The end of Exploring Our World

Hi everyone,

Firstly, sorry for not posting in such a long time, as I promised I would – thanks to everyone who has kept checking back here over the last few months. :D Unfortunately I have decided to stop writing new posts for Exploring Our World, because I just don’t seem to have the huge amount of time necessary to keep a blog up and running any more.

Blogging was a really new and exciting experience for me, and I would encourage anyone who thinks they might even find it slightly inetersting to take the jump and start a new blog! It’s free, a great way to meet new people and hear their views, and an excellent way to find out more about the world around us.

Thanks again to all of my readers, in particular Gillian (http://eyegillian.wordpress.com/) and Bill (http://hyakutake1957.wordpress.com/). I wish them and everyone else all the best :D .

Who knows, I might start blogging again in a few months or years – check back in a few months and I’ll post if I have started again.

Richard

More posts coming soon…

Regular readers may have noticed I’ve not been posting very much over the last few weeks, but don’t worry – I’m not giving up blogging! I’ve been quite busy lately and blogging takes quite a lot of time up – hopefully I’ll have the time to do more posts soon.

Thanks for visiting!

The volcano hurling ash 12 miles high

National Geographic

It may not have done anything for 9000 years, but now Chile’s Chaitén volcano has decided to start erupting it’s doing it big-time. Blowing ash 12 miles up into the sky, it has caused stunning ‘dirty storms’ where the huge dust clouds have turned into ferocious lightning storms. The photos are pretty breathtaking – although I must say I’m glad I don’t live anywhere what seems like a volcano taken out of the apocalypse.

National Geographic It looks stunning, but just how do you get so much lightning at once? Basically, as the billions of ash and dust particles rub together in the sky, static electricity causes some of them to become charged – just like rubbing a balloon on your jumper can make it become statically charged.

These charged ash and dust particles can then trigger huge bolts of lightning, some reaching down to the ground and some staying between the clouds. The result: a dazzling show of light – and of course sound as well.

Map image

Chaitén’s not just making dirty storms – its ash clouds are spreading right over as far as the Atlantic Ocean, and it’s spewing lava out too (although not at a very high rate yet). It’s definitely something to keep an eye on over the next few days.

National Geographic’s done a great interactive detailing everything you could ever want to know about volcanoes – click here.

Saturn’s lightning 10,000 times more powerful than Earth’s

NASA / MSNBC

I love being in the middle of a thunderstorm – being in the center of the light, noise and heavy rain is a really exhilarating experience. But new research from NASA’s Cassini probe makes me think that maybe Saturn would be an even better place to experience a massive storm.

Why? Saturn’s storms not only have thunderbolts thousands of times more powerful than Earth’s measly zaps of electricity, but the storms can also last for months on end. The current storm being observed by Cassini has been going on for over five months now – a record for the ringed planet.

Wikipedia Saturn’s huge size obviously explains why thunderstorms are so much bigger there than on Earth, but is that the only reason? Saturn, Jupiter and the other gassy planets are actually always bound to have more huge storms like this, because unlike our planet, their atmosphere is the planet, not just a thin layer on top of loads of rock.

Cassini’s discovered some other cool things about Saturn too – a 2000-mile wide storm near the South Pole that looked like a hurricane was discovered back in 2006, and of course Saturn’s many moons are proving to even more interesting than the giant planet itself.

That’s why it’s great news that NASA recently announced that funding for Cassini will continue until at least 2010 – hopefully even longer. Go Cassini!

Where is the brightest place on Earth?

Where’s the brightest place on Earth – the place that is illuminated most when the Sun has gone down? New York’s Times Square perhaps… what about the glow of office lights around London’s business district… or maybe the bustling heart of Mumbai, the world’s most populated city. They’re all pretty bright, but of course nothing could beat the flashing, colorful sea of lights that make up Las Vegas – the brightest place on Earth.

NASA has just released some new images of our planet at night, and I think it’s really fascinating to see what they tell us about our civilization.

Until not long ago, most of Saudi Arabia was a vast desert, void of human habitation. But now its cities are bustling, and as their population increases, so does its brightness. I love the little strip of light connecting Jeddah and Mecca in the photo on the right – that’s the tiny but well-illuminated road linking the two cities.

Earth It’s also really interesting comparing cities by day and night. The photo on the left is Chicago – as soon as darkness comes the gray and brown sea of buildings is turned into a mass of light, coming from every building, road and shop.

