From breath-taking to downright bizarre, planet Earth is home to many things that defy explanation and challenge our understanding of the natural world. In this blog post, we will explore five of the craziest natural phenomena our planet has to offer. From the Glowworm Caves of New Zealand to the Dirty Thunderstorms of Japan, we will delve into the science behind these natural occurrences that remind us of the infinite power and unpredictability of Mother Nature.
1. Sailing Stones, USA
Remember the time when we strictly associated the rolling stones with an English rock & roll band? Well, prepare to have your mind blown.
This next oddity hits a little close to home: Death Valley National Park to be exact. Nestled within a remote valley of the park, you will find Racetrack Plaza, a dried lakebed that hosts one of the world’s strangest natural phenomena. As suggested in the photo below, visitors have noticed rocks that move along the desert floor with no gravitational cause. Granted, no one has ever seen the rocks move before their very eyes. But, the trails embedded in the desert ground behind the rocks (some as long as 1,500 feet) suggest otherwise.
The sailing stones of Death Valley have been monitored and studied by scientists since the 1900s. While there are several theories posed about their mysterious movements, it wasn’t until the winter of 2014 that scientists captured the stones moving for the first time. Time-lapse photography showed that a light rain transformed the dried lakebed into a small, frozen pond overnight. By midday the following day, the once-solid ice sheet melted into a thin layer. Wind shattered the ice sheet and caused it to accumulate behind the stones. This exerted a force that caused the rocks to inch forward.
2. Blood Falls, Antarctica
Don’t be alarmed. While this five-story waterfall may look like it came straight out of a horror movie, there’s a perfectly reasonable and natural explanation for its disturbing appearance.
Located in the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Victoria Land, Antarctica, is this crimson outflow from the toe of the Taylor Glacier onto the frozen surface of West Lake Bonney. While the ruddy hue of the waterfall was originally attributed to red algae, this hypothesis was later disproved. The Blood Falls earned its nickname due to the high concentration of iron oxide in the outflow of saltwater. The iron-rich saline water emerges from crevices in the ice and turns red once oxidized, lending to its eerie, blood-like appearance.
3. Hidden Beach, Mexico
On the north end of Bahia de Banderas, you will find the Hidden Beach on an island of Marietas Islands National Park. Also known as Playa del Amor, or Lover’s Beach, this secluded cavern draws in tens of thousands of tourists a year.
What is it exactly? The Hidden Beach is essentially a large crater where sandy shores meet crystal blue waters. The only way to access it is through boat escort.
Here’s the bad news: The Hidden Beach doesn't exactly fit the criteria of a “natural phenomenon.” The opening is attributed to the artillery testing completed on the archipelago during the first half of the 20th century. So while the formation is likely man-made, we still thought this private oasis deserved the limelight.
4. Dirty Thunderstorms, Japan
More commonly referred to as volcanic lightning, dirty thunderstorms have been witnessed and documented nearly 200 times. Most notably, the volcanic lightning that occurred at Eyjafjallajokull in 2010 generated worldwide interest as it allowed people to witness it in real-time and in high definition.
I know, I know. You want to know why it happens. From a scientific lens, the phenomenon is extremely technical and multi-faceted. Lucky for you, I’m here to put it simply. Volcanic lightning occurs from colliding, fragmenting particles of volcanic ash that generate static electricity within the plume. Ice formation can also be a catalyst for dirty thunderstorms.
5. Glowworm Caves, New Zealand
Located in the Northern King Country region of the North Island of New Zealand is the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Inside these caves you’ll find - you’ve guessed it - glow worms. Surprisingly, however, glow worms aren’t actually worms. In fact, they’re the larvae from a carnivorous fungus gnat.
But what makes glow worms so interesting? As the name suggests, glow worms glow. The neon hue of the glowworm is commonly referred to as bioluminescence. The light from a glow worm is produced and emitted from an organ near their tails. It is caused by a chemical reaction between an enzyme called luciferase and other substances. Besides its captivating appearance, the glowworm’s bioluminescence serves a distinct purpose. It helps attract prey, like smaller insects and flies, that are drawn to light sources.
As we conclude our exploration into the world’s craziest natural phenomena, it’s clear that the capabilities of our planet knows no bounds. We hope this post inspires you to stay curious, venture out, and experience the world’s artistic natural phenomena for yourself!