Here are the top 10 unexplained mysteries of the world... or so some people think. I'd like to offer some rational explanations to consider.
The original crop circles were exactly that - basic circular patterns of flattened crops - often created in mysterious circumstances overnight. During the last 20 years, crop circles have evolved into complex geometric shapes, like the DNA double helix or the nautilus shell. Whatever creates them has become rapidly more advanced in just a period of a few decades.
The first crop circle was recorded in 1966, when an Australian sugar cane farmer claimed to see a saucer-shaped spaceship rise up from a swamp before flying away. When he looked at the landing site, he said he found the reeds intricately woven in a clockwise direction on top of the water. Over the years there have been many other anecdotal accounts of crop circles appearing in alien UFO literature, where sometimes the crops were burnt, otherwise flattened.
As unexplained mysteries go, this one has been debunked by numerous experts, who have provided ample evidence that crop circles are a giant man-made hoax...
In 1991, two men from Southampton, England, admitted they had been creating hoax crop circles for 15 years. They could make intricate patterns using planks, rope, hats and wire - and could create a 40-foot circle in 15 minutes. The only reason they came clean was because one of the men was running up considerable mileage on his car and had to convince his wife he wasn't having an affair. He still publicly demonstrates the art today.
Further studies have dismissed claims that alien saucers have been leaving excessive nitrate deposits at crop circle locations. The trace deposits are explained by the nitrate-based fertilizers used by farmers to grow their crops.
Other paranormal fans claim that there is a mysterious energy left behind within crop circles and people go there to mentally make contact with an extra-terrestrial energy. What could possibly create such a widespread psychological effect?
Science refers to this as The Placebo Effect - where the mind can produce powerful effects on the body simply because the person expects it to. Indeed, the mind is so powerful (and science fully accepts this) that it can sometimes heal the body just as well as medicine when that medicine is replaced by a sugar pill.
As unexplained mysteries go, the pyramids of Giza in Egypt really are something special. We still don't really know how the Egyptians built the largest pyramid of all, known as the Great Pyramid of Cheops (or Khufu), some 5,000 years ago. Remember, this was even before the invention of the wheel!
The Pyramid of Cheops is the size of a 40-storey building and covers an area big enough to fit 10 football fields in it. More than 2 million stone blocks were used to make the pyramid, each weighing 2-5 tons and cut from a distant limestone quarry on the other side of the Nile. Experts reckon it took 400,000 men some 20 years to complete.
Engineering feats aside, there are still some reported unexplained mysteries going on at the Pyramid of Cheops. In the 1940s, a French hardware dealer spotted some mummified animals exactly one-third up the height of the pyramid. The remarkable thing was they showed no signs of decomposition. He deducted that the pyramid shape was responsible for preserving these creatures.
Later, a Czech radio engineer conducted a series of experiments in which he placed a brand new razor blade inside a 1:1,000 scale model of Cheops. He aligned his pyramid on a north-south axis exactly like the real thing. After getting 50 shaves from the razor, he was forced to conclude that it was only getting sharper from being inside the pyramid. It took him 10 years to obtain a patent for this device, which he claims still has no scientific explanation today.
But is it a genuine unexplained mystery - or an embellishment of the truth? This is another way that stories become legends which, because they are so famous, people believe there simply must be something to it. If "Pyramid Power" were a real, observable effect, it would surely have been commercialized by now. (It hasn't.)
He's big, he's hairy, and he's starred in his own TV show.
Bigfoot is world-famous for spooking the bejesus out of hikers and hunters in North America. Scientists consider Sasquatch to be the result of folklore, misidentification and a whole lot of hoaxes. However, many people still believe these humanoid creatures exist around the world, just like the Yeti of the Himalayas.
One of the most infamous unexplained mysteries in the world today, Bigfoot has been described as an ape-like creature, some 6-10 feet tall, weighing more than 500 pounds, and covered in dark brown or reddish hair. Witnesses give him large eyes, a heavy brow ridge and a crested head, much like a male gorilla. Footprints allegedly belonging to Bigfoot are 24 inches long.
Is Sasquatch really one of the great truly unexplained mysteries of the world? Somewhat disappointingly, the most famous footage of Bigfoot at Bluff Creek, California, was shot down by a man called Bob Heironimus. Years after the event, he claimed he wore an ape costume for the filming.
It's also virtually impossible that a prehistoric, bipedal, apelike creature could exist, simply because the breeding population of such an animal would have to be so large that many more sightings would be reported. What's more, with so many bigfoots running around, we would have found some physical evidence by now, such as fecal matter, hair, footprints, and even numerous corpses and skeletons.
