5 Urban Legends (That Have Totally Been Solved By Science)
Pesky science keeps reasoning away all the fantastic mysteries that have been amazing us for generations. Way to ruin the magic, nerds. But while their careful, peer-reviewed dissections may make for terrible campfire stories, there is something to be said for an honest explanation of creepy phenomena. For instance ...
There's A (Non-Serial-Killer) Reason Severed Feet Keep Washing Up On Beaches
Way back in 2010, we discussed a gruesome mystery that was at the time very much unsolved. Since 2007, 14 shoed feet (and not seven pairs) had washed up on the shores of the Pacific Northwest. For over a decade, police were unable to find any leads or evidence to uncover the identity of the foot fetish killer. Now we know it was Mother Nature. (Who figured she'd have a thing for feet? You never can tell.)
After inspecting the latest foot, police discovered it belonged to a suicidal individual. And suicide risk turned out to be a common trait among the corpses, with people who died in storms and accidents at sea making up the rest of the casualties. What had happened to their bodies was simply the cruel circle of life. Dead things decompose and get nibbled on by fish. But the feet, enclosed in a sturdy shell of shoe, escape this fate and eventually wash up on the shore, scaring boogie-boarders.
But why did this phenomenon only start in 2007? After all, people have been dying at sea since the days of moccasins and buckled pirate booties. As it so happens, the timeline matches up quite nicely with when shoe companies started introducing air pockets and foam into their designs, making shoes buoyant and seaworthy in the most macabre way. Even more terrifying, since no one has ever found a matching pair, "there probably are a bunch of running shoes bouncing around out there," according to Barb McLintock, a British Columbia coroner. "But no one's ever going to find them."
The "Wow!" Radio Signal Was Probably A Loud Comet
On August 15th, 1977, Ohio State University's "Big Ear" telescope received a strong signal from the Sagittarius constellation. It lasted 72 seconds, was louder than anything else in the sky that night, and covered frequencies similar to those of human origin, strongly implying alien involvement. When astronomer Jerry Ehman was sifting through the data a few days later, he discovered the transmission, circled it, and wrote "Wow!" -- already overwhelmed by the amount of bad History Channel documentaries this discovery would cause.
For 40 years, the Wow! signal was the best proof of alien contact that didn't involve Jodie Foster. Then, in a paper titled "Hydrogen Line Observations of Cometary Spectra at 1420 MHz," Antonio Paris of the Center for Planetary Science made a compelling argument that the source of the signal wasn't some tiny grey aliens, but a comet whose existence was only discovered in 2006. That comet, according to Dr. Paris, brought with it a hydrogen gas cloud that often farts out the very same radio frequencies picked up by the Big Ear.
To prove this, Dr. Buzzkill Von Crush Your Dreams and his team designed an experiment to test the radio waves emitted by the comet and a similar one when they passed Earth in 2016 and 2017. They indeed matched the soulful tunes of the original signal.
Of course, Paris' study (which is but the first in this exciting new field) doesn't explain every abnormality, especially why the signal didn't repeat, or why was only registered for a small amount of time. And it definitely doesn't counter the most persuasive argument of them all: Since the comet is technically from a galaxy far far away and made a cool sound, shouldn't we just let this one count anyway?
The Spooky Dog Bridge Suicides Are Just Excited Dogs Being Dumb
Overtoun Bridge is a series of towering arches in Scotland that connects quaint Milton Village to the historic Overtoun manor. And if visiting that sounds like the most boring Sunday trip you could ever take, you should also know that it's the place where over 50 dogs have plummeted to a watery grave since the 1950s. Many believe that the bridge is cursed, probably by some vengeful cat god, but the truth was right in front of our noses -- which is exactly what got those poor pups killed in the first place.
