Down to Earth Facts – Planetary Platitudes

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Amazing Facts


Planet Earth

Planet Earth is an amazing place, to say the least. And even though we’ve been living on its surface our entire life, there are still a lot of things we don’t know about it. Many things that we do know are awe-inspiring. What’s even more interesting about some of these is the fact that they have wide-scale implications on everything around them. But why try to be so mysterious, if we can give you 10 such examples, right?

 10. Planet Earth and a Cue Ball

We all know the Earth is big, there’s no denying it. But when it really comes down to it, we have a hard time coming to grips with its actual dimensions. So, in order to make things more relatable, let’s take a look at mountains. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to see or even climb Mount Everest can attest to the fact that it’s incredibly huge and incredibly humbling. But most people don’t even need to see any of the tallest mountains in the world to know that mountains are big. Now, let’s take our mental image of mountains as points of reference when we talk about the dimensions of the Earth. We know that the average diameter of the planet is of about 7,900 miles. It’s important to note here that Earth is not a perfect sphere, but rather  an oblate spheroid. This means that, because it’s spinning on its axis, the diameter at the equator is bigger than the distance between the poles by about 27 miles. And beside these differences, the planet also has some bumps and dents, but they’re much smaller than 27 miles.

With this information in mind, if we were to scale the planet down to the size of an average cue ball, we would come to an incredible realization. According to the World Pool-Billiard Association (WPA) Tournament Table and Equipment Specifications, every new ball should measure 2.25 inches in diameter and only have imperfections that cannot exceed 0.005 inches. By making the proper calculations here, it turns out that the biggest “imperfection” on Earth can be 17 miles and fall within WPA standards. While Mount Everest is almost 5.5 miles tall, and the Mariana trench is 6.8 miles deep, if they were taken together, side by side, the sum is still below the 17 mile margin. The same thing applies to the difference in diameter between the poles and the equator. Each half of the planet is responsible for its 13.5 mile share out of the total 27, which again is below 17 miles. So, anyone who has ever held a brand new cue ball in their hand and is not amazed by the fact that the Earth is even smoother than that? Well, he or she seriously needs to revise their sense of wonder about the world.

9. The Earth’s Crust

If you liked the previous example, you’ll like this one too. The planet’s crust is the only place in the whole seemingly infinite universe that we call home; at least for the time being. And it’s not even the whole crust, per se, just the surface. The deepest humans have ever managed to go was to a depth of 7.5 miles with the Kola Superdeep Borehole in Russia. Temperatures reached well above 356 °F, so it was only the drilling equipment and measuring apparatus that made it down there, while the scientists stayed safely on the surface. The actual thickness of the crust, like its temperature, varies from one place to the other. While the average thickness is of about 9.3 miles, it can reach a maximum of 55 miles under the Himalayas and just about 3.7 miles under the oceans.

Now, by knowing the planet’s diameter to be 7,900 miles, if we were to scale it down again, but this time to the size of a basketball, the Earth’s crust would be the thickness of a postage stamp; a postage stamp floating on a ball of molten rock and metal. Yes, this is true. So, the next time you hear someone comparing the planet’s crust to that of a chicken egg shell, know that information to be false. The planet’s crust is far thinner than that. If Earth was the size of an actual egg, the crust would probably be even thinner than the thickness of human skin that peels off after a sunburn. Yuck! And since the crust is also broken up into pieces that we call tectonic plates, it’s now easier to understand how and why continents move around so much. So, now that you know these two pieces of information about the crust and the actual size of the Earth, how do you think we fare in size here on Earth by comparison to bacteria on an actual billiard ball?

8. Earth’s “Heartbeat”

With the previous two entries on this list, would it really come as a surprise to anyone that Earth might just have an actual heartbeat? Well, yeah, it would, and this isn’t actually true, but the planet does have something closely resembling one. Every moment of every day, Earth is going through roughly 2,000 thunderstorms everywhere on its surface. And these thunderstorms produce roughly 50 lightning strikes every second. And in turn, each of these lightning strikes produces a series of electromagnetic waves that are captured and then bounce between the planet’s surface and the lower ionosphere, some 60 miles up. If the wavelength is just right, then some of these waves combine and increase in strength, creating a repeating atmospheric “heartbeat”, a phenomenon known in science as the Schumann resonance. This phenomenon has been known for a while now, but in 2011 researchers came to realize that this resonance isn’t just confined to the planet’s atmosphere, since some of the waves actually extend more than 500 miles into space.

On a somewhat similar note, a Dutch artist by the name of Lotte Geeven, in collaboration with geoscientists from the German Research Centre for Geosciences, have recorded the sounds made by the planet, deep inside its crust. The recording was done in Germany, in a hole similar to the one in Russia mentioned before. The German Continental Deep Drilling Program, or more commonly known as the KTB borehole, goes to a depth of six miles inside the Earth’s crust and here, scientists were able to capture the sounds made by the planet. Some have described these sounds as a “melancholic howl” or “a bell-like alarm denoting histories in the making.”

7. The Amazing Story about Oxygen

It’s no real mystery that Earth hasn’t always looked like it does today. In fact, our planet is in constant change even at the current moment, and for the better part of its existence, the conditions on the surface have almost always been different than they are now. So, with this in mind, let’s talk about oxygen and how it got here. Oxygen only became predominant in the atmosphere roughly 2.3 billion years ago, during an incident called the Great Oxygenation Event. Before this time, oxygen levels were marginal at best, making up just around 0.02% of all the gases in the air. But during the GOE, it reached levels of above 21%. This big rise is thanks to a tiny organism that is still alive today – Cyanobacteria, or more commonly known as the blue-green algae. These organisms are not algae, as their common name might suggest, but unicellular bacteria that can manufacture their own food. They live in water, form huge colonies, and use photosynthesis to turn the sun’s rays directly into energy. A byproduct of photosynthesis, as some of us know, is oxygen.

Over billions of years , these tiny creatures inhabited the world’s oceans, releasing more and more oxygen as they multiplied and spread. It’s safe to say that we owe thanks to these Cyanobacteria for our very existence and the world we live in today. It is, however, important to note that this new change in the planet’s chemistry did not go as smoothly as some might think. For starters, oxygen was toxic for all other living creatures on the planet at that time and nearly drove all previous anaerobic life into extinction. Secondly, the growing amount of oxygen in the air reacted with the already existing methane, which was in abundance at the time, creating CO2. And since methane is 25 to 30 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2, Earth went through a severe cold spell that lasted for 300 million years and almost drove even the “mighty” Cyanobacteria into extinction.

Lastly, the higher levels of oxygen triggered an explosion, so to speak, in the number of minerals on the surface of the planet – minerals that otherwise would not have existed if it weren’t for the blue-green algae. More than 2,500 of the total 4,500 minerals now common on Earth appeared during the Great Oxygenation Event. So, the next time you think of humans as being the only species capable of changing the planet beyond recognition and having the capacity to drive life, including itself, into extinction… think again.

