An eery dark region is growing on the sun’s surface

An enormous black blotch known as a “coronal hole” has been spotted spreading across the sun. Coronal holes, according to Wikipedia, are “areas where the Sun’s corona is darker, and colder, and has lower-density plasma than average because there is lower energy and gas levels.” These holes can allow high-density plasma to escape to space, which can disrupt satellite communications here on Earth.

The size and number of coronal holes peak and wane with the solar cycle, which spans 11 years.

The most recent coronal hole of a similar size opened in 2012, and was the “precursor to an extremely powerful solar storm, the most powerful one in 150 years.” That storm was considered a near-miss for Earth: according to Daniel Baker, from the University of Colorado’s Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics, “If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces.”

We’ll see what happens with this one. You can read more at UniverseToday.com.

Norway considers giving mountain to Finland as 100th birthday present

In a lovely gesture that would surely make every Finn’s day, the Norwegian government is considering slightly redrawing its border to give Finland a mountain peak, which would become its highest point. The occasion? The 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence from Russia.

From The Guardian:

The originator of the idea is a retired geophysicist and government surveyor, Bjørn Geirr Harsson, 76, who learned last year that Finland would celebrate the 100th anniversary of its independence from Russia on 6 December 2017 and recalled being puzzled by the location of the border when he flew over Halti in the 1970s.

Harsson wrote to the ministry of foreign affairs in July 2015, pointing out that the gesture would cost Norway a “barely noticeable” 0.015 sq km of its national territory and make Finland very happy.

Public reaction has been overwhelmingly positive in both Norway and Finland, with the only objection so far coming from the indigenous Sami community, whose reindeer roam freely across the border and who argue that the land should belong to neither country.

If only all nations could learn such magnanimity.

World’s deepest “blue hole” discovered

It’s located near the Xisha Islands (also known as the Paracel Islands) in the South China Sea.

(Blue holes are underwater caverns or sinkholes, typically formed in shallow seabeds made of carbonate rock such as limestone. They can be hundreds of feet deep, and much deeper than surrounding waters, leading to dramatic photographs as seen here.)

From CBS:Great_Blue_Hole

A new exploration of a legendary blue hole in the South China Sea has found that the underwater feature is the deepest known on Earth.

According to Xinhua News, Dragon Hole, or Longdong, is 987 feet (300.89 meters) deep, far deeper than the previous record holder, Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas.

Read more here!

The strangest town in Alaska: Whittier, the one-building city

There’s an unusual town in Alaska, along Prince William Sound, where everyone lives under a single, 14-story roof. Built in 1957 by the military, the building — now called Begich Towers — contains 150 studio, two-, and three-bedroom apartments, a hospital, a post office, a grocery store, and city government offices. It even connects, via underground tunnel, to a school. So residents never even have to leave the building, if they don’t want to — convenient given that they can expect an average of 22 feet of snow each year.

Check out CNN’s video-essay about Whittier, Alaska (and read the corresponding article here):

Only about 220 people live in Whittier year-round, working in commercial fishing, recreation and tourism or for the state ferry and railroad. Most of them have homes in the tower, as though they were occupying separate bedrooms in one huge house. About their isolation together, they say: “We’re all family here.”

You can also check out some photos of Whittier below:

View post on imgur.com

Fascinating!

Bizarre 307-million-year-old “monster” fossil identified

One of the weirdest-looking creatures ever to have existed has finally been analyzed and categorized. The “Tully Monster” (named after its discoverer Francis Tully, who found the fossils in Illinois nearly sixty years ago) has long puzzled scientists. But a team of researchers recently used scanning electronic microscopes to explore its internal structure, and their findings have allowed them to explain the animal’s lineage. From arstechnicabizarre-monster-fossil

The “Tully monster,” a mysterious animal that swam in the inland oceans of Illinois more than 300 million years ago, left behind a tantalizingly detailed map of its body in a well-preserved package of fossils. Unfortunately, nobody could figure out what the creature was for half a century—until now.

[W]here did Tullimonstrum fit into the history of life in the seas? A team of researchers has just […] analyzed the fossils using scanning electron microscopes, which allowed them to explore the anatomy of the Tully monster inside and out.
[…] “The buccal apparatus of Tullimonstrum suggests that it grasped food with its bifurcate anterior projection and rasped pieces off with the lingual apparatus,” the authors conclude. Which is to say, the Tully monster used that long, toothy protrusion from the front of its body to grab food, and then it ripped bites off using a long, powerful tongue. And it needed that weird-ass eye arrangement to see what it was doing at the end of its mouth proboscis.