In the last 70-odd years, over 600 dogs have jumped off Overtoun bridge, and the ones who didn't die in the process were keen on doing it again. It didn't take long before locals believed the area to be haunted, with one theologian accusing The White Lady of Overtoun, a figure of local folklore, as the spectral Cruella de Vil. It also definitely didn't help that in 1994, a psychotic man threw his baby off the bridge, claiming they were the Antichrist.
But some skeptics started connecting the dots when they realized most of the doggy suicides occurred with long-nosed dogs on a clear day. Also, the bridge had been dog-injury-free for decades before becoming the Jonestown of good boys and girls. The maddening culprit, it turned out, wasn't the bridge itself, but what happened underneath it: minks. In the '50s, these pungent ferrets were introduced into the area after many escaped from nearby fur farms.
In 2005, canine psychologist Dr. David Sands performed an experiment using scents from different species in the area, and what attracted the dogs the most was indeed the mink. In perfect conditions, the scent would travel down the stream, and dogs, ensorcelled by the smelly siren's call, would chase it, not realizing that there was a 50-foot drop between them and their tasty mink treat.
This theory is still being contested, with the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals claiming there isn't enough evidence yet to come to a conclusion. But if it's a contest of doggy will between sniffing smelly butts and ghosts whispering "Here boy," it seems obvious.
The Hum That Baffled Science Has An Explanation (But Not A Solution)
Back in 2015, we told you about the mysterious hum that made both people and science go bananas -- an inexplicable cosmic mumbling that can occur in places as diverse as Taos and England, driving some to the brink of insanity. For decades, scientists were baffled by the mysterious hum that would erupt spontaneously in places near the shore. Often, they managed to pass the blame onto local nuisances, like submarines or factories, but they couldn't explain why only some people heard it, or why the very same sound would erupt randomly on the other side of the globe years later. And the problem only grew, as some reported that the hum was causing headaches, nosebleeds, and in one instance even drove someone to suicide.
But science never sleeps -- especially not when the cosmos is humming in an annoying way. So after years of research and theories, scientists at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in France finally found the culprit for this mysterious phenomenon: hardcore wet grinding. Specifically, long ocean waves putting so much pressure on the seabed that the Earth oscillates. That continuous vibration can cause minor seismic humming that can last up five minutes. Unfortunately, we'll probably never figure out a way to get the Earth to shut up. Fortunately, most of us are pretty lucky that we'll never hear it. But pity the small portion of the population who will forever be cursed by Poseidon's late-night grind sessions.
Magical Earthquake Lights Are A Geological Show
It's the conspiracy theorist's holy grail: mysterious flashes of bluish light erupting during earthquakes, with science failing to provide a conclusive answer for millennia. That means that it's either aliens, elder gods erupting from the Earth's crust, or an exciting cocktail of both. Except that, of course, even these strange lights have a perfectly scientific explanation.
The earthquake lights have been reported by numerous eyewitness accounts since all the way back to 89 BCE. Science typically waved the sightings away as being fantastical dramatics, but once Japanese scientists started taking actual photographs in the '60s, the phenomenon was confirmed, though not easily explained. Since then, many theories have been shuffled forward, ranging from electrical equipment explosions to iridescent clouds to the classic "It's just lightning, get over it."
But the biggest contender for a sane explanation was piezoelectricity, the phenomenon whereby minerals like quartz are exposed to specific frequencies and generate their own voltage. This principle is how some acoustic guitar pickups work, or how your Rolex keeps steady time.
But in 2015, a study written by four scientists with impressive resumes asserted that it was not quartz, but basalts and gabbros causing the light show. Due to defects in the structure of their crystals, seismic waves can cause them to grind together and release their electric potential, which contacts the atmosphere and sparkles like fireworks. The reason it took so long to find enough evidence to back it up? The same reason the blue earthquake light was so rare that few believed in it: Most major earthquake faults are at too shallow an angle for the electric charges to shoot upwards into the sky, making it so that only 0.5 percent of earthquakes meet the prerequisites to turn a natural catastrophe into a Fourth of July celebration.
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