Amazing Nature Almanac – WIF Science

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Strange and Beautiful

Natural Phenomena

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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

mammatus

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

ice-flower

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

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

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

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

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

light-pillar

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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Controlling the Weather – WIF Mad Science

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People Who Tried

to Control

the Weather

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We have to realize that weather, in all its forms, has influenced and shaped humanity in every conceivable way. The weather and the surrounding environment (which is also shaped by weather) has influenced language in every part of the world, how people built the houses and shaped their societies, what they ate, and the way that they dressed for centuries. Whole religions were formed as a sort of answer to the meteorological events happening all around. And it’s not inconceivable that people throughout history have tried, or at least thought about, controlling the weather.

 Only with the technological advancements brought on in recent decades did we actually begin to tap into this Bond villain-like superpower. However, we are still at the beginning of this journey and we have still more to discover. We still don’t know all the ins and outs of weather, let alone enough to control it. We can at best influence it. But regardless of this, people have tried on many occasions to do it to the best of their abilities. Here are ten such cases.

10. Fog Dispersal

With the advent of flight over the past century, fog began to be a serious problem for aircraft trying to take off or land safely. And in WWII, pilots no longer had the luxury to sit around and wait for the fog to lift on its own before taking off. That’s why in 1942 the Prime Minister of Britain, Winston Churchill, ordered the Petroleum Warfare Department to come up with an idea to solve this problem. The result was FIDO, or Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operation.

By burning petrol around the airfield at a rate of 100,000 gallons per hour, engineers were able to produce enough heat as to temporarily lift the fog, thus allowing the pilots to safely take off or land at a moment’s notice. According to the British RAF(Royal Air Force), 15 airfields were fitted with this capability in England, as well as a few others in the US and the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. Between 1943 and 1945, some 2,500 aircraft landed safely in otherwise dangerous conditions, thus ensuring the survival of over 10,000 soldiers. In 1959 the last FIDO installation at RAF Manston was dismantled.

Even today fog dispersal is done regularly at many airports around the world, but the technology has improved a bit since WWII. If temperatures are below freezing, CO2 or propane gas is released from the ground in order to lift the fog. If temperatures are higher, however, airports make use of helicopters or even burners to help with the problem.

9. Hail Cannons

In existence since the late 1890s, hail cannons came about after an Austrian wine grower named M. Albert Stiger conducted some experiments in his backyard. The result was an oversized, megaphone-shaped cannon that fired rings of smoke about 985 feet into the air. It was made out of a sheet of metal, mounted on a wooden frame. The concept was that a strong whirlwind of air and smoke, blasted into the sky by one such cannon, will disrupt the normal formation of hail in the overhead clouds. Hail was, and still is, a major issue and a serious threat to all crops, making the hail cannon a true scientific blessing for farmers. After a few seemingly successful tries, the number of hail cannons in the Italian province near Venice alone had skyrocketed from 466 to 1,630 in less than one year.

But as these cannons became more and more common throughout other parts of Europe, reports of inconsistencies began to surface. These were initially disregarded on the grounds of improper firing, shooting delays, or poor positioning. Then, in 1903 the Italian government arranged a two-year-long experiment involving 222 cannons. The regions involved in the experiment still experienced hail, the cannons were deemed a failure, and the whole concept was soon abandoned.

Perhaps surprisingly, these cannons are still in use today. One company that makes them says that their cannons work by creating a shockwave traveling at the speed of sound, disrupting the creation of hail and turning it into slush or rain. When a storm is close by, it begins firing every four seconds, tracking the storm via radar. In 2005 a car manufacturer in the US deployed such cannons, disturbing an entire community with its incredibly loud noise. At some point, even the guys at Mythbusters considered testing these hail cannons, but after some deliberation, they agreed against it, saying that “the methodology makes the machine completely un-testable.”

8. Cloud Seeding

Besides hail, one other meteorological element that can considerably shrink any crop yield is drought. In 1946, a meteorologist by the name of Vincent Schaefer, together with a Nobel Prize laureate Irving Langmuir, discovered cloud seeding. This is a form of weather modification which supposedly increases the amount of rainfall. Rain is created when supercooled droplets of water come together and form ice crystals in a process known as nucleation. No longer able to stay suspended in the air, these ice crystals start falling to the ground and in the process begin to melt and turn back into rain drops.

The logic behind cloud seeding is that some particles like silver iodine or dry ice can kick start this process and enhance the raining capabilities in clouds. These particles can either be delivered by plane or sprayed from the ground. But like the hail cannons mentioned above, it is particularly difficult to prove their effectiveness. Even to this day, there is no sure way of knowing if any given cloud will actually produce rain or not. Nevertheless, cloud seeding has been reported as being a success in initial trials in countries like Australia, France, Spain, the US, the UAE, and China.

However, cloud-seeding expert Arlen Huggins, a research scientist at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada, said in an interview that nobody can attribute any given storm solely to cloud seeding. In fact, the process works best not in periods of drought, but when there are normal or above normal periods of precipitation. At best, cloud seeding should increase the amount of rain or snow by up to 10%, and this excess water can be stored for later use.

7. Project Cirrus

As early as 1946, the US Armed Forces began testing cloud seeding, trying to discover its true potential and what other uses it might have to benefit the country. They made a total of 37 test flights in the first year and a half, flying over thunderstorms, line squalls, and even tornadoes. One big threat, as many of us know, are the annual tropical hurricanes coming in from the Atlantic Ocean. So, in October 1947, Project Cirrus expanded to test cloud seeding on a hurricane traveling east bound, 350 miles off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida. They dropped 80 lbs. of dry ice into the raging storm, only to realize that the hurricane suddenly changed direction and began traveling back towards the United States.

