Greater Galaxy Gateway Gala – WIF Space

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Far-out Facts

About the

Milky Way

Galaxy

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When we think of where we are in the entire universe, our planet is just one a small speck. Even our solar system is one of many in the Milky Way Galaxy, and our own galaxy is one of billions in the universe. It’s hard to image how big The Great Expanse actually is. But with advanced technology, we have a better understanding of what lies in the deepest parts of space. Just in our own Milky Way Galaxy, we have numerous suns, planets, solar systems, comets, black holes, and so much more. Here are 10 interesting facts about our Milky Way Galaxy…

10. Structure And Size Of The Milky Way Galaxy

The Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy with a center bulge that is surrounded by four arms that are wrapped around it. Around two-thirds of all the galaxies in The Great Expanse are shaped in a spiral. Our galaxy, as well as our solar system, is always rotating. While our solar system travels around 515,000 miles-per-hour on average, it would still take approximately 230 million years to travel around the Milky Way.

Our galaxy is around 100,000 light-years across and has a mass of between 400 and 780 billion times the mass of our own sun. 90% of its mass is believed to be dark matter.

There is a huge halo of hot gas surrounding our galaxy that stretches for hundreds of thousands of light-years. While it is believed to be as huge as all of the stars put together in the Milky Way, the halo itself only has around 2% of the amount of stars that are found inside of the disk.

And at the heart of the Milky Way galaxy is the galactic bulge which contains gas, stars, and dust that’s so thick you can’t even see into it, let alone to the other side.

9. The Andromeda Galaxy Will Eventually Collide With The Milky Way

The Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies will eventually collide into each other, but it won’t happen for a very long time. While it was previously thought that it would happen 3.75 billion years from now, newly conducted research from the ESA’s Gaia mission estimates the collision will take place in 4.5 billion years.

And we may not get hit as hard as previously thought. The new research also suggests that it won’t be a full force collision and rather a “tidal interaction,” which means that no planets or stars will collide with each other.

There is a group of more than 54 galaxies that are named the Local Group, of which Andromeda and the Milky Way are a part. These two galaxies, as well as the Triangulum Galaxy, are the three largest in the group. Andromeda is the most massive galaxy, while the Milky Way ranks second, and the Triangulum is third. Andromeda and Triangulum are both spiral galaxies and are situated between 2.5 and 3 million light years away from the Milky Way.

8. Our Galaxy Is Warped And Twisted Instead Of Being Flat

It’s always been said that our galaxy is flat as a pancake, but a recent study revealed that the Milky Way is in fact warped and twisted. The farther away the stars are from the center of the galaxy, the more they become warped and twisted in an S-like appearance.

Over 1,000 Cepheid variable stars (1,339 to be exact) were used in a study conducted by astronomers from Macquarie University as well as the Chinese Academy of Sciences. These stars became bright and dim in a manner that changed according to their luminosity. The data collected from these stars by using the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (or WISE) let astronomers create a 3D map of the true shape of our galaxy.

While the Milky Way is now confirmed to be warped and twisted, it’s not the only one out there that’s like that. While it’s not overly common, astronomers have confirmed that a dozen other galaxies in The Great Expanse have twisted spiral patterns in their outer-most areas.

7. There Are Hundreds Of Billions Of Stars In Our Galaxy

It’s tough to know exactly how many stars there are in our galaxy since the halo around the Milky Way also contains many stars. In addition, the center of our galaxy has a galactic bulge that’s filled with dust, stars, and gas, as well as a super-massive black hole which makes that area extremely thick with materials that telescopes are unable to see through it.

While around 90% of our galaxy’s mass is made up of dark matter, the majority of the remaining 10% is dust and gas, it is believe that only about 3% of the Milky Way’s mass is made up of stars. Some researchers believe that there are approximately 100 billion stars in our galaxy, while others say that there are much more – between 400 and 700 billion.

The European Space Agency’s Gaia mission is mapping out the locations of around 1 billion stars in the Milky Way, so that’s a good start.

6. There’s A Super-massive Black Hole At The Heart Of Our Galaxy

It is believed that most, if not all, galaxies have a super-massive black hole at their center and the Milky Way has one that weighs as much as 4 million suns. Sagittarius A*, which is the massive object located at the center of our galaxy, has been observed for the past several years. Although black holes can’t actually be seen, scientists study them by observing the materials that are orbiting around them.

Scientists wanted to measure the effects of gravity near the black hole so they decided to observe a small star called S2 that orbits deep within Sagittarius A*’s gravity well every 16 years. They noticed three bright flares that traveled around the black hole’s event horizon at approximately 216 million miles per hour (or 30% of the speed of light).

Scientists previously believed that there were only small and super-massive black holes, but there are in fact medium-sized (or intermediate) black holes that are rare but they do exist, and we’ll talk about that in the next entry…

5. There’s Also A Jupiter-Sized Black Hole Wandering Around Our Galaxy

New research indicates that a rare Jupiter-sized black hole is wandering around our galaxy. The data came from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (or ALMA) which includes 66 telescopes that are placed across the Atacama Desert located in the northern part of Chile.

The data consisted of the scientists observing two gas clouds, called Balloon and Stream in reference to their shapes, and what they witnessed during their two-day observation period in May 2018 was that the gas clouds were moving in an odd pattern, like they were spinning around an invisible center in a location where no light was coming from.

The team determined that the object was an uncommon medium-sized black hole that has around 30,000 times the mass of our sun and is approximately the size of Jupiter.

4. Earth Is At The Center Of The Habitable Zone In Our Galaxy

For the last two decades, astronomers have modeled the evolution of our galaxy in order to figure out the four essentials needed for complex life – the existence of a host star; a sufficient amount of heavy elements to create terrestrial planets (like Earth); enough time for biological evolution; and an environment without gamma ray bursts or life-threatening supernovae.

Almost 4,000 exoplanets and nearly 3,000 planetary systems have been confirmed to exist in our galaxy. Hundreds of those star systems have more than one planet that is within the Galactic Habitable Zone (or GHZ) and there is no doubt that many more are out there just waiting to be discovered.

And of course Earth is located at a perfect spot near the center of our galaxy’s GHZ. What’s even more interesting is that according to astrophysicists at the Australian National University, the GHZ only has about 10% of all the stars in the Milky Way.

3. There Are Almost 4,000 Exoplanets In Our Galaxy

Planets that are beyond our solar system are called exoplanets and thousands have been discovered by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope over the past several years. These exoplanets can be any size, with some being rocky and others having icy surfaces.

The Kepler Space Telescope worked to find these planets from 2009 until 2018. During that time, it discovered 2,682 exoplanets with over 2,900 possible candidates that are still waiting to be confirmed. And according to information found on NASA’s website, a total of 3,916 exoplanets (including the ones found by Kepler) have been confirmed.

Kepler ran out of gas and was officially decommissioned in November 2018. However, a new spacecraft, called the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (or TESS) has taken its place to find new planets. It was launched in April of 2018 and is planning to scan around 85% of the sky in its two-year mission.

2. So Far, Almost 3,000 Planetary Systems Have Been Discovered In Our Galaxy

Another important piece of information presented on NASA’s website is that 2,917 planetary systems have already been discovered. One of those planetary systems which is very similar is our own solar system is called Kepler-90 which is located approximately 2,500 light years away from us towards the Draco Constellation.

Kepler-90 has eight planets which is the same number of planets located in our solar system. Other similarities between the two solar systems are that Kepler-90 has a G-type star which is comparable to our own sun; it has rocky planets like ours; and it has other large planets that are similar in size to Saturn and Jupiter.

One major difference between the two solar systems is that Kepler-90’s planets all orbit very close to their sun which would indicate that they may be too hot to sustain any type of life. But with further research, more planets could potentially be discovered that orbit at a further distance.

