These bizarre circles have baffled scientists for years. Now we may know what they are.

See these weird circles? Do you know what they are?

Image from Thorsten Becker/Wikimedia Commons.


They're big, circular patches of bare ground surrounded by plants. When I say big, I mean big — they can get up to 50 feet in diameter and can be seen for miles along desert grasslands.

They're called fairy circles.

A fairy circle in Namibia. Image from Thorsten Becker/Wikimedia Commons.

"Ohhhh it's fairies! Case closed!" you might be saying.

But, no, I'm sorry. As much as we all love Tinker Bell, fairies just aren't an accepted scientific hypothesis, no matter how much we'd like them to be.

Fairy circles only appear in certain, special places like Namibia. But recently, they've been spotted in Australia.

Image from Kevin Sanders/UFZ.

Scientists have known about Namibia's fairy circles since about the 1920s. But as of 2014, we know they appear in the dry, remote Pilbara region of Western Australia, too.

(If you want to have a bit of fun, they're visible on Google Earth in Namibia and in Western Australia.)

Fairy circles have baffled scientists for a long time.

Image from Stephan Getzin/Wikimedia Commons.

Some people thought they might have been created by termites, or carbon monoxide from deep within the Earth, or plants poisoning the ground. Tour guides in Africa have apparently been telling people it's because of a mythical dragon's incredibly awful breath.

But one idea seems pretty promising: It has to do with water, or a lack thereof.

Dr. Stephan Getzin of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany and other colleagues analyzed the soil in the Australian circles.

Here's what they think happens:

When a bare, plant-less patch of soil dries out, the sun bakes it into a hard, impenetrable crust. Once the crust is formed, any rain that does fall on it either runs out to the edges or just evaporates. At the edges, however, the plants prevent the soil from baking as much, so the water drains into the dirt.


Image from Stephan Getzin/UFZ.

It's a kind of natural balancing act. Over time, these circles naturally grow and shrink as conditions change.

Getzin did caution that the process in Namibia may be different, however, because Namibia has a different, sandier kind of soil, but that fairy circles in both areas depend on water to form.

"The details of this mechanism are different to that in Australia," Getzin explains in a press release. "But it produces the same vegetation pattern because both systems of gaps are triggered by the same instability."

Getzin believes more undiscovered fairy circles may lie in other remote parts of the world.

If he is right and these fairy circles really are tied to water shortages and cycles, it's possible that these magical circles will spring up in other dry, desert areas as climate change alters weather patterns.

It's just a cool reminder about how much there is still left to discover in the world around us and how much we can learn about what the Earth is telling us about its needs if we just know how to understand the signs.

Courtesy of Tiffany Obi
True

With the COVID-19 pandemic upending her community, Brooklyn-based singer Tiffany Obi turned to healing those who had lost loved ones the way she knew best — through music.

Obi quickly ran into one glaring issue as she began performing solo at memorials. Many of the venues where she performed didn't have the proper equipment for her to play a recorded song to accompany her singing. Often called on to perform the day before a service, Obi couldn't find any pianists to play with her on such short notice.

As she looked at the empty piano at a recent performance, Obi's had a revelation.

"Music just makes everything better," Obi said. "If there was an app to bring musicians together on short notice, we could bring so much joy to the people at those memorials."

Using the coding skills she gained at Pursuit — a rigorous, four-year intensive program that trains adults from underserved backgrounds and no prior experience in programming — Obi turned this market gap into the very first app she created.

She worked alongside four other Pursuit Fellows to build In Tune, an app that connects musicians in close proximity to foster opportunities for collaboration.

When she learned about and applied to Pursuit, Obi was eager to be a part of Pursuit's vision to empower their Fellows to build successful careers in tech. Pursuit's Fellows are representative of the community they want to build: 50% women, 70% Black or Latinx, 40% immigrant, 60% non-Bachelor's degree holders, and more than 50% are public assistance recipients.

Keep Reading Show less
via Amelia J / Twitter

Election Day is a special occasion where Americans of all walks of life come together to collectively make important decisions about the country's future. Although we do it together as a community, it's usually a pretty formal affair.

People tend to stand quietly in line, clutching their voter guides. Politics can be a touchy subject, so most usually stand in line like they're waiting to have their number called at the DMV.

However, a group of voters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania received a lot of love on social media on Sunday for bringing a newfound sense of joy to the voting process.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
True

Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

Keep Reading Show less
via Jody Danielle Fisher / Facebook

Breast milk is an incredibly magical food. The wonderful thing is that it's produced by a collaboration between mother and baby.

British mother Jody Danielle Fisher shared the miracle of this collaboration on Facebook recently after having her 13-month-old child vaccinated.

In the post, she compared the color of her breast milk before and after the vaccination, to show how a baby's reaction to the vaccine has a direct effect on her mother's milk production.

Keep Reading Show less

Ah, the awkward joy of school picture day. Most of us had to endure the unnatural positioning, the bright light shining in our face, and the oddly ethereal backgrounds that mark the annual ritual. Some of us even have painfully humorous memories to go along with our photos.

While entertaining school picture day stories are common, one mom's tale of her daughter's not-picture-perfect school photo is winning people's hearts for a funny—but also inspiring—reason.

Jenny Albers of A Beautifully Burdened Life shared a photo of her daughter on her Facebook page, which shows her looking just off camera with a very serious look on her face. No smile. Not even a twinkle in her eye. Her teacher was apologetic and reassured Albers that she could retake the photo, but Albers took one look and said no way.

Keep Reading Show less