So how did NASA get these photos? It’s not as easy as you’d think – you have to bear in mind that the ISS (where these photos were snapped from) moves about 7 miles a second above Earth, and combined with the long exposure times necessary for such a dark photo, it’s difficult to avoid getting blurry photos, as any photographer will know.

The solution was to create a camera mount that rotated really slowly, to compensate the movement of the ISS. The result: beautiful pictures showing the amazing things humanity is capable of.

The only problem is that sometimes our lights go too far – many city-dwellers can’t see more than a handful of stars because artificial lighting lights up the sky so much. I’d really recommend looking at the International Dark-Sky Association‘s website – they’ve got loads of tips about how to reduce light pollution. But before that, just appreciate how fascinating our planet looks when it’s dark.

Traveling back in time with Wikipedia

Wikipedia It’s over 500 years since Johannes Gutenberg invented his famous printing press – something which had actually been around centuries earlier in China and Korea. Nowadays the internet is fast replacing old-fashioned books as the way to find things out.

But now Wikipedia is doing some time travel, going back a few centuries to produce a book version of the revolutionary user-edited encyclopedia. It will only be available in German for now, but if it takes off, it may well spread around the world.

But before you book-lovers get too excited, is it actually ever going to be a hit? My prediction is a definite no. Aside from the price (around $30, compared to free access for the online version), I don’t think the publishers have realized that a paper copy of Wikipedia wouldn’t actually be much use. The whole idea of Wikipedia is that it is constantly updated, and that’s what sets it apart from the traditional encyclopedias like Britannica.

Wikipedia2Rather than going back to the past, I think it’s better to look forward to the future. It’s been interesting watching Wikipedia’s gigantic surge in popularity in recent years – for many people it is the only encyclopedia they ever use. In fact, it’s the 7th most visited site on the whole internet. It’ll be very interesting watching how Wikipedia evolves over the next few years.

Perhaps in 100 years time, our descendants will be wondering how we could ever use such archaic technology compared to what they will have. Ah, if only Wikipedia could invent a time machine that could go forward a few centuries, rather than back.

How to change the world this Earth Day – be optimistic!

Happy Earth Day everybody! If you want to be green but don’t have the time, or don’t know how to, today’s the day to start saving our planet. We’re always hearing about how our planet is in danger of being destroyed by humans – the picture many scientists paint for our amazing planet’s future is not pretty.

Get this – by the middle of this century, much of the Eastern Amazonian rainforest is projected to have turned into savanna because of water shortages and rising temperatures – think of all the biodiversity that will be lost as a direct result of us being too lazy to walk to work.

In another century’s time, the polar bear may be no more. We’ve only recently begun to realize how our poles are affected more than any other region of the planet, leaving not just polar bears but also seals, birds and penguins in danger of extinction because we’d rather spend money on a new flat-screen TV or a gas-guzzling monster truck.

It’s not just animals – as we’ve all seen with the global food crisis over the last few weeks people are already dying in their thousands because of climate change and pollution. That figure could rise to millions in just a few decades. It’s a sobering thought that we’re ‘murdering’ someone in Africa whenever we take a plane when we could take the train for a few dollars more.

BUT! Wait a minute – that all sounds rather depressing, doesn’t it.

Earth1 The great thing is that each and every one of us has the ability to turn these dim predictions around – it’s amazing to think that we as individuals really do have the power to change the world. I’m not just saying that – it really is true.

If you tried to make your life a bit greener, then over the next decade you could have saved the lives of a family in Africa, a polar bear and its cub in the Arctic, an orangutan and its babies in Indonesia… and a whole load more.

Earth Day isn’t meant to be a day of pessimism as some people make it out to be – it’s one of the happiest days of the year, when we can smile as we think how wonderful, how mind-boggling it is that you, and me, and everyone else in the world, can save the most beautiful, stunning, and simply amazing place in the whole Universe.

Go on – today’s the day to change the world. Now you’ve finished reading this post, why not go out and do something amazing. You’re in good company – you’ll be part of a movement millions strong to change the world. It’s an exciting prospect, and it’s even more exciting that we can all be a part of it.

You really can do it! :)

p.s. While it’s Earth Day, why not try out a couple of quizes to see how green you are – tell everyone what you got by leaving a comment! Don’t be embarrassed. :)

Click here and here.

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