1A. Milky Way Is Only One Of Hundreds Of Billions Of Galaxies In The Universe

According to data collected from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, it was previously thought that there were around 200 billion galaxies in the universe. However, it is now believed that there are at least ten times more galaxies out there in space.

Some experts believe that around 90% of the galaxies in the observable universe are too far away and even too faint to see with our telescopes. Thankfully, the James Webb Space Telescope (or JWST) is scheduled to be launched in early 2021 which will help to see these faint galaxies and perhaps uncover even more.

Some of the tasks the JWST will conduct will be to find out what happened after the first stars were formed following the Big Bang; finding out how galaxies were formed and assembled; the birth of stars and proto-planetary systems; and understanding the atmospheres on distant planets to find out if they are habitable and can sustain life.

1B. What WIF Calls the Universe

What most folks refer to as the “Universe”, the rest of the fictional civilizations out there call it “The Great Expanse”, at least that is how  “I-Gwen” describes that wondrous-wide Creation that God set in motion. If giving God credit offends your sensibility, the “Big Bang” happened.

Whatever it is called or whoever gets the credit, it certainly boggles our little minds and this author is eternally fascinated.


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Fire, Floods, Famine, Lava and Shakers – WIF Bad Things Go Happen

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Epic Natural Disasters

Throughout History

Natural disasters have existed as long as humanity, and in fact a lot longer. This means that pretty much every century in recorded history has been forced to endure one or more incredibly destructive attacks of nature’s strongest powers. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest natural disasters in history, and how they affected the people of that era.

10. Peshtigo Fire

Most people are familiar with the Great Chicago Fire, with its “Mrs. O’Leary’s cow tipped over a lantern” backstory and hundreds of dead. However, it’s far from the most destructive fire in American history. It’s not even the most destructive one that started on October 8, 1871. That dubious honor goes to the Peshtigo Fire of Wisconsin — the most destructive forest fire in America’s history, which caused around 1,200 deaths, burned an incredible 1.2 million acres and burned through 16 different towns, in 11 counties. At one point, it even “skipped over” Green Bay to burn sections of two counties on the other side. It even made the same amount of damage as the much more urban Chicago fire — roughly $169 million.

Where the Great Chicago Fire was a disaster, the Peshtigo fire was hell, plain and simple. The fire was likely started by careless railroad workers who caused a brush fire which the dry summer and unfortunate winds soon whipped up into a superfast wall of flame that some say moved almost like a tornado. The flames “convulsed” and moved in strange ways, eating up all the oxygen and bursting fleeing people ablaze. It looked like the end of the world, and for many, it was. There were heroics, and tragic losses, and desperate survival stories. One heroic man reportedly carried a woman all the way to safety, thinking it was his wife, and when he found it was a stranger he immediately went insane. A young girl spent all night in the river to escape the inferno, holding on to a cow’s horn to stay moored.

The worst damage was done to the fire’s namesake, the town of Peshtigo. 800 of the fire’s 1,200 victims were from there, and the entire place was “gone in an hour.”

9. Ch’ing-yang event

There have been many times when meteors and meteorites have graced our planet with their presence, but arguably the one with the biggest death toll is the Ch’ing-yang event in 1490. Seeing as this meteor shower event in China happened well over five centuries ago, actual details about the event are unfortunately somewhat fuzzy. Accounts of the era report that “stones falling like rain” killed up to 10,000 people on the Ch’ing-Yang area of the Shaanxi Province.

Modern experts have expressed doubt over that exact figure — after all, it is the only meteor shower case with such a giant death toll. However, pretty much everyone agrees that a “dramatic event” happened at the reported time and place, and it’s speculated that a breakup of an asteroid may indeed have resulted in a deadly rain of celestial hail.

8. Calcutta cyclone

The Ganges River delta area is no stranger to tropical storms, but the Calcutta cyclone of 1737, also known as the Hoogly River cyclone, ranks among the absolute worst. It struck on an early autumn morning just south of the city of Calcutta, tearing 200 miles inlands before finally calling it a day. The cyclone brought with it a 30 to 40-foot storm surge (a sudden rise of water level in Ganges), along with 15 inches of rain over just six hours.

The combination of these elemental attacks was catastrophic. Most of the city of Calcutta, built largely of mud huts and brick buildings, was utterly demolished. The city suffered 3,000 casualties, but the cyclone’s overall damage was over a hundred times worse; The disaster is estimated to have killed up to 350,000 people and destroyed around 20,000 boats, ships and canoes of all shapes and sizes.

7. Dadu River dam landslide

On June 1, 1976, a huge earthquake shook the Kangding-Luding area of southwest China, causing all the problems that a major 7.75 magnitude quake can cause. What happened next was worse. A landslide dam (debris from the landslide blocking the water flow of the river), and as is so often the case in impromptu dams, it unfortunately wasn’t built to last.

After building a nice reservoir behind it for 10 days, the landslide dam eventually breached. The water cascaded downstream as a catastrophic wall of death, flooding the areas it encountered to the tune of 100,000 deaths. Experts think that this was likely the most destructive event of this particular nature in history.

6. Coringa cyclones

Coringa was a large and prosperous Indian port city at the mouth of river Godavari. These days, it’s still there, but only as a mere small village. This is because the former busy city went through some of the worst cyclones in history.

In 1789, Coringa received a massive blow when a nasty cyclone tore through the area, leaving around 20,000 people dead. The shaken city was nevertheless able to resume its functions, but unbeknownst to its residents, their terrors had only begun. On November 25, 1839, another, much worse cyclone came, bringing a 40-foot storm surge and punishing winds with it. Once the roar of the storm died down, Coringa’s entire port was destroyed. The death count of the cyclone was an estimated 300,000 people, which along with the 20,000 boats that were also destroyed by the storm marked the end of Coringa’s glory days.

5. Krakatoa volcanic eruption of 1883

What the Krakatoa volcano’s eruption in August 1883 lacked in death toll (it killed “only” 36,000 people), it delivered in pure, deadly spectacle. The volcano, which was on a 3-by-5.5 mile island between Sumatra and Java, started giving signs of upcoming trouble months before the incident, starting with massive ash clouds, “thundering” noises and strange “natural fireworks” that lit the sky. Unaware of the impeding doom, the people living on nearby islands took to celebrating the show — only to be rudely interrupted when Krakatoa started a very different, deadly party.

On August 26, the first blast threw debris and a gas cloud a good 15 miles in the air. The next morning, the area was shaken by four explosions that equaled the strength of 200 megatons of TNT (the Hiroshima bomb was around 0,01% of that) and could be heard from 2,800 miles away. Super-heated steam, hot gases and volcanic matter scorched the surrounding 25 miles at speeds over 62 miles-per-hour.

The eruption claimed its first victims via thermal injuries from its mighty blasts, and the rest fell victim to the 120-foot tsunami that came when the volcano collapsed into an undersea caldera. Even after its initial terrors were over, Krakatoa wouldn’t stop wrecking humanity’s day. The eruption was so strong that it actually changed the climate and dropped temperatures all over the world.

4. Shaanxi earthquake

In 1556, the Shaanxi province of China had the extreme misfortune of hosting what is thought to be the deadliest earthquake in recorded history. The quake was around 8 on the Richter scale, meaning it was a “great” earthquake that is totally capable of leveling communities near the epicenter. The Shaanxi quake wasn’t content with just communities, either; Chinese annals report that it lasted mere seconds, but was so incredibly strong that it destroyed buildings, remodeled rivers, caused floods, ignited massive fires and even “leveled mountains.”

