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10 Bizarre, Little-Known Phenomena

by Gary Pullman
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

Like the unknown, the unfamiliar excites our innate curiosity, whether we’re scientists or laypersons. Add the appeals of the strange, the novel, and the mysterious, and weird, unprecedented, or unheard-of phenomena become even more interesting. The 10 bizarre phenomena on this list, which range from mysterious radio messages and pillars of light in the sky to a galaxy with a hole in its core and an amphibian best described as a “mushroom frog,” are some of them.

Related: Ten Mysteries from Beneath the Earth’s Surface

10 Mysterious Messages

HM01 – The Ultimate Radio Mystery

Were the mysterious coded radio messages received by numerous radio stations across the United States communications by a clandestine intelligence service? A group of radio operators in the U.S. believe so.

As a website operated by Priyom, an international group of radio enthusiasts, explains, the strange signals—six identical messages—originated from an HM01 shortwave numbers station in Cuba. It appears to have been established by that country’s intelligence directorate, and the signals were broadcast over a two-day period, between 16:00 hours and 10:00 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). “Each one-hour schedule of HM01 consists of two airings, on the hour and at the half hour, with a period of silence in between,” during which the messages are rotated daily.

Radio operators in Florida and Colorado reported hearing a woman’s voice repeating a series of numbers in Spanish during transmission from the Cuban hybrid analog-digital (HM) station beginning in November 2012. The operators were able to determine that the strange messages originated from the same location as Radio Havana and that Windows XP generated the voice heard in the transmissions. The messages may have been intended for “agents in the field,” one operator concluded.[1]

9 Pillars of Light

Pillars of Light Above Japan – What is it?

In May 2024, the sighting—and photographing—of strange pillars of light in the sky over Japan sparked concerns among some social media users that an extraterrestrial invasion might be imminent. The images look strange, appearing to have an array of discrete shafts hovering side by side in the sky. Newsweek’s fact-checkers weren’t convinced, though, concluding that the lights came from fishing boats and were refracted “in a display said to happen only once every few years.”

Scientists eventually identified the lights as “light pillars,” a natural optical phenomenon. Light pillars occur when light reflects off ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere, often from ground-based sources like streetlights. In this case, it’s known as “isaribi kochu,” which translates to “fish-attracting light pillars.” So, what causes the light to suddenly reflect so brightly? It happens when overnight temperatures drop low enough that ice crystals form in the air high above the ships.

It seems that Earth is safe from alien invaders—for now, at least. [2]

8 Heavenly Portal

What’s happening in the sky? Hole punch clouds, explained

The pillars of light weren’t the only bizarre celestial phenomena seen recently. As Yahoo! news points out, on June 4, 2024, an “eerie portal to heavens [opened] in the sky over Indonesia.” Described as a strange elliptical gap in the clouds, the phenomenon, which was outlined by a dark border, frightened local observers, who didn’t know what to make of it.

The unusual weather phenomenon turns out to have been “a fallstreak hole, aka a hole-punch cloud.” This large, circular or elliptical gap appears in a cloud layer, typically in altocumulus or cirrocumulus clouds. These intriguing formations occur when the water droplets in the cloud become supercooled, remaining in liquid form even at temperatures below freezing. When a disturbance, such as an aircraft passing through, causes some of these supercooled droplets to rapidly freeze into ice crystals, it sets off a chain reaction. The ice crystals grow larger and heavier, eventually falling out of the cloud and leaving behind a clear patch.[3]

7 Steve Twins

There’s a new aurora in subpolar skies. Its name is Steve

Described as a weird ribbon of light and a streamer of purple light, a bizarre astrological phenomenon has a more commonplace name: Steve, short for Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement. And it’s been recently discovered that Steve, although unusual, is not unique; “he” has a twin.

Steve was first spotted over Canada, but observers knew that their ephemeral find was not associated with the Northern Lights, the auroras of which are green or red but never purple. Whatever they were looking at had never been seen before.

As an Inverse article observes, Steve turned out to be caused by a stream of extremely hot, electrically charged gas (or plasma) flowing swiftly across the upper reaches of Earth’s magnetic field. In contrast, a typical aurora happens when electrons collide with molecules in Earth’s upper atmosphere, releasing energy in the form of light, which arrives on the solar wind, is caught in Earth’s magnetic field, and ferried toward the poles at high altitudes.”

Because of Steve’s composition—gas made of electrically charged atoms rather than simply tiny subatomic particles—the phenomenon appears lower in the sky and lasts only a short time. Steve’s plasma creates his purple glow. While Steve flows “westward at dusk,” his duplicate, which is not an identical twin and has yet to be named, streaks “eastward near dawn.”[4]

6 Lightning Sprites

The Rarest Lightning Ever Recorded

It’s uncommon. It’s colorful. It’s brief. By some accounts, it’s also “eerie.” The phenomenon, known as a “lightning sprite,” is actually red lightning that shoots heavenward instead of downward. According to Harry Baker, writing for LiveScience, on August 14, 2023, astronomer Stanislav Kaniansky caught it on film as it “briefly hovered in the air like a gigantic jellyfish during a thunderstorm over central Europe.”

