Hooray! April 22 is Earth Day. First proposed back in 1969 with a focus on world peace, it’s since morphed into something that focuses more on environmentalism and the advocacy of cooperation in the pursuit of knowledge.
Earth, as you probably already know, is a pretty awesome place to live, and it’s damn well worth celebrating whenever we get the chance.
However, as has been famously espoused by Sagan, it’s the only home we’ve ever known. The universe’s mind-bogglingly huge scale makes our pale blue dot seem quite tiny in comparison, and it’s a good bet that you think you’ve probably heard of most of the wonderful treasures it has to offer – from huge coral reefs to tropical rainforests, you’ve been there, seen that, done that, and so on.
Things like the Grand Canyon and the Great Barrier Reef are on a list of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. So, in honor of Earth Day 2017, we thought we’d pick out a handful of incredibly bizarre and beautiful natural wonders that you have probably never heard of – seven Alternative Natural Wonders of the World – that are just as striking as the originals.
1 – The Catatumbo Lightning, Venezuela
The Everlasting Storm. Great Big Story via YouTube
At the mouth of the Catatumbo River, on Lake Maracaibo, a very peculiar atmospheric phenomenon ominously lingers.
The shape of the topography ensures that cold wind funnels in from the sea and is blown up the high mountain ridges of the Andes. As it moves across the water and plains, it becomes electrically charged. So, when it rises up the ridges and becomes destabilized, this electrical charge is quickly released into the surrounding environment, and you get lightning strikes.
Not just any old lightning strikes, however. The unique landscape ensures that you get lightning bolts appearing at a rate of up to 280 times per hour, 10 hours per day, and during 260 nights per year. That means that there are around 728,000 lightning strikes per year in this one single location.
The state of Zuilia in which it occurs is so proud of their so-called Lighthouse of Maracaibo that a lightning bolt features prominently on their flag.
2 – Stromboli, Aeolian Islands, Italy
A classic Strombolian eruption. yggdrasill/Shutterstock
If you want to see lava emerge from a volcano, there are few places better than Hawaii, where the Kilauea volcano is currently spewing out so much lava that it’s cascading into the sea via fiery waterfalls. There is, however, one place on Earth that may be even more of an impressive sight, and that is the island of Stromboli in Sicily.
This volcano is one of the most predictable in the world. At just under a kilometer (0.62 miles) high, you can climb its slopes and stand at the summit – and every 45 to 90 minutes, on average, a fire fountain tens of meters high erupts upwards into the sky as the ground beneath your feet shakes.
This happens because slugs of gas get stuck in the volcano’s “throat”, which means that when it bursts out at the vent, it shoots up plenty of lava – and lava bombs – with it. Climb back down at night and it’ll feel like a dragon is chasing you. It’s breathtaking stuff.
3 – The Arctic Foxes of Iceland
Speaking of volcanoes, Iceland is one of the best places in the world to go see some – but that’s not all this island nation has to offer. It’s also home to the highly elusive Arctic fox (Vulpus lagopus), one of the most unbearably cute animals the world has ever seen.
They’re incredibly small, often around 46 to 68 centimeters (18 to 27 inches) long. In the summer, they have a brown coat, but in the winter, it turns frost white – an adaptation in both cases to help camouflage them.
Being solitary and incredibly shy, they’re difficult to spot, so if you do hike up to the northern coastline of Iceland and you do happen to see one, consider yourself very fortunate indeed.
An Arctic fox with its winter pelage pictured in Iceland. Jonathen Pie/Wikimedia Commons; Public Domain
4 – The Gateway to Hell, Turkmenistan
We have a feeling some of you may have already heard of this place, but for those that haven’t, you’re in for one hell of a treat. Around four decades ago, it’s said that a Soviet-led search for natural gas stumbled across the Darvaza Crater, a sizable borehole emitting methane and other toxic gases.
After fears that the gas would harm people living nearby, geologists decided to set fire to it and hope it would burn itself out. Forty years on, and the crater is still burning, and it makes for a one-of-a-kind sight. Although the first expedition into the crater was conducted in 2014 – actually to search for signs of life – you still shouldn’t wander in, but you can admire it from the edge.
The Darvaza gas crater, seen in panorama. Tormod Sandtorv/Wikimedia Commons; CC BY-SA 2.0
5 – The Dragon’s Hole, China
You can find impressively deep marine sinkholes all over the world, but one recently analyzed in China will be hard to beat. Found within a major coral reef within the Xisha Islands, it’s 300.89 meters (987 feet) in height from top to bottom, which means that it could fit more than three Statues of Liberty inside it, or one single London Shard skyscraper.
The Dragon's Hole. euronews via YouTube
By far the deepest in the world, it’s been associated with ancient legends about monkey monarchs and dragon kings trying to trick each other. In reality, it was formed when the sea level was once a lot lower, and acidic rainwater bored a hole into the then-surface. As the sea level rose, it filled in the “eye”, and today, it’s an incredible sight to behold.
6 – The Glowworm Caverns of Waitomo, New Zealand
The dark, ominous caves within the Land of the Long White Cloud’s North Island are absolutely great fun to abseil into and explore for yourself. If you persist for long enough into the most secluded parts of these crevasses, you’ll come across hordes of glowworms clinging to the ceiling.
Although glow worms can be found in other parts of the world, the sheer concentration of them here is by far the most impressive. It’s like looking at a bizarre green-hued version of the night sky – and you even forget that this form of bioluminescence results from the combustion of the glowworm’s waste products.
Blimey. Thomas Wong/Shutterstock
7 – The Perseids Meteor Shower Atop Mount Fuji, Japan
You’ve definitely heard of Mount Fuji, a sacred Japanese formation that is not only a dormant volcano but also one of the most beautifully symmetric in the world. You’ve also likely heard of the Perseids, an annually recurring meteor shower that peaks around mid-August.
However, when you combine these two natural wonders, you’ll see them like few others have. At the peak of the volcano, you will easily be above the cloud cover, which also handily blocks out the light pollution from nearby Tokyo.
That means, if it’s a Moonless night, you’ll see 200 meteors streaking through the black canvas above every hour as you climb up to the very top of Mount Fuji – and nothing on Earth, we bet, can beat that.
The most symmetrical mountain in the world. KP Photograph/Shutterstock
This year, for the first time, a March for Science is taking place on the same day in over 500 cities across the world. This is partly a protest against the Trump administration’s anti-scientific rhetoric and actions, while also being a show of support for scientific funding, academics, and evidence-based policy making.
If you’re keen on protecting this beautiful blue marble we share with a trillion other species, you should probably join your local march this weekend and let it be known – because as it turns out, there are some powerful people today who don’t seem to give a shit about it at all.