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10 Notoriously Famous Mysteries That Were Finally Solved by Science

10 Famous Mysteries That Were Finally Solved by Science
Through science even the strangest of mysteries can be solved. This fact can be verified from the top mysteries and their scientific solutions, which have been presented in this ScienceStruck article.
Satyajeet Vispute
Last Updated: Feb 26, 2018
Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man's desire to understand.
― Neil Armstrong
In the world of science, the strangest of mysteries can find a solution. No matter how wonderful an occurrence might seem, with the application of logic and guided by the laws of nature, even the unexplained can be explained.

In the following paragraphs, we shall present to you some of the famous mysteries from around the world (and beyond too), which were solved by science. These include some recently solved scientific mysteries that have puzzled us for decades until they were finally brought to their logical conclusion.
Mysteries Solved by Science
New England's Dark Day

On May 19, 1780, New England and parts of Canada noticed that in the hours just before noon, the sun seemed to be stolen from their skies as a strange and all-encompassing darkness settled in on these lands. According to reports and accounts from back then, this event lasted the entire day until the middle of the next night. The resulting darkness was so complete that nocturnal animals had come out and people had to re-light their candles from noon onwards. Back then, this phenomenon was widely regarded as a supernatural event, and this opinion is still maintained by many even today.

Scientific Explanation

Over the years, the cause of the Dark Day continued to baffle scientists. They examined several possibilities such as volcanic eruptions or some peculiar celestial event. However, none of these seemed to be plausible until, in 2008, almost 230 years after the original occurrence, researchers from the University of Missouri were able to put together the pieces of this puzzle.

The researchers compiled the written accounts from those who had experienced this event firsthand. They also collected records of tree-rings taken from fire-damaged trees, which allowed them to conclude that the Dark Day had actually occurred because of the smoke from the massive wildfires in Canada, which had obscured the sunlight.

A witness report described the prevalence of a strong sooty smell in the atmosphere as the darkness fell. There were also reports that the rainwater that day had a light film of burnt ash in it. More recent studies have also found that ash and cinder fell on parts of New Hampshire to nearly a depth of six inches at the time.

During forest fires, flames burn through the tree bark and damage the interior of the tree trunk. When a few years later the tree falls, the inside of the trunk reveals the damage within. Studies on the rings of the trees in the Algonquin Highlands have shown that a massive fire had broken out in the exact time-period when the Dark Day was experienced. Scientists have concluded that huge columns of smoke must have formed from this fire and risen to the upper atmosphere, which ultimately blocked the sun and caused the Dark Day.
Why Do Zebras Have Stripes

All three species of zebras have a distinct black and white pattern of stripes on their bodies, the reason behind it has been a mystery for years. Some have proposed that like other animals, it might be a means of camouflage, but in the largely colorless grasslands of Africa, a bold pattern such as this which stands out so much, would hardly seem to be effective. So why the stripes?

Scientific Explanation

The development of the peculiar black-and-white stripes had confounded even great minds such as Darwin, and remained a mystery for over a century. However, recent studies on zebra populations have indicated that the black and white stripes are most likely to help zebras keep their bodies cool as they graze in the exceedingly hot temperature of Africa.

When air blows over the zebra's body, it travels stronger and faster over the black stripes which absorb more heat, and slower over the white stripes. At the juncture of the black-white stripes, these two variable air flows lead to the formation of small eddies which effectively act as minuscule fans helping lower the surface temperature.

Another possible explanation behind the occurrence of these stripes is that they could be a form of blood-sucking insect repellent which are common in the habitat of zebras. Studies have shown that blood-sucking flies are most attracted by black surfaces, lesser by white and least by the black and white ones.
The Origin Of Earth's Oceans

The Earth is a blue planet. Nearly seventy percent of its surface is water. And yet as the Earth and other planets in the solar system were forming, the tremendous forces and extreme temperatures should have caused all water on Earth to either evaporate or else be blown off into space. So where did all this water come from?

Scientific Explanation

The most plausible explanation for the origin and presence of water on Earth is that it came from meteorites which are mainly composed of ice. Among the several types of meteorites, scientist argue that it was the carbonaceous chondrites, which are the most ancient of meteorites believed to have formed at the same time as our Sun, that must have brought water to our planet when they impacted with it about 4.6 billion years ago. The high temperature of Earth must have melted this ice converting it to the large amount of liquid water present in our seas and oceans.
Virgin Shark Gives Birth

In 2001, one of the three female hammerhead sharks kept in captivity at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Nebraska, gave birth to an offspring. Since these female sharks had all been in the same tank for nearly three years, it was a riddle as to how one of them could give birth without the presence of a male shark.

Scientific Explanation

While some scientists had initially speculated that perhaps the mother shark had mated before being captured, and somehow stored the sperm in its body, later DNA studies confirmed a very different reality.

When the DNA of the mother was isolated and then subtracted from the isolated DNA of the offspring, there was nothing left. This indicated that the offspring had no genetic material inherited from a male, and was actually completely produced by the mother alone, without there being any involvement from a father. This became the first documented evidence of asexual reproduction in sharks.
How Can The Bee Fly?

If the wingspan of a typical bee is compared with its body weight, then according to the laws of aerodynamics, it shouldn't be able to fly. And yet a bee flies, but how? You might have heard it being said that the bee flies because it believes it can. While this is certainly a compelling argument for those who are philosophically inclined, it can hardly satiate the thirst of the scientific mind.

Scientific Explanation

Science has found that the bee doesn't fly via sheer willpower alone, and that in fact it does so while being within the envelope of the laws of aerodynamics.