6. The Origins of Life

For all the credit we can give our men and women of science when it comes to all the discoveries they’ve made over the years, we still have to take into account the fact that we know surprisingly little when it comes to life and how it came into being

in the first place. Up until fairly recently, we believed we knew with a relatively high degree of certainty when life first appeared on Earth, and we had our presumptions on how it happened. But it seems that this theory has now changed. According to a recent study, we can now move the appearance of life back by another 300 million years, bringing it quite close to the moment when the planet actually formed some 4.5 billion years ago.

 If the research is confirmed, then it would seem that life formed 4.1 billion years ago, from a primordial disk of dust and gas surrounding the Sun just before the Earth started forming. The researchers came to this conclusion after observing tiny specks of graphite trapped inside zircon crystals. This graphite is usually associated with signs of life. Another theory that can account for its existence in the crystals is a massive meteor impact. But given the amount needed to explain these findings, it makes the meteor theory highly unlikely, though not entirely dismissible. If proven true, however, and life is as old as this new evidence suggests, then it would seem it’s even older than the Moon itself. “With the right ingredients, life seems to form very quickly,” said Mark Harrison, a professor of geochemistry at UCLA and member in this study.

5. Two Planets Become One

Ever thought about how the Moon was formed? Probably because it’s visible up in the sky almost every other night, people have grown accustomed to seeing it and don’t give it a second thought. But the Moon’s history, and especially its birth, are amazing and terrifying, to say the least. Back in the early days of the solar system, and soon after our planet began to take shape, fate would place young Earth on a direct collision course with another planet we now call Theia. Now, even though it’s hard to know for certain if this actually happened, there are strong indications that it did. According to the calculations, this sister planet of ours was roughly the size of Mars (or slightly smaller), and because of the still unpredictable and chaotic nature of the solar system at the time, it was flung in the direction of Earth.

In the aftermath of the collision, two things happened. The two planets merged to form this one we are all standing on right now. And secondly, much of the debris that was flung into space came together and formed the Moon. Now, as we said before, this collision theory is not certain. But the relatively large size of the Moon as compared to the Earth points to this hypostasis. So do the rocks brought back during the Apollo missions, which are virtually indistinguishable from those here on Earth when it comes to their oxygen isotopes. This theory can also explain our planet’s unusually large core as compared to all the other rocky worlds in the solar system.

4. Shifting Poles

No, this has nothing to do with any voting or elections – it’s about the Earth’s magnetic field. Thanks in part to our planet’s larger-than-usual molten core and its relatively fast spin on its axis, both of which may be the result of the previously mentioned collision between Earth and Theia, our planet has a very strong magnetic field relative to its size. In fact, only Mercury, of all the other rocky planets, has a magnetic field, but it’s far weaker than our own. Venus doesn’t have one, even though we’re fairly certain it has a molten metal core. Scientists believe the reason behind this is because Venus has a slow rotation around its axis and the temperatures inside are more evenly distributed. Mars, on the other hand, did have a magnetic field once, but its metallic core has since cooled and solidified. In any case, our strong magnetic field protects us from the sun’s deadly solar radiation, it keeps our atmosphere from being blown away into space, and it gives us the beautiful aurora borealis around the poles.

But over the past century and a half, scientists have come to realize that this magnetic field is weakening. As it turns out, the magnetic poles of our planet are shifting. This means that someday in the future, north will be south and vice-versa, and the process has already begun. While in the early 20th century the poles were moving at a rate of about 10 miles per year, today that speed has increased to 40. There’s no real need to panic, though, since this phenomenon has happened hundreds of times before. In fact, over the past 20 million years, the poles have shifted every 200 to 300 thousand years or so. The last time it happened, however, was more than 780,000 years ago, so, we’re due for another one. And according to the fossil record from previous pole reversals, it seems that there were no major changes in plant or animal life.

What we would expect to see in this several-century-process would be an increased vulnerability to solar flares that could knock out entire power grids. Holes could be made in the ozone layer, exposing us and the environment to higher degrees of radiation. There would be more than two magnetic poles at a time, scattered all across the face of the planet, leading compasses to spin uncontrollably. Some animals could become disoriented, and we would see the northern lights in unusual places. The actual timeframe here is nowhere near to being exact. Scientists are still having a hard time understanding all the inner workings of our planet, but estimates say that this shouldn’t take more than 1,000 years or so. Probably even less. And before you say anything, it is important to note that from our planet’s perspective, a millennium is a literal geological instant.

3. Mother Nature is an Expert at Recycling

Over the many millions of years, Earth has become an expert at recycling. If given enough time, our planet has and will continue to reshape itself in a continuous cycle of renewal and rebirth. Every natural system on Earth is involved in this process in one degree or another, and the whole thing could take hours to explain properly. But because we know your time is valuable, we’ll keep it short. Let’s start with life. As time marches on, organisms grow, develop, and multiply, and then they eventually die. Their remains fall to the ground and become the very soil they once drew their nourishment from. Layer upon layer of this soil is produced, one on top of the other, slowly but surely turning into stone. This bottom layer of stone moves along with the tectonic plates they’re sitting on, eventually sliding underneath one another, or becoming a mountain if it ends up on top.

If this rock layer turns into a mountain, as two plate tectonics bump into each other, over time, rain, wind, the many rivers, as well as other natural phenomena, grind away at that rock, eroding it and washing it out to sea where it sinks at the bottom and turns into sedimentary rock on the ocean floor. Once here, it again transforms into metamorphic rock due to very high heat and pressure, and eventually ends up in the upper mantle of the Earth in a process known as subduction. Here, this rock is turned into magma which eventually finds its way back to the surface via an oceanic ridge system, or through the many volcanoes that dot the Earth – and the cycle repeats itself. Now, this whole process has been overly simplified here, but this cycle the crustal rock goes through, not only recycles carbon across the globe, but it also provides the nutrients necessary for life to thrive in abundance. If it weren’t for this process, life’s chances on the planet would be severely compromised.

2. The Earth is Growing

There is a theory circulating out there that states the planet has been in a continuous process of expansion and contraction throughout its entire lifetime. Known as theExpanding Earth theory, it says that at some point in the past, Earth was 80% smaller than it is today, at which point the continents formed its entire surface. Then it began expanding, forming the ocean floor. While the theory does seem to have some intriguing concepts, it does have a lot of scientific inconsistencies and is extremely unlikely. What we are really talking about here, when we say the Earth is growing, is the fact that our planet takes in roughly 60 to 100 tons of cosmic dust every single day. This can’t really come as a surprise to anyone since this is the exact same process through which all other heavenly bodies in the universe have been created since the dawn of time, including Earth itself. But we don’t really think about it still happening, right? Well, even though it has toned down a bit since the early days of the solar system, the process is still pretty much alive.

