“Aren’t crop circles just a joke?” “Didn’t two guys in England admit to doing all of them?” “I watched (fill in the name of the program) that proved that crop circles are all hoaxes.”
These are some of the more polite reactions you will get should you try to have a discussion on the phenomena of crop circles – it is likely you will encounter a greater number of people who would respond with ridicule, much of it personal in nature. Or, should you try to start this discussion with someone who is “into” spirituality, you may find yourself unexpectedly in a conversation about the messages that extraterrestrials are trying to give us. There should be some middle ground.
There is, actually. And its name is science.
Crop circles date back to at least the late 1600s when British scientist Robert Pilot reported on “fairy rings.” Circle formations were attributed to elves, fairies, the devil, downdrafts, animals walking around in circles before they bedded down for the night and extraterrestrials. The late 1970s saw an increase in circle formations and complexity, especially in England, and by the 1990s crop circle viewing had developed into its own industry, complete with specialty tours, helicopter flyovers, clubs, t-shirts, books, magazines and souvenirs.
In 1991 David Chorley and his friend Doug Bower, both artists, claimed that they had been making crop circles for the previous 13 years; they invited the press to a live demonstration in which they used boards and ropes to flatten grain in a field in a circular pattern – it was a simple, albeit credible formation – then promptly declared themselves to be “retired.” When asked about the extent of their activities, the pair claimed to have made an average of 20-30 circle formations per year, and attributed the other crop circles both in England and aboard to copycat hoaxers.
And many of the hoaxers are good, really good. The folks at circlemakers.org actually offer a guide for beginners on how to make their own crop circles. They even advise beginners to locate their formations on ley lines so that any attendant earth energy – along with orgone accumulation, feelings of well-being, healings, etc. – will be attributed to the formation. Many hoaxers are artists in real life, and view the making of crop formations as a form of artistic expression. Other self-confessed circle makers actually believe they themselves are a genuine part of the phenomena, and claim to have seen bursts of light, UFOs, and “balls of light” at their circles. Says one circle maker:
“I consider the circles we’ve put down to be genuine. There is no intention on our part to deceive. Our work generates response, often from other circlemakers (Note: In this instance, “circlemakers” does not refer to anything human in origin. End Note), and can sometimes act to catalyse a wide range of paranormal events. I still believe there is a genuine phenomenon, but I now also believe that we’re a part of it.”
Yes, the making of circle formations is big business in southern England. Responding to the public’s love affair with crop circles, private companies have even hired teams of hoaxers to make crop circle formations that advertise their products. Many teams have become so skilled at making crop circles that the complexity of the design and its fine detail can no longer be the prime consideration when debating the origin of a specific circle. But while it’s true that many circle formations are man-made, this is a far cry from being able to definitely assert that all circles are man-made.
Is there anything to suggest that any crop circles are not human in origin? Eyewitnesses often claim that a specific crop circle appeared within the space of a very short time – always under an hour, oftentimes within a few seconds. This stands in contrast to the hoaxer teams who normally take several hours to a couple of days to complete a formation. Witnesses also often claim that the formation of a circle was accompanied by the presence of a small ball of light (aka “BOL”) that darted quickly around the field where a crop formation was later found.
But some may argue that memories may be faulty and eyes might deceive (wishful thinking might even play a part). Those who believe all crop formations are man-made refuse to accept testimony that would suggest a different cause. So I turn to science to sort things out. Please note that I will be referring to scientists rather than “crop circle experts.” No standards exist for calling oneself a crop circle expert – a person could read several books, visit a circle formation, give a talk in front of his garden club, and then self-appoint himself as a crop circle expert. I am more apt to trust someone with a background in a relevant scientific field and experience using scientific methods. The fact that “all who entered and studied the crop formation at close quarters were convinced of its genuineness” (actual “proof” offered by one circle expert when asked how he decided that a formation was not man-made) does not constitute sufficient evidence.
The first person to apply standard scientific procedures to the study of crop formations is William C. (Lefty) Levengood (now deceased), who earned a BS in Physics and Mathematics (University of Toledo), an MA in Bioscience (Ball State University) and an MS in Biophysics (University of Michigan). He is also the “L” in BLT Research – an organization that created an international reporting and field-sampling network for the study of crop circles. The BLT Research team developed a sampling protocol, trained field personnel in multiple countries, and arranged for the shipping of plants and soils from hundreds of crop circles over many years to Levengood’s lab in Michigan.
What did the lab results show?
1) In his 1994 paper, “Anatomical Anomalies in Crop Formation Plants,” published in the peer-reviewed “Physiologia Plantarium” (an international journal dedicated to research in plant biology), Levengood found that plants in crop circles showed significant changes in seed germination and development compared with plants in the same field located outside of crop circles, as well as structural and cellular abnormalities.
2) In a second paper “Semi-Molten Meteoric Iron Associated With a Crop Formation,” published a year later, Levengood and John Burke (the “B” in “BLT”) reported finding a natural iron “glaze” composed of melted meteoric debris on the plants and soils within crop circles (Note – a self-confessed hoaxer claimed to have sprinkled iron filings in one of his creations in an attempt to create a formation that would “test well” in a laboratory, but iron filings are not consistent with the melted glaze Levengood and Burke reported in this paper). In addition to the magnetic glaze, 10-50 micron-sized, magnetized spherules of iron were also found. Normal concentrations of such meteroic material is generally 0.4 mg per gram of soil; in crop circles, it is found in concentrations from 20 to 250 mg per gram of soil.