As you can probably expect, such a massive disaster was bad news for any and all humans who happened on its way. The Shaanxi earthquake had an estimated 830,000 casualties, and it actually cut the population of the area by a ridiculous 60 percent. Oddly, it also managed to affect the architectural trends of the area: Because many people had been killed by falling stone buildings, the rebuilding process saw the adaptation of wood, bamboo and other more earthquake-resistant materials.

3. Yellow River floods of China

Between 1887 and 1938, China’s famed Huang He (Yellow River) went through the top three most destructive floods in recorded history. The 3,395-mile river is extremely silted, which makes especially the North China Plain’s flatlands to be in constant risk of flooding: Since the 2nd century BCE, it has flooded an estimated 1,500 times, and no one can even begin to calculate the death and destruction these floods have brought in total.

We do, however, know unpleasantly well the havoc these three ultra-destructive floods brought on the ill-prepared China. In the flood that happened over September and October of 1887 (and the famine and diseases it brought to the survivors) the death toll is estimated somewhere between 900,000 and two million people. An even more destructive one in August 1931 covered 34,000 square miles of land in water, and “partially” flooded a further 8,000. Up to 4 million people were killed by the flood and its aftermath, and a devastating 80 million people were left homeless. This particular flood is often considered the most deadly natural disaster in recorded history.

The last of the three mega-floods came in June 1938, and it was actually completely man-made. Thanks to the military’s destruction of dikes near Kaifeng in an effort to stop the approaching Japanese forces in the Sino-Japanese war, up to 900,000 people died.

2. The great European famine

If even honest men can do terrible things when they’re desperate, and the best way to make a person desperate is to make them terribly hungry, imagine what would happen if you’d make a whole continent starve. Actually, you don’t need to, because that exact thing happened in 14th century Europe.

The Great European Famine happened when bad weather conditions caused crops to fail all over Europe from 1315 to the summer harvest of 1317. The results were nothing short of cataclysmic. The few years of hunger single-handedly stopped a centuries-long time of wealth and growth, and plunged the continent into a pandemonium of disease, death, crime, and even the indescribable horrors of infanticide and cannibalism. Millions of people died, and it took until 1922 for Europe to recover from the terror. In fact, the effects of the disaster can still be felt today: Reportedly, certain parts of France are still more sparsely populated than they were just before the Great Famine hit.

1. Plague of Justitian

Disclaimer: this one has a death toll that goes right through the roof, though technically it’s not a natural disaster in the “earth rises to devour us all” sense, but rather an outbreak of disease. A massive, massive outbreak of disease.

Imagine being an all-powerful emperor trying to cement your legacy, only to find that the main thing history books remember about you is that a bunch of rodents managed to kill countless thousands of people during your reign … and then giving the ensuing epidemic. Such was the fate of Byzantine’s emperor Justitian I, who became the namesake of the Plague of Justitian (or Justitian’s plague, because why bother giving it just one version of the guy’s name?) just because he happened to be in charge when it struck.

Justitian’s plague, which was basically a nasty cellar band version of the Black Plague before it went mainstream, had formed in China and/or India, and its tours eventually took it to Egypt and assorted trade routes. it got its big break in the year 542, when the rodents bearing the disease finally reached the mighty city of Constantinople. Reports indicate that the city was struck with pretty much all forms of plague at once: Apart from the Black Death classic bubonic plague, pneumonic and septicemic types were also present. As such, citizens started keeling over by the thousand. Tens of thousands of people died in an extremely short span of time, and matters weren’t helped by the fact that authorities were unable to dispose of the masses of dead, diseased bodies in a timely manner.

After the plague was done with Justitian’s Constantinople, it turned its attention to the Mediterranian and later Persia. Its active career lasted for an estimated half a century, though some indicate that the plague continued its Mediterranean tour for a good 225 years. Ultimately, it’s estimated that the Plague of Justitian killed up to 40% of Constantinople’s residents, and the entire Byzantine empire lost somewhere between 25 and 50 million people. Nice legacy, Justitian.


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Bizarre Beach Barefoot Tour – WIF 10 Cent Travel

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Bizarre Beaches

From

Around the World

There’s nothing quite like a day at the beach filled with fun in the sun, sand and surf, but not all beaches are created equal. Some places have sparkling blue or green waters, while others have sand-filled, cloudy waves. Some shorelines are dangerous, filled with rocks and riptides, while others are shallow and lined with soft sand.

For better or worse, these 10 beaches are some of the most notable in the world. While most earned a place on the list due to their incredible beauty or unique offerings, a few belong here not because of how they look, but because they are notable for other reasons.

10. Papakolea: The Green Sand Beach in Hawaii

One of only four green sand beaches, the famous Papakolea beach is made up of a hollowed out volcanic cone that erupted over 50,000 year ago. The cone contained rich veins of a natural mineral called olivine, which when cut into gem form is a semi-precious stone called peridot. The eroded pieces of the olivine turn into sand too find to be sold as gemstones, but still vivid enough in color to shade the whole beach green.

Excited to visit? Well, that’s the one problem with this beach – getting there is a nightmare. To start with, you have to drive on a long, out of the way road and then you have to park 3 miles away from the beach and hike the remaining distance through rugged pastures that offer no signs to guide you towards your final destination. Once you get to the volcanic cone cliffs, you have to climb down the steep hills to actually access the beach itself and on the shore, only strong swimmers are advised to enter the sparkling blue water at all due to a strong undercurrent that sweeps people away with little warning. It should go without saying with a beach this far off the beaten path, but lifeguards are not posted here so should you encounter danger, you’ll be left on your own to handle it.

9. Kaihalulu: Hawaii’s Red Sand Beach

Hawaii seems to have beaches in just about all colors: white, gold, black, green, and even red. Like all beaches, the sand color at Hawaii’s Kaihalulu Beach is directly related to the rock and mineral content around the beach. In this case, like Papakolea, the rocks around the shore are actually remnants of a once-active volcano that has since been eroded into little more than a rocky cove. This volcanic cone happened to have a particularly high iron content, which appears a rusty red color when mixed with salt air and sea mist. The underwater wall of the volcanic cone creates a partial sea wall that ensures the water at the beach is fairly calm, making it a great place to snorkel. Even so, visitors are advised to exercise caution near the cove opening, where strong currents have been known to pull swimmers into the open ocean.

While the unique look of the beach is absolutely worth visiting, it’s worth noting that the sand itself is very coarse, so it is advisable to wear shoes even in the water in order to protect your feet. Also worth noting: the cove is one of only a handful of clothing optional beaches in Maui.

8. The Most Polluted Beach on Earth

When you hear about an uninhabited, remote island, you probably imagine a pristine paradise. But unfortunately, with all the plastic pollution in today’s oceans, when no one visits an island, it means no one is there to clean up the trash. And that’s exactly how Henderson Island, a 14 square mile island in the South Pacific sitting nearly 3,000 miles away from the nearest population center, is both one of the world’s only raised coral atolls unaffected by human contact and the most polluted island in the world.

In fact, the small island is home to over 38,000 pounds of plastic and a whopping 3,570 pieces of trash wash up on the shore every day. Of course, the problem isn’t just the lack of cleanup crews, but also the island’s unfortunate location right in the path of one of the biggest currents in the Pacific, the South Pacific Gyre. In other words, the perfect place to snag all the trash floating through the Pacific.

7. The Glass Beach of California

While Henderson Island shows how much damage trash can do to nature, Glass Beach near Fort Bragg shows that every now and again, nature finds incredible ways to repair itself. It all started after the famous San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Residents of nearby Fort Bragg found that almost all of their buildings were reduced to rubble. Before they tried to rebuild their city, they had to get rid of all the refuse from the earthquake. When burning the trash did no good, they decided to dump it into the ocean, thinking the currents would take the trash to sea forever. Only the debris didn’t go anywhere, and residents were now left with a seaside dump. Since the dump was already there, locals just took to tossing all their trash at the beach up until the mid-1960s, when the practice was made illegal.

