Thursday, May 27, 2010

What are crop circles?

Crop Circle Locations

Most circles are concentrated in the south of England, primarily in the counties of Hampshire and Wiltshire. Many of them have been found near Avebury and Stonehenge, two mystical sites containing large stone monuments.

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Formation at Avebury Trusloe in Wiltshire
But crop circles are not confined to England. They have been spotted in the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, India and other parts of the world.
The "season" for crop circles runs from April to September, which coincides with the growing season. Circles tend to be created at night, hiding their creators (human or otherwise) from curious eyes.
Crop circles can be found in many different types of fields -- wheat, corn, oats, rice, oil-seed rape, barley, rye, tobacco -- even weeds. Most circles are found in low-lying areas close to steep hills, which may explain the wind theory of their creation.
Now, let's get into some of the crop circle theories.

Who Makes Crop Circles?

The answer of who or what is creating these crop formations is not an easy one to answer. Some people claim they are the work of UFOs. Others say they are a natural phenomenon. Still others say they are elaborate hoaxes perpetrated by teams of circlemakers.
The Theories
UFOs and Aliens
Possibly the most controversial theory is that crop circles are the work of visitors from other planets -- sort of like alien calling cards.
People who agree with this theory say that the circles are either the imprint left by landing spacecraft or messages brought from afar for us earthlings. Some eyewitnesses claim to have seen UFO-like lights and strange noises emanating from crop circle sites.
Light Formation
In August 2001, two witnesses in Holland saw "columns" or "tubes" of white light descend into a string-bean field. Shortly after they observed this light, they saw a new crop formation exactly where the light had descended. For a simulated image, see BLT Research: Eyewitness Report
Probably the most scientific theory says that crop circles are created by small currents of swirling winds called vortices (similar to "dust devils"). The spinning columns force a burst of air down to the ground, which flattens the crops. Vortices are common in hilly areas such as parts of southern England.
Dr. Terence Meaden of the Tornado and Storm Research Organization(TORRO) in Wiltshire, England, says the vortices that create crop circles are charged with energy (his idea is called the Plasma Vortex Theory). When dust particles get caught up in the spinning, charged air, they can appear to glow, which may explain the UFO-like glowing lights many witnesses have seen near crop circles.
But the question remains -- how can a few seconds worth of spinning air create such intricate and perfectly defined crop circles?
A few researchers have theorized that small airplanes or helicopters stir up downdrafts that push the crops down into patterns.
Recreation attempts so far have not been able to produce the types of downdrafts necessary to make the perfectly round edges seen in most crop circles.
Earth Energy
Energy Effects
People close to the sites of crop circles have had some strange physical and emotional reactions. Some have reported feeling dizzy, disoriented, peaceful or nervous. Others have said they heard a buzzing noise or felt a tingling sensation. After visiting the Julia Set formation near Stonehenge in 1996, a group of women reported changes in their normalmenstrual cycles. Most startling was a small group of post-menopausal women who suddenly began menstruating again after visiting the site.
Some researchers believe that the earth creates its own energy, which forms the circles. One possible form of earth energy iselectromagnetic radiation. In fact, scientists have measured strong magnetic fields inside crop circles, and visitors have sometimes reported feeling a tingling sensation in their body while in or near the circles.
In the early 1990s, American biophysicist Dr. William Levengood discovered that crops in circles were damaged much in the same way as plants heated in a microwave oven. He proposed the idea that the crops were being rapidly heated from the inside by some kind of microwave energy.
Other researchers say that the energy comes from under the ground or in the soil. Either the energy is natural, such as a fungus that attacks the crops and causes their stems to bend over, or it is a byproduct of something man-made, such as bombs that exploded during World War II.

