Mysterious Things Part I
I have been fascinated with mysterious things since I was a kid. UFOs, bigfoot, the Bermuda Triangle…I read everything I could on them and was endlessly amazed. Then I grew up and discovered that most of these great mysteries were only mysterious because of two things. The first being that perfectly ordinary prosaic explanations for them were discounted by the people who wanted to hype them. The second and far worse flaw is that the people touting these mysteries go to great lengths to ignore inconvenient facts, and make up facts that simply ain’t so. The old folks call this “lying.”
The disappearance of Flight 19, the five torpedo bombers that vanished in 1945 is a wonderful case in point. Virtually every version of the case makes a big deal of the fact that the five planes took off in clear sunny weather. True enough. What almost every version omits is the fact that the planes vanished after dark in terrible weather. Planes vanishing in broad daylight and calm weather would be mysterious, planes vanishing after dark in terrible weather is a lot easier to understand. There are many other facts about this unfortunate but perfectly understandable tragedy that are routinely misrepresented by those who want to make a mystery where there is no mystery, the weather is just the tip of the iceberg.
Its annoying really, because this sort of sleight of hand gives a bad name to all sorts of mysterious stuff, and discourages proper scientific investigation. However, moving right along, being a student of mysteries, there are indeed some things that still defy understanding. Some are scientific mysteries, some are historical mysteries, but all have one thing in common. They are true unsolved mysteries. Here is my first instalment about mysterious things:
1. The Antikythera Device. While there are all sorts of tantalizing hints that classical Greek civilization may have had far more technological prowess than generally accepted, the Antikythera Device is the holy grail of such speculations. Found by a Greek sponge diver in 1901, it is an elaborate clockwork mechanism that was on a Greek ship that sunk around 100BC. The Greeks were not known to possess elaborate clockwork mechanisms, yet here one is. It was apparently some sort of astronomical calculator that allowed one to “dial in” the positions of certain planets and it would reveal the positions of the other planets. It’s not fully understood to this day, a navigation device, an astrological calculator? Who knows, but research continues. The point is, it really exists, it really is from the first century AD, and it really does show that there really is a body of scientific knowledge that was lost during the dark ages.
2. The Mpemba effect. Hot water freezes faster than cold water under some circumstances, even Aristotle mentions that a bucket of water heated in the fire will freeze faster than cold water. Since this was obviously impossible, science ignored it until 1969. Then a Tanzanian High School student named Erasto B. Mpemba noticed his friend, an ice cream vendor, was heating up water prior to freezing it. Mpemba said “Why the hell do you do that?” His friend says “because it freezes faster.” And lo and behold, he was right. Scientists have been studying it since, and while all sorts of clever explanations have been offered, none yet seem to fully explain the phenomena.
3. The Pioneer Anomaly. Pioneer 10 and 11, two early space probes that are heading out of the solar system…are moving slightly slower than all known physics can account for. While there may as yet be some mundane explanation, some very very smart people have been unable to come up with a generally accepted explanation. It’s entirely possible at this point that there is something fundamentally wrong with our understanding of gravity and physics.
4. The Babushka lady. An as yet unidentified woman (above image) was filming or taking pictures at the site of the Kennedy assassination. She has never been identified, her film has never shown up. The one claimant who has shown up since then is generally not believed, there are major problems with her story…and she was unable to provide the film. At this point, who knows? If the babushka lady really did take pictures or film, they would be worth millions today. Who she was and what she captured on camera that fateful day is still unknown.
5. The STENDEC Mystery. In 1947 a civilian airliner vanished while flying from Argentina to Chile. Most of the mystery has been solved, the plane started its descent too early because they had not realized they were flying into the jet stream, and they descended right into a mountainside above a glacier. Oops. The wreckage of the plane started emerging from the glacier decades later, at least solving the mystery of what happened to the plane. However, just before it crashed the plane’s radio operator transmitted the word STENDEC as part of his last broadcast. He repeated it twice more when the control tower asked for clarification, pretty much ruling out an error in sending or receiving. What does STENDEC mean? No one knows, some very clever and contrived explanations have been offered, none of them particularly satisfying.
I will be posting further mysteries as the spirit moves me, even some from my own experience. Suggestions welcome, I’ll post on just about any paranormal topic. Fair warning though, most of them are not nearly so mysterious as one might imagine.
(The above image from the Muchmore Film is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit, it is central to illustrating the film, and it is an historically important image. It’s also listed as public domain in the APTN library where the image originated. I go with the theory that she simply forgot to take her lens cap off, and has been kicking herself since.)