Wednesday, 30 September 2015


The 5 Scariest Cults in Modern History
By Cheryl Eddy,
io9, 29 September 2015.

Some terrifying cults are so well-known they can be described with a single word: Manson, Waco, Jeffs, Jonestown. Others may not be as iconic - at least in America - but still provide plenty of nightmare material.

Here are five examples, all of which made made screaming headlines during their flashes of notoriety, but have seldom been heard from since.

1. Matamoros human sacrifice cult


In March 1989, a University of Texas student named Mark Kilroy went missing while on spring break. He’d been staying on South Padre Island, but on the night in question, he’d ventured across the border to Mexico to check out the bar scene, where he vanished without a trace.

Four weeks later, his grisly fate was revealed. As People reported at the time, his brain was found first.
It turned up in a black cauldron, and it had been boiled in blood over an open fire along with a turtle shell, a horseshoe, a spinal column and other human bones.
His ritual death and dismemberment had been carried out in service to religion - a bizarre, drug-demented occult religion practiced by an American marijuana smuggler operating out of Mexico. Authorities were led to a grave containing Kilroy’s body, or at least what remained of it, and after that the uncovering of mutilated corpses went on and on.
The first day of digging brought up a dozen bodies, all of them buried on the grounds of Rancho Santa Elena...the victims had been slashed, beaten, shot, hanged or boiled alive, the only commonality to their deaths the ritual mutilations that followed.
The drug smugglers believed that human sacrifice would somehow magically protect them from being caught by the police, and even make them bulletproof. They were mistaken. Their downfall came when a man tied to the cult was nabbed for running a roadblock - an offense that worsened when he was found to have weed on him. In search of a bigger bust, and looking for clues in the Kilroy case, cops ventured to the farm belonging to the man’s family, the infamous Rancho Santa Elena mentioned above.

There, they found more drugs. But they also found the brutally disfigured bodies, including the “Anglo spring breaker” who’d been unlucky enough to encounter the group when they were targeting their next victim. (This case spawned a fearful rumour that tapped into the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, that cultists were planning to kidnap children for their rituals.)

The man who’d convinced his followers to join in his madness - the bodies found at Rancho Santa Elena were just some of the casualties - was “El Padrino,” the Godfather (his real identity: he was 26-year-old Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo), with help from 24-year-old Sara Aldrete, a.k.a. “the Witch.” Rolling Stone’s in-depth investigation of the case (excellent reading if you’re not faint of heart, as is this Texas Monthly take on the story) quotes an anthropologist as calling Constanzo “the Pied Piper of death.” Costanzo had grown up in the Santería religion, but his beliefs had morphed into something far darker, of his own design, as he gained more power.

Costanzo eluded capture until 1989, when he ordered an underling to shoot him and his long-time companion, Martin Quintana Rodriguez, rather than be taken alive by police. Aldrete (a well-liked college student just across the border in Texas who denied knowing anything about any murders) and other members of the cult were arrested and charged with a multitude of crimes, including homicide. The “killing shack” where Kilroy and others were victimized was burned by law enforcement after being purged of its black magic spirits in a special ceremony.

2. Order of the Solar Temple


Formed in 1984 by Joseph Di Mambro and Luc Jouret, with followers in various countries including Switzerland, France, and Canada, the group that would come to be known as the Order of the Solar Temple drew inspiration from a variety of sources, including the Rosicrucians and the Knights Templar. Over time, the group’s beliefs shifted away from New Age spiritualism and became increasingly doomsday-focused and paranoid.

Jouret, a doctor, was the face of the organization, delivering the lectures that - despite warning of the looming environmental apocalypse - were magnetic enough to attract new followers. Di Mambro managed the group’s finances, which grew impressively as the membership, comprised mostly of middle and upper-class people, grew to an estimated 400.

The Solar Temple, which bounced between headquarters in Switzerland and Canada, saw its fortunes decline in the 1990s; there were high-profile defections, gun charges, and allegations of sexual misconduct. In 1994, the group made good on its belief that members would need to ascend to a different spiritual plane in order to survive the environmental apocalypse and be reborn on a planet orbiting the Sirius, the Dog Star. Their method of transformation? Fire.

