20 April 2015

Freshwater pearl

Found in the Mississippi River, and "distinguished by a recognizable, soft luster which is not seen in saltwater pearls."

Via Minerals, Minerals, Minerals!

Pearls Before Swine

"It's raining worms." Again.

[From 2011] It's the sort of event one would expect to read about in Fortean Times (which is online, BTW, but hasn't found the story yet).  I read about it at a Scottish TV station's website (via Arbroath, of course):
Pupils at a Scots school had to run for cover when it started raining worms during their PE lesson. Teacher David Crichton was leading a group of pupils playing football on an astroturf pitch at Galashiels Academy when dozens of the slimy creatures began plummeting from the sky.

David said the children had just completed their warm up when they began to hear "soft thudding" on the ground. The class then looked to the cloudless sky and saw worms falling on to them..."Then they just kept coming down. The kids were laughing but some were covering their heads and others were running for cover for a while. They just scattered to get out of the way."..

"I spoke with the science department here but none of them had any explanation for it. One of them thought maybe it was a freak weather thing. But it was such a clear, calm day. And we are quite a bit away from any of the buildings so it's not like anyone could have been throwing them.”..

Showers of worms falling from the heavens have been reported in the past. In 1872 worms were reported falling in Somerville, Massachusetts, in 1877 in Christiana, Norway, and in 1924 in Halmstad, Sweden. More recently, in July 2007, a woman was crossing a road in Jennings, Louisiana, on her way to work when large clumps of tangled worms dropped down from above. That incident is believed to have been caused by freak weather over a nearby river lifting water and worms and dumping it over the road.
Plenty of witnesses, and the Astroturf precludes mistaking worms emerging from the ground.  Depending on the geography, the worms still could have been catapulted or sling-shotted from a distance as a prank.  But it does seem likely that a whirlwind lifted the worms from the ground and carried them away.  I wonder what happens to all the other debris that would have been pulled up; do whirlwinds and turbulence sort things by weight as a sort of giant centrifuge?

Reposted from April 2011 to add this a recent similar event in Norway.
Biology teacher Karstein Erstad was out for a ski in the mountains outside Bergen on Sunday when he came across the unusual phenomenon. 
“I saw thousands of earthworms on the surface of the snow... When I found them on the snow they seemed to be dead, but when I put them in my hand I found that they were alive.”
At first he thought that they had perhaps crawled though the snow from the ground beneath, but on reflection, he rejected this idea...

Since Erstad’s discovery was reported in Norway’s NRK news channel, corroborating reports have flooded in from across southern Norway, with sightings of worm rainfall in LindÃ¥s and  Suldal near Bergen, and as far away as Femunden on the Swedish border.
Via Nothing to do with Arbroath (again!), and again it hasn't been noticed in the Fortean Times, where the story truly belongs.  I continue to be fascinated by these events, especially by the apparent "sorting" phenomenon that nature performs, because certainly a wide variety of other debris would have been elevated by whatever weather phenomenon removed the worms from the ground.  I can only imagine that items suspended in a column of turbulent air must get grouped by their aerodynamic properties or by their weight in a sort of immense chromatography column.

Related:  the Wikipedia link for Rain of animals.

The "Hardy Tree"

This gravestone-encircled tree is located in the churchyard of London's St Pancras Old Church, and named because of the involvement of novelist Thomas Hardy in its creation.  Details at Kuriositas.

"Do not go gentle into that good night"

Autogyro lands at White House; pilot receives award (1931)

"Pilot Jim Ray, flying the Pitcairn PCA-2 autogyro plane, is first aviator to descent in front of White House. President Hoover presents Collier Cup, for greatest aeronautical achievement of year, to the flier and Harold F. Pitcairn, head of Pitcaim-Cierva Autogyro Company."
From an era when the White House was "everybody's house."

Test your schadenfreude

"A young bull elephant killed professional hunter Ian Gibson early on Wednesday as he tracked a lion for an American client in a rugged part of north-east Zimbabwe.

"We don't yet know the full details of how 'Gibbo' as we called him, died, as the American client and the trackers are still too traumatised to give us full details," said Paul Smith, managing director of Chifuti Safaris' which employed Mr Gibson for the hunt.

The American hunter was on his first trip to Zimbabwe, and only has one leg, but was "fit and strong" and had already shot a leopard. Mr Gibson was scouting for lions when he encountered the elephant."
It's not reported whether the elephant kept the hunter's teeth as trophies.

