'One of Nature's Greatest Mysteries' Appears in Australia

No one knows what's causing the so-called fairy circles
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 15, 2016 5:45 PM CDT
Updated Mar 16, 2016 1:33 AM CDT
'One of Nature's Greatest Mysteries' Appears in Australia
A fairy circle, likely not caused by an actual fairy.   (Stephen Getzin/Helmholtz Centre For Environmental Research )

The fairy circles of Namibia—believed to be unique in the natural world—have long been "one of nature's greatest mysteries," according to a recently published study. Then they turned up thousands of miles away in Australia. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing," researcher Stephan Getzin tells the New York Times. Fairy circles are grassless circles—often large enough to park a minivan in—arranged in a honeycomb pattern with about 30 feet of space in between each, Smithsonian Magazine reports. Explanations for their existence in Namibia ranged from underground gas to dragons, but scientists have largely settled on two causes: termites or "self-organization."

Getzin, who wrote a paper on the Namibian fairy circles in 2014, argues for the self-organization of plants to take advantage of scarce water as the cause of fairy circles. “Such phenomena are explained with lots of theory and formulas and math," Getzin tells the Times. His paper got the attention of an environmental manager in Australia, who sent images of similar circles in the Australian outback. "We couldn’t believe it—the Namibia fairy circles are supposed to be the only ones in the world," Getzin tells Smithsonian Magazine. Getzin believes the Australian fairy circles, which don't sync up with local termite activity, strengthen the self-organization theory. But there's still no proof. Luckily, it now appears there are likely even more fairy circles out there to study. "It’s a matter of searching," Getzin says. (More fairy circles stories.)

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