3) In his 1999 paper, “Dispersion of Energies in Worldwide Crop Formations,” Levengood and Nancy Talbott (the “T” in “BLT”) focused on plant nodes, often referred to as “knuckles” in the stems of cereal-type plants. The apical (the one inch-long node beneath the seed-head) node lengths in plants within crop formations were, on average, twice as long as those in the control plants from the same field, but outside of the formation. It has been suggested that this node-lengthening was the result of gravitropism, a natural plant recovery process when plants are flattened but not killed. However, the BLT data indicates that gravitropism could only account for between 10% and 20% of the node lengthening actually documented in crop circle plants. Also, apical node lengthening was documented even in upright plants in many of the standing-crop features within crop formations.
Levengood’s published opion in that a considerable percentage of the crop formations found each year in the UK (and elsewhere) are not mechanically-flattened by people, but instead are created by the involvement of multiple highly-energetic plasma vortices, originating in the ionisphere, impacting the Earth’s surface. On the face of it this sounds (to the uniformed)…..imaginative.
It perhaps seemed even more unrealistic when Levengood first formed his hypothesis because the existence of plasma discharges in the upper atmosphere had not yet been recognized by science (despite testimony from aircraft pilots who described plasma discharges, such as Blue Jets and Sprites, they had witnessed). It was not until 1989, when a scientist managed to photograph one of these plasma discharges, that their existence was admitted.
Levengood theorized that plasma vortices originating in the ionisphere did not only exist, but in some instances were capable of descending to the Earth’s surface before discharging. And it was these discharges that were creating the crop circles.
There are many good scientific reasons to seriously consider this possibility: 1) plasma moves in a spiral (the most common pattern of crop circles); 2) when plasma spirals it both creates strong magnetic fields and emits microwaves, and the BLT evidence indicates microwaves cause both the lengthening of the apical stem nodes and the presence of explusion cavities further down the plant stems in crop formations; and 3) the melted meteoric glaze and tiny mangetized iron spherules regularly found in soil samples from crop formations are clear evidence that both strong magnetic fields and intense heat are present in the crop circle formation process. If meteoric dust, which is filtering slowly towards the Earth’s surface all the time, happens to encounter a descending spiraling plasma, it would be drawn into the plasma system by its strong magnetic fields and then melted when exposed to the microwaves being emitted as the spiraling plasma descends to the Earth’s surface.
But why are crop formations so frequently found in the UK, and more rarely anywhere else? The BLT Research Team points out that crop circles appear to be most common in areas where electrically charged rock is close to the surface. In the UK this would point to the great chalk aquifer in southern England – the water percolating through the chalk creates its own electrical charge. This effect is most noticeable during drought years (which have also been banner years for crop formations). It’s also interesting to note that the great increase in the number of, and complexity of, crop circles documented in the late ’70s and early ’80s happened when over-pumping of the UK aquifer began.
How crop circles form in complicated geometric patterns is more difficult to explain. First, it is necessary to realize that plasma is not just “air” – plasma is electrified air, which acts like an electromagnetic fluid. The BLT Research Team then looked at the work of 1977 Nobel Prize winner for chemistry, Ilya Prigogene, who was able to show that two-dimensioanl geometric patterns often form of their own accord in three-dimensional pools of liquid chemical reagents. This new branch of science, referred to as deterministic chaos, has repeatedly shown that systems which are excited or turbulent (in this instance, the electrically-charged plasma vortexes) can assume surprisingly geometric patterns. Please read BLT’s summary on the Physics of Crop Formations for a much clearer explanation.
Another scientist who has studied crop circles is Eltjo Haselhoff, who has a Ph.D. in Theoretical and Experimental Physics from his native Netherlands, and who has worked in many research institutes, including Los Alamos National Laboratories. (In the U.S., however, Haelhoff is better known as a “fingerstyle” guitarist and composer.) In 1999, Haselhoff undertook sampling of a crop circle in the Netherlands on behalf of BLT Research, and in his book, “The Deepening Complexity of Crop Circles: Scientific Research and Urban Legends,” Haselhoff reports that he tested Levengood’s plant findings for himself by looking at the plant samples and controls he gathered for BLT and measuring their nodes. What he found agreed with BLT’s consistently-reported none-length changes in crop circle plants – the nodes of plants from within crop circles had an average measurement of 4.28 mm, compared with nodes of lengths of 2 mm for plants in the same field outside of the formation.
But Haselhoff diverged from the work of Levengood and the BLT Team with his hypothesis that the crop formations were created by heat emanating from a central point fixated at a certain distance above the crop surface. To test this idea he conducted a linear regression analysis of node lengths from plant samples at various distances from the formations’ centers. Results turned out to be a straight line (values close to unity) for true circle formations. Man-made crop circles showed no such pattern. Haselhoff’s hypothesis is that the BOLs (balls of light) that are so often observed in conjunction with the appearance of crop circles are the energy/heat source that causes the node lengthening, and are directly involved in the creation of the formations. There is, however, some pointed criticism of how Halselhoff conducted his regression analysis which calls into question his conclusions.
So what’s the answer? There is none yet – at least not a definitive one. Crop circle formations have become big business – one that brings in a lot of money. People love visiting them; hoaxers love to make them. Many circle formations show characteristics, however, that cannot be replicated by people. Scientific research offers us a theory, backed up by data, that strongly suggests these formations may be either a totally natural phenomenon or one which involves the utilization of naturally-occuring energy sources.
But more research is needed – and research costs money. Until there is additional serious funding, it is likely crop circle formation will undeservedly remain in the category labeled “fringe science.”
* Crop Circle photos and reports courtesy of The Crop Circle Connector (cropcircleconnector.com)