16 April 2015

Gary Cooper (1930)

Radiologists viewing this photo will wonder whether Cooper is exhibiting a positive or a negative Throckmorton sign (or John Thomas sign).

Photo (a publicity still from The Texan) found at Haroldlloyds tumblr, via Curiosites de Titam.

This is NOT dew

Guttation is the exudation of drops of xylem sap on the tips or edges of leaves of some vascular plants, such as grasses. Guttation is not to be confused with dew, which condenses from the atmosphere onto the plant surface.

At night, transpiration usually does not occur because most plants have their stomata closed. When there is a high soil moisture level, water will enter plant roots, because the water potential of the roots is lower than in the soil solution. The water will accumulate in the plant, creating a slight root pressure. The root pressure forces some water to exude through special leaf tip or edge structures, hydathodes or water glands, forming drops.

Girolami et al. (2005) found that guttation drops from corn plants germinated from neonicotinoid-coated seeds could contain amounts of insecticide constantly higher than 10 mg/l, and up to 200 mg/l for the neonicotinoid imidacloprid. Concentrations this high are near those of active ingredients applied in field sprays for pest control and sometimes even higher. It was found that when bees consume guttation drops collected from plants grown from neonicotinoid-coated seeds, they die within a few minutes. This phenomenon may be a factor in bee deaths and, consequently, colony collapse disorder (CCD).
Reposted in amended form from 2009.

The dangerous childhoods of today's "baby boomers"

From an only-slightly-tongue-in-cheek op-ed piece in the StarTribune:
We defied danger on a daily basis. We never knew that we were doing risky things, of course; we just thought that we were having fun. Nonetheless, we spent our days immersed in activities that we’d never for a second allow our children or grandchildren to do...

For most parents, the notion of baby-proofing a home was to close the cellar door so the kids wouldn’t fall down the stairs... Cover unused electrical outlets?... And why would anyone but a masochist put medicine into bottles that you couldn’t open...

We hurled lawn darts with reckless abandon... We also played with wood-burning kits... And there was a line of electric toy irons, including a model that, the ads assured, heated up to “only 250 degrees”...

Not only did we not wear helmets, we’d never even heard of them. Bikes came with a single reflector on the back, but it broke off and rarely was replaced... There were no bike paths or lanes offering a buffer from traffic...

We rode our bikes (helmetless) down busy streets, zipping from one friend’s house to another, never telling anyone where we were going next (as if we knew). We went swimming, climbed trees and played with firecrackers without so much as a casual glance in our direction by an adult...

We crowded into cars that had no seat belts... The concept [of secondhand smoke] didn’t exist yet. We just figured that smoke was part of the atmosphere — and it was in most homes...  [Sunblock] was worn only by lifeguards...
More at the link.  I'll affirm that almost all of those applied to my childhood. 

Point of view

It's so seldom that we get to post anything cheerful about a rhinoceros...

Found at Big Binho (a reader's blog).

The engineering of an aluminum can

It's more complicated (and more elegant, and more interesting) than you may realize.

13 April 2015

The hexagon at Saturn's north pole

"Geometric whirlpools" are discussed in a Nature article:
Researchers at the Technical University of Denmark in Lyngby have created similar geometric shapes (holes in the form of stars, squares, pentagons and hexagons) in whirlpools of water in a cylindrical bucket. The shapes appear easily enough once the bucket is spinning at a rate of one to seven revolutions per second, they say.
But the researchers admit their studies may not be relevant to planetary-sized systems.

Photo via the Space subreddit.

American hero fears for his life

It shouldn't be this way -
From Saturday until the video surfaced Tuesday, Scott’s killing was being portrayed by city officials as simply what Slager said it was: a case of an officer facing down a violent black man, afraid for his life. The video showed us that story was the opposite of the truth...

The young immigrant from the Dominican Republic explained that he didn’t reveal that he had shot the video right away. Then he read the police report, which peddled Slager’s story about Scott posing a threat, and “it wasn’t like that, the way they are saying.”..

... he “thought about erasing the video” recorded via cell phone on his way to work, because “I felt like my life with this information would be in danger.”..
More details here.

What's going on here?

It's clearly the head, spine, and forelimb of a lizard.  But what's the white part that looks like a spiderweb?

Answer at the BBC's Weird and Wonderful Photo Quiz.
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