Nevertheless, Bigfoot's cousin - the Yeti (aka the Abominable Snowman) - has a strong alleged presence in the Himalayan regions of Nepal and Tibet. Teams of scientists continue to seek out photo evidence which is also thin on the ground - yet many locals accept the reality of a breeding Yeti population as read.
The first reported UFO sighting happened in Texas in 1878, when a local farmer reported seeing a large, dark, circular flying object flying "at wonderful speed". Another famous early sighting occurred in the UK in 1916, when a pilot reported seeing a row of lights that rose and disappeared into the sky.
After UFOs were popularized by science fiction in the 1950s, the number of sightings went through the roof. (About a decade before the first UFO-crop circle sighting was reported.) Theories to explain the paranormal phenomena range from the good old Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (aliens visiting us from another planet) to the Interdimensional Hypothesis (aliens popping over from a parallel universe).
Although I do believe there is other life out there in the universe (and tons of it - the universe is so mind-bogglingly huge) I don't believe aliens are visiting us in flying saucers, nor making crop circles just to freak us out. The truth is that UFO sightings can be explained as airplanes, helicopters, weather balloons, comets, meteors and even the five planets which can be seen with the naked eye. In photos and videos they are usually deemed as dust on the camera lens or simply all-out hoaxes (which is ridiculously easy to do now with PhotoShop). Meanwhile, night-time alien abductions can be scientifically explained by the hallucinogenic effect of sleep paralysis.
Meanwhile, UFO conspiracy theories center around Area 51 in Nevada, about 90 miles north of Las Vegas. The site houses a large air base that was selected in the 1950s for testing of a U-2 spy plane. It has since become America's testing ground for secret "black budget" aircraft before they go public.
In 1971, in the small Spanish village of Belmez, Maria Pereira claimed a human face spontaneously appeared on her cement kitchen floor. It wasn't long before she destroyed the floor and replaced it - and a new face promptly appeared.
More and more faces continued to appear on the floor of Maria Pereira's kitchen, attracting thousands of visitors every day. Some were male, some female, some large, and some small. In time, she discovered that the house, built around 1830, apparently stood above a graveyard used by the Romans, Spanish Muslims and then Medieval Christians.
But did Maria Pereira just paint the faces herself?
If so, she never benefited financially from all the attention. She lived a simple life in that same house and eventually died in 2004.
Paranormal fans who just love these unexplained mysteries suggest that the faces were manifested on the floor by telekinesis. This notion was based on the claim that the expressions on their faces used to change with the mood of Maria Pereira.
Of course, scientists have found it possible to analyze the molecular changes in the whitewash and prove that some fakery was involved. Many now believe that the paintings were actually created by Maria's son, Diego Pereira.
An Out of Body Experience is defined by your awareness being transferred beyond your physical body. I've experienced it myself while practicing Lucid Dreaming Techniques and the process has even been replicated under laboratory conditions.
So, is this proof of the spirit? The afterlife? Alternate dimensions?
Alas, not quite. To trigger an OBE yourself, focus inwards and cut yourself off from your perception of the outside world (what you can see, hear, taste, smell and touch).
Very quickly, your mind begins to create new stimulus of its own. We call these dreams. (This is the crux of the WILD technique for having lucid dreams.)
Usually dreams are reserved for sleep, but as lucid dreamers and OBErs know, it is possible to trick the body into sleep while remaining conscious of these hallucinations. So - are lucid dreams and OBEs the same thing?
To many dream explorers, the answer is a resounding yes. To others, they are completely different phenomena. But the real question is: are OBEs real in the sense that your mind - your awareness - literally leaves your body?
Out of body explorers have long tried to prove this by trying to obtain data from different locations while in the out of body state. Unfortunately nothing truly definitive has been recorded under verifiable conditions. And there are plenty of stories involving OBErs who "saw" their friend sitting at the computer in their OBE, and, lo, when they called them up in real life that's exactly what they were doing.
But science does not accept coincidence or best guesses as proof. That really would get us nowhere in the grand scheme of things.
Perhaps Out of Body Experiences remain one of the true unexplained mysteries of this world. But I feel that with further sleep research we will soon uncover the true mechanism of OBEs and how they differ (if at all) from lucid dreams.
According to many New Age believers, the 2012 prophecy states that the world as we know it will end on December 21, 2012. This is not a new phenomena; as landmark dates draw near, end-of-the-world theories creep out of the woodwork with astonishing popularity. People love this armageddon stuff.
And yet, we're still here.
I don't consider 2012 to be one of the true unexplained mysteries... far from it. Yet many people are really into this one. So let's look at the idea more closely.
