water Turning to "Blood"

The Mystery

So you're heading out for a swim and notice that the lake has turned to blood.

Via lifeinfreshwater.org

Huh.

Well, not letting yourself be intimidated by a minor matter like that, you hit the beach, only to see the incoming tide ...

Via serc.carleton.edu

Well, you've still got the river, and it's ...

Via thejetpacker.com

A waterfall of goddamn blood.

OK, that's got to be a bit of a bad thing. You may or may not be a religious person, but some dark, suppressed lizard part of your brain, the one solely dedicated to panic and end-times prophecy, brings up a quote from Revelation:

The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead person, and every living thing in the sea died. The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood.

Yea, the End has truly come, and you know it's too late to repent for that one thing you did. You know the one. How could you?

iStockphoto
He knows what you did.

The Solution

It's pretty hard not to freak out a little when your local body of water suddenly turns blood red, but stop for a minute and think about chemistry class: namely, the really easy trick that enables you to turn water to "blood" within a minute. That's not exactly what's going on here, but the principle is the same: It's a variety of crap in your water. That river with its waterfall just happened to carry a large amount of red sediment washed into it by unusually hard rain. The primary source of this discoloration in ocean water is a phenomenon called red tide. It's caused by explosive blooms of tiny creatures known as phytoplankton or dinoflagellates. (Which, as luck would have it, have also been linked to UFOs by some. Hey, it almost seems like some people will link aliens to everything, doesn't it?) Their photoluminescence is responsible for the red color of the water, while their abundance is responsible for sucking the oxygen right out of water and murdering everything. Oh, and they're also riddled with neurotoxins.

So in a way, it is the apocalypse, just not for human beings. It's for the cast of The Little Mermaid.

Getty
"We got no troubles, Life is the bubbles, Under the- OH GOD, is that my spleen?"

#1.
Sailing Stones

Via Sandy Redding

The Mystery

The sailing stones of Death Valley are large, rough blocks of rock that apparently move about when no one is looking, leaving deep grooves and scores of puzzled scientists in their wake. Some of the stones weigh as much as 700 pounds, and they all move in entirely different directions; two similar stones that start out side by side can end up taking completely divergent paths. But before you go running to your "The Earth Itself Has Finally Turned Against Us" bunker, you should know that they only move once every two or three years. You've at least got enough time to finish the article.

Via Wikipedia

There are a plethora of supernatural theories as to what causes this phenomenon, ranging from vague, mysterious "unseen hands" to the stones being sentient remnants of a UFO crash site. Also of interest is the fact that the infamous Area 51 is not too far from the site where the stones roam.

So, it's obviously thinking rocks from beyond space, right?

The Solution

Remember when we mentioned "the site where the stones roam" just now? Said site is called Racetrack Playa, and it's not a Li'l Wayne album; it's a dry lake bottom.

Well, at least it's dry for most of the year.

Occasionally, as in every two or three years (remember that number?), the lake is partly flooded by water and melting chunks of ice as they rush in from the higher surrounding areas. Combine that with the surprisingly hard winds and the exceptionally slick mud the cracked Playa ground forms when wet, and you've got the geology world's very own Indy 500.

Via Marc Kjerland
Maybe in a few million years ... we'll be dead and not have to think about geology any more.

They're, uh ... they're not a very exciting people, those geologists.

To read more of Ashe's work, check out Weird Shit Blog and Bad Metaphors.

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