In 2005, armed with high-speed cinematography, and with the help of mechanical models of the bee's wings, researchers found that the bee actually flaps its wings at an eye-popping 230 times a second. This, when combined with the rapid wing rotation (a combination of flopping over and direction change), allows the bee to generate a sufficient amount of lift to fly.
Face Sculptures On Mars

So did you always think that Martians were only a subject of science fiction? Think again! While filming the Cydonian region of Mars, the Viking 1 orbiter, launched back in 1975, captured a few images which showed that one of the Cydonian mesas had what clearly looked like a human face sculpted upon it. But who made it? Was it the handy-work of a long-lost human-like Martian civilization?

Scientific Explanation

The initial reaction of the scientific community was to dismiss it as simply being an optical trick of light and shadows. However further images taken by the orbiter from different angles still showed the presence of the distinctive face. Thus, scientist continued to be baffled, while believers had a heyday as they bathed in the rains of speculations and possibilities, until finally in 2003, the Mars Express launched by the European Space Agency burst the bubble with the pin-prick of reality.

With its on-board high-resolution stereo camera, the Mars Express captured the 'Face on Mars' land-form, and generated a three dimensional image of it. This image showed remnants of a massif, most likely formed due to landslides and some debris apron formation; the face sculpture, however, was nowhere to be seen.
The Perfect Acoustics Of Epidaurus Theater

Constructed in the 4th century BC, the Epidaurus Theater is one of the most well-preserved of ancient monuments. It is also one of the marvels of civil and audio engineering as even the faintest of sounds made at center stage can be heard clearly without any amplification, by all the 15,000 spectators that the theater is capable of seating. How this happens was a mystery.

Scientific Explanation

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology observed that limestone, which is the chief material that was used in the construction of the seats of the theater, has a natural sound-filtering effect. It attenuates low vocal frequencies, which significantly reduces background noise from the crowd allowing the high frequency sounds from the stage to cover the entire theater. But whether this an advanced ancient engineering design or simply the product of a lucky constructional accident, it is still not known.
Sailing Stones Of Death Valley

The sailing stones were first seen in the 1940s at the Racetrack Playa, which is a dried out lake bed comprising a flat surface in the Death Valley National Park. Until recently, observers have been reporting that hundreds of stones and rocks, some weighing up to 700 lbs, have been moving (sailing) across the surface on their own accord as if pushed by an invisible force. Their movement is evidenced by the long trails which they tend to leave on the mud. Considering their weight and sheer numbers, the possibility of a human hand at work seemed negligible. The years and sometimes even decades between subsequent events too indicated otherwise. So then, how did they move?

Scientific Explanation

In 2011, a team of investigators from the States set up time-lapse cameras and weather stations along with GPS tracking units in 15 limestone rocks, which they then planted on the plains of Playa. In December 2013, the information collected by these instruments solved the puzzle.

Heavy rains and snow in the region had deposited about three inches of water on Playa. This water froze during the night and got broken up into large slabs during mid-day. As these slabs were floating, a light wind of only 10 miles/hour was enough to make them move, carrying the stones along, which subsequently left tracks in the mud beneath the icy surface. A few months later when the lake bed dried up again, these tracks became visible and the stones seemed to have sailed.
The Bony Legs Of The Giraffe

The average giraffe male is a large animal standing about 5 meters tall, and weighing about 2,200 lb. However, if you were to observe the legs of this animal, you would be astonished at how incredibly thin they are in comparison to the rest of its massive body. So how is it that the giraffe is able to stand for hours on it legs? What's the catch?

Scientific Explanation

The answer to this mystery was discovered by the researchers from the Royal Veterinary College. They obtained the limbs of giraffes that had either died from natural causes or had been euthanized, and placed them in a rigid frame. Then, they piled up around 550 lb on them to simulate the giraffe's weight. They found that the bones didn't buckle or break, and were easily able to bear the weight and could handle even more.

Further research showed that the reason why the giraffe's limbs were so strong was due to the presence of a suspensory ligaments, which are fibrous tissues responsible for holding bones together, running along the entire length of the bones. The suspensory ligament doesn't generate any force but instead provides a passive support owing to its elastic nature. This significantly reduces the animal's fatigue levels as it doesn't need to use its leg muscles to stabilize itself. Thus, the giraffe is able stand for long durations on its thin yet deceptively strong limbs.
Australia's Only Active Volcano

About 300 miles from the city of Melbourne is Australia's only active volcano that stretches from Melbourne to Mount Gambier. Geologists have estimated that in the past four million years nearly 400 volcanic events took place here with the last one being close to 5000 years ago. Since Australia is a single island continent, scientists have been in knots with regards to the presence of this volcano in an otherwise no-volcano region.

Scientific Explanation

It is now believed that most of the volcanoes on Earth are located at regions that lie on the edges of tectonic plates. These plates are in a constant state of motion atop the Earth's mantle at speeds of only a few centimeters each year.

The continent of Australia has a non-uniform thickness which allows currents from the mantle below to be drawn up to the surface. Add to this, the Australian tectonic plate's northwards movement at the rate of about three inches a year, there is really no wonder that volcanic activity occurs in this region.
These were a few examples of the numerous mysterious occurrences and events that science has been able to account for. In this fascinating world of ours, however, there are still a number of other unsolved mysteries. But that doesn't mean science has no answer to them. Considering all the queer and seemingly impossible mysteries that have been solved by science till date, we can surely conclude that the solution to these as well, might indeed be just round the corner.
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