At the end of September 1994, the group killed a member who’d spoken against them, Tony Dutoit, as well as his wife and infant son. Days later, on October 4 and 5, two Solar Temple buildings in Switzerland went up in flames. As recounts:
The next morning investigators were baffled by much of what they discovered at the sites - 48 people dead. Some may have committed suicide while others were most likely killed. Some had been injected with tranquilizers or had plastic bags over their heads while others were shot. Di Mambro, his wife and children, and Jouret were among those killed.
And the tragedy didn’t end there; in December 1995, a chalet in the Swiss Alps was found burned with 16 bodies inside, most of which had been killed prior to the fire. In 1997, five more members perished in a Quebec house. Counting the Dutoit family, and the subsequent suicide of the Solar Temple duo who’d killed them, the mysterious cult’s death toll stands at 74.

3. Heaven’s Gate


Also in 1997, the unusually bright Hale-Bopp Comet blazed a spectacular sight in the night sky. While its appearance thrilled astronomers, it also brought a most unexpected tragedy - another mass suicide tied to cosmic beliefs. This time, it was a cult called Heaven’s Gate that had taken up residence in a Rancho Santa Fe, California mansion.

Thirty-nine people died, including leader and prophet Marshall Applewhite; the group, which supported itself via a successful computing business, had come to believe that Hale-Bopp would bring with it a UFO that would rescue them ahead of the imminent end times. (The crude website the group used to share its philosophy with the outside world, incredibly, still exists.)

Unfortunately, heading to space came with a mighty price, and ghoulish photos of dead cult members, ritualistically draped in dark purple shrouds and clad in Nikes, soon flooded the news.

In three waves, members ingested a poisonous mixture of barbiturates and alcohol, and as their breath slowed and bodies shut down, they asphyxiated under plastic bags that they had tied over their heads. Members followed guidelines they had researched several years earlier, and laid down their earthly lives in what can only be called ritual precision and attention to detail... Members of each wave had cleaned and tidied after their compatriots had died, removing the plastic bags and draping [shrouds] over their deceased companions.
4. Aum Shinrikyo


This apocalyptic Japanese cult carried out a horrifying sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995. Twelve people died, thousands were injured, and Japan’s cherished sense of safety was deeply rattled. The makeup of the group’s followers, and their extreme beliefs (taught by founder Shoko Asahara), echoed those held by the Order of the Solar Temple, Heaven’s Gate, and similar doomsday cults:
Asahara preached that the end of the world was near and that Aum followers would be the only people to survive the apocalypse, which he predicted would occur in 1996 or between 1999 and 2003. Aum accumulated great wealth from operating electronic businesses and restaurants... [he] recruited young, smart university students and graduates, often from elite families, who sought a more meaningful existence.
After a mind-boggling eight years on trial, Asahara was sentenced to death by hanging; he is still on death row. Throughout the process, he “refused to answer questions and has never made more than confusing comments,” the New York Times wrote, though it’s believed the group was motivated by wanting to thwart authorities from shutting down the group, in addition to jump-starting the apocalypse. At the time of the attack, the group had tens of thousands of followers in Japan and Russia.

Twenty years on, Japan is still grappling with the after-effects of the terrorist attack (in 2001, acclaimed novelist Haruki Murakami wrote a moving nonfiction account of the tragedy, Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche). But incredibly, Aum still has a presence in the country, albeit in a different form. Earlier this year, the Huffington Post noted:
Despite the attack, Aum was never banned in Japan. While it was outlawed in Russia and designated a terrorist organization by several countries, Japan opted instead to keep the group under strict surveillance...the group did lose its religious status and was forced into bankruptcy by compensations payments to the victims of the attack. But it lives on in two new offshoots, Aleph and Hikari no Wa, which have an estimated 1,500 followers. They claim to have disavowed Asahara, but many Japanese remain deeply suspicious of their activities.
5. Russian Doomsday Cult


Russian Doomsday Cult Coaxed Out of Cave” has to be one of the most chilling headlines ever written. It topped a USA Today story reporting the events of November 2007, in which officials in a frozen wooded area near the Volga River were desperately trying to lure dozens of people from the underground lair they’d moved into to prepare for the apocalypse, which they believed would come in spring 2008. Complicating matters: the group’s stated intention to blow itself up if necessary.

