UFO fanatics clinging to the belief that extra-terrestrials are responsible for crop circles sometimes like to echo the X Files catchphrase: ‘The truth is out there.’
But, as it turns out, the answer might actually be much closer to home - inside your kitchen in fact.
Because, for example, this 200ft image of a pipe-smoking alien – carved into a Wiltshire field – could have been created using an ordinary microwave oven, according to scientists.
Professor Richard Taylor, a physicist, claims to be able to reproduce the intricate damage inflicted on crops using such a gadget developed by his team at the University of Oregon.
He believes similar advances have been made by others – despite avid UFO spotters insisting that the growing phenomenon is beyond scientific understanding.
Prof Taylor said microwaves – the radiation waves that are capable of heating food when utilised in an oven - cause crop stalks to fall over and cool in a horizontal position.
The technique could explain the speed and efficiency of the artists and the incredible detail that some new crop circles exhibit, such as the alien, which was created two weeks ago alongside an ancient white horse at Cherhill, near Stonehenge.
And he believes the satellite Global Positioning System could track the markings.
Mathematical analysis of some of these ever-more complex designs has revealed the use of constructions lines, invisible to the eye, that are used to design the patterns.
Writing in Physics World, he said: ‘Crop-circle artists are not going to give up their secrets easily.
‘This summer, unknown artists will venture into the countryside close to your homes and carry out their craft, safe in the knowledge that they are continuing the legacy of the most science-oriented art movement in history.’
Physics World editor Matin Durrani said: ‘It may seem odd for a physicist such as Taylor to be studying crop circles, but then he is merely trying to act like any good scientist - examining the evidence for the design and construction of crop circles without getting carried away by the side-show of UFOs, hoaxes and aliens.’
But as fascinating as the patterns are to scientists, farmers find crop circles infuriating.
Tim Carson, who owns the land where the recent alien design appeared, has had 125 circles on his land since 1990.
The price in ruined crops is particularly steep this year because of soaring fuel and fertiliser costs, and a 25 per cent drop in wheat yields due to the drought.
‘Each circle costs me £1,000 in lost income. This year, I decided to destroy circles as soon as I found them, but that means losing more crops. And, whatever you do, the circles affect the growing next year, as the thick mat of crops covers soil, compromising its quality.’
Every year, 50 to 60 circles materialise in the rolling chalk downlands of Wiltshire.
In the rest of the world put together, only 40 to 50 appear annually.
And, in recent years, a booming tourist trade has developed. From Belgium, Holland, America, Norway and Australia, crop-circle enthusiasts come in their thousands — each with their own theory, each rushing to a new site as soon as it is reported.
This week, within hours of the first reports of a new circle on Windmill Hill — near the neolithic stone circle at Avebury — a Dutch tour party of nine people rushed to the spot.
‘There are heaps of biophysical anomalies here,’ said the tour leader, Janet Ossebaard, 45, author of Crop Circles: Scientific Evidence.
‘You can see the burn marks on the crops and cavities,’ she says, holding up a grain stalk, which does indeed have small holes in it.
‘We also found a half-fried caterpillar. This is a vortex that has been intelligently guided — not by hoaxers, nor the Army [which is heavily represented in this part of Wiltshire].’
Crop circles have been reported in England since 1678, when a Hertfordshire news pamphlet referred to The Mowing Devil, a creature that cut a farmer’s oat crop into a series of concentric circles.
In the 19th century, occasional circles were recorded and the first-known photograph of one appeared in Sussex in 1932.
But it wasn’t until the early Nineties that Wiltshire crop circles started multiplying at an extreme rate.
In 1990, Led Zeppelin released an album, Remasters, with a picture on the cover of an elaborate crop circle created on Mr Carson’s land.