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You head outside after a snowstorm and see dozens of log- or drum-shaped snowballs. These rare creations are called snow rollers, and Mother Nature makes them all by herself. Snow rollers form when wet snow falls on ground that is icy, so snow won’t stick to it. Pushed by strong winds, the snow rolls into logs. Maybe this is nature’s way of saying it’s time for a snowball fight.
Deep Sea Jacuzzis
Vents on the ocean floor, more than a mile (1.6 kilometers) below the surface, gush what looks like clouds of black smoke. They’re surrounded by a variety of freaky life forms never seen before the first vents were discovered about 30 years ago. These underwater hot springs, called hydrothermal vents, occur when water seeps through cracks in the ocean floor after being heated by magma inside the Earth. The scalding water can shoot back into the cold ocean at temperatures hotter than 700 degrees Fahrenheit (371 degrees Celsius), carrying a black or white stew of dissolved rock and chemicals. Amazingly, these vents support large communities of bizarre sea creatures. These life-forms rely on millions of bacteria inside them to turn poisonous chemicals rising from the seafloor into food.
Imagine you’re on an ocean liner when a wall of water ten stories tall races toward you like an unstoppable freight train. It’s not a tsunami, caused by an undersea earthquake. Tsunamis are tiny in the open ocean and become enormous—and deadly—as they approach the shore. No, what you’re witnessing at sea is a rogue wave, also called a freak wave. Scientists aren’t sure what causes these waves, but they do know they can appear without any warning in the open sea, even in the clearest of weather. As recently as 15 years ago these waves were thought to be a myth. But scientists now know they are very real—and very dangerous to even the largest ships.
Great Balls of Fire
During a thunderstorm, a glowing ball the size of your head suddenly appears. It hovers a few feet above the ground, drops down, dances across the yard, and then darts up into the air before it fades away. This freaky phenomenon is ball lightning. Sometimes it disappears with a small explosion. Some scientists think that when normal lightning strikes the ground, it vaporizes a mineral called silicon found in soil. They think this silicon forms a kind of bubble that burns in the oxygen around it.
Text by Douglas E. Richards