Savannah, Georgia was hit by record-breaking winds of up to 85 MPH, more than 1,400 people were left homeless, and at least two people died. The total damage was reported into the millions of dollars, and the project and its participants were blamed for what happened. Project Cirrus then relocated to New Mexico and the research continued. However, not long after their arrival to the area, local tourist attractions began blaming the team for the unusually wet weather they began experiencing soon after. Despite the seemingly positive results, by 1952 the project ran out of funding and was cancelled soon after.

6. Project Stormfury

Not wanting the research made in the previous decade to go to waste, another ambitious experimental program was launched in 1962, in order to see if it’s possible to use cloud seeding to lessen a hurricane’s destructive potential. Scientists were wishing to decrease the wind speeds of any hurricane by making use of silver iodine. Rocket canisters filled with the stuff were dropped into the storm’s eye from an airplane flying overhead, as well as making use of gun-like devices mounted on the wings, spraying silver iodine over the storm.

The hope was that these particles would counterbalance the normal convection within the eye of the storm, thus giving it a larger radius and in turn, reducing the overall wind speeds generated. The tests were carried out in four hurricanes over a period of eight days. Half the time wind speeds decreased by 10-to-30%, while the other half experienced no change. The lack of any response to these tests was initially attributed mostly to faulty execution and deployment.

However, later studies have indicated that hurricanes don’t contain nearly as much supercooled water for cloud seeding to be effective. Moreover, researchers discovered that some such storms can undergo similar processes naturally, just like seeded hurricanes would. It was then concluded that the initial successful tries were actually naturally occurring events, backed only by the very little knowledge in the behavior of hurricanes at the time. The last test fight took place in 1971, and in 1983 Project Stormfury was officially canceled. These experiments weren’t without merit, however, since they helped meteorologists better understand and forecast the movements and intensities of future hurricanes.

5. Project Skyfire

At every moment of the day, there are around 1,800 thunderstorms in progress all over the globe. And every 20 minutes, these storms produce somewhere around 60,000 lightning strikes. Unsurprisingly, some of these lightning strikes start fires. Every summer, 9,000 forest or grassland fires in the US are started this way, causing extensive loss of timber, wildlife, watersheds and recreation areas. Project Skyfire was initiated in 1955 by the US Forest Service in the hopes of better understanding the natural processes that initiate thunderstorms, and maybe decrease the frequency of lightning as much as possible.

For the first several years of the project, scientists gathered information and began using silver iodine in high concentrations, in the hopes of overseeding clouds and thus reduce the number of lightning strikes. Their results are hard to quantify, due to the lack of any controlled experiments, but it would seem that initial tests were somewhat successful. In any case, in 1960 and 1961, the US Army, under name Project Skyfire, attempted lightning suppression by using millions of tiny metallic pins in order to seed the clouds, instead of dry ice or silver iodine. These were actually small pieces of foil oppositely charged at each end. This material is used today as a form of countermeasure for aircraft trying to evade enemy missiles or radar.

4. Operation Popeye – Vietnam War

With the previous projects above, it’s no wonder that cloud seeding was intended for military purposes at some point or another. Operation Popeye, or Operation Compatriot, was a top secret military campaign waged in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. The goal of the operation was to flood the routes between North and South Vietnam during the monsoon season with as much rain as possible, in order to make roads inaccessible. The Ho Chí Minh trail was especially targeted due to its logistical importance for the Viet Cong. The whole operation lasted from 1966 up until 1972 and consisted of over 2,600 flights over the regions of Cambodia, Laos, South Vietnam and the previously mentioned trail. In total, some 47,000 units of cloud seeding material was dropped during this time, at a cost of over $21.6 million. If it actually worked or not is still a matter of debate, but it is believe that they were able to extend the monsoon season by 30 to 45 days.

Also part of the operation were regular flights over the dense jungles, spraying them with various herbicides in order to provide less material and cover for the North Vietnamese. Operation Popeye reached the public consciousness when a columnist by the name of Jack Anderson revealed it in the Washington Post in March, 1971. The US Defense Secretary, Melvin Laird testified under oath in 1972 in front of the US Senate that they never actually used any weather modification techniques in Southeast Asia. Only two years later, one of Laird’s private letters was leaked where he admitted that he did lie in front of the Senate. This inevitably lead to the “Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques,” or ENMOD to be signed in 1976 by members of the UN.

3. Black Rain in Belarus

In April 1986, one of the biggest man-made disasters took place in the former Soviet Union, present-day Ukraine. Due to a faulty reactor design and inadequately trained personnel, one of the reactors at Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded, killing many and resulting in the complete evacuation of the nearby town of Pripyat. However, this was just the beginning and the worst of the disaster was still to come. The radioactive cloud that ensued was threatening many large cities in the Soviet Union like Moscow, Voronezh, Nizhny Novgorod and Yaroslavl.

In order to prevent such a catastrophe, the Soviet government quickly dispatched aircraft to fly over the radioactive cloud and spray it with cloud seeding material, in an area of about 60 miles surrounding Chernobyl. In the wake of the explosion, people in present-day South Belarus reported heavy, black-colored rain falling in and around the town of Gomel. And just before the hellish rain began, several aircraft had been spotted circling the city and surrounding area, ejecting some colored material. Moscow has never admitted to using cloud seeding in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster, but two Soviet pilots later admitted to it.