Interestingly, the group’s leader had not joined his followers (most of whom were women, but included children as young as 18 months) in the cave, citing the need to “meet others who had not yet arrived”:
Self-declared prophet Pyotr Kuznetsov, who established his True Russian Orthodox Church after he split with the official church, blessed his followers before sending them into the cave earlier this month, but he did not join them himself.
He was undergoing psychiatric evaluation Friday, a day after he was charged with setting up a religious organization associated with violence... Kuznetsov said his group believed that, in the afterlife, they would be judging whether others deserved heaven or hell... Followers of his group were not allowed to watch television, listen to the radio or handle money, media reports said.
Despite the past-tense phrasing of that USA Today story, the True Russian Orthodox Church held on for months despite increasing dangers that their cave stronghold would collapse. In March 2008, the BBC reported “fresh talks were underway” to draw out the congregation.

Ultimately, an apocalypse on a much-smaller scale eventually forced the women above ground. Here’s a bookend headline, this time from an Australian news source: “Corpse Stench Drives Russian Doomsday Cult from Cave.” With two dead members left decomposing in the enclosed space, the nine final faithful decided leaving the cave and facing the end times in the open was preferable to perishing from toxic fumes.

Details on Kuznetzov’s fate are unclear, though it seems he attempted suicide once his doomsday prediction failed to come true; he was also slapped with a variety of charges, including “the creation of an organization infringing upon citizens’ rights.” Reports seems to indicate that he may still be confined to a psychiatric facility, having not yet been deemed mentally fit to stand trial.

Top image: Matamoros human sacrifice cult (Adolfo de Jesús Constanzo pictured on the left), via Moviepilot.

[Source: io9. Edited. Top image added.]


10 Incredible Meteors People Caught on Video
By Dustin Koski,
Toptenz, 30 September 2015.

Emerging from the clear blue sky often without warning, meteors have been thought to be both harbingers of doom (sometimes with good cause) and, up until the 19th century, a source of heated controversy over whether they even existed. The Earth is pockmarked by sites of devastating strikes. Yet whenever someone gets lucky enough with their scientific video equipment, time lapse camera, or even their dashcam, they have a video that people the whole world over will often appreciate.

10. Urals Explosion

On February 15, 2013, a meteor exploded roughly 27 kilometres in the air above a region in the Ural Mountain Range in Southern Russia near the border with Kazakhstan. Its angle of approach was such that it was not visible until it had entered Earth’s atmosphere, allowing it to be a complete surprise. Although the shockwave of the explosion injured 1,500 people, largely due to glass from exploding windows, thankfully there were no reported deaths.

This relative lack of tragedy allowed people to concentrate more on perceived novelties of the event, such as how people would not scream or even remain seemingly blaise at the sight of a bright meteor even when they were in close proximity to the area impacted by the shockwaves. More than a few commented that was merely a side effect of living in Russia.

9. Lyrid Meteor Shower

Although NASA claims that the Lyrid Meteors which follow in the wake of Comet Thatcher are “unpredictable” in terms of rate of meteors, it’s practically annual clockwork that they will descend every late April and reach their high point around the 22nd. Their Marshall Space Flight Centre offers a livestream of the event, after all.

The featured video from 2015 which was shot in the Changbai Mountains in Northeastern China (on the border with North Korea) offers not only the sight of numerous shooting stars but lovely time lapse footage of the stars circling the sky. Really helps you not only intellectually understand but viscerally appreciate the way this ball we’re all stuck to is spinning through a glittery void.

