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Mysteries

The mysterious Min Min lights of Australia: Is there a scientific explanation for the phenomenon?

© ABC/supplied

Molly Hunt
abc.net.au

Min Min lights are a mysterious phenomenon that have spooked many people in the outback of Australia.

But is there any scientific proof that Min Min lights exist? Or is it simply an Aboriginal folktale that has been passed down for generations?

The lights have been described by witnesses as floating, fast-moving balls of colour that glow in the night sky and stalk people, leaving some feeling confused and frightened.

Sometimes the lights are blue and other times they are white or yellow.

In Queensland, the Boulia Shire Council notifies visitors “in the interest of tourism” that they are in the land of the Min Min lights and that they may spot them as they drive for the next 120 kilometres.

In the Kimberley in Western Australia some Aboriginal people believe the Min Min lights are the spirits of elders.

“As a kid growing up the old people used to tell me, they [Min Min lights] were old people’s spirits looking after country,” Wyndham local James Birch said.

Mr Birch, a Balanggarra ranger, said everyone from his childhood grew up hearing the stories.

“If you’ve lived in the Kimberley you would have experienced spotting a Min Min light once in your life,” he said.

Mr Birch has not seen the Min Min lights for two years but said the lights tend to distract people and take them off their chosen path.

We were heading back into town after hunting. I was driving towards town when all of sudden a Min Min light appeared,” he said.

“We all stared at the light and all of a sudden we were going in the opposite way, going back into the bush and following the light without even realising.”

What does science say?

Curtis Roman, a senior lecturer at Charles Darwin University, is gathering stories from Indigenous Australians about Min Min lights as part of an ongoing research project.

Dr Roman said there were several scientific theories that could explain the phenomenon.

“One is that they’re a mirage, [caused by] natural gases or warm air and cold coming together,” Dr Roman said.

Some of the other theories are that they are bio-luminous insects, owls or birds.

Although he is only in the early stages of his research, Dr Roman said that all the Indigenous people he had interviewed so far had described how frightened they felt when they saw the lights.

Outback lights star in movie

From a young age, writer and director Jub Clerc heard the tales about the Min Min lights and how they would follow people and take them if they stopped to watch the lights.

In 2015, Ms Clerc directed a short film called Min Min Light based upon her own experiences of the lights when she was growing up in the Pilbara.

“When I was a young girl lying in my backyard, these lights came down,” Ms Clerc said.

Two of them came down in front of me and then suddenly shot off. I was in awe.

“It could be our spirits that look after country. Who knows what it is? I like to think there’s more to life that what we think.”

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Mysteries

The strange disappearance of three boys in Murphy’s Cave

In the US state of Missouri, one of the local attractions is a vast network of caves that have thousands of passages, both above and below ground.

Because of these caves, Missouri is often referred to as the “state of the caves,” and it is not surprising that they attract many explorers as well as adventurers.

Most of these caves were well explored in the first half of the twentieth century. But because of the intensive construction of Highway 79 in the 1960s, employees sometimes encounter new gaps that lead to unexplored parts of local caves.

One of these caves is called the Murphy’s Cave. The openings leading to its tunnels were located very close to the houses of the city of Hannibal, one hundred miles northwest of St. Louis.

This city is known as the birthplace of Mark Twain and in particular the Mark Twain Cave where Tom Sawyer films were made. Excursions to this cave are still being made.

In the 1960s, parents strictly forbade their children from even looking at the openings in the ground. They feared crashes and other disasters. But who could stop the curious children?

The three Hannibal boys were particularly curious about the caves. They were 10-year-old Billy Hoag, his brother 13-year-old Joel Hoag and their friend 14-year-old Craig Dowell.

They regularly picked up lanterns and went down into the dark cave tunnels. Their parents forbade them to go there, but in response the boys said they would play in the yard and actually went to the caves.

On May 9, 1967, the three children headed to Murphy’s Cave. They were waiting for the moment when the construction workers at the site would go to rest. The parents found out when they saw the characteristic reddish dirt on their clothes. There was a serious rebuke.

However, on May 10, the three went to the same cave again, using the moment Houg’s parents were in the store to shop.

The boys prepared thoroughly. They took shovels, lanterns and other necessary things. At 3pm, they were spotted by a casual passer-by walking to the entrance of Murphy’s Cave. He noticed that the boys were dragging a makeshift ladder of boards to lower themselves through the opening inside the cave.

This was the last time these children were seen alive. After that, they disappear and even traces of them, much less their bodies, were found.

When the parents of the Hoag brothers returned from the store and saw that their children had disappeared, they became very angry and intended to give them a good lesson. But when the children did not return home during the time that they would usually go back from their games, their parents were worried. They began to pray that nothing bad would happen to the boys.

When it was dark, the Hoags went to their neighbors and someone told them that they had seen the Hoag brothers and young Dole near the Murphy Cave. City officials have been notified of the disappearance of the three children, who may have been lost in the cave.

