Tag Archives: environment

186. The Melted Caterpillar

by GollyGForce

For over a century scientists have been observing caterpillars engaging in strange migrations. This condition affects many different species of caterpillar, but the virus specialising in the Gypsy Moth caterpillar has a few extra surprises.

These normally nocturnal creatures would starts venturing out in broad daylight, leaving their normal grazing and reaching up into the open canopy. The change was not a choice, it was forced by an invader. The caterpillars were sick, and a virus was in control.

One single gene has been isolated in the virus which is thought to be the ‘caterpillar control,’ it deactivates the caterpillar’s will to moult, sending the caterpillar on a constant feeding cycle. Making one very hungry caterpillar.

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Posted by on September 30, 2011 in Articles


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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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153. Holes in the Ocean

In the shallow blue waters of the Bahamas, Belize and others people often remark upon the brightness of the water; lit by the light reflecting off of the white sand beneath. However one can find deviations from the shallow norm, underwater pits where the land drops away. Circular anomalies which suddenly drill deep down, these deeper spaces filled with darker, and decidedly chillier water. This is a ‘Blue Hole.’

Their entrances can be anything from 25 metres to 300 metres across; their darkness is a result of the depths absorbing the light. These peculiarities of the ocean reach up to, or rather down 202 metres, a lengthy vertical cave. The depth and narrowness of these vertical caves also limits their flow. At the base of the blue holes the water has lost all oxygen, making it inhospitable to anything more complex than bacteria.

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Posted by on June 22, 2011 in Articles, Trivia


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138. Why 5 Doesn’t Make Sense

Sight, Taste, Hearing, Touch, Smell. Those 5 things are significant. They are the traditional senses. Put “Sense of …” in front of any single one of them and it makes sense, if you’ll pardon the pun. This view was proposed first by Aristotle, a great Greek philosopher of some note. However great he may be though this is very untrue. We have 5 senses yes, but we also happen to have at least 4 more, depending on what you think constitutes a sense. Most experts in the field think we have at least 21.

What is a sense though? – A system with specialised cells which respond to a specific physical phenomenon and correspond to specific regions of the brain where they are received and interpreted. So with that out-of-the-way, what are the other senses?

Thermoception – Sense of heat. Feel cold? That’s thanks to thermoception. This sense depends upon specialised nerves in the skin. It also links into the sense of pain, which is useful, unless you happen to want to boil or freeze parts of your body.

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Posted by on June 7, 2011 in Articles, Misconceptions


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134. Ultra Reindeer Violet

It can see you, in ultravioletSome birds can see ultraviolet light, so can some reptiles and plenty of insects. However mammals couldn’t, until now. Recent research has found that the Reindeer can see Ultraviolet, which is really a first. Why though is a different question.

There is a definite reason why mammals cannot see ultraviolet and it is safety. Mammals tend to life for relatively long times, so can’t risk damage to body parts. Ultraviolet damages eyes, although it is useful it is harmful. Some species of Falcon live for 15 years and use Ultraviolet to look at trails left by prey, if they lived any longer they wouldn’t be able to because simply, their eyes wouldn’t work. The problem is the energy Ultraviolet light contains.

Ultraviolet is light with a shorter wavelength than our normal visible light spectrum, and so it has much more energy. It is the stuff which can cause skin cancer. That suncream/sun block you use. It is stopping that Ultraviolet light bursting through our skin, damaging cells and messing up your DNA. It is however, possible to see ultraviolet in extreme cases. When people have their cornea replaced, if there is a fault then the cornea might not filter out these ultraviolet light, so they can see any source of ultraviolet lights. This is not just harmful, it is actually painful to look at any source.

Taking all of that into account it is especially amazing that Reindeer can both stand it, and make sense of a whole new type of light. Their eyes must have a new kind of protection, or maybe science is wrong. All we know is that they can see it, it is useful for them, and we don’t quite know how they are doing it. Oh well.

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Posted by on June 3, 2011 in Articles


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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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123. Skeletons At Roopkund

1942, India; A group of British Forest guards patrolled 16,000 feet above sea level in the area around Roopkund, all was orderly and calm until they made a most disturbing find. They were passing a small valley, at the bottom of it was a frozen lake. In the relative summer heat it was melting. Releasing its contents slowly. The small lake was filled with bodies, the further the ice melted the more bodies which appeared. 200 bodies were found in all, something horrible had happened there and many people tried to find out exactly what it was.

1942 was of course during World War II so the first logical leap was to assume the bodies to be those of Japanese soldiers. This was not the case. The bodies were preserved down to a few stray pieces of hair, flesh and of course a plethora of bones. They were too decomposed, and the bones not fresh enough. With them also were rings, spears, bamboo staves and leather sandals. These were much older than the war. How old though?

That question took a great deal of time to answer. In the intervening time theories emerged as to what could possibly cause 200 people to die at the same time. These theories ranged from an Epidemic to ritual suicide. The answer was not to be revealed until after an expedition 62 years later, in 2004.

DNA samples from some of the 200 bodies showed them all to date to approximately 850 AD, whilst the DNA evidence showed two groups of people, one was a family or group of closely related people, whilst the other groups DNA much more closely resembled the DNA of locals, suggesting that the second group had been hired as guides and porters. The most likely story suggests that the closely related group were on a pilgrimage and were traveling with the help of locals, they were passing by the frozen Roopkund Lake when the incident occurred.

Figuring out exactly what the incident was the next part. Closer examination of the bodies showed that they all died in the same way. All 200 from damage to their skulls, but not from any weapon, the short cracks in their skulls suggested something much rounder. In fact none of the injuries occurred beneath shoulder level, as if some terrific blows had been rained down from up high.

Researchers struggled with the problem until they heard a single folk song. An ancient and traditional Himalayan song which spoke of a goddess and intruders who trespassed upon her lands. So enraged was the goddess that she rained death upon them by flinging hailstones as hard as iron. The evidence was considered and the song carefully studied. Then consensus was reached, the song was correct.

About the hailstones, not the angry goddess. The 200 died a bizarre and sudden death. Whilst at the bottom of the valley a freak hailstorm emerged above, raining down hailstones that must have been the size of cricket-balls. Stuck in the bottom of the valley there was no shelter to which they could all flee. So they died, 200 in quick succession, each struck a swift blow on the head by the cruel hand of nature. Their remains surrounded the lake and eventually were swallowed by it until they were rediscovered 1,200 years later. A bizarre blizzard massacre.

Sandal and Skeleton on the shore

Of course there may have been a survivor, a sole survivor or many. Someone to crawl out of that valley and tell the story of the angry goddess and the hailstones of iron which did so dangerously fall.

Someone to give rise to the songs. Someone who unwittingly would help solve one of the oldest murder mysteries of all time, the mystery of the frozen skeleton lake. Without them we would only have skeletons, speculation and 1,200 year old leather sandals.

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Posted by on May 23, 2011 in Articles


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