Why Stonehenge was constructed remains unknown. Most scholars agree that it must have been a sacred and special place of religious rituals or ceremonies. Many have speculated that Stonehenge was built by Sun worshipers. The axis of Stonehenge, which divides the sarsen horseshoe and aligns with the monument’s entrance, is oriented broadly toward the direction of the midsummer sunrise. In nearby Ireland the celebrated megalithic monument Newgrange, built approximately at the same time as Stonehenge, was oriented toward the midwinter sunrise.
In the early 1960s American astronomer Gerald S. Hawkins theorized that Stonehenge was an astronomical observatory and calendar of surprising complexity. Hawkins suggested that ancient peoples used the monument to anticipate a wide range of astronomical phenomena, including the summer and winter solstices and eclipses of both the Sun and the Moon. The astronomical interpretation of Stonehenge remains popular today, despite many uncertainties. Some scholars are doubtful that the peoples who constructed Stonehenge and other sites of the era possessed the mathematical sophistication necessary to predict many of the events that Hawkins theorized. They note that Stonehenge’s architects may have been aware of the subtle movements of the Sun, Moon, and other heavenly bodies without having an analytically advanced understanding of astronomy.
The true purpose of Stonehenge is an enduring mystery. Modern observers can only speculate about what it meant to its builders and what compelling impulse drove them to invest so much labor and care in creating it.
Sightings of large underwater animals in Loch Ness, a 24-mile-long lake in Scotland, have often been reported but never confirmed. As early as 565 ad, Saint Columba, a Christian missionary, is said to have seen a monster in the lake. Modern interest was evoked in 1933 when a British couple reported viewing a creature with a long neck and body, and in the next several decades various expeditions attempted to find such a creature.
A major expedition was initiated this June, under the joint sponsorship of the Academy of Applied Sciences in Boston and the New York Times. The head of the investigatory team, Robert Rines, president of the AAS, led several earlier expeditions. In 1972, using underwater photography, sonar equipment, and other electronic devices, he obtained photographs that spurred scientific interest. One of the pictures, which were made clearer by the use of a computer, showed a diamond-shaped object thought by Rines and Sir Peter Scott, the British naturalist and artist, to be the 4-6 foot long flipper of an animal about 45-60 ft. in length. The size was consistent with indications obtained from sonar apparatus, and the monster was provisionally named Nessiteras rhombopteryx, which means Ness mammal with a diamond-shaped fin.
The photographs were made public late in 1975, to allow the monster to be placed on the British list of protected species. Although the 700 ft. deep loch supports numerous fish, the projected monster population is not large – perhaps ten to 20 animals.
A number of scientists expressed doubts about the evidence presented by Rines, criticizing the use of computer enhancement of his 1972 pictures and the lack of solid facts for the animal's size. Others suggested that the creature shown in the Scott-Rines reconstruction resembled a plesiosaur, a reptile group that flourished some 70 million years ago but has been considered extinct since then. Some doubters expressed the view that the object sighted was not an animal at all, but the remains of a Viking ship.
Despite the criticism, the AAS-Times investigators continued to conduct photographic probes, and planned to send in divers equipped with television cameras.
Unidentified Flying Object (UFO), any object or light, reportedly sighted in the sky, that cannot be immediately explained by the observer. Sightings of unusual aerial phenomena date back to ancient times, but UFOs (sometimes called flying saucers) became widely discussed only after the first widely publicized U.S. sighting in 1947. Many thousands of such observations have since been reported worldwide. At least 90 percent of UFO sightings can be identified as conventional objects, although time-consuming investigations are often necessary for such identification. The objects most often mistaken for UFOs are bright planets and stars, aircraft, birds, balloons, kites, aerial flares, peculiar clouds, meteors, and satellites. The remaining sightings most likely can be attributed to other mistaken sightings or to inaccurate reporting, hoaxes, or delusions, although to disprove all claims made about UFOs is impossible.
From 1947 to 1969 the U.S. Air Force investigated UFOs as a possible threat to national security. A total of 12,618 reports was received, of which 701 reports, or 5.6 percent, were listed as unexplained. The air force concluded that “no UFO reported investigated, and evaluated by the Air Force has ever given any indication of threat to our national security.” Since 1969 no agency of the U.S. government has had any active program of UFO investigation.
In 1997 the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) admitted that the U.S. military had deceived the American public in an effort to hide information about high-altitude spy planes. These planes, the Lockheed U-2A and the Lockheed SR-71, accounted for over half of the UFO reports during the late 1950s and 1960s.
Some persons nevertheless believe that UFOs are extraterrestrial spacecraft, even though no scientifically valid evidence supports that belief. The possibility of extraterrestrial civilizations is not the stumbling block; most scientists grant that intelligent life may well exist elsewhere in the universe. A fully convincing UFO photograph of a craftlike object has yet to be taken, however, and the scientific method requires that highly speculative explanations should not be adopted unless all of the more ordinary explanations can be ruled out. UFO enthusiasts persist, however, and some persons even claim to have been abducted and taken aboard UFOs. (A close encounter of the third kind is UFO terminology for an alleged encounter between humans and visitors from outer space.) No one has produced scientifically acceptable proof of these claims.