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Doug and Dave, in Doug's Southampton studio in 1992
The easiest explanation for crop circles is that they are man-made hoaxes, created either for fun or to stump the scientists. Among the most famous hoaxers are the British team of Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, known as "Doug and Dave." In 1991, the duo came out and announced that they had made hundreds of crop circles since 1978. To prove that they were responsible, they filmed themselves for theBBC making a circle with a rope-and-plank contraption in a Wiltshire field (see the next section for information on making a crop circle).
Joe Nickell, Senior Research Fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) says that crop circles have all the hallmarks of hoaxes: They are concentrated primarily in southern England; they've become more elaborate over the years (indicating that hoaxers are getting better at their craft); and their creators never allow themselves to be seen. But even with crop circlemakers claiming responsibility for hundreds of designs, hoaxes can't account for all of the thousands of crop circles created. Colin Andrews, cereologist and author of the book, Circular Evidence, admits that about 80 percent of crop circles are probably man-made, but says that the other 20 percent are probably the work of some "higher force."

How Do You Make a Crop Circle?

Crop circles appear to be very intricate formations, with many geometric shapes linked in sophisticated patterns. But the basics of crop-circle creation and the tools involved are actually fairly simple.
In general, circlemakers follow the following steps:
  1. Choose a location.
  2. Create a diagram of the design (although some circlemakers decide to come up with an idea spontaneously when they arrive at their intended site).
  3. Once they arrive at the field, they use ropes and poles to measure out the circle.
  4. One circlemaker stands in the middle of the proposed circle and turns on one foot while pushing the crop down with the other foot to make a center.
  5. The team makes the radius of the circle using a long piece of rope tied at both ends to an approximately 4-foot-long (1.2-meter) board called a stalk stomper (a garden roller can also be used). One member of the team stands at the center of the circle while the other walks around the edge of the circle, putting one foot in the middle of the board to stomp down the circle's outline.

    Photos courtesy
    Circlemakers Rod Dickinson and Wil Russell in action
In August 2004, National Geographic contacted a team including circlemakers John Lundberg, Rod Dickinson and Wil Russell and requested a daylight demonstration in Wiltshire in support of a crop-circle documentary. These are the plans they worked from:

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Here are the tools they used:

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Circlemaker John Lundberg displaying one of the 'stalk stompers' (and standing in front of the combine) his team will use to create the formation.
This is the resulting crop circle:

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This formation, created in a field opposite Silbury Hill in Wiltshire, took the team five hours to create.
Circlemakers avoid getting caught by working under cover of night and by hiding their tracks in existing tractor-tire ruts.
Crop Circles for Profit
Some circlemakers are turning their talent into a real business -- and making big profits from it. A team including artist and filmmaker John Lundberg, Rod Dickinson and Wil Russell travel all over the world making crop circles as advertisements for big corporations. Their client list includes a multibillion dollar computer-chip company, a car manufacturer and a digital television company. Although they won't divulge exactly how much they make per crop design, their budgets are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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For the company Sanrio, the team worked with other artists to create a 200-ft portrait in a wheat field at Yatesbury in Wiltshire to commemorate Hello Kitty's 30th anniversary.

How Do Researchers Study Crop Circles?

When researchers come to the scene of a crop circle, they conduct a thorough investigation, including the following methods:
  • Talking to possible eyewitnesses and residents living nearby
  • Examining the location and the weather where circles have formed
  • Examining the affected crops and the surrounding soil with sophisticated techniques such as X-ray diffraction analysis (firing X-rays at a sample to determine its composition materials)
  • Taking electromagnetic energy readings inside and near the crop circles
  • Analyzing the circle patterns (Some complex patterns are compared with hieroglyphics or other ancient symbols.)

Photo courtesy
This formation was discovered in Eastfield, England, in June 2004. An article in the Western Daily Press called the design "uncannily similar to plans for one of Nikola Tesla's early pieces of equipment."
Researchers have been pondering the question of crop circles for several decades, but they still haven't come up with a real answer as to why they exist.
To find out more about crop circles and related topics, check out the links on the next page.


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