The next morning, police, national guards and volunteers organized a mass search for the boys. At one point, FBI experts got involved in the process.

Hundreds of people explored the tunnels of all nearby caves, not just Murphy’s Cave. All suspicious passageways, narrow cracks and still unexplored tunnels were carefully checked.

But everything was in vain. They did not even find traces of the children. The tunnels of Murphy’s Cave are very complex and winding. They were all well researched.

Then, searchers began looking around the surrounding forests, abandoned houses and old mines. They even summoned a few psychics who claimed they could “feel” the place where the children had disappeared. But, again without result…

This large-scale search of the missing went on for 10 consecutive days and was among the most popular searches in Missouri’s history. As a result, only one probable trace of the boys was found – a baby sock lying near the entrance to the cave.

The sock wasn’t dirty, so it obviously hadn’t been in that place for a long time. The search crew clung to it as a probable evidence. However, none of the parents of the missing children was able to confirm whether the sock belonged to one of the Hoag brothers or Dowell.

The opening leading to Murphy’s Cave, to which the boys were last seen

There were some false footprints. At one point, near a cave, they found a dried puddle of brown liquid similar to blood, but during the investigation it turned out that the puddle was from a spilled bottle of fertilizer.

Another such clue is that someone apparently saw the boys out of town alive after the search began, but no children or traces of them were found at that location.

There was also a strange message about a man in a black cloak who was not recognized as a city resident, police officer or anyone else. He was spotted in many places where children were being searched. It was as if he was trying to hide and secretly monitor the work of the search groups.

According to one of the first versions, the children were buried alive when one of the cave tunnels collapsed, but as mentioned above, all possible tunnels of the nearest caves were checked by search crew and they did not find any traces of fresh collapses there.

According to another version, the boys may have accidentally entered a completely new tunneling system that other researchers have not noticed. And nowadays, near Hannibal, sometimes new tunnels are found in the local caves, which are caused by expansion, rainfall and other reasons. All new tunnels have been carefully inspected.

Volunteers are still trying to find the remains of the missing boys or at least their belongings. But, so far, they haven’t found anything …

Other theories say that the children fled to another city or were abducted.

The memory of this strange disappearance of these three boys is still commented on in Hannibal. A memorial plaque with the boys’ names and their history is placed next to the ill-fated entrance to Murphy’s Cave, which is now closed.

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Mysteries

Connection between Alpha Draconis and Egyptian Pyramids Revealed

Alpha Draconis, also known as Thuban, is located about 300 light years away in the northern Draco constellation.

Connection between Alpha Draconis and Egyptian Pyramids Revealed
Did eclipse studies help the Egyptians build their pyramids? Credit: Public Domain

Despite its “alpha” designation, it shines as Draco’s fourth-brightest star. Thuban’s fame arises from a historical role it played some 4,700 years ago, back when the earliest pyramids were being built in Egypt.

Could the new astronomical observations shed light on what motivated the builders of the Egyptian pyramids?

Astronomers using data from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) were surprised when they discovered that the bright star Alpha Draconis and its fainter, previously known companion actually undergo mutual eclipses.

Egyptology students already know that the ancient Egyptians were skilled astronomers who regularly observed the sky and tracked various celestial objects.

Previous research has revealed that the ancient Egyptian papyrus calendar 86637, Cairo, is the oldest preserved historical document from naked eye observations of a variable star, the Eclipsing binary algol – a manifestation of Horus, a god and a king.

It was confirmed that the ancient Egyptians knew about the variability of the ‘Demon Star’ Algol 3,000 years before Western astronomers.

Astronomers suggest that it is now possible that the first eclipse of the ancient North Star played a key role in building the Egyptian pyramids.

About 4,700 years ago, the star Thuban may have served as the Northern Star. It seemed to be the closest to the north pole of the earth’s axis of rotation, the point around which all other stars appear to rotate in their nocturnal motion.

Today this role is played by Polaris, the brightest star in the constellation Ursa Minor. The change happened because the earth’s axis of rotation performs a 26,000-year cyclic oscillation, called precession, which slowly changes the position of the sky at the rotational pole.

The North Star or Thuban is actually a pair of stars and the largest star between the pairs is four times larger and warmer than the Sun. The surface temperature of the larger star is about 9,700 degrees Celsius. Its mate, which is five times weaker, is probably half the size of the primary and is 40% warmer than the sun. Previous studies have suggested that Thuban exhibited slight changes in brightness that lasted about an hour, suggesting the possibility that brightest star in the system was pulsing.

Angela Kochoska, postdoctoral researcher at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, said:

The eclipses are brief, lasting only six hours; therefore terrestrial observations can easily lose them. And because the star is so bright, it would quickly saturate detectors at NASA’s Kepler Observatory, which would also conceal eclipses.

