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8 Cool Natural Earth Illusions

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Wikimedia Commons

A phenomenon called pareidolia is what makes us interpret random stimuli as something meaningful—for example, believing a grilled cheese sandwich resembles the Virgin Mary and is suddenly worth $28,000. In less extreme versions, the phenomenon simply makes us recognize faces and familiar shapes in random shapes. But even if you know that the resulting illusion carries no deeper meaning, they're still fun to look at. Here are 8 fantastic examples of the phenomenon in nature.

Special thanks to Moillusions.com, which features one of the best illusion collections on the net.

1. The Sleeping Indian

Sheep Mountain in Wyoming (above) goes by the far more descriptive name of “The Sleeping Indian” when viewed from the nearby Jackson Hole valley. The mountain looks like an Indian chief with a full head dress lying on his back.

2. The Dinosaur Lake

This brachiosaurus-shaped lake can be found in Zagreb, Croatia. If you want to find it for yourself in Google Maps, use the latitude and longitude of 45.78231 N, 16.024332 E.

3. The Dragon of Alberta

If you happen to be visiting a farm in Medicine Hat, Alberta, be sure to check your location on Google Earth. Who knows, you could be standing right in the mouth of this gorgeous plot of land naturally shaped like a dragon. Find it for yourself on Google at 50°01'45.29 N, 110°13'20.59 W.

4. The Badlands Guardian

One of the most famous Google Earth illusions, the Badlands Guardian was discovered in 2006 by Lynn Hickox at 50°0'38.20"N 110°6'48.32"W. While the chief and his headdress are all natural, humans have added one fitting touch to his appearance—the line that looks like an earbud attached to his ear is actually a road to an oil well. Interestingly, although the image appears to be a small mountain range when viewed on Google, it is actually a valley.

5. The Old Man of the Mountain

This is the only rock formation on this list that you can no longer go see, as the rocks that made up the face of the “Old Man” collapsed in 2003. The illusion, located on Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire, was first noted in 1805 and became the state emblem in 1945. Fans of the rock formation are working to create a memorial monument at the base of the mountain.

6. The Apache Head in the Rocks

Those who regret not getting to see the Old Man of the Mountain while it was still standing can console themselves by seeing one of the many similar rock formations located around the globe. The Apache Head in the Rocks located in Ebihens, France, is always a great alternative.

7. The Alien in the Desert

This one isn’t as clear as many of the others, but with its massive head and eyes paired with a tiny mouth and chin, this face shape in the desert looks a lot like the stereotypical description of alien visitors. Fittingly, this alien head illusion can be found just outside of Area 51 in Nevada, giving conspiracy theorists even more evidence that “they” are among us—even if only in the sand.

You can find this one on Google maps at 37°13'31.37 N, 115°53'27.06 W, but be warned—the face is upside down on the map.

8. Mother Nature Crying

It’s easy to imagine Mother Nature crying after all the pain she’s suffered throughout the years, which is why Michael Nolan’s gorgeous image of a weeping face in a glacier immediately makes people think of Mother Nature. In the photographer’s own words, “This is how one would imagine Mother Nature would express her sentiments about our inability to reduce global warming. It seemed an obvious place for her to appear, on a retreating ice shelf, crying.”

We’ve all seen animals and faces in clouds and mountains, but do any of you know of more striking examples of natural illusions like the ones seen here?

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11-Year-Old Creates a Better Way to Test for Lead in Water
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In the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, a Colorado middle schooler has invented a better way to test lead levels in water, as The Cut reports.

Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old seventh grader in Lone Tree, Colorado just won the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, taking home $25,000 for the water-quality testing device she invented, called Tethys.

Rao was inspired to create the device after watching Flint's water crisis unfold over the last few years. In 2014, after the city of Flint cut costs by switching water sources used for its tap water and failed to treat it properly, lead levels in the city's water skyrocketed. By 2015, researchers testing the water found that 40 percent of homes in the city had elevated lead levels in their water, and recommended the state declare Flint's water unsafe for drinking or cooking. In December of that year, the city declared a state of emergency. Researchers have found that the lead-poisoned water resulted in a "horrifyingly large" impact on fetal death rates as well as leading to a Legionnaires' disease outbreak that killed 12 people.

A close-up of the Tethys device

Rao's parents are engineers, and she watched them as they tried to test the lead in their own house, experiencing firsthand how complicated it could be. She spotted news of a cutting-edge technology for detecting hazardous substances on MIT's engineering department website (which she checks regularly just to see "if there's anything new," as ABC News reports) then set to work creating Tethys. The device works with carbon nanotube sensors to detect lead levels faster than other current techniques, sending the results to a smartphone app.

As one of 10 finalists for the Young Scientist Challenge, Rao spent the summer working with a 3M scientist to refine her device, then presented the prototype to a panel of judges from 3M and schools across the country.

The contamination crisis in Flint is still ongoing, and Rao's invention could have a significant impact. In March 2017, Flint officials cautioned that it could be as long as two more years until the city's tap water will be safe enough to drink without filtering. The state of Michigan now plans to replace water pipes leading to 18,000 households by 2020. Until then, residents using water filters could use a device like Tethys to make sure the water they're drinking is safe. Rao plans to put most of the $25,000 prize money back into her project with the hopes of making the device commercially available.

[h/t The Cut]

All images by Andy King, courtesy of the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge.

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Switzerland Flushes $1.8 Million in Gold Down the Sewer Every Year
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Switzerland has some pretty valuable sewer systems. As Bloomberg reports, scientists have discovered around $1.8 million worth of gold in the country's wastewater, along with $1.7 million worth of silver.

Scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology examined sewage sludge and effluents, or discharged liquid waste, from 64 water treatment plants and major Swiss rivers. They did this to assess the concentrations of various trace elements, which are "increasingly widely used in the high-tech and medical sectors," the scientists explained in a press statement. "While the ultimate fate of the various elements has been little studied to date, a large proportion is known to enter wastewater."

The study, which was recently published online in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, revealed that around 94 pounds of gold makes its way through Switzerland's sewage system each year, along with 6600 pounds of silver and high concentrations of rare metals like gadolinium and niobium. For the most part, these metals don't harm the environment, researchers say.

With gold and silver quite literally flowing through their sewers, is there any way that Switzerland could turn their wastewater into wealth? Scientists are skeptical: "The recovery of metals from wastewater or sludge is scarcely worthwhile at present, either financially or in terms of the amounts which could be extracted," the release explains.

However, in the southern canton of Ticino, which is home to several gold refineries, the "concentrations of gold in sewage sludge are sufficiently high for recovery to be potentially worthwhile," they conclude.

Switzerland is famous for its chocolate, watches, and mountains, but it's also home to major gold refineries. On average, around 70 percent of the world's gold passes through Switzerland every year—and judging from the looks of it, much of it goes down the drain. As for the sewer silver, it's a byproduct of the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, which is a cornerstone of Switzerland's economy.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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