Even if space seems to be empty, it’s really littered with fine particles of dust, and these particles get swept up by our planet and, in a sense, become part of Earth. Only a small fraction of this material actually leaves a visible trail in the sky, since most of it is too tiny for that to happen. Now, even though scientists have been aware of this phenomenon happening for a while, only with the advent of more sophisticated technology did they come to comprehend its actual scale. Researchers are now looking at what effects these particles have on our environment. For starters, it was observed that these particles are incremental in the formation of the highest clouds in our atmosphere. It also acts as fertilizer for phytoplankton, and can even affect the ozone layer’s chemistry. But these effects can be just the tip of the iceberg, and scientists are trying to figure out cosmic dust’s many other implications.

1. But it’s Actually Getting Lighter

How can this be? We’ve just concluded that Earth takes in around 30,000 tons of space dust every year, so… how is this possible? It’s not like we’re throwing stuff into outer space – not that much, at least – and it’s not like we’re using any of the weight to build stuff, since that mass still adds to the overall load of the planet. Well, as it turns out, Earth is losing mass via two major ways. One is through its core, as it consumes energy in the form of heat. But this loss accounts for just 16 tons a year. The real mass loss comes in the form of hydrogen and helium. These two gases are the lightest in the universe and oftentimes they just simply float away from Earth. They do so at a rate of 95,000 tons of hydrogen and 1,600 tons of helium each year. So, even though we get roughly 30,000 tons of dust, we lose almost 97,000 tons of gas.

Now, when it comes to hydrogen, there’s nothing to really be afraid of. Even at this current rate, it would take it trillions of years before all of it could be depleted from the atmosphere and by that time, the sun will have died out, and there will be no Earth to speak of. (Um, yay?) But helium is another matter. Even though it’s the second most abundant element in the universe, it’s disappearing here on Earth. We’re now using it for a great deal of things, on an unprecedented scale, and there’s only so much to go around.

Down to Earth Facts

– Planetary Platitudes

Russia – Enough Said

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We Should

Be Scared

of Russia


Russia has been talked about in the news a lot in the past several years, and has garnered an incredible amount of attention in the USA of late. They have been accused of hacking a political party’s files in order to favor one over the other. They have been accused of blackmailing our politicians and planting their own agents. They have been accused of spreading a huge amount of fake news throughout our country, in order to change the course of the general election.

 On top of that, some in Europe believe that President Vladimir Putin was pushing for Brexit to weaken the EU, because he would like to take back more of Eastern Europe. While it would be nice to consider this alarmism, he has already taken Crimea, half of Ukraine, and doesn’t seem interested in stopping anytime soon. Below are 10 reasons why we should keep a careful eye on Russia and their actions over the next several years.

10. They Shut Down Estonia’s Internet Infrastructure For Almost a Month

Estonia is an Eastern European country near the Russian border, and they are actually quite unique when it comes to any country in the world, because they rely on the internet for almost everything. They use the internet for paying parking fines, voting, paying utility bills and taxes, and almost anything else you could imagine. Children in Estonia are taught to use the internet properly in school at a young age, and it is considered one of the most tech savvy countries in the world.

That’s why, in 2007, Estonians understandably freaked out when their internet infrastructure was hit by a cyber-attack that managed to keep the entire system down for three whole weeks. Estonians are understandably worried that it was a test for a possible Russian invasion down the road. Estonia was once part of the Soviet Union, is seeded with ethnic Russians so Putin could attempt to pull something similar to Crimea, and with their infrastructure down, it would be hard for them to resist the chaos Putin could create. With the recent aggressive moves by Russia both in terms of cyber-crime and their continuing ventures in Ukraine, Estonia fears they may be next and is preparing for war.

9. The Russian Mock Invasion That Would Take Key Islands From Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden

Some may think that Russia would never dare go that far into Eastern Europe, or really keep pushing at all much beyond Ukraine. However, people back during WWII said that Hitler would stop after he took the Rhineland, and they were very, very wrong. The truth is that Putin has no reason to stop unless someone makes him, and he has already taken Crimea and roughly half of Ukraine. While some may be skeptical, back in March of 2015, Russia conducted a mock set of invasions that were set on the rather insane and clearly made up idea that the West was trying to physically overthrow Putin and pull off some kind of coup.

In response to this fake threat, the test invasion conducted would have them take away key islandsfrom Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, making it almost impossible for the NATO allies to come to the rescue. While the Russians tried to give a flimsy pretext that it was in response to a Western based attack, that doesn’t really hold water, because the real strategic value of those islands is that it would cut off the Baltic States from NATO. This means that Russia would be able to easily take Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia and force them back into the Soviet Union, and it would be almost impossible for NATO to provide any kind of proper support or help. The fact that Russia put so much time and effort into practicing such an attack is troubling, to say the least.

8. With the EU Increasingly Weakening, Russia is in a Stronger Position to Invade Eastern Europe

When the Brexit vote occurred, Putin tried to remain indifferent on the surface, but many experts believe he was very excited. The main thing that stops Putin from taking back the former Soviet States is a strong European Union and a strong NATO, which kind of coincide in a lot of ways right now. Unfortunately, both NATO and the European Union are in historically weak positions, and it seems like that problem is only going to increase as time goes on. With the United Kingdom out of the EU, it is possible more people could leave, and it may be much harder for the Western Europeans to mount any kind of proper defensive support if Putin rolls into Eastern Europe.

This also hurts the sanctions put on him by the United States and the European Union, as the sanctions are only as strong as the united front the countries performing them keep up against the Russians. If the European Union continues to dissolve, Russia will have more negotiating power with individual states, and will find it easy to bully small European countries with their comparatively large economy. In the end, both in terms of potential invasions and in terms of negotiating power, the Russians win big whenever Europe becomes weaker. To make matters worse for the Eastern Europeans, we have a US president who knows little about NATO and campaigned, in part, on it being obsolete (though he’sfinally coming around on its importance), and cares about our agreements to protect small countries even less.

7. Russia Today is Kremlin Controlled and Russian Fake News Propaganda is a Global Machine

President Putin tries to dance around the issue, so it isn’t quite as obvious to everyone, but the truth is that Russia Today might as well be Putin’s personal blog. It is funded, owned and operated by the Kremlin – in other words the Russian government. The government claims that it is not totally government controlled, but Putin also admits that it should kind of be expected that they will say things that are positive about the government and its agenda. While not saying it outright, it is clear the purpose of Russia Today is simply to spread the Kremlin’s propaganda all over the world. It is perhaps one of the most unreliable sources on the planet, but many people who see Russia Today in other countries do not realize just how unreliable it is.

To make matters worse, a lot of fake news regarding the US election was traced right back to Russians, and there is reason to believe many of them were even paid trolls. Despite America’s best efforts to handle its own elections, it is scary to think how easily the Russians have managed to manipulate emotions and decisions simply by posting fake stories. If that wasn’t enough, there is reason to believe that a lot of similar propaganda is being spread in Europe as well, in order to weaken support for the EU and bolster the image of Vladimir Putin around the world.

