Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Archive for the 'Fortean' Category

Swarm of Vortex Rings

A SST Truck (Stadium Super Trucks) driven by Adrian Cenni exploding while entering Turn 2 at Crandon International Raceway. The explosions going all the way through the pipe created each a vortex ring.

One of the most amazing UFO photos has been identified as a giant vortex ring: the Viborg “Jellyfish”.


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Spectacular Anticrepuscular Ray in Brazil

“According to O Parana newspaper, anomalous light rays appeared in the sky of Palotina city, Parana state, [Brazil] at Monday (Dec 17) night. Tiago Testa, who lives in the community of Esquina Progresso recorded the event in photo and called SIMEPAR for a more thorough analysis.” [via Minha Maestria]

This phenomenon is in short just sunlight. But it was captured here in very special conditions, at sunset near the summer solstice, in the video the sun starts behind the camera even though it seems to be right beyond the horizon at front. The puzzled cameraman says the Sun is opposite to where the column of light seems to come from.


To understand this, one first has to understand first a crepuscular ray: the contrast between the rays of sunlight that went through gaps in the clouds and the already darkening ground would already make up for these intense light columns.


When these parallel rays go all the way crossing the sky above our heads and beyond the antisolar point, opposite to the sun, they converge again due to perspective at the vanishing point. This convergence is only apparent, the sun rays actually kept parallel and went all the way through the atmosphere. But the illusion gives the impression the rays are coming the opposite way. Thus, anticrepuscular rays.

Below, a panorama of an anticrepuscular ray captured in Chandler, Arizona, illustrating the perspective effect of the phenomenon.


And here’s another video example from Arizona last year:

And yet another one.

None of them is quite as spectacular as the recent Palotina video.

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Extraordinarily Ordinary: The Fortean Vodka

“Red Lion Liquors has been in Burnsville, Minnesota, since 1978, and it’s occupied its current building for the past nine years. They have bulletproof glass to stop burglars and vandals from breaking in, but that couldn’t’ protect them from a problem that started inside. Surveillance cameras captured the slow-starting fire, which began with smoke billowing from a display of vodka bottles. Soon, a small paper sign on top simply melts away. Eventually, the heat got so intense that the tops popped off of the vodka bottles, spraying streams of steaming liquor. In the end, the display caught fire, sending some flames shooting up to 12 feet in the air. ‘We have shades on the windows. We’ll pull them down on sunny days to protect the wine on the shelves, never thinking it would ever start a fire,’ Hautman said. It turns out that sunlight coming through the window turned the vodka bottles into a magnifying glass, slowly starting the cardboard on fire while a ceiling fan above fanned the flames. ‘It was just this freak thing,’ Hautman said. Even the Burnsville fire marshal had never seen anything like it. ‘It was entertaining,’ Hautman recalled. ‘The firefighters were standing next to me like they were watching a new video game. They were going, ‘This is so cool!’” [Myfox9: Sun, vodka bottles start fire inside Burnsville liquor store – KMSP-TV]

The phenomenon is exactly as illustrated by this water bottle:

As Brazilian fellow Carlos Cardoso pondered, “sometimes the simplest explanation is extremely complex. The case of the incendiary vodka is a nice demonstration that sometimes even the simplest explanation still sounds improbable. Only thing is, the Universe hasn’t signed an EULA with us, it doesn’t have to abide by our common sense. Quoting Sherlock Holmes, ‘When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth’.”

Any reader of Fortean Times will find even more bizarrely improbable stories published monthly, and one of the great lessons I’ve learned researching and investigating extraordinary claims is that sometimes the ordinary explanations, improbable as they may sound, can actually be demonstrated! Take for instance the video that captured a meteor and an insect.

What were the chances? Certainly very small, and the idea of a meteor coming up exactly at the right time, alignment and position to overlap with the path of a wandering insect sounds preposterous. And yet, in this particular case the fact the video was rigorously captured and there were other, independent records of the meteor allow us to conclude that was exactly what happened. As in the case of the incendiary vodka, if there wasn’t the conclusive evidence, few would believe it.

The thing we often forget is that the ordinary, by definition, is so ordinary that by chance alone it not only can but will happen in extraordinary situations.

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Underwater Wonders


Long time, no see! But here are some fascinating sea discoveries to kind of make up for some months without blog updates.


First are the mysterious circles discovered by Japanese diver Yoji Ootaka in 2007. In Japan, crop circles are more commonly known as “mystery circles”, and these were genuinely mysterious ones! Made in regular patterns on soft sand, they would not last for very long, and for years Ootaka recorded them and asked in his blog if anyone else had seen them, and who or what could be behind them? Turns out nobody had seen those circles before, but the mystery would not last very long.

