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161. Planet In a Bottle

Biosphere 2 was ambitious, and the first of its kind. The aim was to create a second, slightly more portable earth, a closed system you could put anywhere which would allow people to survive, growing their own food and living off of it even the oxygen was recycled. A totally closed experiment to test whether or not we could live on another planet.

The site is spread over 3 hermetically sealed acres with double airlocks for assured safety. Inside were replicated all the world’s necessary environments. A small ocean with a wave machine and beach,¬† grassland savannah, tropical rainforest, farm and an additional mangrove wetland. Plants were chosen to remove carbon dioxide from the air and replace it with oxygen.

All 14 before the final selection

A group of fourteen people initially held a practice run. Each sported a fetching red jumpsuit made by the former maker of Marilyn Monroe’s dresses. Out of the group, eight were chosen for the full thing. A two-year stint in a completely closed system, just themselves and the farm, in a giant glass structure in the Arizona Desert.

8:15 am, 26 September 1991 all eight of the red-clad ‘bionauts’ climbed through the airlock, leaving behind them their recently consumed breakfasts and waving crowds. Behind them the airlocks closed and so began the $150 million experiment. Over the next two years the groups would survive together and be self-sufficient, exit only came for the ill. It was a bizarre affair.

Initially it was a media frenzy, Biosphere 2 was the first of its kind and tourists came by the busload to serve their voyeuristic needs, staring through the glass walls at the toiling human specimens held within. This activity itself went on to inspire a small cultural revolution, leading directly to the creation of Big Brother, an extremely popular Reality Show which let viewers in on the lives of ‘housemates’ who were people chosen to live in a house together and perform tasks. It is easy to see the similarities.

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Posted by on June 30, 2011 in Articles, Trivia

 

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145. Death Valley’s Sailing Stones

In Death Valley, California, the stones move: nobody has figured out how. These are sailing stones. You can find them all in one area, just around the aptly name Racetrack Playa.

Here the valley is scored with flat tracks between 8 and 30cm wide, some curvaceous whilst others straight or jagged. Their marks score rarely more than 2 cm into the earth whilst their length range  from over 100 metres to and pitiful few centimetres. At the ends of each and every one, an unremarkable stone from one of the nearby towering cliffs. Without human or animal intervention the rocks have partially navigated the smooth valley floor. Bizarre.

These tracks are the cumulation of around 4 years work for each stone and its respective propulsion, whatsoever that may be. The mysterious force has been much researched but remains illusive, it makes the rough stones travel in jagged paths but lets the smooth ones wander aimlessly across the fragmented clay surface. No direction seems truly set, occasionally two adjacent rocks set out in parallel then one veers off wildly or even goes back the way it came.

The rocks are nothing special, or so it seems for the moment, the majority of the moving rocks are of the 260m high cliff nearby and made of Dolomite, a tough mineral mixture. Enthusiastically joined by some igneous rocks from the neighbouring cliffs in their wanderings of the Racetrack Playa.They weigh up to 40 kg at a time and even turn over, changing the width and structure of their paths.

This geological phenomenon is a true enigma, all suggested propulsions have been either totally wrong when tested or near negligible. The truth remains illusive.

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2011 in Articles, Trivia

 

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144. Gone Pear Shaped

The earth is officially ‘pear-shaped’ – not a round sphere as is commonly believed. Now do not get the wrong idea about this, it is not shaped like some huge interstellar fruit, that, while interesting would be plain ridiculous. It is barely pear-shaped, but pear-shaped enough.

Let us start at the beginning. We used to think the earth was flat, in the case of the Mayans we thought it had 4 corners and was placed on the back of a giant crocodile in a lily pond which in turn was on top of five different coloured trees. Then around 2200 years ago the Greeks, specifically Eratosthenes calculated that the earth was round and even made a fairly accurate estimation of its circumference.

Then comes Columbus. As you can tell, he did not discover that the world was round, it had been known for well over 1000 years before he was even born. He in fact set out to find a new and better trading route with parts of Asia, and failed. He did however succeed in another way by correctly believing the earth was shaped like the aforementioned cosmic fruit. In fact he claimed that he didn’t discover a better trading route to Asia because of the bulging part of the pear near the stalk. To be clear the earth does not have a stalk, but it is definitely a little pear shaped.

You see, the earth is irregular, some parts are rock, some are water and others are melted rock. This means it stretches when forces are applied to it. First thing, the earth spins,the equator spinning the fastest. This means more force on the equator and causes a bulge.

That’s the reason the earth is not round, now here comes the pearification. The earth is irregular remember, so it stretches bizarrely, this means it is not an oblate spheroid or a squashed sphere. Instead the bulge is not on the equator but just south. So now you know, the earth is pear-shaped, or Piriform if you want the correct adjective.

Further Reading

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2011 in Articles, Misconceptions, Trivia

 

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133. Cherrapunji Root Bridges

In Northeast India amongst the jungle lies Cherrapunji.Cherrapunji is just about the wettest place on earth, the southern Kasi and Jaintia hills are extremely warm and humid, covered in a fine network of streams and fast flowing river. As such it is often best to have a bridge over these troubled waters; in Cherrapunji though, they are not built, instead they are grown.