8. Perseids Meteor Shower

The Perseid Shower, like the Lyrid one, is the result of debris from a passing comet, in this case the Swift-Tuttle one. It is much longer that Lyrid, lasting from mid-July to late August. This video of the 2013 shower was shot by Jeff Sullivan over several nights. Not to bash the previous video, but this one features consistently better composition and more striking views of the Milky Way revolving in the sky, probably at least partially because of his photography training and better equipment.

He mentions that some of the objects seen streaking through the stars are actually satellites and airplanes, which is very honest of him since it might demystify the videos a little for some people.

7. Hayabusa Re-Entry

NASA does not define meteors as necessarily being rocks from space. It says that they are objects which enter the atmosphere from space. Thus we feel justified in including this video of the Hayabusa Spacecraft, an exploration capsule that was launched from Kagoshima Space Centre in 2003 and returned to Earth seven years later.

It’s an usually bright and pretty entrance of Earth’s atmosphere that actually looks more like a decent firework than most objects recorded falling from the sky. Despite what you might think from looking at the fiery destruction, the capsule managed to deploy its parachute and be recovered fully intact.

6. 4,000 lb. Meteor

On November 8, 2014, the skies above Central Texas produced a bright flash and an explosion the size of a sonic boom as a fireball meteor only four feet (1.22 meters) exploded in the upper atmosphere. As ABC News reported, that particular fireball was part of a larger wave that happened that night, including one with a greenish light seen over Japan.

To  get an impression of just how much power that meteor at that weight and height would have had on impact, consider that this University of Arizona online calculator put the impact at roughly 3.8 megatons, or nearly three times the destructive power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

5. Geminid Shower

Even with the skill that the photographer in China and Jeff Sullivan brought to bear, this time lapse video of the residue of the 3200 Phaethon Asteroid from Kenneth Brandon stands above them. What does this December 2012 video that was photographed in Big Sur, California (a popular surfing area in roughly the middle of California’s Pacific Coast) have that makes it so much better? Composition.

The angling of the camera along the horizon is a big improvement over just pointing it up at the sky. It allows the meteors to look like they’re flying at an angle through three dimensional space, which really helps you feel like you’re there watching and it makes the trajectories more more interesting, particularly the ones that curve.

4. Turkey Meteor

Other videos in this list are shot on higher resolution cameras, feature a greater variety of meteors, or shots where the shooting stars are framed better. You don’t expect beauty from security footage from security cameras in Ordu City, Turkey in use back in 2012.

What makes this one stand out is how incredibly bright the meteor in it is. When the video description says that this meteor lights up the night sky, it’s not exaggerating. Fortunately the meteor merely fell harmlessly into the Black Sea.

3. Midwest 15 Minute Fireball

The majority of meteors reach the Earth flying at an angle and speed where you have only a few seconds at most to see them. Not this one from April, 2010. As it descended, it was visible in Wisconsin, Ohio, Missouri, Iowa, Indiana, and Illinois.

All this over the course of 15 minutes and it produced a sonic boom which shook trees like the 2013 one in Central Texas. Although initially it was controversial why this meteor had appeared, ultimately it was determined to have been part of a meteor shower known as Gamma Virginids. Clearly that was one of the more exhibitionist fireballs ever to appear in our skies.

2. Buenos Aires Meteor

Most meteors tend to be visible enough to read as a white streak through the sky. Not this one, which was recorded in Argentina in July 2015. The head of the meteor has a greenish tint while the tail is orange. It’s not just a trick of the way it was filmed, either. Other cameras showed it to have the strange combination of colours.

Potential reasons for the unusual combination include the possibility that it was due to the gases released by meteors as a result of the resistance. A green glow would indicate that this particular meteor had a high amount of copper in it. Whatever the case may be, the fireball caused no reported injuries.

1. Jupiter Collision

This final video is not particularly beautiful compared to some that we’ve seen. But it is amazing for what it shows. On September 10, 2010, a meteor struck Jupiter with sufficient force that it was visible to even amateur astronomers on Earth such as Dan Peterson from Racine, Wisconsin, the one who first observed it, and George Hall who shot the above video.

