Published June 19, 2008
Another crop circle has appeared in the English countryside — and this one's clearly been made by someone, or something, that understands math.
At first glance, the strange ratcheted pattern, radiating out clockwise, doesn't look like much — modern art, perhaps.
But an electrical engineer from North Carolina — described by the London newspapers as a "retired astrophysicist" — figured out that it was an abstract representation of pi, the number at the center of Euclidean geometry.
The circle, one of hundreds that have sprung up overnight in the English countryside over the past two decades, appeared in early June near Wroughton, Wiltshire, just south of Swindon and about 80 miles west of London.
It's about half a mile from Barbury Castle, a pre-Roman fortress surrounded by long hillocks that may be the remnants of Iron Age buildings or burial mounds.
Lucy Pringle, who has a Web site selling her photographs of crop circles, took several aerial shots and posted them online.
Word quickly got around the crop-circle community, but the pattern mystified everyone until Michael Reed of Timberlake, N.C., noticed on June 5 that the radial lines corresponded to a grid dividing the circle into 10 equal slices.
From there, it was child's play, or maybe extraterrestrial's play, to deduce what the pattern meant.
"Take the pattern and draw radial lines from the center of the central depression through each radial jump," Reed e-mailed the Earthfiles.com Web site. "Take the smallest angle sector and call it one (1), then compare the other 10 sectors contained angle to the smallest and pick the closest single digit for the ratio. They come out as 3.141592654."
As any math geek knows, that's the first 10 digits of pi, the irrational but extremely important number that's defined as a circle's circumference divided by its diameter.
Crop-circle enthusiasts claim that's just more proof that the barley and wheat stalks have been stomped on by aliens who seem to have a special affinity for southern England.
Most scientists, however, sniff at the suggestion, pointing out that anyone with planks and rope can create crop circles in a couple of hours.
Some dedicated Google Maps snooping by FOXNews.com revealed the grid coordinates to be 51.488258 degrees north, 1.771964 west, for those inclined to that sort of thing, but unfortunately the crop circle doesn't show up online yet.