Alan Flowers, a British scientist and the first Westerner to examine the extent of the levels of radioactivity and fallout around Chernobyl, discovered that Byelorussians were exposed to levels 20 to 30 times higher than normal as a result of the nuclear rain, causing intense radiation poisoning in children. In 2004, he was expelled from the country for claiming that the Soviet Union used cloud seeding in 1986. He said, “The local population says there was no warning before these heavy rains and the radioactive fallout arrived.”

2. The Beijing Weather Modification Office

Today, 52 countries are involved in weather modification in one form or another, either to enhance precipitation or to suppress hail. But none are more involved in the process than the Chinese. The Weather Modification Office came into being sometime in the 1980s and has since grown to around 37,000 people strong; the largest in the world. These people operate throughout the entire country, but mostly in its northern and northeastern regions, which are more predisposed to droughts. They also try to counteract hail, or severe sandstorms.

The Weather office makes use of 4,000 rocket launchers, 7,000 anti-aircraft guns, and about 30 airplanes to achieve its goals. But besides working on increasing the amount of precipitation, or suppress the fall of hail, the Bureau also makes sure that national holidays or special events get the weather they deserve. In 1997, the technology was used on New Year’s Day to make it snow. Another of its high-profile operations was during the 2008 Summer Olympics held in Beijing. During the opening ceremony, some 1,100 rockets were fired into the clouds outside the city, ensuring a precipitation free evening by making it rain away from the event. Prior to every October 1, China’s National Day, the government uses cloud seeding over Beijing in order to make it rain, dissipating pollution and clearing the skies. Another future prospect for the Beijing Weather Modification Office is to lower summer temperatures, thus lowering the annual consumption of electricity.

1. Desert Rain

The weather is created and influenced by our own planet’s rotation, the sun’s rays, and the moisture coming in from the oceans. The most we can do, when compared to these natural forces, is minimal at best, and things should probably remain like that. But anyway, as the world’s population has increased to numbers never before seen, humans have moved in larger numbers to regions less hospitable for comfort. We are, of course, talking about the desert. Over the past several decades more and more people have begun inhabiting places like the United Arab Emirates in the Arabian Peninsula, one of the driest places on Earth. And it’s no surprise that people living there would want a rainfall now and again.

Thus, a Swiss company took advantage of the situation and began building 33-foot-high towers that produce negatively charged ions. These supposedly generate the formation of storm clouds. The theory of ionization has been around since the 1890, being first mentioned by Nikola Tesla. However, there was no evidence of it actually producing any rain in the various experiments conducted since. Moreover, the Swiss company is unwilling to share any proof or information regarding its technology and how it actually works, keeping it a closely guarded secret. There were a few rain storms since the installation was put in place, but scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology have said that these were part of an unusual weather pattern the Middle East was experiencing at the time.


Controlling the Weather

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– WIF Mad Science

BS or Truth – WIF Confidential

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Facts That Sound

Like BS

bs

When you’ve been doing this job as long as we have, you get used to the idea that truth is stranger than fiction. History, science, art… they’re all full of factoids that seem implausible on the surface, but turn out to be true underneath. Still, there is a limit to this implausibility. It’s not like we’re going around claiming lightning magically gives you tattoos, or that you can survive jumping off the top of the Empire State Building, or that the Muppets were inspired by a porno, right?

 Wait, you mean that’s exactly what we’re about to do? And all of that is true? Yeesh…

10. Lightning Strikes Give You Sweet Tats

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Getting hit by a bolt of lightning is not fun. Aside from knowing that you’ve angered almighty Zeus, you suffer horrifying agony, terrible burns, and (possibly) a stopped heart. Oh, and you might just wind up getting a sweet-ass tattoo.

‘Lightning Flowers’ (also known, less-romantically, as ‘lightning trees’) are strange, fern-like, spiraling figures that can be flash-fried into your skin if a lightning bolt explodes nearby. Essentially burns that are caused by static electric traveling along the tiny blood vessels under the skin, they can last anywhere from a few hours to months and months. A type of Lichtenberg Figure, they’re weird, almost plant-like, and, to be honest, kinda cool.

See, unlike most burns, lightning flowers look intentional. The tiny little whorls, the way they radiate out from one central point… it all looks like some ink artist has spent hours agonizing over the design. Usually appearing on the arms, back, neck, chest or shoulders of lightning-strike victims, they might make you look like a tat-loving hippie, but they certainly don’t make you look like a burns victim.

They’re also useful. If paramedics bring your unconscious body in and the doctor sees your magic tat, he’s gonna know immediately that you need treating for a lightning strike.

9. The Muppets Song Mahna Mahna Came From a Porno

Even if you think you haven’t, you’ve heard Mahna Mahna. The song has appeared in everything. It was made stupendously famous by the Muppets in their 1976 TV premiere, having already featured on Sesame Street and the Ed Sullivan show years earlier (complete with Jim Henson puppets). So, where did this globe-striding, era-defining ditty come from? Err… a softcore Italian-Swedish porno.

The year was 1968, and Italian films were routinely flouting censors by filming softcore porn and dressing it up as ‘arthouse cinema’. In this instance, the titillating subject was ‘Scandinavian sexuality’, which gave the Italians plenty of excuses to include shots of hot Norwegian girls kissing, and even-hotter Danish girls posing as nude models. But the piece de resistance was a scene set in a Swedish sauna, in which a bevy of buxom blonds stripped off, giggling, for the camera. Composer Piero Umiliani was tasked with coming up with a catchy ditty for this mildly-erotic sauna centerpiece. He came up with Mahna Mahna.

The producers evidently knew he was onto something. The same year the porno came out, they released Mahna Mahna as a single. It got to 55 on the US Chart, caught the attention of Jim Henson, and the rest is (unlikely) history.

