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10 Perplexing Mysteries That May Have Finally Been Solved

by Shelby Hoebee
fact checked by Jamie Frater

The world is filled with fascinating mysteries that have long gone unsolved. In recent years, however, many of mankind’s most perplexing riddles and unsolved anomalies have finally been explained. While finding mysteries is fun, the solutions to these mysteries can be just as compelling.

10The Ceres Mystery Lights

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As NASA’s Dawn spacecraft approached the dwarf planet Ceres, it captured some very mysterious images. One of these, taken 47,000 kilometers (29,000 mi) away from the planet, showed abnormally bright spots inside an 80-kilometer-wide (50 mi) crater. Many immediately took these images and ran with them, thinking that they were signs of an alien civilization.

For a few months, even NASA wasn’t exactly sure what these mysterious bright spots were. Theories ranged from aliens to ice, but in late 2015, a study was published in Nature that debunked all those theories. It claimed that the spots were nothing more than salt. The study stated, “These unusual areas are consistent with hydrated magnesium sulfates mixed with dark background material, although other compositions are possible.” Unfortunately, this explanation is not as exciting as aliens, but there are plenty of other space mysteries to keep us baffled for a long time.

9The Windsor Hum

The Windsor ‘Hum’

Mysterious hums like the one in Windsor, Ontario, can be found all over the world. These hums often sound like idling engines or loud refrigerators and are understandably a nuisance for anyone within earshot. A recent study in Canada, however, claims to have finally found the source of Windsor’s mysterious hum.

While their first report was totally inconclusive, the second report claims to have finally found some answers. It states that the origin of the hum comes from nearby Zug Island in Detroit, Michigan, the home of a steel plant. It’s a step in the right direction, but we still don’t know exactly where the hum is coming from. The intermittent noise could be coming from one specific machine, or it could be a combination of different machines that only produce the noise under specific conditions. Regardless, the Canadian government has requested that someone on the US side of the Detroit River keep looking into the problem.

8The Jewish Relic

In 2015, a maintenance worker found a bizarre object in a Jerusalem cemetery. The object was shaped much like a rolling pin and made out of metal, and it had Israel’s Antiquities Authority at a loss. First believing he had found a bomb, the maintenance worker called in a bomb squad. They did a controlled explosion, only to find that the object was completely unharmed. The object was X-rayed and found to be made of solid metal with a coating of 24-karat gold.

Now that the authorities knew what it was made of, they turned to the best possible source to figure out what it actually was: the Internet. After posting a picture on Facebook, they received thousands of guesses about the object’s possible use. Finally, a man named Micah Barak solved the mystery. He posted that the object was an Isis Beamer, a device named after the Egyptian god Isis that’s commonly used for energy healing by naturopaths. Just as suddenly as the mystery began, it was solved with the help of Facebook.

7Shark Navigation

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The ocean is a vast and empty place, yet sharks are able to navigate the oceans with incredible accuracy. For example, great white sharks frequently swim between Hawaii and California, while salmon sharks swim from Alaska to the subtropical Pacific. It’s a phenomenon that has baffled scientists for years. Hypotheses about how sharks manage to do this range from odor cues to the Earth’s electromagnetic fields, but until recently, nobody’s ever conclusively proven one theory over any of the others.

A recent study claims to have finally solved the mystery. Scientists tested the theory that the sharks manage the feat using odor by taking wild leopard sharks 10 kilometers (6 mi) away from their natural habitat. The sharks were fitted with tracking devices, and half of them had cotton balls stuffed up their noses. When the sharks were released, the half without the cotton balls were able to easily find their way back, while the ones with the cotton balls appeared to become lost.

This seemed to have solved the mystery, but many remain unconvinced. Some believe that the sharks were simply upset by having wads of cotton jammed into their noses. Others pointed out that the handicapped sharks still basically swam in the right direction, so there must be something else guiding them.

6Amelia Earhart’s Plane

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Photo credit: Harris & Ewing

Amelia Earhart is one of the most famous female aviators in history. On July 2, 1937, she disappeared during her attempt to fly around the equator. Since then, her mysterious disappearance has fascinated the world and inspired a host of conspiracy theories.

In 2014, however, the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), stumbled on a piece of debris from an aluminum aircraft on the uninhabited island of Nikumaroro. It’s now believed that the aluminum almost certainly belonged to Earhart’s twin-engine Lockheed Electra. The metal sheet was installed on the plane in Miami to replace a navigational window. The Miami Herald even published a photo of the plane with the metal sheet attached. All of the specifications and dimensions of the metal exactly match the photograph.

This is a major breakthrough because it is the first piece of evidence found since Amelia Earhart vanished. It also goes against the popular belief that Earhart and her navigator crashed in the Pacific Ocean. Instead, it is believed that they ran out of fuel and were forced to land on Nikumaroro, becoming castaways for the rest of their lives.

5Solving The Chaocipher

The Chaocipher was once famous for its complexity. Now, it’s famous for its simplicity. This cipher machine was extremely small, but it generated ciphers that went unsolved for almost 50 years. John Byrne was a writer who began creating the cipher in the 1920s and soon had a code that he claimed was unsolvable. In his many attempts to show the government and the Navy, he was ignored due to his seeming lack of skills as a cryptanalyst.

