VOICE OVER: Peter DeGiglio
WRITTEN BY: Don Ekama
These science mysteries will leave you baffled. Welcome to WatchMojo, and for this list, we'll be looking at the most mysterious natural phenomena that still have no definitive scientific explanation, despite there being proposed theories in existence. Our countdown of natural phenomena that science can't explain includes Yawning, Mass Whale Strandings, The Heat of the Sun's Corona, and more!
Top 10 Natural Phenomena That Science Still Can’t Explain
Welcome to WatchMojo, and for this list, we’ll be looking at the most mysterious natural phenomena that still have no definitive scientific explanation, despite there being proposed theories in existence.
#10: Rain of Animals
On New Year’s Day 2011, residents of Beebe, Arkansas witnessed an unusual event. Thousands of blackbirds rained down from the sky, littering lawns, streets and rooftops. Although rare, such occurrences have actually been documented worldwide, involving various creatures such as fish, frogs and spiders. This rain of animals typically occurs during storms or tornadoes, leading to theories of strong winds or watersprouts lifting the animals from one location and depositing them elsewhere. However, this theory fails to account for the fact that the rains usually involve a single species or type of animal. The lack of comprehensive data, and difficulty in observing certain aspects of this phenomenon, has made it hard for scientists to definitively explain its cause.
Everybody yawns - it’s a common behavior when we’re tired, bored, sleepy or hungry. Most of us yawn multiple times everyday. In fact, all this talk about yawning has probably triggered one for you already. Right? For something that occurs that frequently, you’d think science would’ve figured out its exact cause by now. Yet, despite several theories, the true explanation behind the yawn remains unclear. Scientists think it may help cool the brain or aid breathing, by boosting oxygen intake and carbon dioxide release. Other theories posit that its contagious nature promotes social bonding or helps keep a group of animals alert. But as none of these is yet to be proven conclusively, the yawn’s exact purpose remains a mystery.
#8: Balancing Rocks
All around the world, there are certain naturally occurring structures that seem to defy gravity. Referred to as Balancing Rocks, these geological formations are typically of a substantial size, and sometimes rest precariously on smaller points. These rocks usually originate through a combination of wind, water and/or chemical erosion, which shape them into their unique configurations. Despite their delicate appearance, these structures tend to remain stable, thwarting any attempts to topple them over, including by humans, elephants and, in some cases, earthquakes. Some scientists say that balancing rocks around fault lines are able to withstand earthquakes due to an already weakened ground. But this explanation is still considerably limited.
#7: Mass Whale Strandings
Also referred to as beaching, this peculiar phenomenon occurs when large numbers of whales strand themselves on land and are unable to return to the water. These aquatic creatures then perish mainly as a result of dehydration or suffocation under their enormous weight. While puzzling, whale strandings are fairly frequent, usually occurring along the coasts of Australia and New Zealand. Scientists have proposed a range of theories, such as navigation errors due to geomagnetic disturbances or hunting endeavors gone awry. Another possibility is that a great number of these creatures unintentionally beach themselves by following the distress calls of a single troubled whale. With multiple complex factors at play, a single definitive cause for such occurrences remains elusive.
#6: Earthquake Lights
These mysterious luminescent phenomena have been reported to sometimes occur before or during an earthquake. They typically appear as bright flashes in the sky and, in some cases, have been observed weeks ahead of the actual earthquakes. For centuries, these lights have confounded scientists, but one possible explanation is that they are caused by earthquake-induced stress, which releases electrical charges from certain types of rocks. These charges then travel up into the atmosphere, where they interact with the air and produce light. A similar explanation has also been offered for the equally mysterious lightning associated with volcanic eruptions. Regardless, the debate surrounding these occurrences still remains charged, with some researchers even questioning their actual existence.
#5: Naga Fireballs
Every year, many travel from far and wide to the Mekong River in Southeast Asia to observe a remarkable phenomenon. Glowing orbs of light, referred to as Naga fireballs, are said to rise naturally from the water before disappearing high up in the sky. These fireballs vary in size - from small specks to as large as basketballs, sometimes appearing by the thousands each night. Local legends attribute them to mythical water creatures called Nagas, believed to inhabit the river. On the other hand, scientists propose that they could be caused by bioluminescent organisms in the water, or the combustion of gases like methane released from the riverbed. However, the likelihood of these scenarios causing a spontaneous ignition is minimal.
#4: Animal Migration
Millions of animals migrate from one place to another every year, in search of food, better weather conditions and a suitable breeding environment. This behavior has been documented in various creatures, from birds and mammals to insects and reptiles. Scientists worldwide have been intrigued by how these creatures are able to navigate with precision and avoid getting lost. While recognizing familiar landmarks and smells could explain part of it, decades of research have produced evidence of a biocompass. This suggests that some animals possess a certain iron oxide that aids with navigation. However, some remain skeptical of this idea. As animal migration is complex and happens in a wide range of species, the puzzle to fully understanding it is far from being solved.
#3: Cat’s Purr
The purring of a cat is an unmistakable sound for pet lovers. But the how and why behind it confounded animal scientists for decades. The mechanism of the purr’s origin seems to have been figured out. Although once thought to be due to blood flow through the heart, it is now widely believed that the sound is purr-duced by muscles within the feline larynx. Despite this, there is still no explanation for what exactly triggers the purr. Could it just be happiness and contentment? Or does it also express nervousness and fear? Scientists are yet to come to an absolute conclusion. Regardless, we can all agree that it is still a purr-fect sound.
#2: The Heat of the Sun’s Corona
Common sense dictates that a heat source should be hotter than the environment surrounding it. But when it comes to the sun, all logic is apparently thrown out of the window. While the temperature of the sun’s surface sits around 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, that of its outer atmosphere, known as the Corona, surpasses two million degrees - over 200 times hotter. The reason behind this remains a baffling mystery. Possible theories include the induction of heat from the Sun's magnetic field, as well as the upward movement of plasma waves from the surface into the corona. Yet, none of these mechanisms has been fully accepted as a fireproof explanation for this phenomenon.
#1: Dark Matter
Matter is anything that has mass and can occupy space. While some of it can be observed directly, the same cannot be said for Dark Matter. This invisible substance supposedly forms over 80% of matter in the universe. But what exactly is it made up of? Despite being invisible, scientists generally agree that dark matter exists, due to its gravitational effects on many galaxies. However, as it neither emits light nor interacts with the electromagnetic field, there is no way to observe it directly. Various theories suggest that it contains elements that haven’t been discovered yet, such as weakly interacting massive particles. Many experiments are still underway to unravel the mystery, but for now, scientists remain in the dark.
What other commonly occurring scientific mysteries are out there? Let us know in the comments below.