The Door to Hell

In 1971 a small group of Soviet Scientists were rooting around the small village of Dervaza. The village crucially lies in the Ahal Province of Turkmenistan, an area known for its abundance in one useful resource… Natural Gas. They found it. A site was identified next to the village and preparations were made for the drilling rig and camp to be set up on site, so as to facilitate the gathering of the sweet combustible resource.

There was, of course, an incident.

On an undisclosed date shortly after completion, the drilling rig was drilling. A cornucopia of equipment was spread throughout the surrounding drilling camp. Gas was rapidly pouring in and being stored for transportation and the Soviet Scientists were reveling in their success.

In an instant the ground beneath the camp cracked and tore open, revealing a new crater 100 metres across. The camp and rig plummeted downwards, swallowed by the depths of this new menacing construct.

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Antarctica is the only continent on earth that does not have an indigenous species of ant.

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The Burning Monk

11th June 1963, Vietnam : A small Buddhist uprising is ongoing. Protests against the Diem regime are now commonplace, the situation has been so for one month already. A small group of American journalists gathered outside of the Cambodian Embassy in Saigon, the busy road intersections traffic producing a low roar which permeated the air, the Journalists had been told that the Buddhists would do something, but they don’t know what. A small car approaches, a pale blue Austin Westminster, it is being followed by 2 phalanxes of Buddhists, 350 Monks and Nuns in total. In the wind their banners wave, they denounce the Diem government and its persecution of Buddhists and other religious groups. The car and procession stopped. The event began.

Thich Quang Duc and two other monks emerge from the car, the two other monks go the boot of the car and pulled out 5-gallons of gasoline and a cushion. The cushion was reverently placed in down in the centre of the road and the Buddhists form a circle around the site. Thich Quang Duc leisurely took a seat and assumed the Lotus position, both legs fold and his feet atop his lap. Wooden prayer beads hung from on hand, the reporters were nonplussed.

He began to meditate, then his associates emptied the gasoline can over his head. He made no motion to suggest he was aware of the gasoline. There was no apprehension or fear, he simply rotated the string of prayer beads, chanting a homage to Amitabha Buddha. His chanting stopped. He took a match, struck it, and dropped it.

He ignited instantly, his self-immolation began. Flames consumed his robes and flesh, black oily smoke billowing out.

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Goldfish Brains

A memory of three seconds. That is what you may think of the goldfish, but goldfish are better than that.

Ensuring that everything in their lives go swimmingly means that the goldfish has developed a memory span far greater than 3 seconds. Scientific studies have shown that goldfish can retain information on environments such as mazes for over one year. One year is, in case you were wondering, longer than 3 seconds.

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Can You Drown in the Dead Sea?

You can drown here? That's news to me.

‘It is impossible to drown in the Dead Sea’, ‘No-one has ever drowned in the Dead Sea’ These words have been spoken by many thousands of people, and heard by even more. Even ABC News, a American news network has said: ‘You can’t drown in the Dead Sea even if you tried.’

How marvelous, a bathing spot with no risk. Well it would be, were it not for that they are wrong.

This misconception arises from the fact that the Dead Sea is bizarre lakes (yes, lake) with some peculiar properties. It is the deepest hypersaline(very very salty) lake in the world, existing at a cool 420m below sea level.  By hypersaline I mean that the whole lake is 33.7% salt. This salt overdose is what makes the Dead Sea special.

All of that salt is dissolved in the water, making the whole lake much denser than normal water. Additionally swimming becomes rather uncomfortable. In fact the water becomes so dense that it is denser than any human body. So, it is impossible for someone to sink in the Dead Sea without using equipment. The problem is that people are talking about drowning in the Dead Sea. That is another matter entirely.

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Disney’s World

Cinderella CastleDisney World lies in Orlando, Florida and is 122 square kilometres in area. That is a large area, surprisingly it is larger than some countries.

The five smallest independent nations in the world are, from smallest to largest: Vatican City, Monaco, Nauru, Tuvalu and San Marino. Disney World Florida is larger than all five. In fact it is larger than all five combined.

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Pando: The One Tree Forest

There is the misconception that the largest creature on Earth is the Blue Whale. Measuring in at 180,000kg it is certainly a sizeable beast but it is far from the largest.  For the larger creatures we must delve into the world of super-organisms. Many individuals connected to form a single whole. The largest of these, that has so far been discovered, is a forest made only of one tree. Pando.

Pando, Latin for ‘I spread’ is a tree, or it is not. That depends on your definition of tree. Pando (a.k.a. the Trembling Giant) is a clonal colony of a single male, Quaking Aspen(Populus Tremuloides). It is located within Utah in the United States of America.

So how does it work? When a Quaking Aspen wants to reproduce, it  flowers and produces a clone of itself. Cloning just means extending its network of roots and forcing them up through the ground, thus starting a new tree. This new tree has the same genetic makeup and even has genetic markers to say that it actually belongs to the first tree. To all intents and purposes it is the first tree, but in a separate place.

The new tree grows with the old one and together they establish a large root network which produces more and more Quaking Aspen, essentially causing the single tree to expand into a clonal colony with a vast root network.

Just how vast is it?

Normally clonal colonies are 0.1 hectares in size, Pando is 43 hectares in size, and weighs 6,000,000 kilograms.

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The Weight of the World

The Earth has a mass of  5.98 million billion billion kilograms. That is a big number, but it that will soon change. The Earth is gaining mass, that big number is getting bigger all of time.

Due to small meteors, cosmic dust and assorted interstellar bric-a-brac the Earth takes on a great deal of new material on its passage through the cosmos. Almost all of this debris burns up and falls as dust onto the ground. Said dust causes the earth to gain between 20,000 and 40,000kg each and every day.

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