The size of the meteor that hit the planet was estimated at being 10 meters in length. Considering that this was recorded 454 million miles away from Earth and that the grey circle being photographed is about 1,300 times the size of our planet, this may be the largest explosions ever recorded on video in our solar system! (The 1994 Shoemaker-Levy Impact doesn’t count because that wasn’t caught on video.) And to think, it was recorded pretty much by accident.

Top image: Fireball caused by a Geminid meteor. Credit: Wally Pacholka/, via NASA.

[Source: Toptenz. Edited. Some links added.]


9 Offbeat Townships Created for Unusually Specific Reasons
By Morris M,
Urban Ghosts Media, 29 September 2015.

In the globalised world of 2015, it’s easy to feel like everywhere is the same. Most towns have a McDonalds and vegan cafés are quickly catching on, though almost every new house is seemingly built to look as bland and as soulless as possible. But go looking for them, and you’ll find a handful of offbeat towns still being built for unique and sometimes strange reasons. Towns that are oddly different from everywhere else on Earth. Towns like:

1. Copehill Down: The ‘German’ Town Built for Invasion

Image: Richard Lewis

Somewhere on the Salisbury Plain in England lies an unusual sight. A ghost town ringed with wire fences sits miles from anywhere, gently gathering dust in the midday heat. Its architecture is distinctly German and burned out cars litter the streets. No, it’s not the setup for a dystopian graphic novel. Rather, it’s the UK government’s training base for invading Central Europe.

Built in 1988, Copehill Down was designed to simulate what urban warfare would be like if Britain ever had to invade the Soviet Union. Fortunately, the USSR peacefully folded only a couple of years later, and the idea of a British army rolling into East Germany began to seem pretty silly. Instead, the government used the town to practice for possible missions into the disintegrating Balkan states or villages in Ireland under IRA control.

Today Copehill Down stands empty, as it always has. For passers-by, it represents perhaps the weirdest sight in the whole of Wiltshire: a vaguely Germanic village built for the express purpose of invading.

2. Orania: The South African Town Where Apartheid Lives On


When South Africa finally released Nelson Mandela in 1990, most of the world saw it as a cause for celebration. Not the residents of Orania. A year after Mandela walked and on the eve of the referendum that ended apartheid for good, a group of Afrikaners retreated to this quiet little town to preserve what they saw as their soon-to-be endangered culture.

Today, Orania is a town of 1,000 people and one of the few places in modern South Africa where no black people live. Although anyone can visit, potential residents need to prove they’re of pure Afrikaner ethnicity; have one non-Afrikaner parent or grandparent and you won’t be able to buy a house.

Aside from still enforcing their own limited apartheid, residents of Orania fly their own flag and use their own currency. Statues of the “architect of apartheid” Hendrik Verwoerd can also be found; possibly the last in the country.

3. Lily Dale: The Town Spiritualism Built

Image: LoudMouthedLibrarian; the Lily Dale Museum.

In 1870, a group of spiritualists bought 20 acres of farmland in New York State and built a summer camp. Fast forward nearly 150 years and the Cassadaga Lake Free Association has blossomed into a town with a population of 275 during winter months, and over 22,000 in the summer. It’s also seen its name change from Cassadaga to The City of Light to the gentler-sounding Lily Dale.

One of the weirdest aspects of Lily Dale is the summer activities of its residents. It’s not uncommon for those present to try and make contact with the dead en masse, often under the watchful eye of Tibetan monks or celebrity spiritualists like Deepak Chopra. Seances, healings and psychic readings are all de rigueur; giving the whole place a faintly trippy, Summer of Love meets Aleister Crowley kind of vibe.

Although the residents of Lily Dale have more ties to Christianity than most other New Age groups, they publically reject the idea of Christ dying for our sins. This position has led to them having all sorts of unfortunate encounters with their strictly-Christian neighbours and has been an on-going source of tension in the area.

4. Twin Lakes: Martha Stewart’s Dream Community

Image: Bing Maps; Twin Lakes Community, North Carolina from above.

If you’re not from the United States, you might be struggling to place the name Martha Stewart. A professional jack-of-all-trades with a focus on homemaking, she’s like Delia Smith, Laurence Llewelyn Bowen and Donald Trump all rolled into one. She can also boast her very own self-designed community in the form of Twin Lakes, a township designed completely on Martha Stewart principles.

