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Mystery Circles in Africa

While no crop circles have been found in Africa, there are mysterious "fairy circles" in Namibia and scientists want to know what causes them. So far, all their possible explanations have been disproved?so maybe it is fairies, after all?

Fairy circles are found in bare sandy soil only along the western coast of the Namib desert in southern Africa. They?re easy to spot because they stand out in the sparse vegetation of the desert. Researchers first noticed them in the 1970s, and thought they were caused by termites, radioactive soil or toxic debris left in the soil by the poisonous milkbush plant. But Andy Coghlan writes in New Scientist that after much research, scientists have dismissed these theories. Botanist Gretel van Rooyen says, "They still remain a mystery."

The radioactive soil theory was proved wrong after van Rooyen sent soil samples to a lab to be tested for radioactivity and they came back negative. She says, "That would have been the perfect explanation, but they found no traces." Next, she investigated the poisonous plant theory by taking samples of the soil underneath milkbushes in the desert. She then tried to grow desert plants in the soil and found that grass had no problem growing in it, so the plant doesn't cause bare patches in the soil. However, grass planted inside the circles refused to grow.

She then decided that termites must eat up all the seeds in a certain area, so nothing can grow there. She says, "It's the [theory] most people believe." However, it also proved not to be true. When she dug down looking for termites, she found none there. She says, "We dug trenches up to [6 feet] deep, but found no signs or remains."

She thinks there's some kind of toxic element in the soil, "But even if we find them, how they came to be there is the next problem [so] we're left with the fairies."

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