August 5, 2011 -- In this month's edition of Physics World, Richard Taylor, director of the Materials Science Institute at the University of Oregon, takes on a topic that his critics might claim is beyond scientific understanding – crop circles. Taylor suggests that crop-circle artists might be using GPS, lasers and microwaves to create elaborate crop-circle art.
No one can pinpoint the exact date that crop circles began to appear, but the documented cases of these huge patterns on Earth's surface – created by flattening a crop such as wheat, barley or rye – have substantially increased from the 1970s to current times. According to Wikipedia, 26 countries reported some 10,000 crop circles in the last third of the 20th century. About 90% of those were located in southern England.
As the 21st century began, crop-circle designs have become more complex than ever. Some feature up to 2,000 different shapes. Mathematical analysis has revealed the use of construction lines, invisible to the eye, that govern pattern design, although exactly how crop circles are created remains mysterious.