Consisting of 650 homes, everything about Twin Lakes follows Stewart’s philosophies to a T. The floor plans of the homes, the furniture and colour schemes were all designed by Stewart’s team, as were the outdoor spaces. The overall effect is almost unintentionally creepy, like the Twilight Zone parodying the perfect American suburb. It seems almost fitting that the town’s name is reminiscent of David Lynch’s own surreal ‘utopia’ Twin Peaks.

5. Damanhur: Italy’s New Age “Federation”


Unusually for a modern country, Italy contains two micro-states comprising a single town each: San Marino and Vatican City. But according to the residents of a certain town in the country’s north, it also contains at least one federation: the Federation of Damanhur.

Founded by 24 people in 1975, Damanhur today holds around 800 residents within its microscopic (and totally unrecognized) borders. To further bolster its claims of independence, the Federation also has its own flag, currency and constitution; one based on esoteric readings of New Age teachings. Rather bizarrely, it also boasts its own gigantic underground temple complex, following a vision its leader had telling him to build them (something the group did illegally, leading to a minor scandal when the Italian authorities found out).

Perhaps most-interestingly, Damanhur is also noted for its commitment to ecological principles. The village-cum-microstate is today recognized as a leading ecovillage, drawing in visitors from all over the world.

6. Ave Maria: The Town Built on Pizza and Prayer

Image: Rob Goodspeed; construction of Ave Maria, Florida in 2007.

Florida has a reputation as a place where anyone’s dreams can happen, no matter how crazy. Perhaps nothing embodies that reputation quite as much as the town of Ave Maria. Located many empty miles from anywhere on the fringes of Florida’s nature reserves the town is dedicated to one thing only: good, Catholic worship whatever the cost.

That last bit is meant literally. Despite being a tiny hamlet mostly still under construction, Ave Maria boasts a community church of staggering proportions. All around the few inhabited houses lie signs of faith; from Mary in Manger scenes to golden statues of the Virgin relaxing next to golf carts. According to some, Ave Maria is a town “centred on Christ.”

So where does all the money for this community come from? The answer, bizarrely, is: pizza. The entire township has been bankrolled from its establishment in 2007 by the founder of Domino’s Pizza, who continues to pump money in to make his dream viable. The result is a town unlike any other: a strange mix of modern architecture, twee suburban homes and Catholic iconography built by an icon of crass commercialisation.

7. Botton: The Town Dedicated to Mental Health

Image: Mick Garratt; the walled garden of Botton Hall.

A tiny village nestled away in Yorkshire; Botton is seemingly unremarkable in almost every respect. Yet scratch the surface and you’ll uncover a small group of people living out an impossibly unique dream.

For over 30 years, Botton has been run as a kind-of cooperative allowing people with learning difficulties to live alongside dedicated volunteers who help them out in return for a place to live. Way back in 2005, a film crew from Britain’s Channel 4 investigated and declared it both the strangest and happiest village in Britain. Based on strong principles of sustainability, Christian worship and the politics of land use, it sits somewhere between being an idealistic collective and being the nicest cult in the world.

Although run by a benign company for most of its life, changes to the roles of care providers in 2014 have caused Botton to re-evaluate its relationship with the corporate world. Starting this year, it may well soon become a 100 percent autonomous community.

8. Fordlandia: The American Dream Dying in Brazil

Image: Amit Evron; abandoned Fordlandia water tower and factory building.

If you’re anything like the majority of people, the words “planned factory town” make your heart sink. But Fordlandia has more going for it than most mechanically laid-out American towns. For one thing, it long ago decayed into a sort of melancholic beauty. For another, it’s in the middle of the Brazilian rainforest.

Back in the 1920s, Henry Ford decided to take advantage of the booming rubber industry by building a whole town in the Brazilian wilds. But he didn’t want to just outsource costs and have done with it. Instead, Ford’s plan was to create a utopia for his Brazilian workers; an American-style town where they could enjoy all the luxuries of life in the north.