6. We May Call Putin a Tyrant, but He’s Extremely Popular in Russia

Putin may be a man who is very interested in conquest, and he has some very grand plans. For this reason, many people like to put him in the realm of comic book villain, and look at him as a truly evil individual. While he does support a lot of draconian laws, especially against gay people, the truth is that Russia has always had very fascistic laws and very little freedom. The Russian people are fairly used to hardship, rationing, and not having a particularly strong say in government. When it comes to being a fascist, if anything Putin is lenient compared to some of the leaders of the past. What this means is that while he is dangerous to us, when we act is if he is horrible to the Russian people and posit the possibility of them one day rising up against them, it shows a fundamental lack of understanding of our Russian rivals.

We assume that they have the same priorities we do, but they simply don’t. Americans are more concerned with individual freedoms and don’t particularly care about refighting old battles. However, when Putin took back Crimea, it came with a great surge of popularity back home, because he was bringing back a certain amount of Russian pride as well. The Russian people felt stronger, and better to know that Putin was bringing back the old Soviet Union. Many of them now see him not as another politician, but as a transformational figure that has helped bring Russia back to what it once was. Russians still complain about politics and the country in general, but Putin still keeps his approvals in the low 80s, and even watchdogs from other countries believe the polls are at least mostly accurate. We aren’t saying Putin is a nice guy, but it is important to understand the people you are up against. We may not like Putin, but the fact that he is popular at home is not just Russian propaganda.

5. Putin Has Consolidated Power and May Very Well be President for Life

One of the things that makes it harder for a country like Europe or the United States to deal with threats from dictators is that the dictator has the advantage of remaining in power forever, consolidating his holdings, making him capable of carrying out truly long term plans. On the other hand, countries like the USA have regular elections that change our governmental leaders, which means we constantly have to refresh our policies to deal with the latest threats. Every president will have a different idea on how to deal with our foreign enemies or rivals, and that means an entirely new road map. In the meantime, someone like Putin can remain in office for nearly two decades, ensuring he can slowly work on his goals.

Putin was first term limited, then made a new position for himself that was above the president to get that problem out of the way. Then, he managed to become president again after taking care of the pesky term limit issue. And, while he hasn’t said he will run yet, many expect him to run again next year, and with his popularity, it would be hard for him to lose unless something catastrophic happened to Russia to completely tank his poll numbers. And with calls from some within the

Russian government for Vladimir Putin to remain president for life, it seems clear that has been the plan for quite some time now.

4. There’s a Possibility They Have Blackmail Material on the US President

While we know that Donald Trump has business dealings in Russia, which have been the subject of much suspicion and rumor, and that many in his campaign were said to have contacted Russia during the campaign, which has led some to believe that there is far more to the story. According to a dossier of information, much of which is hard to verify, Trump visited Russia as part of a beauty pageant, and while staying in a hotel room, he got up to some antics that were quite risqué and embarrassing. Heallegedly had prostitutes pee on a hotel bed that had once been used by Barack and Michelle Obama.

And according to the dossier, the Russians had been monitoring this room, and now have incredible dirt on Trump. Due to his many business dealings with them, and this blackmail they had, they decided to push him toward politics, and did their best to help him succeed, because they believed that they could use their blackmail to get sanctions lifted or other pro-Russia policies put in place. Of course, there is no proof that this blackmail exists, or that the event occurred as alleged, but the thought that they have blackmail on our president is very troubling. And even if they do not have that kind of blackmail, the fact he once admitted to having a large amount of business dealings with Russia, and would not disclose his taxes, still makes things suspicious for other reasons.

3. The Gay Concentration Camps Currently Operating in Chechnya

Right now in Chechnya, a region which is now part of the Russian Federation, gay people are being rounded up like dangerous animals and either tortured for days on end or killed. These men are being held in what are essentially being described as concentration camps for gay people. Bounties are being paid for gangs of mercenaries to round up gay men wherever they can find them. This includes their homes, secret gay hangout spots, and they will even perform sting operations to find gay people.

There are reports that they are receiving beatings and electric shocks, and are sometimes even being released simply so they can be re-caught for sport, and so that the hunter can double dip on the bounty for the captured gay person. Some are blackmailed and threatened with much worse torture or death if they don’t pay large sums of money – because being gay is illegal in Chechnya, these men are all too eager to agree to avoid even worse punishment. Unfortunately, the only group that really has the power to stop this is the Russian government, and they are denying that there is any purge going on. Considering their knowledge of what happens in their territories, it boggles the mind that they do not know. And when you look at their own reputation when it comes to gay people, the sad truth is that the Kremlin likely understands what is happening and approves of it – gay people are not welcome in Russia.

2. Russia Currently Has the Largest Active Nuclear Stockpile in the World

When most people think of the most powerful nuclear country, they tend to immediately think of the United States. But the truth is that Russia actually has a slightly larger stockpile of nuclear weapons than the US does – this includes both stockpiled warheads and those that are fully operational and ready to go. The United States has close to 7,000 nuclear warheads, but Russia has over 7,000, beating the US by a small margin. They also have about forty more active nuclear warheads than America does, with both countries having close to 2,000 that they are ready to launch. Some may think China is close, but they actually don’t have any operational warheads at the moment. The next closest countries are actually France, with a few hundred, and the United Kingdom, with a little over 100 in terms of operational nuclear weapons.

For this reason alone, Russia has to be respected. With one of the largest economies, areas of sheer territory, and that many nuclear weapons, they are a very strong force to be reckoned with. A ground invasion of Russia has already been proven to be all but impossible, and a serious air battle would lead to them threatening nukes against the US. In the meantime, it is hard to prevent Russia from taking back countries in Eastern Europe without starting some kind of full blown war, or threatening the use of nuclear weapons – an empty threat because we know Russia could respond in kind. Due to being such a strong nuclear power, apart from fighting proxy wars over the ground Russia is trying to occupy, there isn’t a lot we can do to slow them down.

1. Military Service is Compulsory for Young Men, so Nearly All Russian Males Have Military Experience

The Russians are also dangerous because nearly every male of any decent health has at least a few years of military service under his belt. The Russians have made it compulsory for young men between the ages of 18 and 27 to serve in the military so that every capable citizen will be ready if necessary, and also to keep the military strong, full, and well-disciplined at all times. Now, draft dodging is fairly common for this reason, as not everyone wants to join the military, but it can actually be quite hard to do. Without a legitimate medical reason, you often need to pay thousands of dollars for fake documents to forge your way out of it. And you may still be caught and forced into service anyways, especially if you try tricks like staying at a different address than the one you put down officially.