Eventually, the currents did wash away much of the refuse and the government took away many of the larger items. Meanwhile, glass left at the beach was tumbled and smoothed away into small pieces of sea glass, which now are mixed in with tiny pebbles, creating the “sand” for this beautiful beach.

If you do visit, please note that as Glass Beach is part of the MacKerricher State Park, taking pieces of sea glass is illegal. Also, the water can be a bit rough, especially for young and inexperienced swimmers, so it’s probably best to stay on shore here.

6. Hot Water Beach in New Zealand

Unlike most beaches, the ocean itself isn’t a big attraction at New Zealand’s Hot Water Beach. Instead visitors come far and wide to enjoy the warm underground river that happens to flow right into the Pacific. Two hours before and after low tide, beachgoers can hit the hot water as it bubbles through the beach sand. One of the most common activities here is to dig a nice pool in the sand, essentially building a hot-spring spa. By the next tide, the pools will all be washed away, leaving a pristine patch of sand ready for the next batch of visitors eager to dig their own steamy, sandy bathtubs.

It is worth noting that Hot Water Beach is home to some very strong rip currents, so as refreshing as it may be to soak in the warm hot springs and then plunge in the cool ocean, it’s probably best to avoid that urge unless you’re a really strong swimmer or if there’s a lifeguard on duty.

5. The Swimming Pool Beach in Chile

Like the idea of the beach but don’t want to swim in the actual ocean? Then you’ll love the swimming pool at San Alfonso del Mar in Chile. The biggest pool in the world, this monstrosity stretches across nearly 20 acres of beachfront property, reaches depths of up to 115 feet and holds over 66 million gallons of constantly circulating, heated, and filtered seawater. It’s so big the resort even allows people to sail and canoe in it.

Best of all, its location allows you to take a stroll along the beach just between the natural ocean waves and the clean, filtered water of the pool. And the pool itself even has its own sandy beaches leading into it, ensuring you’ll always feel like you’re at the beach even when you’re within the confines of the world’s largest swimming pool.

4. Boulders: The South African Beach Ruled by Penguins

You’d be hard pressed to find another place on the entire globe where you can spend a nice day at the beach split between refreshing dips in the ocean and delightful walks to check out penguins in their native habitat. Boulders Beach is famous for its playful, tuxedoed residents, who are partially responsible for making this otherwise sleepy shoreline one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area.

Fortunately for both humans and penguins, the swimming area for both species are kept completely separate thanks to the natural rock formations that split the beach into a number of coves. The best viewing area for the birds is on a wooden boardwalk that keeps humans away from the protected animal habitat known as Foxy Beach. This means the penguins can feel safe in their home and that humans can swim and sunbathe without fear of running into an angry penguin with a razor sharp beak or stepping in the bird’s droppings.

3. The Irish Beach That Disappeared and Reappeared 30 Years Later

When visiting a sandy beach, it’s easy to take for granted that it won’t be around forever. Eventually the sea will wash away the sand and you’ll just be left with a rocky coast. Even those who know that beach sands can be washed away and carried off to other coasts probably still wouldn’t expect a beach to disappear… and then reappear only 33 years later. But that’s exactly what happened to the small beach beside the tiny Irish town of Dooagh on Achill Island.

In 1984, severe storms stripped the sand away from the shore, leaving little more than rock pools along the coast. But in May of this year, locals were happily surprised to see the beach covered in sand again after a series of high spring tides. The town once had a lively tourist industry based around the beach, so locals were pretty happy to see it return.

2. Maho in St. Martens

Most of the time, this world famous beach is just like any other beautiful Caribbean coastline, but Maho’s proximity to the airport is what made it famous. That’s because the Princess Juliana International Airport is right next door to the beach and it has a particularly short runway, so planes need to get as close as possible to the ground before hitting the official airport property – meaning the planes approach their final descent just above the beach.

Plane watching is such a popular pastime at the beach that almost all of the local bars and restaurants have airport timetables so tourists can run to the shore in time to feel the rush of the engines push them towards the water. Aside from the obvious thrill of standing right below a landing plane, visitors are also rewarded with some strikingly awesome vacation photos. Unfortunately for thrill seekers, though, the most exciting landings are now a thing of the past as jumbo-jets no longer fly into this island airport.

1. The Florida Beach With the Softest, Coolest Sand on Earth

Consistently ranked as one of the top beaches in the US, what really makes Siesta Key famous isn’t its crystal clear water but its powdery white sand. While the sand from most beaches is made up of quartz, there’s something special about the quartz-based sand at this beach, most likely because it is both so pure (measuring it at around 99% crushed quartz) and ground up so fine. Scientists believe this particular quartz took millions of years to make its way from the Appalachian Mountains through rivers into the Gulf of Mexico, and eventually onto this Florida island.

The end result is almost pure white powder that doesn’t heat up in hot weather, leaving the beach comfortable to walk around on while barefoot under even the warmest summer sun.


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Mars on Earth – Planetary Mashup

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Mars-Like

Places

on Earth

Will humans ever be able to live on Mars? That’s the big question that a lot of people wonder about. Nicknamed the Red Planet because of its bright rust color, it is the fourth planet from the sun and Earth’s neighbor.

Despite being much colder than Earth with an average temperature of around -80 degrees Fahrenheit, there are many other obstacles in the way of humans colonizing there right now, such as the fact that there isn’t any oxygen to breathe. Scientists, however, are searching for new ways to make it possible for humans to eventually move to Mars, such as potentially heating up the planet to create an atmosphere in which people can breathe in oxygen.

The progress that scientists are making is amazing and it may be very possible for humans to inhabit our planetary neighbor in the not-so-distant future. Having locations on Earth that are similar to the conditions on the Red Planet are extremely helpful for researchers… like these six Mars-like locations right here on our planet.

Lake Vostok, Antarctica

Lake Vostok, Antarctica is one of the biggest subglacial lakes on Earth. The lake, which is located near the South Pole in East Antarctica, is 143 miles long, 31 miles wide, and over 2,600 feet deep. It is buried beneath more than two miles of ice and is located close to Russia’s Vostok research station. It is estimated that the lake has been covered with ice for at least 15 million years, with no access to light, and is sealed from the atmosphere which makes it one of the most extreme environments on the planet.

A Russian geographer/pilot first noticed the buried lake in the 1960s when he spotted from the air a smooth patch of ice on top of it. In 1996, British and Russian researchers then confirmed that there was indeed a lake buried there. Despite the age of the lake being unknown, scientists believe it is only thousands of years old.

Although the location has an average temperature of around minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit, the lake itself is believed to be around 27 degrees Fahrenheit because of the huge weight of the ice on top. Scientists also believe that the freshwater lake could have creatures living in the darkness and the extreme cold. In fact, they did find that the lake contains microbes and multi-cellular organisms. And this gives hope that life can be found in the similarly extreme environment of Mars.

Dry Valleys, Antarctica

The Dry Valleys are a row of valleys located west of McMurdo Sound in Antarctica. The valleys, which are subjected to cold permafrost, are said to be the closest terrestrial environment similar to the very north of Mars. Researchers have found bacteria that live in freezing temperatures where the water has turned to ice and where nutrients are scarce. Oligotrophs are slow-growing organisms that live in environments where nutrients are hard to find and they could help scientists figure out how life could possibly exist on Mars.

Researchers believe that Mars’ polar north may have supported life at one time because it received a lot more sunlight millions of years ago, which means the possibility of water and, of course, life. So researchers began drilling at this location in Antarctica to decide which machinery would be best to use on the northern locations of Mars. Scientists have found a patch of soil covering a layer of ice at the polar north of the Red Planet, and the environment is very similar at Dry Valleys, so that’s why this drilling research is being conducted there.

