Australia has mysterious 'fairy circles' all over the place, too

We've all heard of crop circles, but 'fairy circles' are lesser known and, usually, less interesting to look at. These circular patches have a shape roughly — and consistently — like that of a six-sided honeycomb and feature a hard dirt shell resulting in a plant-free bare region within an otherwise grassy landscape. Fairy circles are commonly found in Namibia but not elsewhere — until recently, at least, when researchers stumbled across a bunch of them in the empty Australian outback.

As with their southern Africa counterparts, the Australian fairy circles are regularly shaped patches of barren land around which plants grow as usual. The Australian patches were discovered by a local researcher who took a shot of them while flying over and sent it to a colleague. This eventually spurred a study into the phenomenon, and possible evidence about the cause.

Researchers have long posited differing theories about how the fairy circles come about, with some guessing that carbon monoxide from deep within the Earth rises to kill the plants and others saying it could be the result of insects. Increasingly more likely is yet another theory that such spots occur on their own in places where water is scare, but available in great enough quantities to support some level of grass.

That theory has gained credence due to where the fairy circles are discovered. In the case of the Australian circles, as in the Namibia ones, the spots appear in a sort of transitional region where the more supple grassy lands are giving away into drier, more barren desert lands. Researchers found virtually no insect presence in the Australian circles, seemingly ruling out bugs as the cause, but identified the fairy circles as being essentially identical to the ones in Namibia.

The hardened shell of dirt, it seems, results from the lack of plants — the existing plants arrange themselves in the observed patterns naturally based on scare water availability, leaving other spots empty. Those spots are fully exposed to the sun, and given the hot climate, the dirt on top is baked into a hardened shell that further decreases the chance of a plant growing within it. Any water that hits that hardened surface will then roll off to the sides, feeding the existing plants and further sustaining the strange pocked landscape.

Researchers still aren't sure why fairy circles aren't found in other similar climates elsewhere in the world.

VIA: Science Daily