The theory is based on the idea that when the ancient Mayans plotted our position in the Milky Way, they created a special astrological calendar. And on the Winter Solstice (in the Northern hemisphere) in 2012, the Earth would pass into a new astrological phase and something dramatic would happen - ie the world ends.
Unfortunately for Mayan fans, there is no real-life evidence to support the idea that the alignment of planets in relation to distant star constellations viewed from our Earthly perspective has anything to do with day-to-day changes in your personal life. It's about as scientifically reliable as reading your horoscope. (In my days as a freelance writer, I once turned down a job to write horoscopes for a magazine. When I asked how I was supposed to obtain the predictions - they essentially told me to make it up.)
Real Mayan scholars report that there is no evidence to show that the Mayans ever made any kind of doomsday prophecy. Merely, that calendars keep track of the passage of time - they do not predict the future. So, the Mayan calendar - like all calendars - simply had to end somewhere. Not only does it end, but it begins again in a new cycle, just as your calendar ends on December 31 and begins again on January 1.
While your life may come to an abrupt end any time, any day, without warning, there is very little you can do about it. One thing is for sure: our society, like all civilizations before us, is geared to postulate over end-of-the-world mysteries with gusto.
Stonehenge is one of the greatest unexplained mysteries of the world. It's certainly no hoax (estimated to be more than 5,000 years old) and is probably the most important prehistoric monument in the whole of Britain.
When you visit Stonehenge, you'll find yourself driving for miles through rolling hills and countryside until, suddenly, you catch sight of this bizarre structure. There's an eerie feel to the area around Stonehenge, and for thousands of years it has soon silently, giving away few clues as to the meaning of its existence.
Excavations have revealed that Stonehenge was built in four stages:
One of the great unexplained mysteries of ancient man, the meaning of Stonehenge is still not clear today. Was it a temple, a burial ground, an observatory, or an ancient calendar? Without a time machine to go back and ask, we may never know...
The Loch Ness Monster is a prehistoric creature thought to inhabit the Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. As lake monsters go, Scotland has tales of a fair few, with Nessie gaining the most popularity of all on the back of anecdotal evidence.
Nessie first hit the headlines in 1933 when a story was published in the Inverness Courier. The report quoted a Londoner who had visited a few weeks earlier as seeing: "a most extraordinary form of animal... the nearest approach to a dragon or pre-historic animal that I have ever seen in my life."
After that, more sightings were reported and this unexplained phenomena hit international headlines. That same year, one motorcyclist claimed to nearly hit Nessie late one night as it lumbered across the road and slid back into the loch. Soon, apparent photos of the Loch Ness Monster were published.
In 1960, an aeronautical engineer filmed a hump crossing the water in Loch Ness in a powerful wake unlike that of a boat.
Years later, digital enhancement of the footage revealed what seemed to be the rear body, flippers, and two more humps of a plesiosaur-like body. The technician said: "Before I saw the film, I thought the Loch Ness Monster was a load of rubbish. Having done the enhancement, I'm not so sure."
There's no doubt that the story of Nessie has drawn huge tourist interest to the famed Loch Ness. But should it be considered one of the genuine unexplained mysteries of the world? While some people believe the monster is a living plesiosaur, New Scientist points out that such a creature could not physically lift its head up out of the water like the photos and anecdotes suggest.
The most compelling evidence of its non-existence is that the loch is a mere 10,000 years old - and was frozen solid for about 20,000 years before that. For a prehistoric monster claimed to be millions of years old, the numbers just don't add up.
The Bermuda Triangle is held responsible for the disappearance of countless airplanes and boats in the ocean between Florida, San Juan, and Bermuda. This area is one of the most heavily sailed shipping lanes in the world, with vessels crossing through daily for ports in the Americas, Europe and the Caribbean Islands.
So why do people think there are unexplained mysteries going on in this vast triangle of ocean?
Over the years, there have been a huge number of disappearances that happened in mysterious circumstances, supposedly falling beyond the possibilities of human error, equipment failure or natural disasters. Many paranormal theories talk of a suspension of the laws of physics.
For instance, the first unexplained event occurred in the 1950s when the story of Flight 19 came to light, detailing a group of five US Navy bombers on a training mission. The flight leader was reported to have said: "We are entering white water, nothing seems right. We don't know where we are, the water is green, no white." It was also claimed that Navy officials said the planes "flew off to Mars".
So, do multiple airplane and boat disappearances over a patch of ocean count as unexplained mysteries? Skeptics say no. They point out that such incidents have been greatly embellished, that ships have sunk in many places, and the Bermuda Triangle is responsible for no more disappearances than any other area of ocean.
Phew. Now we can all go vacation in the Caribbean in peace...