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 […]