And despite the draft dodgers, this means Russia still has a very, very large portion of its healthy young men learning the ways of the military lifestyle, and how to fight and die for their country if needed. With a percentage of men with military training much higher than that of other countries, they have a very large pool of capable people to pull from if they end up in any extended wars or conflicts spread throughout the world. Some countries near Russia, such as Sweden, have recently added compulsory military service in order to prepare for the potential threat they see coming down the road. The world has to be very watchful of Russia, and those who live in Eastern Europe have the most to fear.


– Enough Said

World Urban Extremes – WIF Geography

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Most Extreme Cities

in the World

As of 2008, for the first time in human history about as many people live in urban areas as suburban or rural ones. That means there are a lot of people who think that they deal with greater levels of traffic, more crime, more overcrowding, and higher costs of living than residents of places they consider barely populated backwaters.

 Well, those urbanites have something to consider: They live with country bumpkin-levels of those problems compared to the denizens of the following cities. Depending on the city in question, that makes them much more fortunate, or unfortunate, than the occupants probably realize.
Now, it’s important to remember, when we say “extreme” we don’t mean these are places where you should grab a Mountain Dew and a snowboard, bruh. These 10 cities, instead, exist at the extreme edge of various spectrums. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

10. Largest Population

This is one of the more contentious records as far as cities of the world go, since during rush hour or big events they can all feel like they’ve got the most people in them. Some of the most populous cities in developing nations have very outdated, underfunded bureaucracies which can make an accurate census report difficult to acquire. This is especially true for two of the leading contenders, Jakarta, Indonesia and Delhi, India. But even the highest estimates put them at the city the World Atlasclaims is the world champion: Tokyo, Japan.

As of November 2016, Tokyo’s population was reported to be roughly 37,830,000 residents. To put that very large number in perspective, the population of Japan is reported by the CIA to be roughly 127,000,000 people. More than a quarter of the island nation’s population is located in one urban area. And yet, it’s by no means the largest city or the most crowded.

9. Largest Land Area

In July 2016, Guardian magazine said that urban areas were expected to triple in size over the next forty years. That’s also probably how long it will take any of the fastest growing cities to overtake the current largest urban area in the world. The champion city in that regard is unquestionably New York City, New York, with a metro area of 8,683 square kilometers (or 5,395 square miles if you’re going to use the imperial system like a true American).

It’s over 1,700 square kilometers more than Tokyo, the next largest urban area. It’s also nearly as large as the entire state of Connecticut (5,543 square miles). As it happens, growth in New York City has been slowing as recently as 2016. So it’s not out of the question for the little joke from the start of this entry that some other city will overtake it in the coming decades will have some truth to it.

8. Most Densely Populated City

As heavily populated and vast as New York and Tokyo are, they’re not even close to the most crowded, even if stories of people having to pay hundreds of dollars to live in closets might give that impression. After all, they are cities with large numbers of wealthy inhabitants who can afford decently-sized apartments and houses  No, you have to go to the developing world to find places where people truly have no elbow room. Not even to a notoriously crowded city like Hong Kong. It’s one which many people in the Western Hemisphere haven’t even heard of, let alone a famous city.It’s Dhaka, the largest metropolis in Bangladesh.

At 16,235,000, its population is roughly a million less than that of the New York Metro area, but it’s less than 125 square miles in size. There are more than 110,000 people per square mile, and considering that the Telegraph reported that it was rated the second least livable city in the world, the housing is overwhelmingly slums. Unfortunately for many of the people who already live there, it’s only going to get worse in the immediate future because it’s also one of the fastest growing cities in the world.

7. Most Expensive City

The average person on the street would probably guess that the answer is New York City again, considering it’s a city where a single riverside house can go for as much as $130 million. But we live in a rapidly changing world, so we have to look across the Pacific once again to find the real ‘winner’. As of 2014, that honor swung over to Singapore, particularly due to the rising cost of utilities, food (11% higher than New York City), clothing (50% higher than New York City), and vehicular ownership. Not owning a car won’t save you that much: Singapore’s other transportation methods are three times more expensive than NYC’s.

This dubiously desirable record was still held as of 2016, though it’s been so volatile that it dropped and rose 10% during the time in between. With that in mind, such a volatile economic status means that a bust that leaves it one of the cheaper cities to live in might be around the corner.

6. Healthiest City

It’s time for us to look at an unambiguously positive record for a city to have, for a change. From clear air initiatives to encouraging cycling, many cities are going out of their way to increase the longevity of their citizens. The front runner is, once again, a city that’s not particularly famous. It’s the city-state of Monaco, which is totally surrounded by France except for a coast along Mediterranean Sea. You’ve probably only heard of it either if you’re into Formula One racing, or because you’re a fan ofGrace Kelly. It’s only about two square kilometers (1.24 miles) with a population of only roughly 38,000. Odds are you’ve only heard of it for how ridiculously small it is compared to most nations.

 However, Monaco exists in no small part as a tax shelter, and thus it has drawn a highly disproportionate number of wealthy people. So not only does it have enough people who can afford top-of-the-line medical treatment and lifestyles, it has taken on green initiatives and has many electric cars for government employees, driving down illnesses caused by emissions. The result is the residents have an average life expectancy of a staggering 89.6 years. Perhaps the city-state doesn’t seem so silly now?

5. City with Worst Traffic

Even people who’ve been stuck in traffic for hours doesn’t really understand how bad it can get. Imagine that the worst traffic you’ve experienced was not only significantly worse, but that such an amount of traffic is effectively routine. If you can imagine that, then you’ve just pictured life for the average driver in Mexico City, the city which has held the title for “Worst Traffic” for multiple years. It’s also the only country in the Western Hemisphere in the top five.

During regular hours, a driver in Mexico can expect a trip to take at least 66% longer to reach the destination than if there was no traffic congestion. When rush hour comes around, however, this will balloon to around 101%. Every driver can look forward to spending an average of just under an hour a work day stuck in congested traffic. Even factoring in days off and other times that might help them avoid the worst congestion, the average person in Mexico City will still spend 227 hours a year stuck in traffic, or just over nine days total. It’s frankly kind of amazing enough people are willing to put up with that, to the point where the traffic can remain so bad.

4. Most Impoverished City in the World

It’s no surprise that the poorest city in the world is located in an area that was torn apart by civil war for decades. Even 14 years after the end of a 23-year civil war, Monrovia, Liberia can hardly be described as having recovered. It’s the largest city in Liberia and the capital, with a population of roughly one million. Despite that, amenities most people take completely for granted are generally out of the question for them.

Public transportation is limited to sparse private taxis. Electricity is utterly unreliable, leaving such devices as ATMs and credit card readers out of the question. Those with access to electricity aren’t supposed to use it between 2 and 6 a.m. Monrovia’s plumbing infrastructure is so insufficient that only one third of the population even has access to a flush toilet. They have to rely on makeshift latrines or even public spaces. Even for those whose toilet functions, the sewage system for the city is failing, leaving the sanitation bad enough that it’s no surprise the city was hit by an ebola outbreak.