The trouble was the Brazilians had a different idea of what constituted a utopia to Henry Ford. Although Fordlandia featured libraries, schools, shops and its own hospital, it didn’t feature anything that a Brazilian labourer in the 1920s would be interested in. Alcohol was banned; the arrival of women was strictly controlled; and local food was replaced with good ol’ American hamburgers. The result: instant unrest and riots on a massive scale.

Despite its troubles, Fordlandia limped along until 1945 when it finally shut down due to lack of economic viability. Today it’s even considered something of a tourist attraction.

9. Celebration: The Disney Town Plagued by Nightmares

Image: Simonhardt93; downtown Celebration, Florida.

If you’re looking to escape from reality, you could do worse than heading down to Celebration in Florida. A town of a mere 11,000 souls, Celebration was purpose built in 1996 to capture the forgotten essence of small town America. Everything about it was designed to evoke instant nostalgia. Houses come with white picket fences and lawns manicured within an inch of their lives. Old-style lanterns light the streets, and old-fashioned music is pumped out of unobtrusive speakers day and night to create the perfect mood.

The story of Celebration only adds to the strangeness. Created by the Disney Corporation as the perfect American town, it quickly filled up with those looking to escape the violence of the modern world. Unfortunately, the violence decided to follow them in. After the housing bubble popped with an audible bang in 2008, Celebration really hit the rocks. Not long after, a local resident was bludgeoned to death with an axe, and another died in a suicidal shootout with a Florida SWAT team. By 2010 it seemed the Celebration dream had died. Today, Gizmodo claims the place is viewed with suspicion on all sides; a sad reminder of the limits of America’s small town dreams.

Top image: The fake town of Copehill Down, Wiltshire, UK. Credit: Think Defence/Flickr.

[Source: Urban Ghosts Media. Edited.]


8 natural mysteries that can't be explained
By Melissa Breyer,
Mother Nature Network, 28 September 2015.

In the days before we had advanced science to help us figure things out, we employed a pantheon of gods and goddesses to explain the more perplexing puzzles of the universe. Crazy thunderstorm? Zeus must be in a tizzy. Fast forward to the present and we've developed all kinds of technology to help us unlock mysteries that were once considered magic. But Mother Nature isn't willing to reveal all her tricks so quickly, so we have to figure them out for ourselves. Case in point? We've got eight of them right here.

From a waterfall that disappears into nowhere to odd jelly blobs that fall from the sky, the mechanics behind these natural phenomena are some of nature's best kept secrets.

1. Singing sand dunes

Photo: Nepenthes/Wikimedia Commons

Um, so, yeah. …the Earth is singing! Well maybe not the planet itself, but a number of sand dunes across the globe - in at least 35 deserts from California and Africa to China and Qatar - are definitely making some intense noise. Sounding like a deep hum of bees or some rumbling Gregorian chant, the moaning mountains have baffled scientists for years.

One study discovered that different notes produced by the sands relied on the size of the grains and the speed at which they whistle through the air, but scientists still have no idea how the flowing grains of sand manage to sound like music in the first place. Listen to the above video.

2. Star jelly

Photo: James Lindsey/Wikimedia Commons

Reports of globular blobs falling from the sky and plopping into fields and meadows date back to at least the 14th century. Also known variously as astral jelly, star-shot, star-slime, star-slough, star-slubber, and star-slutch, folklore explained the curious goop as a substance deposited after meteor showers. If not frequent, reports of the mysterious goop occur with a surprising degree of regularity. But nobody can say for sure what it is, as it dissipates relatively quickly after it appears and analysis has been challenging. Speculation has ranged to everything from the paranormal to unknown fungi or slime moulds to something of an amphibious nature, but no succinct identification has been confirmed by science.