This year a team of marine scientists with the public TV station NHK program “Darwin has come!” found and recorded the culprit in gorgeous images. And the artist was a little blowfish!


Working hard for up to six days to create these symmetrical constructions almost a couple of meters in diameter! What for? Well, as Jerry Coyne put it, “if you’re an evolutionary biologist, you might have guessed: sexual selection. A male sculpts this thing to attract females for mating”. In experiments the Japanese scientists determined the more grooves the pattern has, the greater the chance to attracts females. Because at the center of the pattern, there is the artist!

In the first posts about his discovery, Ootaka did mention he found small puffer fishes inside the circles, but they had to record the little fish actually creating the huge pattern to believe it. The pattern is not only aesthetic: the grooves and ridges help neutralize sea floor currents, further protecting the eggs.


Crop circles are still made by humans, but mating hedgehogs may not sound so absurd after all.


Sponge Reception

At ten thousand feet below the ocean’s surface, scientists discovered yet another amazing creature: the harp sponge (Chondrocladia lyra).

“C. lyra is called the harp sponge because its basic structure, called a vane, is shaped like a harp or lyre. Each vane consists of a horizontal branch supporting several parallel, vertical branches. But don’t let the harp sponge’s whimsical appearance and innocent sounding name fool you, it’s actually a deep-sea predator.

Clinging with root-like "rhizoids" to the soft, muddy sediment, the harp sponge captures tiny animals that are swept into its branches by deep-sea currents. Typically, sponges feed by straining bacteria and bits of organic material from the seawater they filter through their bodies. However, carnivorous harp sponges snare their prey—tiny crustaceans—with barbed hooks that cover the sponge’s branching limbs. Once the harp sponge has its prey in its clutches, it envelops the animal in a thin membrane, and then slowly begins to digest it.”

The regularity of the sponge, which makes it look almost artificial, may have Forteans remembering the case of the “Eltanin Antenna”, a famous photo captured in 1964 of what looked like a man (or perhaps alien) made artifact at almost four kilometer deep at sea. In 2003 Tom DeMary did the basic research that no UFO buff had done until then and contacting the original researchers found out they had already identified the image as that of another carnivorous sponge, C. concrescens.


Moving Lilies

And last, here’s one which I first thought was the creation of some horror movie, but as you may guess, is actually a very real and yet completely natural creature. Here is Neocrinus decorus:

It’s a crinoid, a sea lily usually attached at the bottom of the sea by its long stalk, and yet in the video we can see that when needed it can move, and actually quite fast. Scientists didn’t think it could move that fast – though, before you start running to the hills, one must remember the distance between the right-most and left-most red laser dots is only 2 cm. That is, this is a pretty small harmless sea lily.

Creepy as hell, granted, I much prefer the puffer fish, but they are all amazing discoveries which fortunately have not been mystified with cheap fantasies. With the exception of that sponge antenna of 1964, of course.

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Posing with a 19th Century Cell Phone

Scanned Image 120770001

Reader Marion Henderson graciously sent us this picture of her great grandmother Laura. “This picture that I have has to be from the mid to later 1870?s if I did the math right.”

As in the case of the Time Traveller spotted in a Charlie Chaplin movie, and as Marion herself asked, “I took a magnifying glass and looked even closer, and there is definitely something there. I thought an ear trumpet?


It would be somewhat odd for a younger looking lady to use such a hearing aid, but then, definitely not as improbable as a time travelling cell phone.

Not to be too cynical, but it’s also possible the image was simply tampered with. In this respect Marion was very kind and answered the basic questions I made regarding the picture, of which her family still has the original. A very skeptical and rigorous investigation would analyze the original print, but it may seem like too much trouble for what is at face value a quite amusing and plausible picture of Marion’s great grandmother holding a cell-phone like ear trumpet.

Ear trumpets – connecting people since the 19th century. Confused with cell phones since the beginning of the 21st century. [with many thanks to Marion for the contribution]

Update 04/15/2012: As noted by Roberto Takata, Poke, João, Lucas and others, there’s probably nothing in her hand, and what looks like the illuminated part of an object is simply her middle finger, or a play of shadow and light:

I highlighted her hand in red, but left out what may or may not be her middle finger or the space between her finger in the projected shadow of her hand. Her thumb can be seen, which rule out either a time travelling cell-phone, an ear trumpet or a folded fan.

Upon closer inspection, I also think the shadows on that region may have been retouched, but not by modern computers. It could have been retouched by the 19th century photographer to eliminate the shadows of the hand over her face, resulting in a better picture, but one that does look somewhat puzzling.

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