Atacama Desert, Chile

The Atacama Desert in Chile is a plateau approximately 1,000 kilometers long and is so extremely dry that it’s one of the most Mars-like locations on the planet. In fact, it can take decades of time between rainfalls, which ranks it among the driest locations on Earth. That is why, in 2004, scientists that were NASA-funded spent four weeks in the desert doing research on how life could possibly survive on Mars. And what they found is definitely mind-blowing.

In the dry core of the desert, scientists have found microbial life. And if they can find it on an immensely dry location like the Atacama Desert, where many people believe that nothing is able to survive, there’s a very real possibility that they could also find life on Mars. A planetary scientist from Washington State University was quoted saying “If life can persist in Earth’s driest environment, there is a good chance it could be hanging in there on Mars in a similar fashion.”

Pico de Orizaba, Mexico

Pico de Orizaba is a volcano located in south-central Mexico. It rises on the south edge of the Mexican Plateau and is located about 60 miles east of Puebla. The volcano, which has been dormant since 1687, is the third highest peak in North America, registering at 18,406 feet tall.

One big question in regards to the possible colonization on Mars is how would humans make it habitable? That is why scientists are so interested in Pico de Orizaba. It has one of Earth’s highest tree line elevations at over 13,000 feet and researchers are using this location to try to figure out how they could begin life on Mars.

Scientists believe that if they could warm up the Red Planet by using heat-trapping gases, raising the air pressure, and beginning photosynthesis, that they could possibly create and maintain an atmosphere that would support humans and other life forms that need oxygen to breathe. If they could use these gases to heat Mars to 41 degrees Fahrenheit, that would equal the temperature of the tree line on the Pico de Orizaba volcano.

Death Valley, California

Scientists have done extensive research and testing for decades at Death Valley because of the location’s ancient rock layers. Even NASA’s Curiosity was tested there to see how it would handle to harsh terrain on Mars. Death Valley is located in the southeast of California and is the lowest, driest, and hottest part of North America. The valley is approximately 140 miles long by 5 to 15 miles wide. Although the valley is excessively hotter than Mars, the harsh rocky terrain is said to be quite similar.

Since 2012, Death Valley holds a yearly event called MarsFest where engineers and scientists discuss with the public the similar relationship between that location and Mars. People can visit Mars Hill, which is covered with volcanic rubble and rocks, as well as take a walk to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, the Ubehebe Crater volcanic field, and the Little Hebe Crater.

Devon Island

Devon Island is the largest uninhabited island on the planet. Of all the islands on Earth – habited and uninhabited – it is the 27th largest. It is part of an archipelago (a group of islands) called the Parry Islands in Nunavut, Canada. It is located in the Arctic Ocean, south of Ellesmere Island and west of Baffin Bay. Devon Island is approximately 320 miles long and 80-100 miles wide with an area of just over 21,000 square miles.

The island, which was discovered in 1616 by William Baffin, has a huge 14-mile wide crater called the “Haughton Crater.” It is estimated that the crater was created around 39 million years ago when a comet two kilometers in diameter hit the area. Described as a polar desert, the impact zone is cold, dry, windy and dusty which makes it quite similar to the many craters on Mars, especially with all the loose rock in this earthly crater. Although Devon Island has an average temperature of 1 degree Fahrenheit and Mars averages -76 degrees Fahrenheit weather, the island is one of the closest comparisons to our planetary neighbor.

Pascal Lee is a planetary scientist at the SETI Institute and is leading the NASA Haughton-Mars Project (HMP) where the Haughton Crater is being used for research of new technologies and strategies which will hopefully help prepare humans and robots for the exploration of the Red Planet. Every summer since 1997, Lee has led missions to the isolated island where they have tested many things that will help them for a trip to Mars, such as spacesuits and robots, as well as drills.


Mars on Earth –

Planetary Mashup

Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 51

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Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 51

…“If we had no moon at all, chances are Earth would be just another rock circling the sun…

“What does our moon have to do with the creation story?” asks Constance.

Martin has descended into professor mode, eager to satisfy the unquenchable thirst of an inquiring mind. “That is where the single most fundamental law of cosmic physics comes into play; gravity is what makes the world, or universe, go ‘round. How Earth orbits the sun, how the solar system navigates through the Milky Way and finally how all the other galaxies keep their distance from each other; gravity is what determines these things.

“Our Moon serves as an anchor for this ship. If you it were to suddenly drift away now, after having been here for the entire time, planet Earth would descend into geological upheaval. The continental plates would be scrambled into an unrecognizable mess and volcanism would rule the day.

“If we had no moon at all, chances are Earth would be just another rock circling the sun, an ordinary orb arbitrarily wobbling from year to year; without life, without singularity.”

“My cousin Jimmy (cousin #4) says that the moon is the Earth’s dartboard, attracting Eddie's Cousins-001all those meteors and crap.” Eddie cannot help but inject his own brand of knowledge. “Just look at it; a good pair of binocs show all those craters.”

“I’d love to meet that Jimmy whom you refer to often.”

“He lives over in Berwyn; I can take you there sometime.”

“That’s quite alright, Eddie, I was being facetious. Anyhow, Earth has as many or more craters being the larger target; it’s just that it heals itself, just like our skin recovers from a scratch.

“That all aside, the bottom line is, believing that all these factors have fallen into place by accident… frankly is folly. There are an increasing number of us in science who subscribe to intelligent design over evolution.

“Will Libby is one of those who have not swallowed that pill.” Martin is still fearful of what kind of Willard Libby they are retrieving; wondering what manner of cruel pill takes away one’s memory.


Constance Caraway P.I.

Forever Mastadon


page 48

 

“DANGER!” Traveler – WIF Around the World

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Natural Hazards

of Planet Earth

The Earth is not always your friend, and the planet upon which we developed may not treat us gently despite the effort with which we have colonized so much of its surface. In this account, we move beyond familiar floods, tornadoes and earthquakes to discover the really weird ways that an active and sometimes badly behaved planet can create a real but strange threat to your safety. Learn, and be safe; looking out not only for wild animals, but approaching the planet itself with care as you walk its surface.

10. Tree Wells

 

The Earth is defined by interactions between the rocks, the atmosphere and water. And when that interaction involves the accumulation of frozen water in the form of snow in places where there are trees, an extraordinary level of danger may form. It is not only a crevice that may threaten skiers. A much more common and sometimes worse danger comes from tree wells. Tree wells are an ever-present risk on mountainsides that suffocate many unwary snow sports enthusiasts when they fall into a gaping hole in the snow where a tree stands, concealing the snowy well around its trunk.

When a large conifer tree stands on a mountain, snowfall may pile up to a depth of many feet. Yet around the tree trunk and within the curtilage of the tree’s branches, snow is likely to be missing. The result is the presence of a diabolically well concealed hole or “well” around the tree. Upon beginning to pass a tree at too close a range, a skier or snowboarder may pitch forward into a tree well and be stuck, often headfirst. As a result, suffocation may occur from the fine snow material while limbs may be trapped in the snow. Giving trees a wide berth is the best defense against the actual issue of falling in, while skiing with a partner affords a far greater chance of being seen and rescued.

9. Gas Lake

We all know the danger of drowning in a lake, but surprisingly, the most dangerous lakes in the world are not those in which one could drown, but rather, create the effect of oxygen deprivation while the victims are still on land. When seismic activity, organic decomposition and toxic gas combine together in the gas lake phenomenon, the results are both horrifically eerie and costly in human lives. Lake Nyos in Cameroon is the most notorious gas-releasing lake, having killed 1,746 people when stored carbon dioxide was released en masse, annihilating nearby villages. On August 21, 1986, the eerie looking lake, surrounded by dark hills and containing settled areas in its curtilage, released a massive cloud of carbon dioxide totaling 1.2 cubic kilometers in volume.