Byrne never gave out any details about the Chaocipher until he published his autobiography, Silent Years, which contained examples of famous documents in both plaintext and ciphertext. But even though the Chaocipher was finally available, no one knew how to figure it out. After Byrne’s death, the American Cryptogram Association contacted Byrne’s son to see if he would reveal his father’s secrets. To their dismay, he refused. The code remained a mystery until Patricia Byrne, John Byrne’s son’s widow, finally revealed the secret in 2010.

The mechanism contained two circles with all the letters of the alphabet on their outer edges. The right circle had the alphabet going clockwise in plaintext, while the left circle had it going counterclockwise in ciphertext. By replacing certain letters in a sequence, the machine could create a code that was indecipherable without the machine to translate it back. The system wholly violates Kerckhoffs’s principle, which states that a cryptogram should be secure even if the secret of how it works is public knowledge. Cracking the code was so difficult simply because no one knew exactly how Byrne built his machine.

4The Bloop

The Bloop: A Mysterious Sound from the Deep Ocean | NOAA SOSUS

In the summer of 1997, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recorded several extremely odd low-frequency sounds underwater. “The Bloop,” as it was named, completely baffled scientists. Dr. Christopher Fox of the NOAA did not believe the sound to be man-made or geologic in nature. It also couldn’t have come from an animal, since it was several times louder than the loudest known animal noise.

In 2012, the NOAA finally solved the mystery, and it is much less exciting than the gigantic sea monster everyone thought it was. The NOAA states that the sounds are consistent with large icebergs fracturing and cracking, an event also known as an icequake. Even though the Bloop was heard at two different underwater listening stations over 5,000 kilometers (3,100 mi) apart, the explanation works. A cracking ice shelf is definitely loud enough to generate such a noise.

3The Fairy Circles Of The Namib Desert

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Photo credit: Stephan Getzin

The appearance of the so-called “fairy circles” in the Namib Desert has perplexed scientists for years. According to Norbert Juergens, the explanation is simple: termites. In his paper published in the journal Science, Juergens states that the circles are formed when a local sand termite, Psammotermes allocerus, removes the vegetation that begins growing after a rainstorm.

By doing this, they allow more plants to grow. “Because of rapid percolation and lack of evapotranspiration, water is retained within the circles. This process results in the formation of rings of perennial vegetation that facilitate termite survival and locally increase biodiversity.”

Even though these termites are the only insect species found distributed across the entire area of the circles, many remain skeptical. Ecologist Stephan Getzin criticized the theory, saying, “ . . . there is not a single study showing that social insects can cause such large-scale homogenous distribution patterns.” Of course, Getzin has his own competing theory for what’s causing the fairy circles. (His theory essentially says the plants organize themselves into these formations based on the availability of soil resources.) As of right now, Juergens seems to have the best explanation for the mysterious phenomenon.

2Darwin’s ‘Strangest Animals’

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Photo credit: Olllga

As Charles Darwin ventured around the world developing his ideas for evolution, he stumbled across the fossils of several bizarre creatures that seemed to defy explanation. What he’d found were fossils from Macrauchenia and Toxodon. The Macrauchenia resembled a short, humpless camel with a small, elephant-like trunk, while the Toxodon seemed to have the body of a rhinoceros, the head of a hippo, and the teeth of a rodent. After analyzing the fossils, Darwin described the Toxodon as “perhaps one of the strangest animals ever discovered.”

In the years since, the mammalian classification of these animals has completely stumped scientists. Until now, that is. Much of the mystery stemmed from incomplete fossil records and the fact that they were unable to isolate fossil DNA because of degradation from South America’s warm, humid climate. Instead of DNA, scientists decided to look at the sequence of the fossils’ collagen, a protein that lasts much longer than DNA and makes up bones.

To do this, they took collagen samples from various mammals—both living and extinct—to create a collagen tree. They then compared those sequences to the collagen of the Toxodon and Macrauchenia. Surprisingly, the scientists found that the bizarre animals were part of a group known as the South American ungulates, which lived for about 60 million years and disappeared 12,000 years ago.

Previously, these bizarre animals were thought to be part of Afrotheria, along with elephants and manatees, but it has now been proven that they are part of the order Perissodactyla, which includes horses and rhinos. This is a huge discovery in the field of phylogenetics and will hopefully help scientists uncover the history of mammals even further into the past.

1The Wow! Signal

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Photo credit: NAAPO

In 1977, an Ohio radio telescope detected an unexpected blast of radio waves that was over 30 times as strong as normal background radio waves. The anomaly lasted for 72 seconds and was so shocking that it caused astronomer Jerry Ehman to write “Wow!” on the printout next to the circled signal, which gave the phenomenon its name. Many believed that it was proof of alien life.

This year, scientists think they have finally cracked the mysterious Wow! signal. Antonio Paris, a professor at Florida’s St. Petersburg College, believes that the signal was produced by a cloud of hydrogen gas left behind by two comets that flew past Earth. Paris states that from July 27 to August 15 in 1977, “comets 266P/Christensen and P/2008 Y2 (Gibbs) were transiting in the neighborhood of the Chi Sagittarii star group. Ephemerides for both comets during this orbital period placed them in the vicinity of the Wow! signal.”

Since these comets were only discovered in 2006, scientists did not take them into account when initially researching the signal. The comets are due to pass through the same area on January 25, 2017, so researchers may have the chance to test if this was the real cause of the signal.

Shelby is an undergraduate at Arizona State University studying psychology and biochemistry. She is constantly fascinated by the mysteries of the world around her. Next year, she will be going on to medical school to continue studying and discovering the medical mysteries around her.

fact checked by Jamie Frater