I have always been attracted to strange and unusual events in the world around me ever since I was an impressionable child reading science fiction, UFO literature and everything I could lay my hands on about ESP. My family is from Sweden, and there are many ‘stories’ in my family of weird events and hauntings. As a scientist who is afraid of the dark, I still find myself drawn to these subjects, but in a more controlled way. One of my favorite books that I still read from time to time, is William Corliss’s Handbook of Unusual Natural Phenomena.
Anyway, here on this page are some of my favorite ‘mysteries’ studied with my usual scientific approach to anything I encounter that seems out-of-place. Hope you enjoy my musings! I have tried to capture the history of each phenomenon and in some cases how science has ‘closed out’ these mysteries or actually incorporated them into even more refined understandings of the physical world. It is this latter part of the journey that I fully enjoy. Here is my personal ranking of the status of each phenomenon:
SOLVED: This means that scientists now have a mostly-complete answer for the phenomenon and no longer consider it either supernatural, or part of some New Physics to be learned. It’s just old physics in a new package.
ACCEPTED: This means that scientists at least accept that this phenomenon can occur, but are still trying to understand how it fits into our current framework of science. We may have explanations for a few examples but perhaps not all of the accounts that are known or have been witnessed.
INCOMPLETE: The phenomenon has been so poorly documented, or is surrounded by so much folklore, that it is hard to identify if there really is something physical going on or not. Meanwhile, scientists have their careers full of more concrete and peculiar phenomena that have far better data, so progress in understanding this phenomenon will take considerable effort, especially in quantifying what is going on and not relying exclusively on ‘eyewitness’ anecdotal evidence which is known even in a court of law to be unreliable. Scientists may have offered explanations, but they do not seem to apply to all examples of the phenomenon at least if you ask the ‘believers’.
Rocks from the Sky – This phenomenon always used to get people worked up and excited. Up until the mid-1800’s scientists scoffed at the idea that rocks could fall from the sky. It wasn’t until the mid-1900’s that the Barringer Crater in Arizona was proved to be a meteor impact crater, and hundreds more have been discovered since then! Link to an article – Status: SOLVED!
Ball Lightning – For hundreds of years, perhaps even thousands, witnesses have sworn that they were beset by luminous balls of light that bounce around and vanished, sometimes with a bang. By the late 1900’s, ball lightning is an accepted natural phenomenon. In some circles it has became the ‘rage’ of the physics community. Link to an article – Status: ACCEPTED!
Singing Sands – William Corliss reports in his book that there are several places in the world (one in Nevada) where desert sands move and cause musical or ‘booming’ sounds. In recent years, scientists finally discovered how the sands ‘sing’. If you should hear sands sing on some remote dune, I bet you’ll still feel like you are in the presence of something mysterious and sublime! Link to an article – Status: SOLVED!
Spook Lights – They are usually globes of light seen after sunset on long stretches of railroad track, or dark narrow country roads. Their descriptions are so cloaked in spooky ghost stories and anecdotes that it is hard to make sense of what is going on. Still, if I ever saw one of these on a dark back road, I would probably scream and run the other way!!! Link to My Notes – Status: INCOMPLETE
Spontaneous Human Combustion – Stories about people that literally go up in smoke have been around for years. Will you be the next victim after you read this page? Scientists still can’t make heads or tails of what’s going on. Has everybody gone completely wacko in reporting these incidents, or is there really something to them? Link to an article – Status: ACCEPTED
Lightning Sprites and Elves – Mariners and other people who spend time outside during thunder storms have sometimes reported seeing a flash of light from the top side of a thunderhead cloud streaking away from Earth. Thanks to modern technology, ‘sprites’ are now the subject of some exciting research into plasma physics. Link to an article – Status: ACCEPTED
Flying Saucers – People have been reporting strange things in the sky for centuries. Today, we get even more reports because the average person is no longer attuned to nature, so everything looks ‘strange’ even cloud formations and meteors. Link to an article – Status: INCOMPLETE
ESP – I used to like this subject, but for a century it has been so bogged down in nonsense, superstition, crackpots, charlatans and emotion-laden eye-witness accounts that you can’t separate the cream from the milk. Link to an article – Status: INCOMPLETE
Crypto-Zoology – Big Foot, Yeti, Loch Ness Monster, is there anything to these stories? Well…scientists did find Coelacanth ‘living fossils’ off the coast of Africa, so perhaps there are other surprises ‘out there’…or perhaps not! Mariners and explorers used to populate maps of distant lands with all manner of fantastic creatures. ‘There be Dragons here! Basically we love to scare each other! Link to an article – Status: INCOMPLETE
The Placebo Effect – Scientists and medical researchers know about this phenomenon and have to control for it in their studies, but it is still not known how a person can be ‘duped’ into showing a positive response. Related to this are miracle cures, which also involve people deeply believing that they will be cured. Link to an article – Status:ACCEPTED.
Strange Mountain Sounds – You are in the mountains or on a lake and suddenly you hear musical notes or even entire sequences of airy, ethereal sounds. I have heard these myself in the back country of Yosemite National Park. Link to an article – Status: INCOMPLETE.
Ghosts and Apparitions – OK, this is everyone’s favorite subject. Given the repetitive nature of ‘hauntings’ these spirits if they exist must be dumber than dogs. Links to an article – Status: INCOMPLETE
Northern Lights – Also called the aurora, they are spectacular light shows that have spawned many folklore explanations, but are firmly based in known phenomena in the natural world. Links to an article – Status: SOLVED!
The Moon Illusion – When you see the moon near the horizon it appears much bigger than it does when it is far from the horizon high up in the sky – Links to an article– Status: SOLVED!
Strange Rain – falling fish, rocks, goop, salamanders and other things have been claimed to fall from the sky at one time or another. Links to an article – Status: INCOMPLETE!
Alien Abductions – People claim to be kidnapped by aliens in their sleep and taken to spaceships for strange experimentation. Links to an article – Status: INCOMPLETE!