Deceiving desert looks like it is made of ice

Maybe like me, you thought this image was of a mountain, climbing out of a snowy plain. In fact, it is a satellite photo taken of the Namib desert, in Namibia. The snowy plain is in fact a sand sea – a giant area filled with little but wind-blown sands. It has the appearance of ice and snow because the sand has a high level of reflectivity or albedo, bouncing the light back into space. The hills in the center of the image are devoid of sand, causing them to reflect different amounts of light back. This region of Africa has been arid for millions of years. The cause lies in its geography. Lying on the western coast of Africa, it sits next to the cool waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Air masses in the region get cooled by the ocean, precipitating out their rain over the waters. By the time the air masses travel over the land, they are …

Book Review: Itch by Simon Mayo

Itch Author: Simon Mayo Published: 25 October 2012 Publisher: Corgi Children’s Summary: A terrifically fun and wonderfully engaging debut. Chemistry is widely considered as one of the most difficult subjects to make exciting, but Simon Mayo, radio presenter of the BBC’s Drivetime and Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review, seems to have discovered the perfect formula for doing so: (explosions x noxious materials) ÷ sinister global corporations. And, utilising this winning equation, Mayo has penned his debut novel, Itch; the story of fourteen year old Itchingham Lofte who, whilst attempting to collect every element in the periodic table, comes into possession of a curious new element with world-changing potential. At its core, Itch revolves around the relationship of Itch, his younger sister Chloe and his cousin Jacqueline (Jack) as they cope with the problems associated with possessing a radioactive substance the world and his dog would do anything to obtain. And what a charming and absorbing relationship it is; despite being the youngest, …

Awesome proof we landed on the moon

Surely this is every kid’s fantasy – to be able to drive an awesome buggy not just off-road, but off the planet. The driver of the buggy (or Lunar Roving Vehicle as it’s more properly called) is Fred W. Haise, Jr., Commander of the Apollo 16 mission to the moon. From the footage, you can tell it was taken on another world for a number of reasons. Firstly, the scale of the environment the LRV is driving in – it goes on for miles in every direction. So, either NASA built the world’s largest set to film this in or it actually did take place on the surface of the moon. Secondly, look at the dust that flies out from under the vehicle. Notice how it falls much slower than it normally would. That’s because the moon’s gravity is sixth of that on Earth.  Also look at the way the dust behaves. On Earth, dust kicked up from a vehicle would …

Quiz 3 – Space

Week 3 of 5 of Unpopular Science’s famous science quizzes. This week the theme is space. For those that don’t know, after 5 weeks, whoever has the highest cumulative score will win a copy of  Tiger Wars by Steve Backshall*.  If you want your score to be tracked, add your name and email. If you just want a bit of fun, don’t worry. You can start the quiz by simply clicking Next. To see the leaders of the first two quizzes, see our leaderboard. You can still join in, by doing our first quiz here and our second here. * In the event of a tie, names will be drawn at random and the Editor’s decision is always final. One entry per person. Prize will be announced soon. Also, good luck!   More posts from Unpopular Science The biology of Harry Potter… I recently wrote an article outlining how biological concepts are communicated through the Pokémon games and it got me thinking: what other popular …

Inside the space shuttle Discovery

If you really like switches, you should have become an astronaut. This 360 degree photo was taken from inside the Space Shuttle Discovery. Over its 27 year lifetime, it has spent over 365 days in space, and travelled a whopping 148 million miles – the equivalent of travelling to the Moon and back 250 times. Highlights of its illustrious career include launching the Hubble Space telescope in 1990 and docking with the Mir space station in 1994. Discovery has to operate perfectly in extreme environments – High temperatures, solar radiation, the vacuum of space – all require complex machinery. Hence, the huge number of switches, buttons, dials, monitors and joysticks. That’s why it can take up to 12 years of training before a pilot is allowed full control of the shuttle. Unfortunately, every shuttle is now out of commission, each heading for a different museum to live out the rest of its days. While plans are being carried out in …

The biology of Harry Potter

I recently wrote an article outlining how biological concepts are communicated through the Pokémon games and it got me thinking: what other popular franchises might do a similar thing? Now, they don’t come much more popular than JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series (there are probably lichens living under polar rocks that have heard of polyjuice potion and blast-ended skrewts) and I think it’s possible the books may just have transmitted the odd biological principle to a few unsuspecting readers. Perhaps because of the cover art, it’s likely the first images the words ‘biology’ and ‘Harry Potter’ conjure up are ones of magical creatures; hippogriffs, dragons or basilisks for example. Of course, whilst often based on genuine animals, it’s widely accepted such creatures don’t exist and anyone who does go off searching the real world for them is known politely as a cryptozoologist. Interestingly, Rowling includes a nod to the pseudoscience of cryptozoology in the form of the Lovegood family who, unlike …

Quiz 2 – Oceans

It’s time for another of Unpopular Science’s famous science quizzes. This is week 2 of our quiz schedule. After 5 weeks, whoever has the highest cumulative score will win a copy of  Tiger Wars by Steve Backshall*.  If you want your score to be tracked, add your name and email. If you just want a bit of fun, don’t worry. You can start the quiz by simply clicking Next. To see the leaders of the first week’s quiz, see our leaderboard. You can still join in, by doing our first quiz here. * In the event of a tie, names will be drawn at random and the Editor’s decision is always final. One entry per person. Prize will be announced soon. Also, good luck!

Lions are losing out on the savannahs of Africa

There may be as little as 32,000 lions left in the wild in Africa, and their savannah home is shrinking rapidly in the face of human population expansion. This is the grim message of the wild cat charity Panthera and a team of scientists from across the globe. The habitable area for lions in the African savannah is now only 3.4 million square kilometers, 25% of the amount potentially available to them. The lion’s plight is even worse than this number suggests, as much of the territory available to them is not in one accesible area, but fragmented into around 67 small ‘islands’ of habitability. The ‘oceans’ in between each island prevent populations from interacting, raises the likelihood of deleterious inbreeding and puts each subpopulation in greater danger of dying out.  This situation is also occuring in Asia, where a subspecies of lion – Panthera leo persica – has diminished to a population of just 400 individuals, all descended from a dozen …

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