As a result, the vast majority of those who encountered the cloud suffocated to death, unable to access oxygen as the cloud hugged the ground and spread throughout the village of Nyos and other nearby settled areas including Cha, Kam and Subum. Countless animals were lost along with human lives, while the extinguishing of candles indicated the arrival of the deadly cloud. Those resting close to the ground or first encountering the gas represented many fatalities, while some still standing survived as the gas remained closer to the ground. Now, equipment is in place to release gas to prevent another deadly buildup.

8. Large Hailstone Catastrophes

Frozen rain may sting slightly, but truly monstrous hailstones, sometimes weighing over a pound and measuring several inches in diameter, have been responsible for a disturbing range of fatalities throughout world history. Being struck on the head by falling ice is no laughing matter, particularly when that ice is formed into a rock-hard ball and is falling at maximum velocity. In the United States, a number of deaths, injuries and cases of extreme property damage have resulted from hailstones of substantial size and weight. Giant hail the size of a baseball may fall at speeds at around 100 mph. Hail 2.75 inches in diameter may smash windshields, while larger hail, up to 4.5 inches may punch a hole through a roof. Injuries can be horrific.

In one case, a runner was covered in welts and bruises, while a hail strike on a pizza delivery person in Fort Worth, Texas in 2000 was fatal. Previously, Fort Worth had hosted an ill-fated Mayfest gathering in May 1995 when hail pummeled a crowd of 10,000, injuring 400 people. A total of 60 people had to be sent to hospital. In 1988, 246 individuals in India lost their lives during a tragically fatal hail onslaught. While falling ice from the sky naturally poses extreme dangers, it is worth remembering that certain storms are better met with a riot shield than an umbrella. Better yet, just stay indoors if there is any indication of hail, as you don’t know how big the stones may get.

7. Sinkholes

Wishing the ground might open up and swallow one alive may be a clichéd expression, but in fact sinkholes, sometimes in urban areas, can cause untold devastation and shake our confidence in the Earth to the core. In some cases, sinkholes can kill as they swallow individuals, roads, and even entire buildings at depths of over 250 feet. In places around the world, the ground below the surface may be pockmarked with cavities and also less than solid. In certain cases, a thin layer of the uppermost portions of the Earth’s crust may conceal gaping holes capable of swallowing buildings, buses and pretty much anything else unfortunate enough to be in the way; that is, on top of such a hidden cavity when the inevitable collapse happens.

Sometimes triggered by an earthquake, sometimes by a sudden increase in pressure (as in certain construction projects), or as the result of flash flooding or the accumulation of slow-acting, groundwater-based erosion, sinkholes may result in catastrophic injuries, deaths and property damage. While even moderately sized sinkholes may be fatal, enormous sinkholes that bend the bounds of imagination have included such horrors as the monster sinkhole that opened in Guatamala City in 2010, spurred by tropical storm induced floodwater action. The hole measures around 60 feet wide and is estimated to be in the range of 30 stories in depth as judged by University of Kentucky hydrogeologist James Currens.

6. Geyser Attack

Geysers and hot springs may look fun, but they also present the risk of simply steaming or boiling careless viewers and adventurers alive. After all, erupting magma is obviously extremely dangerous, and most people will stay away from an erupting volcano, but many explorers are less aware of the danger of an encounter with what could turn out to be a killer geyser or a hot spring from hell. When viewing geysers or examining hot springs, don’t get too close, and in an uncharted walk in geyser country, be prepared to run for your life. Geysers in popular places such as Yellowstone National Park have killed a disturbing number of visitors, adding up to more than 20 documented deaths.

The most recent fatality to take place was in 2016, when a young man walked over 200 yards into the Norris Geyser Basin, only to die in a hot spring that boiled him to death. Many people visiting Yellowstone have been burned either by spraying geysers or by breaking through the thin layer of rock into boiling water underneath. In other cases, individuals have died when attempting to navigate over or around chasms or pools of boiling water, only to fall in and get fatally scalded. The moral of the story? Avoid stepping off marked paths and be sure to resist the temptation to pioneer, as the unknown is also the most unsafe when it comes to natural areas full of boiling water.

5. Lava Haze Encounter

It’s not just the liquid magma of volcanoes that presents a threat. Just as a lake filled with carbon dioxide can pose a great risk, volcanic activity can create highly dangerous situations where those in the vicinity of the action may be deprived of oxygen, exposed to toxic fumes and possibly risk loss of life. Unnervingly, grisly deaths have occurred from lava haze, where hot gases have accumulated and subsequently suffocated and burned the lungs of those explorers who engage in geo-tourism or attempt to study volcanoes. The ground may look safe and walkable near a volcanically active zone in certain cases, but accumulating gases may suddenly make such an area uninhabitable, with no air left to breathe.

As volcanic activity occurs, a plethora of chemicals are released, which may accumulate undetected, be suddenly let forth with little warning, or be greatly compounded through chemical reactions with solutions and compounds already present on the Earth. The lava haze capable of causing death can contain extremely dangerous chemicals resulting from the mixing of hot volcanic products with seawater. The deadly vapors can not only limit access to oxygen, but cause nasty, potentially fatal chemical burns and lung damage. The makeup of volcanically produced haze can include hydrochloric acid caused by the reaction of lava with seawater, sulfuric compounds, and carbon compounds. While less visible than lava, lava haze is another reason to keep your distance when the Earth is agitated!

4. Pyroclastic Bomb Drop

More than just air raids present the risk of being smitten from above. Nature does its best to rain down not only frozen hazards in the form of hail, but freshly launched weaponry in the form of pyroclastic bombs hurled forth as the result of intense volcanic activity. Extreme dangers are presented not only by flowing magma when a volcano erupts, but by the presence of flying pyroclastic bombs. These pyroclastic bombs are little less than natural weapons of mass destruction if encountered. The objects are one of the worst ways to get clobbered to death by rocks as angry volcanos not only spew molten magma, but launch the pre-hardened, bomb-shaped stones at incredible velocities to great distances.

Unfortunately, the desire of some amateur volcanologists to collect the bombs may create an even greater risk of being hit. If small, the objects may inflict bullet-like wounds. If large, the impact may cause immediate death through the force of impact. While extremely hot, lava bombs are not molten on the outside. The largest specimens may blast entire sections of a mountainside into the air when they land, and could easily demolish a car, tree, or house. However, the lava bombs present highly useful research opportunities as freshly ejected specimens of volcanic material from deep below the surface. Researchers may forget due caution as they put themselves within a volcanic bomb volley’s striking distance just to gather a specimen.

3. Lava Tube

Volcanic areas do not just present the risk of eruption; a risk comparable to a sinkhole from falling into open lava tubes makes walking near volcanically active areas a recipe for disaster in many cases. While a sinkhole may lead to crushing or falling injuries, a lava tube fall may result in more than just injury from a fall or limb entrapment. Lava tubes that are more open and accessible are sometimes explored by the intrepid who visit volcanos, but the areas are frequently fraught with danger. Further risks are presented by the presence of either hot lava, steam, or toxic gases. The physical structure of areas near to volcanic activity can be unpredictable and hard to clearly define and navigate.

Accidentally falling into a treacherous lava tube poses the greatest threat, as one does not know what may lie at the bottom or how far or hard one may fall. Lava tubes can be incredibly deep, with serious threats facing anyone who explores out of bounds and ends up falling into the tube. In one case, a 15-year-old boy fell a full 25 feet down into a lava tube while carelessly exploring after climbing a fence. Fortunately, the victim was able to be rescued, but the results of a mishap involving a lava tube can have a far more serious end. The presence of lava tubes goes to confirm why volcanically active areas must be treated with great caution, whether or not there appears to be active magma present.