The alpha star Draconis (circled), also known as Thuban, is known to be a binary system. NASA’s TESS data now shows that its two stars suffer mutual eclipses. Credit: NASA / MIT / TESS

Many scientists think ancient Egyptians relied on the bright stars Big Dipper and Little Dipper to align their pyramids in a north-south direction with an accuracy of up to 0.05 degrees. However, it’s still debated how the pyramid builders took accurate measures for the alignment. Since the tilt of Earth’s axis has changed over time, so have the positions of the stars.

Using sophisticated astronomical software, scientists were able to turn back the astronomical clock and study the sky at the moment the pyramids were built. These studies showed that the two stars revolved around the opposite pole in the Old Kingdom sky, and an imaginary line joined these stars across the north pole.

This means that when the two stars placed vertically above each other both mark the true north position for the pyramid builders. In this case, if the calculation is correct, construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza began between 2485 and 2475 BC.

This animation illustrates a preliminary model of the Thuban system, now known as an eclipsing binary, thanks to data from NASA’s exoplanet transit research satellite (TESS). The stars orbit every 51.4 days at an average distance slightly greater than the distance of Mercury from the Sun. We see the system about three degrees above the orbital plane of the stars, so that they undergo mutual eclipses, but none of them are completely covered by your partner. Credits: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / Chris Smith (USRA)

Kochoska, who presented the findings at the 235th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Honolulu on Jan. 6, said she is planning a follow-up study to look into additional eclipses that TESS can see.

Padi Boyd, a TESS project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement:

The discovery of eclipses in a known, bright and historically important star highlights how TESS affects the wider astronomical community. In this case, uninterrupted, high-precision TESS data can be used to help constrain fundamental stellar parameters to a level never before reached.

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Mysteries

Sister of Russia’s great mystery victim manifests

A fascinating new view of the Dyatlov Pass incident presents several enlightening first-hand perspectives on the case, including rare information from the sister of one of the victims, whose name has become synonymous with a mysterious event.

Dyatlov case: Sister victim of one of Russia's greatest mysteries manifests
Photo: Public Domain.

Published by the BBC, the play excellentely revisits the infamous 1959 tragedy, in which nine Russian college students died in the Ural Mountains in unexplained circumstances that continue to bother researchers today.

One of the people interviewed for the article was Tatiana Perminova, who was 12 when her brother, Igor Dyatlov, embarked on the unfortunate walking trip. She recalled that their mother had tried to dissuade him from following the journey, arguing that he should focus on his studies. However, Perminova recalled, Igor managed to convince her after promising that it would be his last trip to the mountains before graduating. “And indeed,” his sister remarked sadly, “it was his last time.”

Coldly, Perminova revealed that she was the one who answered the phone at her house six decades ago, when authorities phoned with the frightening news that Igor had died.

She said:

The next day my parents were summoned to college, and the nightmare began.

As for what may have caused the disappearance of his brother and colleagues, Perminova indicated that families were as confused by the case as the rest of the world, and were insulted by the Russian authorities that “you will never know the truth, so stop to ask questions. ”

She stressed:

Don’t forget, in those days, if they told you to shut up, you would be silent.

However, with six decades since the incident, Perminova no longer harbors these fears. As such, she dismissed popular prosaic theories for what killed the group, such as an avalanche or hurricane, and suggested that something more sinister had occurred.

She asked:

If it was just an ordinary walk that went wrong because of extreme weather conditions, why worried the highest authorities in the country? I think that means something extraordinary has happened.

Although she did not seem to present a specific theory for what killed her brother and friends, Perminova spoke of the tremendous pain that families have suffered in the last sixty years with so many unanswered questions.

The nine victims of that fateful day. Montage Credit: BBC

She said, noting an ongoing effort by independent investigators in Russia to exhume the bodies of the victims of Step Dyatlov for a further examination:

Emotionally, this is very difficult. Imagine digging up their coffins. But if there is no other way to find the answers, ok, let’s see what happens next.

Other firsthand witnesses featured in the play include a man who participated in the search that led to the discovery of the bodies of the victims, as well as a woman who lived in a nearby village at the time of the incident and claims to have seen a “bright and fiery object in the sky” which somehow resembled a missile. This observation seems to give credence to the possibility that Dyatlov and his comrades might have died from a cover-up accident. This was repeated by another local resident who was also 12 at the time of the incident and recalled how “there were rumors throughout the city that these students had participated in some kind of test or experiment.”

All in all, the BBC program is a must watch for those studying the Dyatlov Pass incident, as it includes a wealth of previously unpublished stories of individuals who were closely linked to the case, such as Perminova, or who resided in the area after the intriguing event occurred. It also features conversations with contemporary investigators who are still trying to solve the mystery of what happened to the nine hikers in the Ural Mountains that fateful February night so long ago.

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