An inexplicable phenomenon, or an object that arouses curiosity and assumptions, is a mystery. It is a relative term. And what might appear a complex phenomenon to common folks may just be a well-defined, scientific reality for a scientist. Contrary to a simple event, what is generally regarded as a universal truth may be a point to ponder upon for a scientist. For example, an apple falling from the branch of an apple tree onto the surface of the Earth was just a usual occurrence for the common folk, but it was not business as usual for Newton for whom it was a very thought-provoking incident. After a critical and scientific review of the details of the occurrence, he finally deduced the laws of motion, the famous Law of Universal Gravitation. No mystery has a permanent status in terms of its explanation, and many a mystery considered unsolved yesterday is considered a solved mystery today. There are age-old mysteries like UFOs and the Bermuda Triangle, which most people believe are mere fiction, yet they are more inclined to consider them as unsolved mysteries just to satisfy their fanciful thinking.
1. Asexual Reproduction in Sharks
In May, 2007, a female Hammerhead shark living at an aquarium in Omaha mysteriously gave birth while it had never come in contact with a male shark during the previous three years. It was assumed that the shark might have stored the sperm conceived during an earlier mating, but the explanation was not found to be satisfactory. Following this event, a female Blacktop shark that lived in an aquarium in Virginia, without any contact with a male for eight years, produced asexually an offspring as a second case in the recorded history of sharks. Scientists explained that it was due to parthenogenesis, a phenomenon in which animals, mostly insects and worms, can produce without fertilization of the eggs by a male. In the vertebrates, the phenomenon was exhibited in frogs. A shark expert, Dermian Chapman, performed DNA tests and confirmed that the infant shark had no father, and they were reproduced from unfertilized eggs or parthenogenesis.
2. Disappearance of Star Dust
On August 2, 1947, a British South American Airways, BSAA airliner, Star Dust, took off from Buenos Aires and was bound to Santiago, Chile. Prior to reaching its destination, the plane crashed into Mount Tupungato, Argentina, in the Andes, killing all five crew members and six passengers aboard and disappeared completely leaving no traces behind. The wreckage could not be traced for more than 50 years, and different explanations, including even the possibility of abduction by extraterrestrials were considered as the possible causative factor. The mystery was, however, solved when pieces of the wreckage were found from the front side of the mountain while the search parties, due to some miscalculation, had been focusing on the backside, assuming that the ill-fated plane had crossed the mountain.
3. Disappearance of Atlantis
‘Atlantis,’ meaning ‘Island of Atlas’ in Greek, was powerful regime which, according to Plato’s dialogues Timaeus and Critias, conquered most of Europe and Africa in 9600 B.C. The dialogues were written in 360 B.C. According to them, Atlantis sank ‘in a single day and night of misfortune’ after the regime failed to conquer Athens. The disappearance of Atlantis, until the quite recent period, was treated as an unsolved mystery. Its status has, however, changed to a solved mystery because scientists have unanimously concluded that the existence of a continent of the ‘Atlantis’ description is neither possible technically, nor any continent of this description ever existed on the globe.
4. Crop Circles
In the 1970s it was being reported from different parts of the world that some strange circles in the crops appeared wherein there were no plants, or the crop within the circle was completely destroyed so that aerial photographs showed complete, circular patches. Not only the circles were of different sizes, but they were also arranged in some beautiful patterns. People started thinking that that these circles were caused by UFOs. The media created hype when the crop circles were reported from Hampshire and Wiltshire. The mystery was solved after Bower and Choley confessed that the circles were designed by them just for fun, and many people afterwards started practicing it in the Soviet Union, U.K., Japan, U.S., and Canada.
5. Appearance of the Tiger Stripes
The renowned Computer scientist and mathematician, Alan Turing, postulated in 1951 that the stripes on the tiger’s coat were formed due to a reaction between a pair of chemicals called morphogenesis. He assumed that one of the chemicals triggered the cell activity while the other countered and suppressed it causing the creation of the striped motif. The postulate, however, could not change the status of the unsolved mystery until 2012, when a research study was published on the Website of a journal Nature Genetics. The postulate was found scientifically correct after 60 years.
6. Anastasia’s fate
Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia was the youngest daughter of the last Tsar of Imperial Russia. She was born on June 18, 1901, but her death on July 17, 1918 was shrouded in mystery. It was generally considered that she escaped alive as her remains were not found in the mass grave near Yekaterinburg which was discovered in 1991 and held the remains of the Tsar, his wife, and three daughters. A woman, Ann Anderson, claimed to be Anastasia, but this was found to be a false statement. The mystery was solved when Dr. Michael Coble of the U.S. Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory confirmed that all four Grand Duchesses had been accounted for, and no one, including Anastasia, could have escaped.
7. Mystery of Communicable Yawning
If somebody yawns, the person next to him or her starts yawning, and then the one next to that person starts yawning, and it continues onward like a contagious disease. It has also been observed that most of the vertebrates yawn, but it is contagious only among human beings and chimpanzees. For quite some time it remained a mystery till the experts unanimously arrived at the conclusion that it was due to social bonding and empathy in human beings. ‘Empathy’ is distinguished from ‘sympathy’ in that the sympathizer extends a helping hand to the sufferer but not at the cost of self-suffering. Contrarily, the empathizer shares the suffering of the sufferer and is hardly able to help or do anything different from the sufferer.
8. Epidaurus Theater Acoustics
The theater of Epidaurus constructed in the 4th century B.C. is considered one of the most ancient and the best preserved structures of its kind. Everyone in a 15,000-member audience could hear the dialogues easily and clearly. The technique behind the excellent acoustics in the ancient theater remained an unsolved mystery until 2007. It was then that researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology discovered that limestone, the building material of the seats, filtered and suppressed the low frequencies of voices thereby reducing the background crowd noise while enhancing the acoustic properties and clarity as well as reach of the voice for the performers.
9. Crystal Skulls
Existence of crystal skulls from the pre-Columbian, Aztec, or Mayan civilizations was considered to be a reality, and they were popular collector’s items. Movies like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull familiarized the objects. A team of British researchers detected rotary grinding marks in the vicinity of the eye sockets when they examined the crystal skulls under an electronic microscope. Mayans or Aztecs, it is believed, did not know the use of the wheel or rotary cutters or grinders. Therefore, their belonging to their socieities was ruled out.
10. Identity of the Titanic Child
Quite a few days after the tragic shipwreck of the Titanic, the body of a baby boy was recovered from the North Atlantic. The body could not be recognized, and its identity remained a mystery. The body was then buried in Nova Scotia with a tombstone reading ‘The Unknown Child’ or, according to some other resources, with a copper plate reading ‘Our Babe.’ Having been allowed to exhume the remains, researchers from Lakeland University in Ontario performed DNA testing. They concluded that the child was Sydney Goodwin, the youngest child of Fred and Augusta Goodwin, from Fulham. They were migrating to Niagara Falls, and none of the six children, including Sydney Goodwin and the ill-fated parents, survived in the shipwreck.
Many mysterious natural phenomena have been revealed to human beings by nature itself while serving like case studies for new learners and trainees. It is second nature for human beings to unveil whatever is behind the veils. This intuition has played a pivotal role in the development of human civilization through its endeavors to unearth the hidden treasures which are full of invaluable treasures.