Is crop circle pi from the sky or just another con?

WHEN it comes to crop circles, a simple pattern is usually enough to grab attention.

But an elaborate design, which appeared in a barley field overnight, has even stunned scientists after it emerged it depicts the mathematical formula pi.

An astrophysicist saw the image posted on the internet and made the connection between the design of the crop circle and pi.

While some think the 250ft-wide design is a message from another world, most put the baffling circles down to hoaxers who have gone to extraordinary lengths to display their mathematical prowess.

The theory is that the circle, in a field near Barbury Castle in Wiltshire, south-west England, is a coded image of the first ten digits of pi; 3.141592654.

Pi is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter and has an infinite number of decimal places.

Michael Reed from North Carolina, a retired astrophysicist who saw a photograph of the crop circle, said: "It is apparently a coded image representing the first ten digits of pi. The tenth digit has even been correctly rounded up."

Mathematicians noticed that when they divided the circle into ten equal sections, the lines represented the digits in pi.

The first line moves along three sections, followed by a dot for the decimal point. The lines then move outwards, firstly by one section, then by four sections, followed by one section and so on until the final line measures four sections, completing the first ten digits of pi.

Mr Reed said: "The fact the pi decimal point is included and there is rounding up to ten decimal places is mind-boggling"

Lucy Pringle, who has spent decades researching crop circles, said that although she thought some were man-made, she found it hard to believe such an intricate crop circle could have been created by humans.

She added: "You can do it on a computer, but you try putting that in a field in the middle of the night and achieving that degree of mathematical accuracy."

Ms Pringle has visited the crop circle and said even though it was raining the night before it appeared, there was no mud inside the formation.

Her theory is that the designs are created by a spiralling electromagnetic force that hits the ground for a nanosecond.

Stewart Dobson, a local councillor, said: "It's either a very educated person who has done it or a very educated alien."

"I'm sure that an awful lot of hoaxers do get involved. It must be quite fun getting out late at night. But I'm sure not all crop circles can be put down to that. There are theories it's down to vortexes and pressures and that sort of thing.

"It's hard to believe somebody managed to work (the design] out so it shows pi so accurately."

Mathematical codes and geometric patterns have long been an important factor in crop circle formations. One of the most famous formations ever created showed the image of a highly complex set of fractals known as a Julia set.

This was discovered in July 1996 in a wheat field near Avebury, Wiltshire, near the site of the current pi crop circle.

FACT BOX

PI IS the ratio of a circle's diameter to its circumference.

Containing an infinite number of digits, it has long conjured a sense of mystery. It makes regular appearances in popular culture. It appears as the secret code in Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain.

Givenchy offered a men's cologne emblazoned only with the symbol of pi. Nobel Prize winner Wislawa Szymborska wrote a poem about pi, and pop star Kate Bush sang 100 digits of pi on her album Aerial.

For 3,500 years, humans have tried to solve the puzzle of pi, also called "squaring the circle", calculating the exact ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter.

But no matter how hard they try, they find only a new approximation.

The most recent attempt, by a Japanese computer scientist in 2002, found 1.24 trillion digits of pi.

Pi is also the 16th letter of the Greek alphabet.

Pi even has its own day – March 14. This date fits with the rounded-up version of pi as 3.14 (or the 14th day of the third month).

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