With all the technological progress we’ve made in the last couple of centuries, we’d think it’s safe to assume that we know pretty much everything going on with our planet. But that’s totally not the case – we’ve most likely found the answer to not even half of the observable natural occurrences.
One example of this is related to fairy rings, mysterious bald spots occasionally popping in Namibian grasslands. Thought for a long time to be a hoax similar to crop circles, the mystery of the African fairy circles was finally solved after they appeared in Australia. The exact cause behind them is still mostly a mystery, but the process through which they are formed was finally understood.
Up until recently, the strange circles were only known to appear in Africa. They are random patches of naturally missing grass, sometimes even presenting a six-sided honeycomb shape. Expectedly, this has fascinated scientists for decades, as the strange pattern couldn’t be seen anywhere else in the world, and there was no explanation for it.
However, as some of these fairy circles randomly and all of a sudden popped up in the Australian outback, researchers finally managed to get to the bottom of this so far unsolved mystery. It turns out that the grass is growing in those patterns voluntarily.
According to the team of scientists from the Leipzig, Germany Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, particularly Stephan Getzin, the lead researcher in the study,
The interesting thing about fairy circles is that they are spread with great regularity and homogeneity, even over vast areas, but they occur only within a narrow rainfall belt.
Because of this, researchers were led to believe that the circles were caused by the plants’ attempt to grow in a way that would ensure they’d be able to deal with the dry environment in which they live. But if that’s the case, that would mean that the circles that freshly popped up in Australia are the same as those in Africa.
Despite the completely different types of soils, both acting differently, in the two countries, it turns out that the process the grass is going through is actually the same. The researchers still aren’t sure why two types of grass in two types of environments, growing in two different types of soil are growing in strangely identical patterns, but they’re sure it has to do with the grass coping with the dryness.
According to Getzin,
The details of this mechanism are different to that in Australia. But it produces the same vegetation pattern because both systems of gaps are triggered by the same instability.
Image source: Wikimedia