Science Behind the Photo #30

Peak District, UK, April 2009 – This is what your stylish kitchen worktop looks like in raw form. Granite is among the hardest of the igneous rocks – those created when molten magma cools and solidifies.  It usually forms at subduction zones where one of the earth’s tectonic plates slips under another. Rock melted by friction […]

Science behind the photo #29

The Pantanal, Brazil, August 2005 – Caimans (Caiman crocodilus) are small members of the alligator family found all over Central and Southern America. This one was lounging in shallow water in Brazil’s Pantanal, the largest wetland area on the planet. Caimans are usually four to eight foot (1.5-2.5m) long. They mainly eat fish and molluscs, […]

Science Behind the Photo #28

This is odd behaviour for a southern tamandua anteater (tamandua tetradactyla).  They’re usually found in trees, not wandering open grassland.  In fact, tamanduas are so badly adapted for living on the ground, they have to walk on the outside of their feet to stop their claws piercing their palms. What’s more, being nocturnal, they’re usually […]

The volcanic tsunami that broke an empire

3700 years ago, Mount Thera exploded with a force that ruptured the fabric of an entire civilisation. Humans had been coping with the area’s angry tectonics for centuries, but for the Minoans of Crete, something made this eruption truly devastating. In 2000, scientists found tsunami traces in sediments from Crete and Turkey. Now, researchers have […]

Getting over the ‘Great Dying’

It’s not how you fail, it’s how you bounce back.  And while the end-Permian mass extinction may have been nature’s greatest failure, new evidence shows its recovery was even more impressive than we thought. Two hundred and fifty million years ago, life nearly died.  96% of marine species were lost, 70% of land vertebrates perished, […]

Antarctica’s chilling tale

How did Antarctica come to be a barren, treeless land of ice?  Once carpeted with flowers and forests, today it’s a frozen desert, good only for mosses, lichens and a few hardy species of grass.  So what happened?  Scientists drilling off the Antarctic Peninsula – the last refuge for plants as temperatures fell – have […]

Moon birth theory holds no water

Four and half billion years ago, a meteorite the size of Mars slammed into Earth, melting the entire surface of our planet and throwing billions of tonnes of rock into space.  In time, the ejected rubble – baked dry by the explosion’s searing heat – condensed into a parched, lifeless satellite, the Moon.  This is […]

Science Behind the Photo #27

Eight million cows roam Brazil’s Pantanal – the world’s largest wetland – and with all that beef chomping through the area’s vegetation, environmentalists are nervous that native mammals could be pushed out.  However, a recent dung study shows their fears may be unfounded. The Pantanal has been home to cattle ranchers since the mid-18th century.  […]

Fresh water from sunlight

The Sun has finally got his London hat on.  So to celebrate, here’s a warming story about smart scientists using solar energy to alleviate water poverty. The Middle East is almost always sunny.  Jordan, for example, gets some of the highest levels of solar energy in the world – seven times as much as London […]

Bad gossip catches the eye

Gossip doesn’t just affect how you’re judged, a study shows, it controls whether people see you at all. According to evolutionists, a good prattle is vital in forging relationships.  It’s the human equivalent of chimps picking flees from each other. It’s also key to our huge social groups.  We quickly evaluate people we’ve never met, learning […]

Science Behind the Photo #24

Want to lose weight?  Eat a red pepper. Scientists have discovered that capsaicin – the ingredient that gives red peppers their pungent flavour – breaks down fat. It was already known that feeding rats capsaicin slowed their weight gain, but until now, no one knew why.  A team from Korea has found that adding capsaicin […]

Meteorite strikes made moon’s air

Why does Saturn’s largest moon have a nitrogen atmosphere like Earth?  It’s a question that has stumped astronomers since the Voyager spacecraft went to Titan in 1981.  However, laser gun-toting scientists from Japan think a catastrophic volley of meteorites might hold the answer. Titan’s air is so thick and its gravity is so low that if […]

Two membranes are better than one at purifying water

Globally, polluted water kills 14,000 people every day.  In India, over 350,000 children die of diarrhoea from dirty drinking water every year.  In China, 90% of cities suffer from some type of water pollution.  In the US, a recent study found contaminants in 45% of the country’s stream miles and 47% of lake acres.  Despite […]

Hydrogen hope

Imagine filling your car with fuel and driving as far as your dreams could take you without worrying one little bit about your green credentials. Well, you could… if that fuel was hydrogen.  Clean, full of energy and zero carbon, hydrogen is the fuel of the future, and scientists in China have just taken us […]

Science Behind the Photo #20

  Chicken wire is great for describing graphene – it’s often used by scientists when talking about the new wonder-material. Imagine there’s one atom of carbon at every point of every hexagon and that the wires are bonds joining the carbon atoms together.  Then imagine that the whole photograph is only a few nanometres across (1 nanometre […]