8. F1 Drivers Have Their Weight Monitored More than Catwalk Models

f1

Quick, what’s the most-restrictive profession where eating is concerned? Most of you probably said ‘catwalk models’, and it’s true that agencies routinely get their girls to starve themselves. Some of you also said ‘jockeys’, who often take diuretics to keep their weight down. Both professions are crazy-bad for weight watching. But there’s a less-likely profession that may be even worse: Formula One.

F1 racing is a scarily-precise science. Winners and losers are declared on fractions of a second, and cars are so streamlined that they carry absolutely no unnecessary weight. An extra 5 kilograms can wipe out 0.2 seconds on every lap; a horrendous setback in F1 terms. As a result, drivers are pressured to lose weight in order to compete. Over the last few years, this has gotten insane.

Drivers now have to be between 60-65 kilograms if they want to compete in the big leagues. In 2013, Jenson Button admitted that he has to starve himself, compete in triathlons, and avoid carbs like the plague to stay F1-ready. Others develop bulimia or anorexia. Some drivers have said they’re monitored and restricted even worse than catwalk models in what they can eat, despite eating disorders in F1 getting almost no airtime whatsoever.

7. Selling Sand to Arabs is a Lucrative Global Business

desert

“He could sell sand to the Arabs!” is one of those classic, slightly-racist expressions beloved by old, slightly-racist uncles the world over. Just like “he could sell snow to the Eskimos,” it uses a seemingly-unlikely situation to big up the persuasive powers of its subject. Although, in this particular case, its subject isn’t all that impressive. Selling sand to Arabic countries is a lucrative global business.

Australia, for example, shifts tons of the stuff to Dubai every year for construction projects. Germany recently signed a deal with Saudi Arabia to supply the Wahhabist Kingdom with sand. Altogether, the global market for sand is thought to be worth over $89 billion. There’s so much money in the stuff that mafia groups have moved in and started stripping tropical beaches under cover of night. And the Middle East is one of the biggest market drivers.

The trouble is that wind-blasted desert sand, such as that found in the Gulf, is too fine to be used in construction. So Gulf countries are forced to import the stuff; a lucrative market when those same countries are trying to outdo one another with insane construction projects.

6. Female Hurricanes Kill More People than Male Ones

hurricane

If we asked you to name a deadly hurricane, we’re betting most of you would have a female name pop into your head (likely Katrina or Audrey). There’s a good reason for that. ‘Female’ hurricanes are more-likely to kill people than ‘male’ hurricanes.

Since about 1979, hurricane names have alternated between female and male. However, even when hurricanes were exclusively female (1953-1979), how masculine or feminine their names were varied. In 2014, researchers at the University of Illinois crunched the data of all hurricanes to make landfall in the USA, separating them out into names that sounded masculine or feminine. They then divided them into hurricanes that hit populated areas, and those that didn’t.

 For non-destructive hurricanes that missed population centers, names made no difference. But for those that hit areas full of people, the results were staggering. The most ‘male-sounding’ hurricanes killed on average 11 people. The most ‘female-sounding’ hurricanes killed an average of 59.

The researchers theorized that this is because we’re all hilariously sexist. We tend to think women are unthreatening and less-powerful than men, so when we hear a female hurricane is coming, we kick back and refuse to evacuate. When a male one with a testosterone-fueled turns up, by contrast, we run for the hills.

5. Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees Can Literally Save Your Life

Oh, come on. This is getting ridiculous now. How could a 1970s disco song that just happens to be called Stayin’ Alive possibly help you, well, stay alive? We’re glad you asked. It turns out that this particular Bee Gees song averages 103 beats per minute. That’s pretty much exactly the rhythm you need to be hitting if you’re giving someone emergency CPR.

This isn’t us pointing out a wacky coincidence. Emergency medical courses (like, say, for lifeguards or whatever) frequently train their students using Stayin’ Alive. The American Heart Association (AHA) has official advice which says, in event of a heart attack (we kid you not) “call 9-1-1 and push hard and fast in the center of the chest to the beat of the classic disco song “Stayin’ Alive.”

The song was chosen because it hit the right beats, and also because it’s famous enough to be known to the general public. In countries where the Bee Gees are less-popular, songs such as the Beatles’ Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da are used instead.

4. A Woman Survived Jumping Off the 86th Floor of the Empire State Building

empire

Stepping off the top of the Empire State Building is pretty final. You plunge 86 stories onto hard, unforgiving concrete. That’s not something anybody survives… unless their name is Elvita Adams. In 1979, the Bronx resident decided to end it all. She took a ticket to the observation deck at the top of the Empire State building, climbed the security fence, and jumped. When she arrived at hospital, she was still alive.

If you’re wondering how the heck this is possible, we’ll end your suspense. Adams did jump off the Empire State, and she did go crashing down onto concrete. But the concrete in question wasn’t the sidewalk far below. After despairingly leaping out into the unknown, Adams was buffeted by a freak gust of wind. It just happened to be strong enough to blow her onto the ledge of the 85th floor, fracturing her hip. Before Adams could try jumping again, security guards had grabbed her and dragged her back inside.

Although no-one else has ever survived leaping off the Empire State Building, freaks of nature occasionally do save those plummeting from great heights. In 2007, a window cleaner plunged 47 stories and managed to survive thanks to pure luck.

3. Soccer Has Ended Multiple Wars (and caused one)

pele

Passions run high at soccer matches. Heck, Europeans consistently beat each other into comas while watching the sport. But could they run high enough to change the entire fate of a beleaguered nation? The answer is undoubtedly ‘yes’. In the past century, soccer has been the driving factor in ending three separate civil wars.

Two of those civil wars took place in the Ivory Coast. The first Ivorian Civil War lasted from 2002-2007, and killed nearly 2,000 people. The reason it stopped? The local soccer team qualified for the World Cup.

On the back of their qualifier win, the Ivory Coast soccer team dropped to their knees on live television, and begged the nation to put aside their differences. They then arranged for a qualifier for the African Cup to be held in a rebel-controlled city. This led to dialogue between the two sides, leading to a peace agreement. When the second civil war erupted in 2011, killing 3,000, soccer player Didier Drogba was instrumental in helping reach peace.

The third incident took place in Nigeria. In 1969, during the worst of the apocalyptic Biafran War, Pele brought his Brazilian club to the country to play the Nigerian national team. Both sides agreed a 3-day ceasefire to watch the match.

On the other hand, soccer has also directly caused at least one war. In 1969, El Salvador and Honduras faced each other in three grudge matches. Blood was so bad that the final 3-2 to El Salvador culminated in Salvadoran troops invading Honduras.

2. The Digit 1 Starts Most Significant Numbers

1

Random numbers are the bane of the trivia aficionado. Go to a quiz, and you might be asked to guess the liters of wine Moldova produces, or the weight of each planet in the solar system, or he population figures for random counties in Louisiana, or whatever. By nature, these questions are designed to be impossible to answer. But if you want a head start, you should make sure your guesstimate begins with the digit 1. There’s about a 30% chance that any random, significant number will start with a 1.

Logic tells us that this is plainly nuts. The chances of 1 or 2 or 3 or so-on starting any randomly-selected longer number should equal around 11%. In practice, this doesn’t happen. After 1, the chances of a 2 starting the number are 18%, and so-on until 9, which has an infinitesimal chance of showing up. This means that you can go combing through any random set of significant data – baseball batting averages, the length of the world’s longest rivers, the number of McDonald’s in a certain area – and your figures will be significantly more-likely to start with a 1.

No-one knows why this should be, but it happens. It’s even got a name: Benford’s Law, and it has real-world purposes. People faking tax returns tend to insert too many figures from the mid-range (4,5,6), instead of figures starting with 1, giving their game away.

1. Cleopatra Existed Closer in Time to the First Pizza Hut than the Pyramids

cleopatra

We all know the Pyramids are old. They were built around 2,500BC, over 1,000 years before Moses is thought to have lived. But few of us realize just quite how old they are. When Cleopatra was queen of Egypt, she was closer in time to the building of the first Pizza Hut than she was the first Pyramid.

Cleopatra reigned between 69-31 BC. The first Pizza Hut was built in 1958. That means the gap between Cleo and a great, big pile of disappointing pizza was 2,000 years. By contrast, the gap between the queen and her ancestors building the first pyramid was 2,450 years.

 Look at other comparatives, and this factoid just gets crazier. Julius Caesar (whose own namesake pizza chain, Little Caesar’s, was founded in 1959, in case you were wondering) famously got involved with Cleopatra, and probably spent some time admiring the Pyramids. At that point, the pyramids were to Caesar older than the oldest Roman ruins are to us now. Makes you think, huh?

BS or Truth

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– WIF Confidential

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 39

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 39

…“It is not everyday that a Talibanistani family shows up on your doorstep, with strange warnings about powerful lasers and killer satellites.”…

meanwhile-caption-001

“Fatima,” shouts Aldona Afridi to his wife, as he sees her pass by the room in which he seated uncomfortably! He raises enough of a ruckus that consulate personnel moving her are forced to reunite them — at last. He does not understand why they are being handled so awkwardly.

To this point Afridi is not impressed. This vaunted democracy operates similarly to his totalitarian homeland. His original theories, when he set his defection in motion, had the Americans welcoming him immediately as the hero he really was going to be, thereby acting on his whims at once. Instead he is left only with the knowledge that his family had completed their escape routes. Surely this is wonderful news, but definitely shy of his altruistic goal.

“Aldona!” If her husband was having his doubts, imagine what his wife was thinking; alone in a strange land with 2 little girls and left to try to explain a sketchy version of Afridi’s story.

“Fatima,” Afridi echoes, embracing her as close as he was allowed! In the back of his mind were thoughts about his newfound “friend” in Istanbul, Mehmet Ali Erim. He was brushed aside like a swarm of Tibetan Sandflies.

He grasps her shoulders at arm’s length, checking for signs of torture; such were the low sights he was now setting for their ordeal. “They are not acting on my information, Fatima. Every minute is crucial yet they are sitting on their hands!”

Perhaps they do not believe you. It is not everyday that a Talibanistani family shows up on your doorstep, with strange warnings about powerful lasers and killer satellites.”

Does his wife now doubt him, as a crackpot delusional dreamer?

He turns away from her, wondering how such a noble cause goes so unheeded. But he should not doubt Fatima’s devotion, yea confidence in his reasoning; she comforts her frustrated mate. “I am told that you must wait for the American Ambassador, he is on his way from Ankara.”

Image result for far fetched“And don’t leave out the CIA European Chief,” adds Elliot Deming as he enters the room. “They are in charge now, going through the proper channels to sanction your farfetched story Mr. Afridi.”

 

“It may appear unbelievable on the surface, but I swear I need to speak with Director Crippen. He will distinguish of what I speak.”

“How do you know Roy Crippen?”


THE RETURN TRIP

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Episode 39


 

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Unavailable Technologies – WIF Science

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Incredible Technologies

You Can’t Use

Technology sets us apart from all other living things. It’s true that, compared to other animals, we have larger brains and opposable thumbs, but these are what made technology available to us in the first place. And with the use of this technology, we became the dominant species on Earth.

But unfortunately, not all of this technology is available to us now. Some of it got lost in the mists of time, while others are deemed as classified by various governments, and we’ll probably never hear about them anyway. And there are still other pieces of technology which have been created, but considered as not economically viable by some influential people. Whatever the case, we’ll take a look at 10 such pieces of technology we’ll probably never have the chance to use.

10. Damascus Steel

damascus

During the Middle Ages, swords made out of a metal known as Damascus Steel were produced in the Middle East, by using a raw material known as “wootz,” brought there from India and Sri Lanka. This Damascus Steel was so strong that it was said it could cut through any other type of sword. By examining the steel, scientists could deduce that it had a high concentration of carbon in its mixture, making it much stronger than regular steel, but at the same time, flexible enough to not shatter on impact.

Even though people now know the composition of Damascus Steel, they don’t know the exact process through which the medieval Arabs were able to make it. According to Dr. Helmut Nickel, curator of the Arms and Armor Division of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, legend says that the best blades were quenched in “dragon blood.” What this “dragon blood” really was is a matter of debate and possibly the key to making Damascus steel. Some stories say that such blades were quenched in donkey urine, or that of a redheaded boy (gingers are the work of the devil, after all), or even plunging the still red hot blade into the body of a muscular slave so that “his strength would be transferred to the sword.” While all these processes were based on superstition, Dr. Nickel believes that all of them contributed to the process by adding nitrogen to the alloy.

Whatever the case, the exact recipe was lost, due in part to the secrecy with which the blacksmiths were making the alloy, as well as the emergence of gunpowder. Other theories say that the wootz ore ran low, and they could no longer make Damascus Steel. The period in which this super steel disappeared was around 1750 AD.

9. Vitrum Flexile (Flexible Glass)

flexible glass

The story behind flexible glass is more of a legend than anything else. The “tale” takes place in Ancient Rome during Emperor Tiberius’ rule (14-37 AD). It is said that one day, a glassmaker requested an audience at the imperial court in order to present a glass vial to the Emperor. After Tiberius examined it and saw nothing out of the ordinary, the glassmaker took the vial and threw it to the ground. Instead of shattering like any other ordinary glass vial should, it just bent slightly at the point of impact. With the use of a small hammer he was even able to restore the bottle to its original shape.

Seeing this, the Emperor, truly amazed, asked the glassmaker if he revealed his invention to anyone else. After saying no, Tiberius had the glassmaker killed and his workshop burned, fearing that the new invention would undermine the value of gold and silver in the imperial treasury and collapse the economy. While it is quite possible this would had been the economic outcome, had the glassmaker begun producing the vitrum flexile, it also made sure nobody would ever see or use this technological marvel for the next 2,000 years.

Normal glass is based on silicon dioxide (sand) with sodium and calcium as the metal oxides. But scientists nowadays believe that in order to make vitrum flexile, boric acid or borax should also be added to the mix. Our glassmaker might have had access to this element, either brought to Rome via the Silk Road, all the way from a remote region in Tibet, or he found some lying around near the steam vents of the Tuscan Maremma, north of Rome. In 2012, the American glass and ceramics company Corning introduced a new product called “Willow Glass,” which is very flexible and used in the construction of solar energy collectors. The only difference is that this glass can’t be returned to its original state.

8. Mithridatium: An Antidote to All Poisons

mithridate

An antidote to all poisons, as well as a cure to many ailments, is said to have been developed by king Mithridates VI of Pontus, and then later refined by the personal physician of Emperor Nero of Rome. According to historians, the original formula was lost, but did manage to survive as late as the Renaissance, with some mentions in the German, French, and Spanish pharmacopoeias of the 19th century. It is almost certain that by this point, the original recipe would have been lost already.

Nevertheless, some say that among the 36 ingredients found in this universal antidote were opium, small quantities of various poisons and their antidotes, and even chopped vipers. According to Adrienne Mayor, an historian at Stanford University, Sergei Popov, a USSR biological weapon specialist, tried to recreate it before defecting to the US, but to no avail.

7. Greek Fire

greek fire

Among all of the technologies on this list, we’re glad that this particular item has been lost to us. Back in 673 AD, Kallinikos from Heliopolis, a citizen of the Byzantine Empire, came up with a weapon of such great devastation, it’s still frightening just thinking about it. This is Greek Fire, or as its inventors called it, “Liquid Fire.” With this weapon, the Byzantines managed to save their Empire from being conquered by the Arabs in two attacks on Constantinople, in a number of wars against the Rus and Bulgarians, as well as a series of internal revolts. All of these battles ended in success.

Most likely made of a petroleum based mixture, Greek Fire was extremely flammable, burning at high temperatures and sticking to any surface it came in contact with. It even continued burning on water, making it ideal for naval warfare. It was sprayed out of a cannon type mechanism, and powered by a pump, acting quite similar to a present-day flamethrower firing napalm. It was also used in the form of a hand grenade. Besides the obvious damage it inflicted on ships and soldiers, it had an immensely terrifying effect on enemy morale, being a perfect terror weapon. Its impression on people back then is similar to the introduction of nuclear weapons in the 20th century.

Not wanting it to fall into the wrong hands, the recipe for this Byzantine super-weapon was a closely guarded secret. It was handed down from one Emperor to the next, and together with a handful of trusted craftsmen, they were the only ones who knew this recipe. This is also the reason why it was forgotten, as the Byzantine Empire entered a period of instability and the chain of passing down the formula was eventually broken.

6. Inca Stonemasonry

incas

Of all the things that made the Incas great, their wall building is among the most interesting and a mystery in its own right – so much so that some people have gone so far as to credit these techniques to demons, aliens, or any other higher power one could think of. While we do know that the Incas were the ones who made those walls, it’s fairly uncertain as to how they did it.

The first mystery here is how they were able to bring a 140 ton stone slab from the quarry, to the construction site, some 35 kilometers away. Because the Incas hadn’t yet discovered the wheel, and based on the stone’s polished surface, it is possible that they simply dragged them there on gravel roads, using at least 2,500 men to do it. The problem is not this, but rather how so many men fit on an 8-meter wide ramp, while pulling this immense stone uphill. Furthermore, the stones used at Saqsaywaman were fine-dressed at the Rumiqolqa quarry and show no signs of dragging.

The next bit of mystery is the precise positioning of these stones, as they fit perfectly with one another and without the use of any mortars or adhesives. We’re talking about being unable to even fit a single sheet of paper between any two stones. Located in an earthquake prone area of the world, it is a true feat of engineering that these walls are still standing, centuries after their construction. Archaeologists believe that it required a lot of measuring and planning beforehand, rather than a trial and error process, but whatever the case, nobody knows how the Incas were able to achieve it.

5. Roman Concrete

roman concrete

While we’re on the topic of ancient construction, we can talk about Roman concrete. Even though the Romans were heavily influenced by the Greeks in their architecture, they were able to take those constructions to a whole new level. While the concrete we use today is made to last about 120 years, the one the Romans were using made their buildings last for millennia.

Some of these Roman buildings are so spectacular in their construction and beauty, that modern builders would never attempt something similar, not even with today’s technology. It’s been known for a while now that the volcanic sand used in Roman concrete and mortar made their buildings last for this long. Moreover, while Portland cement (the one we use today) needs temperatures of about 1,450 degrees Celsius to be produced, Roman concrete only needed roughly 900 degrees, or even less. And given the fact that we use more than 19 billion tons of concrete per year, a reduction in production cost can go a long way. Not to mention that the production for Portland cement accounts for 7% of all CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, the planet would thank us for emulating the Romans.

The only thing with Roman concrete is that, while we know what it’s made out of, we don’t know precisely how it’s made, even though we know the basic recipe. Scientists were stuck up until a group of archaeologists stumbled upon the recipe, which was written down by the Roman architect Vitruvius. It only remains to be seen if we will attempt to perfect and use it in our constructions anytime soon.

4. The Iron Pillar of Delhi: The Iron That Never Rusts

iron pillar

There is an iron pillar in the Qutb complex of Delhi, standing 23 feet, eight inches high, and a diameter of 16 inches. This isn’t anything all that out of the ordinary. But the fact that it’s 1,600 years old, out in the open and not completely rusted, is. In fact, with the exception of a thin layer of surface rust, which looks like it’s partially keeping the metal in its current state, the pole and the iron it’s made out of are in pristine condition.

The tower has not always been in Delhi, having been moved there from central India, from a town called Udayagiri, somewhere around 1050 AD. As to why the pillar is still standing, there are several theories to it. One is based on the material it’s made out of, which is 98% wrought iron of pure quality, while the other is based on environmental factors, which somehow make the pillar not form any more rust.

Others believe that there is a strong correlation between the processing, structure, and properties of the pillar’s iron. All of these work together and have formed the outer, thin layer of rust we mentioned before, keeping the iron underneath from oxidizing any further. A fence was built around the tower to protect it from tourists who believe that by touching it, the pillar will bring good fortune. While this is innocent enough, it could peel off the existing layer of rust, exposing the metal underneath.

The pillar at Delhi is not unique in the world, and other such iron pillars exist at Dhar, Mandu, Mount Abu, Kodochadri Hill, as well as several iron cannons (all from India). That means it’s fairly safe to assume that there is something else at work, other than a series of fortunate events that have kept all these objects in such tremendous, almost new condition.

3. Tesla’s Free Wireless Energy

tesla

By most accounts, Nikola Tesla was decades ahead of his time when it came to electricity and wireless technology. He was the one who discovered alternative current and gained a lot of fame for his victory over Thomas Edison in the well-publicized “battle of currents.” Here, he proved that his alternating current was far more practical and safe than Edison’s direct current. And soon enough, the whole world would use Tesla’s discovery, as well as his other great inventions (the Tesla coil, the radio transmitter, and fluorescent lamps). By 1900 he was widely regarded as America’s greatest electrical engineer.

In 1905, Tesla was ready to put into practice his greatest invention yet, by building a 187-foot-tall Wardenclyffe Tower. Atop this tower was a 55 ton dome of conductive metals, which continued down the tower and then 300 feet into the ground itself. His aim was to use both the planet itself and the overhead ionosphere as huge electrical conductors, transporting electricity wirelessly anywhere on the face of the Earth. Famed financier and investor J.P. Morgan saw the potential such distribution could bring and invested $150,000 to relocate Tesla’s lab to Long Island, to construct a pilot plant for this “World Wireless System.”

Not long after construction began, another competing scientist named Guglielmo Marconi executed the world’s first Trans-Atlantic wireless telegraph signal. Though considerably less ambitious, and despite the fact that Marconi’s project borrowed heavily from Tesla, his new device scared Tesla’s investors. The fact that Marconi required less money to put his apparatus into practice, along with the stock market crash in 1901, quickly guaranteed that no further investments would be made to the Wardenclyffe Tower. After Tesla’s death, many other scientists tried to recreate his invention but to no avail. Even though all of them studied his notes, Tesla relied heavily on his photographic memory, and his notes are notorious for being extremely vague and lacking in any real technical detail.

2. Starlite

In the 1980s, an amateur scientist by the name of Maurice Ward came up with an invention that was said to have the ability to revolutionize space travel as we know it. He came up with an indestructible, heat-resistant plastic that could withstand 10,000 degrees Celsius. He was compelled to create it after he witnessed an airplane burst into flames. Besides the incredible heat-resistance, Starlite could also resist the impact of the force equivalent of 75 Hiroshima bombs, could endure temperatures three times the melting point of diamonds, and could be shaped in any form.

NASA was ecstatic about all the improvements Starlite could have on spaceship astronautical and security designs, but Ward was reluctant to part with the recipe, fearing that some companies would profit from his creation. Maurice never revealed the exact composition of Starlite but said that it contained “up to 21 organic polymers and copolymers, and small quantities of ceramics.” In 2011, Maurice died without parting with his secret formula. Since then scientists have tried to replicate this amazing material, but have had no luck.

1. The Sloot Digital Coding System

coding

This is going to sound like the plot of Silicon Valley, but it’s something that actually happened, making us wonder if Mike Judge may have based his HBO series on an inventor named Jan Sloot. In the early 1990s, Sloot came up with a revolutionary data compression technique that claimed to compress a 10 GB movie down to just 8 KB without any loss of quality. A lot of people doubted the possibility of Sloot’s invention, but the technology company Philips saw the potential and arranged to sign a deal with him. The day he was due to sign, however, Sloot died of a heart attack. Nevertheless, Philips was still interested and prepared to utilize Sloot’s technology after his death, but a key floppy disk that contained the actual coding software had gone missing. After months of searching, Sloot’s disk was never found and his technology forgotten.

According to Roel Pieper, an influential Dutch IT entrepreneur who was also involved in Sloot’s project (in keeping with the Silicon Valley similarities, the fictional compression company in that show is called “Pied Piper“…coincidence?), the coding system was not so much about compression, but rather by having some background knowledge, shared by both the sender and the receiver. Pieper said of the algorithm, “It’s not about compression. Everyone is mistaken about that. The principle can be compared with a concept as Adobe-postscript, where sender and receiver know what kind of data recipes can be transferred, without the data itself actually being sent.”


Unavailable Technologies

– WIF Science

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 20

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 20

…Out of shear consideration for an ill-advised swimmer, several longshoremen move to hoist Afridi from the frigid drink…

The Longshoremen by John George Brown

The Longshoremen by John George Brown

….so Afridi tackles the fifty meter swim to provisional independence; independence not freedom, with freedom attained only with asylum status for him and his family at some rare and highly fortified Western Embassy.

He wastes no time swimming at a record pace, for him, and not overlooked by the gathering swarm of bargemen & dock workers who are up early to start their day. Out of shear consideration for an ill-advised swimmer, several longshoremen move to hoist Afridi from the frigid drink, bantering away in a local unrecognized dialect. Surely they were asking him, What the hell man!”

He nods politely, pretending to understand them, but really only understanding the camel hair blanket given him. Playing dumb is his sole shot at unrecognizability. A single sentence from his intelligent tongue may well tip off any pursuers.

The oldest of these well-meaning men, seems to be on to his plight, considering all the flashing lights on the dusty streetsopposite riverbank. Drawn by the man’s kindness… and his own desperation, he takes the helping hand who leads him away to parts unknown, with the hope of a warm bath, at the bare minimum, at the end of one of these dusty streets.

Once entry is gained, there Afridi meets the better half of his clandestine champion. The ethnic matriarch seems to be upset that her man is not at work, yet somehow gathers some kindness for the stranger in their midst:

cell phone

  • Tepid bath…check
  • Dry change of clothes…check
  • Some kind of meat meal…check

He is worried about his family. ”Do you have a…?” Afridi puts a hand to his ear, the universal cellphone gesture.


THE RETURN TRIP

The Kindness of Strangers by Alberto Ruggier

The Kindness of Strangers by Alberto Ruggier

Episode 20


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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 17

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 17

…Tycho Brahe’s theoretical calculations were the foundation of astronomical law, eventually expanded by Johannes Kepler and that Newton fellow

That Newton fellow

That Newton fellow from Study.com

World Space Consortium

World Space Consortium

The events of that day in the year 2014, provides two important indicators to what led to this eventual orbiting cohabitation: Miss Bergestrom would become Mrs. McKinney in the coming months and together they would aggressively pursue a life spearheading the World Space Consortium’s grand venture out to Mars.

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Tycho

Tycho lander

This brings us (forward) to the business of bringing Space Colony 1 to full functionality. Part of that plan includes a Martian Lander named Tycho, which is going to be the first major project to be tackled by the McKinney’s. It is the only link between the orbiting Colony and the Martian surface.

The name “Tycho” pays homage to the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, who used his 16th Century observations to disprove mistaken notions that Tycho Brahe.JPGapplied to the proper planetary grouping that they know in 2030. His theoretical calculations were the foundation of astronomical law, eventually expanded by Johannes Kepler and that Newton fellow.

The versatile two-man lander saves wear and tear on the shuttle fleet, like Chronicle or any lifting systems like the Jupiter Piggyback workhorse. The deep-space shuttles do have the ability to achieve escape velocity, but dense atmospheres are a drag and it is far too heavy to put down on unpaved landing strips.

The task of preparing Tycho for its maiden mission will occupy the both colony pioneers, right up until departure time.


THE RETURN TRIP

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Chronicle

Episode 17


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