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!

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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!)

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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.”

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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.

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The Seattle windshield pitting epidemic: a textbook case of mass hysteria

Mass hysteria, per Wikipedia’s definition, is “a phenomenon that transmits collective delusions of threats, whether real or imaginary, through a population in society as a result of rumors and fear.” You may be familiar with famous incidents of mass hysteria such as the Dancing Plague of 1518 or the Salem witch trials, but you likely haven’t heard of a much more mundane yet relatably close-to-home instance: the Seattle windshield pitting epidemic of 1954. Considered by experts to be a “textbook” case of collective delusion, residents of Bellingham, Seattle, and other communities of Washington reached a state of panic when they began noticing “holes, pits, and dings” in their windshields.

[O]riginally thought to be the work of vandals[,] the rate of pitting was so great that residents began to attribute it to everything from sand flea eggs to nuclear bomb testing.
Originating in Bellingham in March, police initially believed the work to be vandals using BB guns. However the pitting was soon observed in the nearby towns of Sedro Woolley and Mount Vernon and by mid-April, appeared to have spread to the town of Anacortes on Fidalgo Island.
Within a week, the news and the so-called “pitting epidemic” had reached metropolitan Seattle. As the newspapers began to feature the story, more and more reports of pitting were called in. Motorists began stopping police cars to report damage and car lots and parking garages reported particularly severe attacks. […] By April 15, close to 3,000 windshields had been reported as affected.
Finally, Sergeant Max Allison of the Seattle police crime laboratory stated that the pitting reports consisted of “5 per cent hoodlum-ism, and 95 per cent public hysteria.” By April 17, the pitting suddenly stopped.

While troubled motorists propounded a number of theories to explain the pitting, ranging from “cosmic rays” to a shift in the earth’s magnetic field, the likeliest explanation is that “natural windshield pitting had been going on for some time, but it was only when the media called public attention to it that people actually looked at their windshields and saw damage they had never noticed before.”

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Scientists discover a solid-black, bio-luminescent shark

As if the creature’s physical characteristics weren’t interesting enough on their own, researchers gave it one of the coolest names in the animal kingdom: the ninja lanternshark. This shark can be found in the deeps off the Pacific coast of Central America, and grows to about 1.5 feet in length.

The ninja lanternshark, or Etmopterus benchleyi.
The ninja lanternshark, or Etmopterus benchleyi.

Like other lanternsharks, it produces light with special organs in its body, which is likely used to communicate with other sharks, for camouflage and perhaps to attract prey. The scientists who first found the fish, from the Pacific Shark Research Center in California, gave the species the technical name Etmopterus benchleyi. It’s named after Peter Benchley, the author of Jaws. […] The animal lives in the waters off the continental slope, at depths of 0.5 to 0.9 miles deep, where it is very dark. It presumably eats small fish and crustaceans although scientists don’t yet know hardly anything about its diet or behavior.

You can read more about this intriguing creature here!

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The underground homes of Coober Pedy, Australia

It’s a strange enough name for a town, but what really sets the place apart is the fact that the majority of its dwelling and businesses are… underground.

Coober Pedy is fairly remote: it’s about 500 miles north of Adelaide, in south Australia, and has a population of just 1,695. And because daytime temperatures can reach 120 degrees during the summertime, its residents tend to seek shelter beneath the earth. Take a fascinating video tour below:

They’re really taking “down under” to a whole new (subterranean) level. (Via Great Big Story.)

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Frighteningly gigantic lizard makes surprise visit to Australian home

Here’s another story that fulfills every stereotype about life in Australia.

Eric Holland from Thurgoona in New South Wales was relaxing in his shed earlier this week, when he came across a 1.5 metre (5 foot) goanna lizard hanging on the side of his house.

giant-lizard-visits-australian-home“Well it was a bloody big shock mate,” Holland told radio station 2GB in an interview on Friday morning. “I nearly trod on the bloody thing.”

The goanna is actually a mature Lace Monitor, which can grow to 2 metres (6.5 feet) long and weigh 20 kilograms (44 lbs).

“A bloody big shock,” indeed. Story credit to Mashable.

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Volcanic ghost towns of North Sumatra

Indonesia’s Mount Sinabung, a stratovolcano located in North Sumatra, has been dramatically erupting on and off since 2010. (Incidentally, I climbed this volcano in late 2011 — between eruptions, of course.)

Recent eruptions have been so sustained and severe that a number of nearby villages have been abandoned — declared by Indonesian authorities, as The Atlantic reports, “too dangerous to inhabit.” Numerous villages such as Guru Kinayan, Simacem, Kuta Gugung, and Sibintun now sit empty, covered in ash and rapidly being reclaimed by nature, as the images below show:

Volcanic Ghost Villages in Sumatra, Indonesia

(Photo credit goes to Associated Press photographer Binsar Bakkara.)

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Austria reassures refugees that there’s no need to fear Krampus

Moving to a foreign land and experiencing a new culture can be trying under the best of circumstances, let alone following harried passage from war-torn regions. The new sights, sounds, and tastes can be overwhelming, the unfamiliar customs can be baffling, the different climate can be uncomfortable. I’m certain the Syrian refugees have confronted all of these things in Austria and elsewhere throughout Europe. But while each element of culture shock can (by definition) be cause for distress, one aspect of life in Austria that is likely to be particularly disturbing for uninitiated newcomers is… Krampus. For those unfamiliar, Krampus is “a horned, anthropomorphic figure who punishes children during the Christmas season who have misbehaved, in contrast with Saint Nicholas, who rewards well-behaved ones with gifts.” In Austria and other Alpine regions of Europe, early December often features “traditional parades in which young men dress as Krampus.”

Mindful of these festivities, “Officials in the village of Virgen worried about how new arrivals from the Middle East would react to the local tradition of meeting so-called ‘Christmas Devils’ who pretend to abduct kids.”

Fearing the spectacle would be misunderstood, community representatives last week visited the 22 migrants — including 12 children — who have been housed in the Alpine village since the end of October.

They were shown the frightening masks and given insight into the event’s history with the help of an Arabic translator. The verdict? The newcomers had “lots of fun,” according to social worker Nicole Kranebitter.

The migrants “will now know what to expect when St. Nicholas and the Krampus creatures knock on their door,” Kranebitter added.

She said the next event planned for the families who fled war-torn homelands will be traditional cookie baking.

What a great and thoughtful approach, and in such marked contrast to the xenophobia that has greeted migrants in so many other parts of the world.

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