Permanent permafrost

Good climate news for a change:  man-made warming of the Arctic’s icy soils may be ten times less deadly than previously thought. Scientists have been worried that Arctic permafrost – soil that remains frozen all year round – will release large amounts of methane if it’s melted by global warming.  Methane is a greenhouse gas […]

High as a kite

Big ships are using a brand new means of propulsion – the wind. This isn’t a hark back to romantic days of white sails and stripy jumpers. This time it’s kites. Huge ones. Hundreds of metres in the air. And now scientists can predict exactly how much power the shipping companies will save. Big ships […]

Science Behind the photo #17

  If you own cows, don’t feed them mouldy beet silage – it could be their last meal. Experts were called to a farm in Belgium recently to investigate why cattle were refusing their food and dying.  They found that mould on the cows’ feed contained a powerful neurotoxin. It’s the first observed link between ingestion […]

Want carbon capture on the cheap? Use a MOP

Capturing carbon dioxide at coal power stations is a great way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but energy companies are put off by the high cost of technology.  Could a new type of carbon-filtering membrane be the economical answer? According to recent estimates, it costs $150 to remove one tonne of CO2 from power station outflow. […]

Volcano dangers predicted by cool headed scientists

Predicting volcanic eruptions is notoriously tough. Tracking movements of molten rock hundreds of metres below the Earth’s surface is never going to be easy, but scientists now claim they’ll know exactly when Sicily’s Mount Etna is next about to blow. Etna is one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Its erratic eruptions have claimed 72 […]

Mega Heatwaves

Pimms anyone? Ice cream? BBQ? A cool, pub-garden pint? I hope you’re enjoying the sunshine, but cross your fingers that this isn’t the start of another season of death.  Because according to a study in this week’s Science journal, the European summer of 2010 was the most ferocious on record, and this could be the […]

Antarctic reveals lightning space whistles

Take yourself into the middle of nowhere and hold a radio receiver to the sky.  Above the snapcracklepop of static, you might just be lucky enough to catch a whistler. Sounding like weaponry from an early sci-fi film, whistlers are the remnants of lightning strikes that have travelled tens of thousands of miles through space […]

Carbon dioxide takes oceans’ breath away

If rising sea levels, ocean acidification, extreme weather, drought, food shortages and wars over water didn’t have you convinced, here’s one more reason why pumping large quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is a really bad idea. One hundred and twenty million years ago, during the Cretaceous period when dinosaurs like iguanodon roamed the […]

Science Behind the Photo #9

The Taj Mahal, often named the world’s most beautiful building, is under serious threat from subsidence. Signs of stress and physical distortions have begun appearing on the monument’s marble façade.  Low water levels and diversions to the local river Yamuna may be to blame. According to an unnamed expert from the Archaeological Survey of India […]

Speed sailing record for Vestas Sailrocket 2?

In December 2008, while attempting to smash the world speed sailing record, Vestas Sailrocket back-flipped into oblivion. Its concussed pilot, Aussie-born Paul Larsen, was left fishing out the shattered pieces of his title hope. Now, after months of hard work and self sacrifice, the UK team is back with a brand new craft.  Can Vestas […]

Top 5 Unseen Weapons

5. The ultrasound gun The sonic devastator Imagine the sound of fingernails scraping down a blackboard, then amplify it to 130 decibels (which is equivalent to a jet plane taking off) and you begin to understand how the Sonic Devastator got its name. Designed for riot control, the hand-held gun’s design restricts its beam to […]

Wind in the willows could power world

Look out from the coast near Esbjerg and you’ll see over six hundred shimmery-white blades slicing through the air. Denmark leads the world in wind energy.  Vestas and Siemens Wind Power, both Danish companies, supply over half of the globe’s turbines; while domestic installations provide nearly 20% of the country’s electricity.  However, the exotic composites […]

Whey to go

Body builders have got a lot to answer for.  The protein shake manufacturing process is leaving dairies with vast amounts of waste whey, and they don’t know what to do with it. Could turning the whey into biogas be a sustainable answer? Greek scientists have assessed an anaerobic biogas reactor to see if it can […]

Goldie lookin food chain

Spinning gold from straw is the stuff of fairytales, but Rumpelstiltskin might actually have been onto something.  It seems plants have the ability to suck up gold nanoparticles and incorporate the precious metal into their leaves.  This might sound like the next must-have bling homeware, but when the leaves get eaten, the gold gets transferred […]

Climate skeptics – future’s visible foe

Last week, I posted a blog – Climate change: history’s invisible foe – about a paper published in Science journal that links temperature changes with human upheavals over the last 2500 years. An individual calling themselves ‘Boballab’ commented on this post raising important issues. Today, I will try to allay Boballab’s concerns. Boballab: I noticed […]