3. Happiest City

Okay, since that was pretty grim, let’s lighten the mood by focusing on something positive. It might seem difficult or unscientific to quantify something as abstract as the happiness of a city. However, the design and consultation firm Arcadis’s method for determining it still seems pretty credible. It was to take the balance of the population’s health, the amount of prejudices the citizens faced and expressed, the levels of education, employment levels vs. cost of living, and the crime rate. After crunching the available data of all that, the city in question turned out to be none other than Seoul, the capital city of South Korea. You might think that a city that is constantly threatened with nuclear destruction by a notoriously unstable neighbor would make the city more paranoid, but this does not seem to be the case (it undoubtedly helps that North Korean missiles are infamously unreliable).

Unfortunately for fans of small government, this success is attributed in no small part to extensive urban planning. Seoul’s government also heavily favors globalist policies. Maybe you feel living in a happier city might not be worth accepting all that, but it feels like something worth considering.

2. The Most Homicidal City

Let’s get the most negative one out of the way. Many people believe that cities are inherently more violent than rural areas (although a study published in 2013 showed that cities actually aren’t any more dangerous than less populated areas), so they’ll assume that the most violent one must be practically a free-fire zone. That city would be Caracas, Venezuela, which is also that nation’s capital.

As the World Atlas reported in February 2017, the capital’s murder rate reached 119.87 per 100,000 people, meaning that with a population of 2.1 million, 2,517 homicides will occur there in a year. It’s one of only four cities in the world where the murder rate is more than 100 per 100,000. To give an idea just how much homicide there is in Venezuela, there are two other Venezuelan cities in the worldwide top ten for homicides a year. It’s more than double the homicide rate of St. Louis, Missouri, which now has the highest murder rate in America per capita. It’s also not a brand new development. Even back in 2011, Caracas’s murder rate became notorious when it rose above Baghdad’s. Hopefully there’s still time for anyone reading to cancel their plans to take a vacation there.

1. Oldest City in the World

We’ll conclude this list with a neutral fact. In this case, we don’t mean which was the first city ever built (evidence indicates this would be long-abandoned Jericho of Old Testament fame). What we’re looking for is which city has been continuously occupied since it was founded for the longest time. You might think it’s somewhere in Africa, where humans first evolved. Maybe you assume it’s somewhere in Eastern Asia? How about in the Middle East, where Mesopotamia is known as the Cradle of Civilization? Turns out it’s the last one, and it’s a city that likely will be quite familiar to anyone following current world events. As reported by The Guardian magazine, it’s poor, war-ravaged Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, that has the strongest claim.

Aleppo was first founded as a city circa 6,000 BC, because it occupied easily defended, hilly terrain. Its easy access to the Queiq River connected it to what’s now the nation of Turkey, and made it a valuable trading center for millennia. Being located in the notoriously volatile Middle East has meant it was conquered and reconquered many times by many empires including the Assyrians, Egyptians, and so on. So while it’s currently experiencing extreme turmoil, we can be assured that it will be able to recover eventually. It certainly has plenty of times in the past.

World Urban Extremes

– WIF Geography


THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 155

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 155

…you have the ingredients for the second biggest international incident, “a quarter of a million miles this side of the moon”…

Pink Floyd

As things wind down is the Gulf region of North/Central America, just the
opposite is happening on the other side of the world, specifically the United Korean Peninsula and Talibanistan. For far too long the so-called Dove of the Americas, President Pete Sanchez has allowed free reign to certain, uncommon pockets of American/West hatred.

North Korea swallowed up the South when during his first term, he unilaterally withdrew United States forces, which had guarded the 38th Parallel for 3/4 of a century and the North pounced. The United Korean Peninsula was formed.

He was re-elected anyway.

At the beginning of his second term, he urged the United Nations to ease restrictions on what had only been a tribal movement in the areas north and west of India. During the vacuum of power, the Taliban seized control of all the “-stans” and formed the nation called Talibanistan. Never a friend to the
west, it was allowed to fester like a regional infection, never to be challenged about its belligerent policies.

And still Sanchez sat on his hands, with the support of the festering Hispanic majority that dare not allow him to lose power.


But the Presidency of the United States of America has not descended into dictatorship and when a Congressional majority decides to act in spite of the “Commander-in Chief”, the sleeping dove that has been the USA, can magically take-wing and soar like the proud hawk of days gone by.

Among the Joint Chiefs’ of Staff, who have been bound by loyalty and not apt to spout their verbal opposition to national policy, are privately ramping up efforts to build a case for surgical strikes against both Korea and Talibanistan. A downsized military, just like the budget-challenged space program, has to skillfully choose their skirmishes and missions.

So when CIA briefings included information about that bodacious bash in the Korean capital, with all the prominent players involved in Space Colony’s destruction in one city block, the temptation to strike is obvious, even to the most casual observer.

Add in the fact that permission from Congress is nothing but a presidential rubberstamp and you have the ingredients for the second biggest international incident, “a quarter of a million miles this side of the moon”. As the Army Chief put it, “What happens in Korea stays in Korea.” —


Episode 155

page 190

Contents TRT

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 148

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 148

…“What do I tell the world? And will they believe me?” asks the President of the United States…

Francine could not possibly guess what Roy is about to tell the leader of the free world, of all people.

“Please don’t beat around the bush. What the hell happened to the United Korean Peninsula’s sovereign property? I have to tell them something…… and I have a stump speech to deliver in 10 minutes.”

“I’m sure that will be a Democratic knee-slapper!” Roy is sure that the President has heard the rumblings about Roy’s possible political plans. “We have thrown a wet blanket over the whole Sang-Ashi thing and I guess you can spin it any way you want.”

“Well then just spin-it-out man!”

“We have indisputable proof that Sang-Ashi was built by the Koreans for the sole purpose of sabotaging the Space Colony program, doing whatever it takes to stop it in its tracks. To that end, they have used a deep-space probe to disguise their destructive ways.

“In response to that aggression, we needed to disable Sang-Ashi as it was about to take out the New Mayflower as well. However, the crew did not pull the trigger, the onboard mainframe did.”

This information produces differing reactions; Francine cannot believe Roy was so blunt. President Sanchez sits down, aghast at the notion.

“We can’t do that!,” he proclaims.

“We had to take defensive measures,” Roy indirectly crediting Aldona Afridi. “We are not going to sit on our hands while two rogue global powers have their way with us!”

“Two? Who is the other one?”


“That’s impossible. My Secretary of State tells me that he has a working relationship with Kamran Khan-Nutkani.”

“Sure it works for them! And who do you think is behind the freeing of Samiq Gaad and the kidnapping of the McKinney boys?” He warns, “Do not be hoodwinked by a Talibanistani Trojan Horse.”