3. Ball lightning


We all know that lightning comes in zigzag bolts that strike from the sky. Except when it doesn’t, like, when it comes in a big circular glowing blue flash. Such is the weather phenomenon called ball lightning (which doesn't really streak indoors like the fanciful illustration here suggests). It’s rare and hard to predict, and because of that, researchers don’t know much about it. It can last for more than a second, which is long for lightning, but still…it’s hard to capture a second-long flash of light to study in the lab. Explanations have ranged from electrically charged meteorites to hallucinations induced by magnetism during storms. One theory is that when lightning strikes something it explodes in a cloud of highly energized nanoparticles, notes the Weather Channel, but for now that remains just speculation. If only we could ask Zeus.

4. Catatumbo lightning

Photo: Thechemicalengineer/Wikimedia Commons

While ball lightning is known for its infrequency, Catatumbo lightning is famous for just the opposite: its astounding prevalence. Occurring over a swamp in northwestern Venezuela almost every evening for centuries, this "everlasting storm" averages 28 strikes per minute in events lasting up to 10 hours. When things really get going, lightning strikes every second. Oh, and the lightning is colourful. And does not produce thunder. And sometimes just stops for a few weeks at a time. What the heck? To be certain it has inspired plenty of speculation. The only answer so far is that it's produced by a perfect storm, so to speak, of topography and wind. Hmmm.

5. Crooked forest

Photo: Artur Strzelczyk/Wikimedia Commons

There was a crooked man, he walked a crooked mile…but did he walk in the crooked forest? This groovy grove of trees in West Pomerania, Poland is a weird wonderland of some 400 pines that took a definite detour in the ol’ “growing straight as a tree” routine. Nobody has any idea why. Adding to the mystery is the fact that they are part of a larger forest of normal unswerving pines. What is known is that they were likely planted in the 1930s and whatever caused them to waver in their sky-striving happened when they were seven to 10 years old. Theories abound, but until trees can talk, we may never know the real story.

6. The Wow! Signal


Back in 1977, Jerry Ehman was scanning radio waves from deep space as a volunteer for SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. At one point, his measurements spiked with an uncanny signal that lasted for 72 seconds. It seems to have come from within the Sagittarius constellation, which lives by the star Tau Sagittarii, a mere 120 light-years away. Ehman wrote the words “Wow!” on the original printout of the signal, and it’s been known by that appropriate exclamation ever since. So what's so wow-worthy? As National Geographic notes, “the signal that was received was at precisely the right frequency that wouldn’t be interpreted as noise, and wouldn’t be intercepted along its journey. In other words, if we were going to send a signal out into the universe to try to communicate with an alien race, that’s exactly the frequency we would use.” Since then, despite much effort, the signal has never been heard again. Ow!

7. Devil's Kettle Falls

Photo: Roy Luck/Flickr

The Brule River goes about its usual river business winding through Minnesota, but while traveling through Judge C. R. Magney State Park, it takes a very, very strange turn. Over the course of 8 miles, the river drops 800 feet in elevation forming several waterfalls along the way. At one point, a large jutting rock formation splits the river, resulting in two waterfalls. One side does the typical waterfall thing, but the other side falls into a hole known as the Devil's Kettle. And then, it just completely disappears, a mystery that has been baffling visitors and scientists for ages. Common sense would suggest that the water reappears somewhere in nearby Lake Superior, but researchers have tried every trick to locate the missing water - including dying the water and adding ping pong balls - to no avail.

8. Hessdalen lights


Over a valley in central Norway persists a phenomena that stokes the fire of UFO buffs far and wide. Known as the Hessdalen lights - named for the valley where they occur‚ sightings of the strange balls of glowing luminosity have been reported since at least the 1940s, by some accounts as early as the 19th century. They come in a variety of colours and formations; sometimes they flash, sometimes they dart around quickly, sometimes they just hover. At their most active they appeared 10 to 20 times per week, but nobody knows what on heaven's name they are. A research effort, Project Hessdalen, was launched in 1983 by Østfold University College and at least six different types of energy states have now been identified, but the source of energy remains unknown.

Whatever they are, they've earned Hessdalen the unofficial title of "centre of UFO mania." See the lights in action above, and at the National Geographic Channel.

Top image: Lighting strike. Credit: Pixabay.

[Source: Mother Nature Network. Edited. Some images and links added.]