2. Rogue Wave

Not a tsunami, a rogue wave may appear at any point on the ocean, causing death by sweeping people out to sea who are near the coast, even if a little ways inland. Rogue waves at sea present further immediate threats to ships, which may be swamped, hit by debris or capsized. As a result of the risk posed to the public by rogue waves, signs indicating the dangers of standing near the open sea have frequently been posted to discourage careless beach combing. Turning one’s back on the water is especially risky, while even facing the water is not advisable in rocky areas where being caught up in a sudden avalanche of water comes with the added risk of being dashed against the rocks.

Once believed to be mere tall tales told by overly imaginative sailors, rogue waves have been discovered to be real life events backed by physics through exploration of accounts and theoretical analysis. Rogue waves can not only be reported both on the high seas and when the strike near the shore, but statistical and physical analysis shows how certain waves at intervals may gain great power and size. In certain cases, ships have been downed by absolutely enormous waves, exceeding 80 feet in certain cases.

1. Maelstrom

The ocean is a massive water body, and where whirlpools form at sea, the results can be disastrous. Immortalized in Norwegian culture as the Maelstrom and described as a phenomenon in Sicily under the name Charybdis, the oceanic whirlpool is a force to be both feared and avoided, and also difficult to study for obvious reasons. In the Scandinavian regions, the exceedingly powerful Moskstraumen Maelstrom formed where the sea is actually very shallow, between 131 and 197 feet in depth. The resulting tidal movements of the water, exacerbated by the action of the moon led to grand legends forming of enormous whirlpools capable of bringing ships down to the ocean floor. While such a maelstrom indeed would be dangerous in many craft, the reports have certainly been, shall we say, bolstered by popular mythology.

In the case of the Charybdis, one notorious Mediterranean whirlpool was ascribed to the action of a sea monster (if you’ve ever read Homer’s Odyssey you’ll no doubt be familiar). The Strait of Corryvreckan is known to be home to one of the worst whirlpools on the planet. While not the largest or strongest, this whirlpool was “tested” with a dummy wearing a lifejacket, which was sucked out of sight and recovered some distance away, showing signs of scraping the bottom deep below the swirling waves, while the depth indicator read 226 feet.


“DANGER!” Traveler –

WIF Around the World

Fungus Fun Facts – Mushrooming Our Minds

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Surprising Facts

About Fungi

One of the most immediately surprising facts about fungi may be how to pronounce the word: fun-jai, not fun-guy. But the fun(gi) doesn’t stop there.

From fungal intelligence to saving the world, fungi are full of surprises.

10. They’re the Most Populous Kingdom on the Planet

We don’t know how many species (of any kind, fungal or not) there are on Earth, but recent estimates suggest as many as 8.7 million—6.5 million on the land and 2.2 million in the sea.

Of these, a staggering 5.1 million species—more than half the total—are thought to be fungi, outnumbering plant species by more than 6 to 1. And, according to one of the world’s leading mycologists, Paul Stamets, this ratio may actually be closer to 10:1; certainly around 30% of the soil mass beneath our feet is fungal in nature, both living and dead, representing the “biggest repository of carbon in the world.” In fact, for every meter of tree root, Stamets says, there’s a kilometer of mycelium—the sprawling underground network of branching tubular filaments, or hyphae, that underpin mushroom growth on the surface.

Even if, as some have speculated, the total number of species approaches 1 trillion (1,000,000,000,000), the majority of these are probably microbial fungi. And since many of them thrive on your body, there’s really no escaping. Fungi are everywhere.

9. They’re Ancient, Enormous, and Incredibly Resilient

We know fungi predate humans by millions, even billions, of years and not just by extrapolating to the past. We’ve actually found 90-million-year-old specimens of Cordyceps in amber and fossilized Prototaxites dating back 420 million years. We also know the fungal kingdom has long boasted some of the largest organisms on Earth. That prehistoric Prototaxites, for example, reached a towering, spire-like 24 feet in its day, a time when even the tallest trees were no more than a few feet high.

Even today, the largest living fungus dwarfs many major cities, and easily an adult blue whale. With its sprawling, 2,384-acre mycelium, the giant, 2,400-8,650-year-old Armillaria ostoyae of Oregon’s Blue Mountains covers an impressive four square miles—the equivalent of nearly 2,000 football fields.

Fungi are also surprisingly resilient. Certain species can survive at sub-zero temperatures by generating their own heat (hence the need to freeze meat to -10°F or below), as well as relatively high temperatures of up to 150°F.

Evidence even suggests that fungal spores could survive in interstellar space for hundreds of years—or perhaps even tens of millions of years given dark, molecular clouds to travel in. In theory, this could allow them to drift from one solar system to another for aeons, potentially seeding life across whole galaxies.

8. Fungi Are Medical Miracle Workers

For thousands of years, fungi have been used in medicine. The ancient Chinese used Ophiocordyceps sinensis (a fungus that grows on insects) as a general panacea, Hippocrates used Fomes fomentarius as an anti-inflammatory, and Native Americans used puffballs on wounds. More recently, of course, penicillin(from Penicillium fungi) has been used as an antibiotic.

And we can expect plenty more fungal remedies in the future. One of the most promising and potentially groundbreaking species is the agarikon wood conk (Laricifomes officinalis) that grows on Douglas fir trees in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. This lumpy fungus, which looks a little like a wasps’ nest on trees, is extremely resistant to a range of flu viruses—including (in combination with other mushrooms) the potentially devastating bird flu—and it’s completely non-toxic for us.

It could also be key to developing effective vaccines against smallpox, which is big news considering how few of us have been vaccinated and how little vaccine there is. Hence the Department of Health and Human Services set up Project BioShield to investigate the agarikon fungus, and Stamets has declared the conservation of its old-growth habitats a matter of national security.

7. Raw Mushrooms Are Inedible (Especially the Ones that You Eat)

Whether we like them or not, we all tend to think of edible mushrooms as a generally healthy food. And we’re not entirely wrong—particularly when it comes to medicinal mushrooms like reishi (lingzhi), shiitake, and lion’s mane. However, there’s an important caveat to keep in mind: All mushrooms need to be cooked.

Because of their tough cell walls composed mainly of chitin (the same protectively fibrous substance as the exoskeletons of arthropods), uncooked mushrooms are basically indigestible by humans. Worse, many species (or even individual specimens of otherwise “edible” species, because of their porousness) contain harmful pathogens and toxins that may lead to cell damage and digestive irritation, among other specific complaints.

Not only will thorough heating eliminate these toxins from mushrooms, but cooking or heat-treating is also necessary to release the proteins, vitamins, and minerals that we’re eating them for in the first place.

Surprisingly, this caveat especially applies to the everyday “salad mushrooms”—the white/button/portobello/brown/chestnut/cremini type—that so many of us like to eat raw. There’s a genuinely creepy part of Stamets’ interview with Joe Rogan where, having stated these mushrooms in particular need to be cooked at high temperatures, he refuses to explain exactly why. When pressed by Rogan on what some of their negative effects might be, Stamets just stares back at him and says, in all seriousness, “this is an explosive area of conversation and it puts my life in danger, so I reserve the right not to answer the question.”

It’s not entirely clear what he meant by that, but we do know that an “unfortunate group of compounds” in this type of mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) has carcinogenic properties. And while these agaritines, as they’re called, do break down when cooked, they need to be cooked pretty well—since even boiling these mushrooms for 2 hours straight won’t completely eliminate the compounds.