“What do I tell the world? And will they believe me?”

“Think about Sampson and Celeste McKinney, stranded on Mars, running out of food, water, and oxygen.”

“The country would not stand for news of their deaths, they adore that couple,” he makes a politically generic statement.




Episode 148

page 182

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 141

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 141

…My God, any morals this country has left will be flushed down the toilet if she gets in office…

As his role of back-seat-driver, Roy Crippen can only sit back and be a worrisome observer of situations he has minimal control over.

Take the United States’ inaction as it applies to the mounting evidence that the United Korean Peninsula is engaged in active sabotage against the World Coalition. That they can enlist the help of the ever-dangerous, sprawling Talibanistan, is even more infuriating to him and he discusses these and other issues with his new Press Secretary Francine Bouchette, “If I were president, I would have put an end to that nonsense a long time ago. We have allowed them to swallow South Korea whole and why, because we were afraid that they would use their nuclear weapons on some defenseless nation.”

“On the subject of president,” Francine ignores his long held worldviews and moves on to the now of things, “it seems there is a growing faction of Republicans who are touting you as the party’s nominee for 2032.”

“You are sounding like my Political Advisor, instead of Press Secretary.”

“Advisor, mouthpiece….what’s the difference? One of the reasons you hired me is because you did not have the time or interest in keeping track of the extraneous details.”

“And dealing with the media hoard… which you have lifted off my plate. I owe you my debt of gratitude for that, among other things, if you know what I mean?”

“Let us keep the “other things” out of this. Once this nation gets past this Space Colony malaise and things return to normal, it is going to need a Republican leader with a clear vision, not (current President) Sanchez’ V P Sylvia Freelove!”

“Are you telling me that Freelove is the Democratic frontrunner for ’32? My God, Image result for toilet flushing gifany morals this country has left will be flushed down the toilet if she gets in office.

“So if you do not want traditional marriage banned or the damned ACLU to become Attorneys General, you better start thinking about listening to the conversation.”

“I don’t have the money to make a run at the presidency? It takes big bucks to get to the White House.

“If the world wants to restore the America of our great-grandfathers, the dollar$ will take care of itself.”


Episode 141

page 174

Contents TRT

Amazing Nature Almanac – WIF Science

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Strange and Beautiful

Natural Phenomena


Nature is amazing. There is no doubt about that. People have marveled at nature’s beauty since they came into existence. Not knowing what was happening, these people of old came up with some truly magnificent stories, trying to give a sense to the world around them. Today we are blessed with more knowledge about the world, but nevertheless this doesn’t diminish the magic taking place before our very eyes. If anything, it only makes nature more interesting.

 And while we no longer believe the “sky to be falling” every time it’s raining, or that Thor is smiting his hammer with every lightning strike, there are some natural phenomena out there we common folk still don’t understand. Here are 10 such natural occurrences, explained by our most prized of storytellers: scientists.

10. Snow Rollers

snow roller

No, these weren’t made by gnomes during the night, but rather by a series of meteorological events, in a particular order. Snow rollers aren’t a common sight, but when they do happen, and you stumble upon some of them, be sure that a fairly unlikely series of events took place the night before. First and foremost there needs to be two separate layers of snow already present: a first, icy or crusty layer of snow underneath, and a wetter one above. This way, the wet layer has something on which to roll over. Then you need some wind, strong enough to scoop out balls of snow and push them forward, similar to a tumbleweed, but not so strong as to blow it apart.

They will also form in relatively sloped areas, but this is not absolutely necessary. Just imagine yourself making a snowman, and the process is more or less the same. The biggest differences are that one is made by a person, the other by the elements. Also, snow rollers are more often cylindrical in shape, rather than a sphere, and they can vary in size from that of an average snowball, to that of a car. Nevertheless, the many meteorological conditions which need to take place in that exact order, at the exact time, make these snow rollers a very rare phenomenon to behold, and they usually make headlines in the newspapers the following day.

9. Mammatus Clouds


Looking very ominous, mammatus clouds are sometimes the harbingers of an imminent and powerful thunderstorm. But more often than not, they form just after the storm has passed. Also known as mammatocumulus, they translate to “mammary cloud” due to their appearance as pouches, usually hanging beneath a larger, anvil cloud. As updraft pushes precipitation enriched air to the top of one such anvil cloud, the air begins to spread out, and the heavier precipitation, usually water particles and ice fall back to the bottom, forming these mammatus clouds. As the air falls back down to the ground, it heats up, evaporating the precipitation within it. The more precipitation there is the further down they will sink.

These clouds usually span over an area of several hundred miles in all directions and last for about 10-15 minutes at a time. While they usually form underneath an anvil cloud, they also appear on occasion under altocumulus, altostratus, stratocumulus, cirrus clouds, as well as volcanic ash clouds. Whatever the case, they look amazing and ominous at the same time, especially when sunlight is reflected off of them.

8. Ice Flowers


This natural phenomenon in particular is as beautiful as it is rare, and only takes places in late autumn or early winter, before the ground freezes over. As the air goes below freezing point, the sap within some plant stems, plants like theFrostweed (Verbesina virginica), begins to freeze and expand, pushing through the plant itself and forming an amazing thin sheet of ice, similar to a flower petal. Certain conditions need to take place for this beautiful phenomenon to appear. As the ground is still unfrozen, water keeps on going up the stem and through the microscopic cracks, the sap escapes and transforms into ice, adding to the ever longer sheet.

In some instances, this phenomenon can happen to wood as well. Wood which hasn’t yet dried completely and is kept in freezing conditions can sometimes present these Ice Flowers. More often than not however, the wood cracks from the pressure within, generating these wonderful patterns which curl and fold into gorgeous frozen petioles, giving this phenomenon both its name and appearance.

7. Columnar Basalt


This type of rock formation occurs, as it name suggests, in basalt, which is a lava flow rock. These formations can be found all over eastern Washington state, Devils Tower in Wyoming, Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, or the Los Organos on the northern part of La Gomera Island in the Canaries, and many other places around the world. Based on their name, you can clearly see what kind of stories people used to give these, back in the day. Nevertheless, there are columnar basalt formations found even on Mars. The way these form, is similar to how the ground cracks during a severe drought. As the water evaporates, or goes into the water bed below, the ground above contracts and cracks. The same thing applies here, as the lava flow progressively cools over a period of maybe longer than 100 years. The cracks form perpendicular to the original flow direction.

The difference in thickness of these columns depends on the speed at which they cool. While there are cases of a lava beds contracting as a whole, it is more likely for them to crack. The faster they cool, the thinner the columns will be. And while hexagons are most common, polygons with three to twelve or more sides can be observed. Their length, which can be greater than 50 feet, is based on how thick the original lava flow was.