One among several other transient luminous events, sprites, officially known as “stratospheric perturbations,” are produced by “intense thunderstorm electrification” as electricity streaks upward.[5]

5 Zombie Fires

Zombie Fires Are on the Rise

Zombie fires appear in Alaskan, Canadian, and Siberian peatlands early in May, burn for a while, and then vanish. Apparently, they smolder underground during winter, reemerging when spring begins again. At least, that’s the general scientific consensus, but not all researchers agree on this point.

An alternative possibility suggests that the warming of the atmosphere may heat the ground, causing heated peat soils to burst into flame anew. In short, as Sebastian Wieczorek and his coauthors Eoin O’Sullivan and Kieran Mulchrone put it, “These zombie fires may be a case of climate change-driven spontaneous combustion.”[6]

4 Lake Hillier

Look At This Bright Pink Lake!

Depending on whether green plants grow on the bottom of a lake or the water reflects the sky, lakes are usually either green or blue, respectively, or, occasionally, blue-green. Australia’s Lake Hillier is an exception. It’s bubblegum-pink. Why? Nobody knows, apparently, although green algae could explain the phenomenon.

These photosynthetic, eukaryotic organisms tend to collect a pigment, microorganisms, and an aquatic crustacean that lend their colors to the water. As BBC features correspondent Husna Haq explains, the lake contains green algae that can accumulate high levels of beta-carotene (a red-orange pigment), haloarchaea (a type of microorganism that appears reddish in large blooms), or a high concentration of pink brine prawn.

In any case, the lake is scenic, and its buoyancy makes it a great place to swim. “Thanks to its high salinity, you’ll bob like a cork,” Haq says.[7]

3 Mobile Microscopic Blobs

Animal Evolution Biology – Choanoflagellates, the ancestor of all animals

Single-cell choanoflagellates may strike observers as bizarre, but those who witness these microscopic organisms’ movement are apt to regard them as nothing short of amazing. As evolutionary biologist Thibaut Brunet was watching the rigid, balloon-shaped creatures make their way across an environment containing numerous obstacles, the tiny close relatives to animals underwent a seemingly simultaneous series of transformations. Elizabeth Pennisi, writing for Science, describes these organisms as losing their flagella, extending portions of their bodies, and “pushing through a maze” as they flowed past the impediments.

Following Brunet’s discovery of the astonishing feat, UC Berkeley evolutionary biologist Nicole King and her colleagues put the choanoflagellates through their paces. Pennisi states this included “placing them in chambers with both narrow and wide areas.” The choanoflagellates met the scientists’ challenges, readily switching between “crawling and swimming to get out of a tight squeeze in their watery environment.”[8]

2 The Hole in the Galaxy

What is a Spiral Galaxy?

NGC 247, a spiral galaxy, is remarkable in several ways. As a Smithsonian Magazine article points out, although it is not as large as the Milky Way, it contains some bright nurseries—dense gaseous regions where new stars form. In addition, there is a “void” on one side of its core, resembling a hole “punched through the disc.”

Maybe its gravitational interactions with part of another galaxy were responsible for the hole, astronomers initially surmised. Later, it was thought that the hole resulted from the galaxy’s collision with a chunk of dark matter.

A more imaginative possibility, advanced by the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) community, is that the hole could have been created by extraterrestrial engineers. According to this proposal, the builders might have first built “a sphere around their own star” before expanding “to nearby stars, building a Dyson Sphere around each star” at which they arrived.

This proposition, however, does not take into account the fact that the Dyson Sphere, which would encircle a star with platforms orbiting in tight formation, capturing every bit of solar radiation emanating from their central star, is purely theoretical.[9]

1 Mushroom Frog

A Mushroom Mystery That Is Baffling Scientists

Although the feat doesn’t qualify the amphibian’s recognition as the first animal-plant hybrid, the mushroom sprouting from the Rao’s intermediate golden-backed frog certainly got scientists’ attention. The frog itself, however, seemed unaware of its companion, reports Business Insider India writer Marianne Guenot.

Rivers and wetlands specialist Lohit Y.T. encountered the mushroom frog while conducting a survey of the amphibians inhabiting the foothills of India’s Western Ghats mountain range. Admittedly, he was amazed at the unique discovery, noting that it constituted a phenomenon we have never heard of.

Matthew Smith, a University of Florida fungal biologist, said that few fungi species give rise to mushrooms because, to do so, they require deep roots and specific nutrients. Like Lohit Y.T., Smith was unaware of a mushroom ever having sprouted from the tissue of an animal. “I was very surprised to see it,” he said.

Another scientist, Karthikeyan Vasudevan, speculated that the mushroom might have grown from a small piece of woody debris under the frog’s skin. The mushroom frog should do well, continuing to live in the wild, unless the fungus badly infects the amphibian by continuing to tunnel into its skin, Alyssa Wetterau Kaganer, a postdoctoral associate at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, explained.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen