Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Archive for the 'Science' Category

All the Water on Earth

“If you could pull all the water in the ocean, the atmosphere, and on top of or beneath the surface of Earth into a ball, it would measure only about 950 (1,500km) miles across. By comparison, the moon is 2,160 (3,475km) in diameter. Of this, only about 3 percent if freshwater, and of that only about two-thirds is in a form or a location that is easily accessible to humans.”

Animation by Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, this is a wonderfully clear video version of Adam Nieman’s award winning graphic. [via cgr v2.0]

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Spectacular Anticrepuscular Ray in Brazil

“According to O Parana newspaper, anomalous light rays appeared in the sky of Palotina city, Parana state, [Brazil] at Monday (Dec 17) night. Tiago Testa, who lives in the community of Esquina Progresso recorded the event in photo and called SIMEPAR for a more thorough analysis.” [via Minha Maestria]

This phenomenon is in short just sunlight. But it was captured here in very special conditions, at sunset near the summer solstice, in the video the sun starts behind the camera even though it seems to be right beyond the horizon at front. The puzzled cameraman says the Sun is opposite to where the column of light seems to come from.


To understand this, one first has to understand first a crepuscular ray: the contrast between the rays of sunlight that went through gaps in the clouds and the already darkening ground would already make up for these intense light columns.


When these parallel rays go all the way crossing the sky above our heads and beyond the antisolar point, opposite to the sun, they converge again due to perspective at the vanishing point. This convergence is only apparent, the sun rays actually kept parallel and went all the way through the atmosphere. But the illusion gives the impression the rays are coming the opposite way. Thus, anticrepuscular rays.

Below, a panorama of an anticrepuscular ray captured in Chandler, Arizona, illustrating the perspective effect of the phenomenon.


And here’s another video example from Arizona last year:

And yet another one.

None of them is quite as spectacular as the recent Palotina video.

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Heroes of Science: Action Figures


Click for the full set on DeviantArt – sadly this is just a concept art, but one amazingly well-done by Russell “datazoid”.

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Underwater Wonders


Long time, no see! But here are some fascinating sea discoveries to kind of make up for some months without blog updates.


First are the mysterious circles discovered by Japanese diver Yoji Ootaka in 2007. In Japan, crop circles are more commonly known as “mystery circles”, and these were genuinely mysterious ones! Made in regular patterns on soft sand, they would not last for very long, and for years Ootaka recorded them and asked in his blog if anyone else had seen them, and who or what could be behind them? Turns out nobody had seen those circles before, but the mystery would not last very long.

This year a team of marine scientists with the public TV station NHK program “Darwin has come!” found and recorded the culprit in gorgeous images. And the artist was a little blowfish!


Working hard for up to six days to create these symmetrical constructions almost a couple of meters in diameter! What for? Well, as Jerry Coyne put it, “if you’re an evolutionary biologist, you might have guessed: sexual selection. A male sculpts this thing to attract females for mating”. In experiments the Japanese scientists determined the more grooves the pattern has, the greater the chance to attracts females. Because at the center of the pattern, there is the artist!

In the first posts about his discovery, Ootaka did mention he found small puffer fishes inside the circles, but they had to record the little fish actually creating the huge pattern to believe it. The pattern is not only aesthetic: the grooves and ridges help neutralize sea floor currents, further protecting the eggs.


Crop circles are still made by humans, but mating hedgehogs may not sound so absurd after all.


Sponge Reception

At ten thousand feet below the ocean’s surface, scientists discovered yet another amazing creature: the harp sponge (Chondrocladia lyra).

“C. lyra is called the harp sponge because its basic structure, called a vane, is shaped like a harp or lyre. Each vane consists of a horizontal branch supporting several parallel, vertical branches. But don’t let the harp sponge’s whimsical appearance and innocent sounding name fool you, it’s actually a deep-sea predator.

Clinging with root-like "rhizoids" to the soft, muddy sediment, the harp sponge captures tiny animals that are swept into its branches by deep-sea currents. Typically, sponges feed by straining bacteria and bits of organic material from the seawater they filter through their bodies. However, carnivorous harp sponges snare their prey—tiny crustaceans—with barbed hooks that cover the sponge’s branching limbs. Once the harp sponge has its prey in its clutches, it envelops the animal in a thin membrane, and then slowly begins to digest it.”

The regularity of the sponge, which makes it look almost artificial, may have Forteans remembering the case of the “Eltanin Antenna”, a famous photo captured in 1964 of what looked like a man (or perhaps alien) made artifact at almost four kilometer deep at sea. In 2003 Tom DeMary did the basic research that no UFO buff had done until then and contacting the original researchers found out they had already identified the image as that of another carnivorous sponge, C. concrescens.


Moving Lilies

And last, here’s one which I first thought was the creation of some horror movie, but as you may guess, is actually a very real and yet completely natural creature. Here is Neocrinus decorus:

It’s a crinoid, a sea lily usually attached at the bottom of the sea by its long stalk, and yet in the video we can see that when needed it can move, and actually quite fast. Scientists didn’t think it could move that fast – though, before you start running to the hills, one must remember the distance between the right-most and left-most red laser dots is only 2 cm. That is, this is a pretty small harmless sea lily.

Creepy as hell, granted, I much prefer the puffer fish, but they are all amazing discoveries which fortunately have not been mystified with cheap fantasies. With the exception of that sponge antenna of 1964, of course.

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The Top of the World Exposed


The Himalayas as seen by ESA astronaut, André Kuipers, during his mission to the ISS. Though the atmosphere extends for many more miles above the top of the Everest, the image reveals how the Himalayas lie somewhat exposed.

No permanent human settlement can be established in this exposed area, as the air is too thin. And yet, if you were to paint a billiard ball with a coat of paint, that coat of paint would be twice as high as the Himalaias – if the ball was the size of Earth, that is.

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