August 1, 2011

The Physics And Technology Behind Crop Circles

Crop circles, the often-extraordinary patterns that have appeared in many fields in Europe and around the world, could possibly be the work of high-tech methods such as the use of GPS, according to a physicist at the University of Oregon.

Crop circles first started appearing in the 1970s, with more than ten thousand crop circles reported since then, mostly throughout the UK. The formations were initially, and still believed by many, to have been formed by UFOs. Many skeptics have tried to debunk that theory, and there have been many hoaxers that have come forward to claim the artwork as their own.

Now, in this month's edition of Physics World, Richard Taylor, director of the Materials Science Institute at the University of Oregon, takes a new look at the mysterious crop circle phenomenon.

Taylor notes how physics and the arts are coming together to produce more impressive crop formations that still manage to mystify the world.

Early crop circles tended to be simple circular patterns, and their creators have demonstrated how to do it by crushing plants with boards. But some of today's designs are so complex, with some featuring up to 2000 different shapes, that there has to be more going into their production than just boards.

Mathematical analysis has revealed the use of construction lines, invisible to the eye, that are used to design the patterns. According to Taylor, crop circle artists may possibly be using GPS, lasers and microwaves to create their patterns, in place of traditional ropes, boards and barstools.

Taylor suggests that microwaves could be used to make crop stalks fall over and cool in a horizontal position -- a technique that could explain the speed and efficiency of the artists and the incredible detail in the patterns.

In fact, one research team claims to be able to reproduce the intricate designs using a handheld magnetron, readily available from microwave ovens, and using a 12-volt battery.

However, "crop circle artists are not going to give up their secrets easily," said Taylor. "This summer, unknown artists will venture into the countryside close to your homes and carry out their craft, safe in the knowledge that they are continuing the legacy of the most science-oriented art movement in history."

"It may seem odd for a physicist such as Taylor to be studying crop circles, but then he is merely trying to act like any good scientist "“ examining the evidence for the design and construction of crop circles without getting carried away by the side-show of UFOs, hoaxes and aliens," said Matin Durrani, editor of Physics World, in which Taylor's report appears.


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