Scientists Make Amazing 'Fairy Circle' Finding

The circles' layout matches those of skin cells
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 12, 2015 8:33 AM CDT
Scientific Wonder: 'Fairy' Circles Laid Out Like Skin Cells
Fairy circles and skin cells show a bizarre similarity.   (OIST/EurekAlert)

The Namibian desert is home to what are called "fairy circles": strange formations of grassless earth surrounded by grass. Almost perfect circles, they're the subject of local myths, the BBC reports. Researchers still don't know what causes them, but new findings could help them figure it out—even as the phenomenon becomes increasingly weird. Experts have discovered that the circles' layout matches that of skin cells, a press release reports. "It's a completely amazing, strange match," says a researcher in Japan. What makes it even more amazing is that it is highly unusual to have matching patterns on both the tiny and large scale, the release notes.

The team was inspired to compare the patterns as they noticed a few things fairy circles and skin cells have in common, LiveScience reports. Both fairy circles and skin cells exhibit a life cycle "of birth, growth, and death," the scientists say in their study, and both may have to compete for space. Using satellite images, the researchers drew lines between the circles, comparing the lines to cell walls. Then they calculated the number of neighbors each fairy circle had. Turns out most fairy circles—and most skin cells—have six neighbors, and the percentages of each with other numbers of neighbors are also very similar. In case this wasn't otherworldly enough, the findings could someday help researchers investigate the possibility of extraterrestrial life based on pattern analysis, the press release notes. (Meanwhile, mystery mounds in Washington state offer puzzles of their own.)

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