6. They Can Be Used to Make Paper and Clothing

Fungi have many uses besides the medicinal and gourmet. For example, the same chitin that makes them pretty much indigestible for humans can also be used to make paper. Scientists realized this in the 1970s while investigating chitin shrimp shells as a possible alternative to wood pulp. Moreover, some of the best fungi for papermaking—turkey tail and reishi—are both easy to mass produce. In fact, with only a few pieces of equipment, you could rapidly grow them at home, then pulp them in a blender to mold into sheets to dry.

Fungi can also be used to make textiles, as well as the dyes to color themRomanians have long extracted amadou from Fomes fomentarius fungi to make traditional felt-like hats, for example. But it turns out garments can actually be grown as fungi from scratch. Starting out in petri dishes, living mycelium “fabric swatches” are placed around 3D models and allowed to grow into individual, one-of-a-kind garments. Even shoes can be made in this way. And of course they’ll all be 100% biodegradable, as well as, in many cases, water-repellant, anti-microbial, and actually beneficial for the skin.

5. They Can Be Used to Light Up the Dark

Fomes fomentarius has a far more prehistoric, and far more functional, use than hatmaking. Also known as the tinder fungus, it has a remarkable ability to catch and hold the otherwise cold, inert sparks that come from striking flint—ideal for starting and carrying fires in the wild. This may have been why Ötzi the Iceman, the frozen 5,000-year-old mummy, carried a lump of it in a pouch.

But there’s another way fungi can light up the dark, and it doesn’t involve any flames. Bioluminescent fungus species produce a green glow or “foxfire” when luciferin (“light-bringer”) molecules react with oxygen—just as in fireflies, anglerfish, and other bioluminescent organisms. More than 80 species of fungus, including Neonothopanus gardneri (flor de coco), are known to glow in the dark and, interestingly enough, they onlyglow in the dark, attracting insects at night to scatter their spores.

Clearly this is of interest to us. For one thing, thanks to the compatibility of fungal luciferin with plant biochemistry, scientists believe it could one day be used to genetically engineer bioluminescent trees as a sustainable, in fact literally green, alternative to streetlights.

4. They’re Not Even Close to Being Plants

They might appear to grow like plants and in some cases even look like plants, but, genetically speaking, fungi have a lot more in common with animals. Just like us, they “breathe in” oxygen and give out CO2, they don’t need sunlight to reproduce, and they rely on other organisms for food. Also, the chitin that makes up their cell walls is found nowhere in the plant kingdom (which uses cellulose instead) but is plentiful among animals, including the shells of crabs and insects. As you’ve probably noticed, mushrooms can even feel a little like meat when you’re eating them, hence their (somewhat misguided) use in “vegetarian” meat substitutes.

Around 650 billion years ago, animals and fungi branched from a common ancestor, the super-kingdom known as opisthokonta. And it’s thought that our shared ancestral opisthokonts had both animal and fungal features. In other words, as Stamets puts it, animals came from fungi; humans are fungal bodies.

And while we’ve a lot less in common with a toadstool than a chimp, our shared genetic ancestry might explain why fungal diseases in humans can be tricky to target and treat without also harming the host.

3. They Invented the Internet (A Billion+ Years Before We Did)

Evolutionary cousins or not, it’s tempting to think of fungi as somewhat behind animals, and certainly humans, in the so-called “march of progress.” They don’t move, they don’t speak, they have no discernible culture (except in the purely biological sense of the term), and they’re not even self-aware. On the surface, they’re more “stupid” than jellyfish.

But are any of these traits really necessary, or even desirable, as a measure of practical intelligence?

According to researchers in 2010, even slime mold is smarter than some of our brightest and best. Arranging oat flakes in the pattern of cities around Tokyo, scientists observed a specimen of yellow slime mold (Physarum polycephalum) establish, reinforce, and refine nutrient-carrying links between them. And by the end of the experiment, not only did this mycelial network bear a striking resemblance to the existing Tokyo metro system, it was also more efficient. Unlike the human effort, the fungal equivalent continually strengthened the busiest tubes—the tubes carrying the most nutrients—and pruned any that became redundant.

And this is just how mycelium works in nature, relaying not only food but also crucial information about the environment, including the precise whereabouts of food sources (e.g. fallen branches) and predators (e.g. footsteps), across huge distances. It even forms mutually beneficial alliances, or “guilds,” with other organisms.

Hence mycologists think of mycelium as a kind of natural internet, with individual tips branching out to explore and the entire network benefiting from their discoveries. Stamets calls it “the neurological network of nature,” and even believes we might one day be able to communicate with it. With “a level of complexity that exceeds the computational powers of our most advanced supercomputers,” mycelia could tell us all sorts about the environment, as well as the organisms within it, and this could be vital for our survival on this planet—or indeed any other. Given the staggering efficiency of fungi, there may well be similarly networked organisms throughout the entire universe.

2. Eating Some Fungi Makes Us Smarter—Much Smarter, Immediately

According to ethnobotanist Terence McKenna, human evolution from Homo erectus to the much smarter Homo sapiens was made possible by eating certain species of mushrooms, the revolutionary psychoactive effects of which we encountered upon descending from the trees. And while McKenna’s hypothesis is controversial, it’s not nearly as far-fetched as it sounds—nor even as exciting as the facts.

Increasingly, scientists are discovering that psilocybin—the psychoactive alkaloid found in Psilocybe semilanceatacubensisazurescens, and cyanescens, among others—is like Miracle-Gro for the brain. More specifically, the compound promotes the growth of new neurons (a process known as neurogenesis) and optimizes the connections between them (neuroplasticity), liberating us from established patterns of thought and behavior, and dramatically enhancing cognition. And this can happen within hours even on tiny amounts—hence the allure of “microdosing” psilocybin for a competitive edge in the workplace.

Many have also reported near-miraculous recoveries from depression, anxiety, addiction, PTSD, aggression, and other negative mind states. Paul Stamets himself, following an especially profound experience with “magic mushrooms,” was immediately and permanently cured of a lifelong stuttering habit.

Although scandalously illegal in most countries (though some are making progress), not only is psilocybin safe for human consumption, it actually works with the brain in a way that suggests it’s supposed to.

1. Fungi Could Save the Planet

Actually, fungi already save the planet every day, since without them dead plants wouldn’t be turned back into soil and life on Earth would soon disappear beneath mountains of lifeless debris. However, there’s another, arguably more pressing way that fungi could save the world—and it’s from ourselves.

It’s already well known that many species of fungus are excellent for bio remediation work—the removal of toxic substances like pesticides from otherwise healthy soil. These chemicals are in widespread use around the world and are massively detrimental to the environment, as well as to global bee populations crucial for natural pollination. But, as Stamets has found (and patented, much to Monsanto’s dismay), not only could fungi help to eliminate these toxins, they could also effectively replace them. That is, we could breed certain insect-destroying species of fungus to attract and eliminate pests, parasitizing them and even their colonies without polluting the environment—and, importantly, without killing bees. And this Myco Pesticide could soon be in widespread use around the world instead of toxic sprays; indeed even the chemical pesticide industry calls it “the most disruptive technology we have ever witnessed.”

Furthermore, MycoHoney, another of Stamets’ products, promises to halt colony collapse among bees—a major threat to our food supply. Made from polypore mycelium, which bees are naturally attracted to, MycoHoney keeps bees from dying too early. And this means that younger, stay-at-home “nurse” bees aren’t forced to replace older, foraging “worker” bees prematurely killed by, say, chemical pesticides, and can instead focus on protecting and maintaining the hive. Given that 30% of our crops and 90% of wild plants rely on pollination, this is very good news indeed.


Fungus Fun Facts –

Mushrooming Our Minds