The Ficus Elastica is a special type of rubber plant which thrives in the humid hills, producing rich root networks which were both extensive and sturdy. Long ago the War-Khasis tribe noticed that they had a second root network, higher up in the trunks a second set of roots would dangle down, the humidity so great that these roots could suck minerals from the airborne moisture. The War-Khasis weren’t so big on being amazed at extreme humidity and capillary action, instead they saw an opportunity. These trees grew near everywhere, so whenever they wanted a bridge, they found these trees and grew them. With a little direction of course.

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Posted by on June 2, 2011 in Articles

 

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129. The Californian Never City

A ghost town, you know the drill, animals take over houses and swimming pool become stagnant pits – breeding grounds for all manner of creepy crawlies. Now apply that to a city. A city so abandoned that most of it was never built in time for it all to crumble. California City.

It was the pipe dream of real estate developer Nat Mendelsohn. In 1958 he founded California City, hoping to produce the next bustling Californian metropolis on a size and scale which would rival that of Los Angeles. To give him credit, Mr Mendelsohn got admirably close; to this very California City is the 3rd largest city by area in the whole of California, second only to San Diego and the eminent Los Angeles. California City covers its 527 km2 with the bare minimum though whereas its competitors stack their buildings up like precarious towers of bricks waiting to be pushed over.

California City does not have this, it keeps a low profile: 14,000 people occupy its few buildings, they experience the collapsed dream of California City. It is mainly a network of roads, all meticulously named and scratched into the desert sand like some cryptic message from an alien race. One that very much liked signs and even named every single cul-de-sac with grandiose names such as Planet Lane and Alpha Street, names which now seem pathetic, near childish. Naive names marking a fictional city in meticulous detail.

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Posted by on May 29, 2011 in Articles, Trivia

 

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127. Can You Drown In The Dead Sea?

‘It is impossible to drown in the Dead Sea’, ‘No-one has ever drowned in the Dead Sea’ These are the words spoken by tens of thousands of people. Even ABC News, a fairly large news network in American, has published an article talking about the salty bowl of water. How cool, the perfect bathing spot. Well it would be, were it not for that they are all wrong. At best they not thinking about every type of drowning. Although that still makes them wrong.

This misconception arises from the fact that the Dead Sea is one of the most bizarre lakes (yes, LAKE) in the world. It is also the deepest hypersaline (salty) lake in the world. 420m below sea level. As well as being low, lying on the Jordan-Israel border it is also salty to a near excessive degree. Around 9 times as salty as the oceans of the world. The whole lake is 33.7% salt. This does of course, have side-effect.

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Posted by on May 27, 2011 in Articles, Misconceptions, Trivia

 

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124. Power of The Storm

Hulking storms which dwarf countries. Humongous towering low pressure systems which regularly cause billions of dollars of damage. Hurricanes, how do they do it. The answer is energy. They produce energy on scales barely conceivable.

These structures are greater in size than many countries and are powered by the largest accessible energy reserve on the planet. The warm oceans over which they swirl, siphoning up every last bit of energy. The energy makes them fest, the gorge themselves on it and swell with every moment. However nothing can hold such energy.

So they emit it. In terms of heat and kinetic energy.

Hurricanes emit between 50 and 200 exajoules a day, or 1 Petawatt of power. That is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 Joules of power. To provide some scale, it is 200 times the electricity generating capacity of the world, and 70 times the rate at which all humans combined on earth use energy. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2011 in Articles, Trivia

 

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119. Hardiest Animal on Earth

You think you are probably tough right? You probably could outlive a squirrel and outrun a tortoise. But could you survive the vacuum of space?

If you don’t know the answer, let me use science to tell you the answer. Science says NO. Fortunately something does exist which -can- survive in space. That monstrosity of a thing called a Tardigrade. Also known as a Water Bear, yes that is a right. A tiny little bear that can live in space. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2011 in Articles, Trivia

 

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115. The X-Seed 4000

6km wide and 800 floors reaching a total height of 4000m, those numbers describe the X-Seed 4000, the tallest building ever fully envisioned. By fully envisioned I mean that the schematics were drawn out and the building structure fully designed. The only thing the project would have required was money.

Between $330 billion and $1 trillion approximately. It would have been expensive were it not for the fact that it was never designed to be built. It was designed for Tokyo as a publicity stunt for the Taisei Corporation. By all means it was a success. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2011 in Articles

 

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110. Criminal Koalas

A murder attempt has taken place, no-one was harmed but a pistol was left at the scene. The pistol grip is dusted down and fingerprints are taken back to the lab. The results are put into the database and after 30 seconds of pained whining from the computer a perfect match comes up. 99.8% match, there is no doubt. The Inspector looks at who matches the prints and raise an eyebrow. ‘Odd’ they say, then they pick up the phone. A squad is sent to their attackers place of work, the zoo. After 15 minutes the officers return with the attacker in handcuffs.

It was a koala.

Fingerprints of a Koala and a Human

This hasn’t happened, not yet anyway. However it is possible. It is possible because we have evolved fingerprints, however Koalas also have fingerprints, in fact they have exactly the same fingerprints as humans. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2011 in Articles, Trivia

 

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