When crop circles go high-tech
Physicist examines the mysterious circles created by pranksters with GPS devices and microwaves. (Or is it the work of UFOs or stoned wallabies?)
Tue, Aug 02, 2011 at 12:33 PM
Photo: Frank Da Silva/Flickr
The prank-loving artists who create the giant, geometric crop circles around the world, which get more and more complex every year, don't give up their secrets, but that won't stop prank-loving physicists from trying to figure out how the circles are created.
First thought by many to have been created by aliens, pranksters Doug Bower and Dave Chorley announced to the world in 1991 that they had been using ropes and planks of wood to stomp down crops since 1978.
But since that time, crop circles have gotten increasingly more complex, suggesting that more sophisticated tools are in use. According to a report in this month's issue of Physics World, crop circle creators may be turning to high-tech devices like GPS devices, lasers, and microwaves to create their intricate patterns.
The article was written by Richard Taylor, director of the Materials Science Institute at the University of Oregon, who calls crop circles "the most science-oriented art movement in history."
Taylor used mathematical analysis on crop circles to reveal patterns invisible to the naked eye. The construction lines, he says, are the key to creating the complex patterns. He says GPS systems may allow artists to be precise in their designs, while lasers help them keep their lines straight.
He also said that it appears crop circle artists are using a piece of a microwave oven known as a magnetron and a 12V battery, which causes corn stalks to bend and stay flat. This allows them to work quickly and get out before they are discovered.
The public may love crop circles, but farmers aren't fans. As the U.K.'s Daily Mail reports, "The price in ruined crops is particularly steep this year because of soaring fuel and fertilizer costs, and a 25 percent drop in wheat yields due to the drought."
Why would a physicist study crop circles? Matin Durrani, editor of Physics World, says Taylor is just being a good scientist, "examining the evidence for the design and construction of crop circles without getting carried away by the sideshow of UFOs, hoaxes and aliens."
Meanwhile, other theories abound. Like the one coming out of Australia that says wallabies are getting stoned after eating opium poppies and wandering around in circles. The news came out in a parliamentary meeting about the security of poppy fields, since Australia grows 50 percent of the world's legal supply of opium. "We see crop circles in the poppy industry from wallabies that are high," Tasmanian state attorney Lara Giddings said during the hearing.
Of course, crop circles could be the work of aliens. Since no one who creates them is talking, the answer is still a mystery.
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