Kate Coombs

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Strange Real-Life Secrets

Strange Real-Life Secrets

Some secrets are also called mysteries, either because the people who knew the truth are long gone or because no one has figured out the right answer yet. Here are a few of the many intriguing secrets from science and history.

Secrets from History

Is the Bermuda Triangle Cursed?
A lot of boats and airplanes have disappeared unexpectedly in these Western Atlantic waters over the years. Some people think this is because of a strange negative power in the area, but others point out that it's understandable for planes or ships to go down occasionally in a hurricane-prone stretch of the ocean and never be seen again.

What Is Stonehenge?
Like other ancient constructions, such as the pyramids in Egypt, the statues on Easter Island, and the menhirs of France, this circle of standing stones built between 3100 and 1600 BC in England leaves archaeologists debating about how it was built or what it was used for. Most researchers think Stonehenge had some connection to astronomy, while others argue that it had a religious significance. (One of the less scientific theories is that it was a UFO landing site!)

Who Was Jack the Ripper?
On TV cop shows, serial killers and other murderers are usually caught, but the sad fact is that over the centuries, a lot of people have gotten away with murder and have never been caught. This includes a famous London serial killer from the late 1800s nicknamed Jack the Ripper.

What Explains "Skyfall" or "Raining Animals"?
On numerous recorded occasions, as reported by multiple witnesses, a group of animals or other odd objects has rained down from the sky—most commonly fishes, frogs, or birds. These raining animals are sometimes frozen, but in other cases are alive and able to "walk away." It has been argued that a kind of localized windstorm scoops the animals up in one place and dumps them off in another, but skyfalls sometimes happen on clear days. Furthermore, they almost always consist of just one type of animal, whereas a "scoop" from a lake or pond would include other animals and objects. Skyfalls are still a mystery!

Who Wrote Shakespeare's Plays?
I know, this one sounds like the old joke, "Who is buried in Grant's Tomb?" But a lot of people believe that the historical William Shakespeare, the son of a glovemaker, just wasn't well-educated or well-traveled enough to have written all those amazing plays. Favorite candidates for the "real playwright" include the more sophisticated Francis Bacon and an earl named Edward de Vere, but most scholars continue to believe that good old Will Shakespeare from Stratford-on-Avon really was that talented.

What Does Rongo-Rongo Sound Like?
Over the centuries, many cultures have arisen and then eventually fallen. Their art, music, and languages have disappeared with them. Visual art can sometimes be recovered by archaeologists, but what about words and sounds? In more recent times, researchers have tried to record such languages before they vanish. But languages such as rongo-rongo, which was spoken on Easter Island, are gone for good, with no record to indicate what they might have been like.

Are Bigfoot, the Yeti, and the Loch Ness Monster Real?
While most people think these and other "monsters" are hoaxes, some are not so sure. After all, new animal species are discovered every year in remote places on the earth. What's more, as recently as 1938 an "extinct prehistoric fish" was discovered alive and well, swimming around in the ocean: the coelacanth.

What Happened on the Mary Celeste?
On November 7, 1872, a ship called the Dei Gratia found a ship called the Mary Celeste floating out in the middle of the ocean. The ship was pretty much okay, but the 10 crew members and passengers were gone, presumably in a lifeboat. They were never found, and no one is quite sure why they abandoned ship. The most probable theory is that the cargo of industrial alcohol started to catch fire and seemed as if it would destroy the ship—but then the fire went out after the ship was abandoned. Other, less probable theories include mutiny or a natural event such as a seaquake or waterspout which frightened those on board into thinking the ship was doomed. This mystery has intrigued people for years.

Secrets from Science

Do Aliens Exist?
Serious scientists wonder if life exists on other planets, but they don't believe there are little green men on Mars, and they tend to doubt reports of UFO sightings. Instead, they look for evidence of water and other life-promoting conditions on different planets. Most expect to find creatures resembling bacteria long before they run across big, civilized creatures like ourselves. However, the SETI Institute is a group of scientists that sends radio signals into space in an attempt to communicate with any sophisticated aliens who might be listening (among other research projects—see www.seti.org). While no evidence has been found yet of other life in the universe, it seems arguable that Earth, a single planet in one galaxy out of some 80 billion galaxies, isn't the only planet containing life. But the incredibly vast distances between galaxies make it unlikely that we could single out, let alone contact, any potential life forms, even if they were capable of communicating with humans.

Why Did the Dinosaurs Die?
The most widely accepted theory is that an asteroid hit our planet approximately 65 million years ago, creating dust in the atmosphere which killed off plants and severely disrupted food chains. Half of the species living on Earth died out as a result, including the dinosaurs. Scientists call this the K/T or Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event. But no one is precisely sure what happened to cause this and other extinction events over the eons. Like much of our scientific knowledge, what we have are various pieces of evidence and some likely yet ultimately unproven theories.

What Is the Universe Made Of?
It appears that as much as 95% of the universe is made up of matter and energy we can't see directly. We call these forms dark matter and dark energy. They sound more mysterious than they are once you realize that our eyes and the mechanical measuring devices humans have created can't measure everything we encounter very easily or well. Because we can only measure the existence of dark matter and dark energy indirectly, such as by their gravitational pull on galaxies, we don't know much about them right now. We're just pretty sure they're out there! The overall composition of the universe is currently thought to be 4% visible matter and energy, 22% dark matter, and 74% dark energy. Be grateful for dark energy, since it seems to balance out gravity in a way that keeps the whole universe running smoothly in our favor.

What Are Earthquake Lights?
Earthquake lights or earthlights are similar in appearance to ball lightning and tend to appear during times of tectonic stress, such as just before an earthquake or volcanic eruption. Scientists have theorized that earthlights are caused by gases being released into the air from deep inside the earth. The gases then become electrically charged and create glowing plasma. While no scientist has truly studied earthlights, they have been reported with sufficient regularity that their existence seems real. Earthlights may also explain a lot of UFO and "ghost" sightings around the world. (For a list of interesting alternate names for earthlights, see Wikipedia's article on the subject!)

Why Does Earth's Polarity Switch?
About five times every million years, the earth's magnetic fields flip-flop. (Think of the earth as a giant magnet, with opposite fields at the north and south poles.) Since the last reversal was about 780,000 years ago, some say we're due for another shift. This seems unlikely to affect living organisms, but would probably disrupt our extensive technological systems. Of course, no one's quite sure what triggers a geomagnetic reversal.

How Do Migrating Animals Find Their Way?
Okay, so animals such as birds, butterflies, and whales travel thousands of miles each year. They seem to use things like stars and magnetic fields to navigate, but we don't really understand how they do it with such a fine combination of instinct and accuracy.

Links and Sources
  • For a longer list of science secrets, see Science Magazine Online
  • The publicly composed encyclopedia, Wikipedia, has excellent articles on many of these topics.
  • Mysteries of the Universe, by Colin Wilson, DK Publishing, Inc., New York, 1997.
  • Secrets of the Unexplained: Extraordinary Events and Oddball Occurrences, by Gary L. Blackwood, Marshall Cavendish Corporation, New York, 2000.
  • Strange Mysteries from Around the World, by Seymour Simon, Morrow Junior Books, New York, 1997.
  • Unsolved Mysteries of History, by Paul Aron, Barnes and Noble, New York, 2000.

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