The stability of two-dimensional (2D) layers and membranes is the subject of a long-standing theoretical debate. According to the so-called Mermin-Wagner theorem, long-wavelength fluctuations destroy the long-range order of 2D crystals. Similarly, 2D membranes embedded in a 3D space have a tendency to be crumpled. These fluctuations can, however, be suppressed by anharmonic coupling between bending and stretching modes meaning that a 2D membrane can exist but will exhibit strong height fluctuations. The discovery of graphene, the first truly 2D crystal, and the recent experimental observation of ripples in suspended graphene make these issues especially important. Besides the academic interest, understanding the mechanisms of the stability of graphene is crucial for understanding electronic transport in this material that is attracting so much interest owing to its unusual Dirac spectrum and electronic properties. We address the nature of these height fluctuations by means of atomistic Monte Carlo simulations based on a very accurate many-body interatomic potential for carbon. We find that ripples spontaneously appear owing to thermal fluctuations with a size distribution peaked around 80Å which is compatible with experimental findings (50-100Å). This unexpected result might be due to the multiplicity of chemical bonding in carbon.