Cool stuff! You can read more here.

What does space really look like?

We’ve all seen gorgeous, colorful images, often courtesy of the Hubble telescope, of faraway galaxies and fantastic nebulae. What most of us probably don’t realize, however, is that these aren’t true-color images — instead, they’ve typically been altered and enhanced for  scientific purposes. So what does space really look like? Check out this interesting and informative video to learn!

Minnesota dog drives truck, crashes it

Here’s an offbeat article that I’ll let speak for itself:

One dog apparently has learned a new trick: how to drive a semi-truck. Customers at a Minnesota gas station saw a golden Labrador retriever appear to drive the semi across a road Friday.dog driving semi truck

Mankato police say the idling truck apparently was put into gear, then went through a parking lot, across the street and over a curb. The Free Press of Mankato reports a passer-by discovered the dog sitting in the driver’s seat when he jumped into the truck to stop it. […]  The driver had left the unoccupied truck running in a nearby parking lot.

(From the Chicago Tribune!)

Here are some weird facts about leap years.

Happy Leap Day, everyone! One of the rarest holidays of them all (though not nearly as rare as Thanksgivukkah), February 29 only shows up every four years. Lucky for us, this happens to be one of them! To celebrate, here are Five Weird Facts about leap years, courtesy of about.com.

A sampling:

3. Leap Year Capital of the World
In 1988, the town of Anthony, Texas, with a population of 8000, declared itself to be the “Leap Year Capital of the World.”

Its justification for this title was that two members of its Chamber of Commerce were born on leap year days. But in a moment of honesty a member of the Chamber also admitted that, “We just voted arbitrarily to name this as the leap year capital of the world because no one else has.”

As of 2016, the town of Anthony continues to pride itself on being the Leap Year Capital, with festivities planned for February 29.

I’m also partial to the notion of re-envisioning Leap Day as a “day out of time.”

A Meteor Just Exploded Over The Atlantic With More Force Than The Hiroshima Bomb

On February 6, the largest meteor impact since the 2013 Chelyabinsk incident occurred over the southern Atlantic Ocean, yielding a fireball with an explosive force greater than 13,000 tons of TNT (13 kt) — a blast at least as energetic as the Hiroshima bomb. (By comparison, the Chelyabinsk meteor exploded over Russia with a force equal to 440,000 tons of TNT.)

Don’t worry too much, though — this headline is somewhat sensationalist. In fact, NASA keeps track of meteor impacts like this one, and it turns out that they occur on a fairly regular basis, with airbursts of this size happening every five to ten years or so, on average. To put this in a little more context, there have been six impact events during the past ten years equal or greater in size to the February 6 incident. Over this period, NASA has recorded a total of 292 meteor airbursts that have had an explosive force greater than 73 tons of TNT. (The median blast had a force equal to 230 tons of TNT.)

Unfortunately, since the February 6 event occurred in the middle of the ocean, no one was around to capture video footage of what was surely a visually-striking fireball. (Data on the February 6 event, iflscience.com reports, “were given to NASA by the U.S. government. Detecting atmospheric explosions is most likely a high priority of several branches of the U.S. military, so a fireball of such magnitude could have been easily picked up. Satellite imagery and infrasound atmospheric microphones could both be used to detect an impact like this.”)

The Chelyabinsk meteor, on the other hand, exploded over a fairly populated region and consequently was caught on film from multiple angles (you can check out some video footage of that event below). Because the Chelyabinsk meteor exploded so high in the atmosphere (at an altitude of 18.4 miles), it did little damage beyond shattering windows and scaring the bejeezus out of everyone in range.

The last meteor to inflict massive damage on the ground was the Tunguska impacter, which completely flattened 770 square miles of Siberian forest back in 1908. That meteor had a destructive force of at least 15 megatons — 1,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb.

Whenever these events happen, of course, the first question on everyone’s mind is something along the lines of, “would we be ready if a bigger one was headed our way?” The answer to this is “probably not.” However, don’t let it concern you too much — the chances of a life-threatening impact occurring during our lifetimes is infinitesimally small, and we’ve got plenty of eyes on the sky that would spot such an object well in advance.