6. Fallstreak Hole


This particular cloud formation looks as if someone took an enormous cookie cutter and made a hole in what, otherwise, looks like an enormous flat cloud covering the sky. In fact, some people call them Holepunch clouds. Another particular aspect here is that a streak of cloud usually hangs underneath that hole. What’s happening up there is quite interesting, to say the least. For starters, we need to know that air at higher altitudes is much cooler that the temperature at the ground level. In fact, temperatures can go well below freezing point.

But despite this, water vapor and tiny water droplets “refuse” to freeze and remain in a “supercool” state. Water usually begins to freeze due to the impurities inside it: salt, dust particles, all sorts of other minerals, and so on. Cold, distilled water can also begin to freeze instantaneously if a piece of ice is added to it, in a process known as “ice nucleation.” Since water vapor is quite pure, water stays in liquid form even under freezing temperatures. Here, a piece of ice falls from higher altitudes and comes in contact with the water inside this cloud. This in turn sets out a chain reaction, freezing the droplets around, and making them fall to the ground – thus, the cloud streak below the hole. If a plane happens to pass through a cloud at a shallow angle, it can also cause it to freeze and form a cigar-shaped Fallstreak hole.

5. Brinicles

Brinicles are a fairly rare sight to see, not because they rarely happen, but because they take place underwater. In fact, they were only discovered in the 1960s. When seawater freezes, it releases its salt, creating super-salty brine. This percolates through cracks in the ice, into the water below. This brine then sinks because it’s much denser than the surrounding water. That is also the reason you can float in salty water, far better than in a fresh water lake. Nevertheless, this brine is also much colder, and the seawater around freezes on contact. Over time, this creates somewhat of an inverted cone, or funnel if you will, which goes ever deeper towards the bottom. This stalactite is what’s known as a brinicle.

Since brinicles appear in shallower waters, closer to the coast, in a course of some 12 hours it’s able to reach the bottom, trapping everything in ice. Creatures usually living on the ocean floor, like starfish and sea urchins, move far too slow and they get trapped in this newly formed ice, which then spreads along the bottom. Not surprisingly, brinicles are more commonly known as “The Ice Fingers of Death.”

4. Volcanic Lightning

Also known as a dirty thunderstorm, volcanic lightning is a weather phenomenon related to the production of lightning in a volcanic plume. What causes them was somewhat hard to figure out, and is still not yet fully understood. While during a thunderstorm, lightning is caused by colliding ice crystals, which generate enough electricity to cause a lightning bolt, ash clouds are far more difficult and a lot moredangerous to study. At first glance, it would seem counter intuitive to attribute ice as the main culprit behind a “dirty thunderstorm”. Some new scientific studies and better equipment, however, have begun to show us what’s really happening during one such volcanic inferno.

Once an eruption begins, large quantities of positively charged particles are blown into the air, which in contact with the negatively charged air particles around make for an electric discharge. These lightning bolts occur in and around the plume, which is ejected by the volcano itself. At first this theory was mostly based on speculation, but thanks to the very high frequency (VHF) radio emissions technology, scientists were able to get a better look inside one such dense volcanic plume and figure out what’s actually happening. But this is not all when it comes to lightning and volcanoes together.

Another study has tracked the location of lightning strikes some 60 miles from the eruption, and at near-stratospheric heights of about 12 miles above the ground. This seems to be caused somewhat in the same way as in a usual thunderstorm. As the ash cloud is blown by the wind, it thins out, and ice begins to form at its extremities, resulting in further lightning strikes. These studies, while not that surprising, can help a great deal in aviation as they can inform on the way to properly respond to a volcano eruption and the usual flight paths of commercial airliners passing above.

3. Sailing Stones


Death Valley in California is notorious for its scorching heat during the day and extreme cold during the night. Among the many mysteries and legends linked to this place, none is more fascinating than the “sailing stones” phenomenon taking place within the Racetrack Playa, an exceptionally flat and level scenic dry lake. Some weighing around 700 pounds, the stones which dot the lake bed seem to be moving across the desert floor when nobody’s watching, leaving long trails behind them. This has puzzled scientists for decades now, but now geologists Richard and Jim Norris, believe they have found the answer. Though the phenomenon itself was under scrutiny since the 1940s, only recently did the two geologists actually capture these sailing stones on film. They set up a weather station in the area and fitted stones with GPS trackers. Two years into the project, the stones began to move.

What actually happened was that it rained the day before, and during the night a thin layer of ice had formed over a few inches of liquid water. As day came, the ice began to break apart and, pushed by the breeze, these ice sheets simply dragged the stones with them, scraping a trail on the bottom. By the end of the day, when all the ice had melted, some of the stones moved more than 200 feet. However, the conditions for this phenomenon to take place are hard to come by, and Norris compared the chances of actually stumbling upon it with winning the lottery. This also explains why this seemingly simple occurrence has intrigued people for so long.

2. Penitentes


Penitentes are narrow ice formations, commonly found at high altitudes of over 13,000 feet, with low humidity, especially in the Andes Mountains of South America. What’s curious about them is that they usually point towards the sun, ranging from a few inches to six or even 16 feet in height. Their name comes from their resemblance to people kneeling, as when doing penance. More precisely, they resemble the brothers of the Procession of Penance in Spain, who wear hats with very tall, narrow, and white sharp tips (just like the KKK).

Anyway, the existence of these Penitentes was known about as early as the 1800s and were originally believed to have been formed by the wind. But in fact these jagged snow structures are the result of dimples in the original snow sheet. These in turn result in ever larger ablations, through a process known as “sublimation” – where ice and snow melts and vaporizes without turning into liquid water first. This happens more easily at high altitudes due to the reduced pressure of the atmosphere, together with the lower temperatures of the air and the more powerful rays of the sun above. The Penitentes are what remains behind, thanks to their angle towards the sun.

1. Light Pillars


This stunningly beautiful light show usually makes an appearance in cold, arctic regions and can be described as optical phenomenon in which columns of light seem to emanate below or above a light source, in a vertical orientation. This light source can be of natural origins, like the sun or moon, in which case these light columns are called Sun or Lunar Pillars, respectively. Or, they can occur due to the presence of artificial lights as well. These light pillars form when the two astral bodies are close to the horizon and tend to take on the color of the body emanating that light in the first place.

The effect itself is created by the reflection of that light onto the many ice particles suspended in the air or clouds. Because of this, light pillars fall in the category of halos – optical phenomenon produced by light interacting with ice crystals. The reason for why they appear vertical and not as a circle, is because the ice crystals which reflect them consist mostly of flat, hexagonal plates, which tend to orient themselves more or less horizontally as they fall through the air. Together they act as a giant mirror, reflecting the light either up or down. Thanks to the slight turbulences in the air, these ice crystals somewhat change their horizontal orientation, elongating the light column even further. The larger the crystals, the more pronounced this effect becomes. In some rare cases, column-shaped crystalscan cause light pillars as well.

Amazing Nature Almanac

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WIF Science