Godzilla dust cloud travels from the Sahara desert to North America!

This animation shows a brown swirl of dust starting in Africa and moving toward the Americas. Colin Seftor/NASA-NOAA

A huge cloud of dust from the Sahara Desert is floating across the world. It flew from Africa all the way across the Atlantic Ocean.

Every year, winds whirl up sand from the world’s largest hot desert. The dust cloud’s floats across the Atlantic but its destination  depends on the time of the year. In the winter and spring, the winds push the cloud to land directly in the Amazon rainforest in South America. In the summer, it sends them towards North America.

So why is it a big deal? This year, the dust cloud traveled much farther than usual and is way bigger and denser! Meteorologists have named it the “Godzilla dust cloud” because it may be the largest one in 50 years! The dust particles in the air are shading skies brown and creating dazzling sunsets. The particles scatter sunlight, causing certain unusual colors to appear. As a result, people in the US Caribbean and Central America are capturing  bright red orange and pinks sunrises and sunsets!

While you might guess correctly that dust poses a serious health hazard as it can make it difficult to breathe, it also has some benefits. The cloud contains particles of African soil that is rich in minerals such as phosphorus and iron. As the dust clouds land in new places, the particles help nourish those areas. For example, it helps nourish the oceans and fertilize the Amazon rainforest. The dust particles also absorb the moisture over the ocean and helps tame tropical storms brewing in the Atlantic.

The Saharan dust is a super example of the complex forces of nature that bind our planet together!

 


The quest for sustainable building materials!

Concrete is a substance that is a mixture of cement, sand and some other materials. Cement is made out of a mixture of materials like limestone, shells, chalk, and clay.

Concrete, reinforced with steel, has been widely used to construct buildings, dams, and roads. It is the material that humans have used to protect ourselves from natural elements such as the heat, wind, cold, and rain, and to wall us off from intruders. It is solid, and stands the test of time. We use so much of it, that experts say that it is actually the most widely used substance on earth, after water!

It is also harmful to the environment. The production of concrete and cement apparently causes 4-8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, only behind coal, oil and gas! It is a fine powder that is used at construction sites, and causes air pollution and health problems when inhaled. Its overuse has also covered up so much of nature that it can magnify the impact of natural disasters like floods as concrete cannot absorb excess water and mitigate the impact of all that water like the natural earth can. And a lot of water is used to produce concrete. Many areas do not have enough water, and this can lead to undue stress to people in those areas.

Credit: worldatlas.com

Sustainable materials: People are trying to come up with viable alternatives and more sustainable building materials. We recently read about a couple of architects in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) who worked with universities in the UAE and in Japan, to come up with a way to make cement (a part of concrete) out of brine. Brine is a mixture of salt and water.

Why does this make sense? The UAE has very little freshwater, but it does have very large salt flats, and access to sea water. In fact, the UAE uses a process of desalination to take salt out of sea water, to make it usable by humans. It is one of the biggest users of this process in the world. One of the by-products (materials that are left after this process is completed) is brine. The UAE desalinates so much water that it produces one-fifth of the brine in the world, but doesn’t know what to do with it. It cannot be put into the sea because it is harmful to sea creatures. The UAE has been trying to inspire people to come up with innovative things to do with all this brine.

So this group of architects and materials scientists have come up with a way to make cement using minerals extracted from the brine. Usually calcium carbonate is used in the making of cement. This group has been able to extract magnesium from the brine, and use it as the main ingredient, rather than calcium carbonate. This is mixed with the other ingredients and baked at high temperatures to make something that is quite hardy.

This could be used as an alternative to traditional cement, and will be kinder to the environment by leaving a smaller carbon footprint because it is using waste materials from desalination. One of the potential glitches is that cement and concrete is used along with steel for construction. The steel is needed for support. The salt in these new blocks may corrode (eat away at) the steel, resulting in construction that is not as sturdy and strong. However perhaps there are alternatives to steel that can be used when using these blocks.

It’s a start! It’s an idea that needs to be tested thoroughly before it can be used for real, but it is a step in the right direction. And there are others working on using and making more sustainable construction materials. Bamboo, recycled wood, and timber are some of the natural materials that are being used for construction. There are others, like a material called ferrock that are being developed and tested as alternatives to cement. Ferrock is made using recycled materials such as steel dust (leftover from the making of steel), to make a substance that is more hardy than concrete but is carbon neutral!

A hotel in Singapore. Credit: grendz

Sustainable architecture: This is all part of a larger effort to reduce the negative impact of buildings by using more sustainable materials, using alternate sources of energy to power activities in these buildings (solar panels for example) and incorporating more green plants and natural elements into the design. With more architects, thinkers, innovators, and materials scientists focusing on this, we hope that there will be many new options that will emerge for a more balanced way of living!

Sources: CNN https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/uae-pavilion-biennale-sabkha-cement-spc/index.html and The Guardian


Written by: Sunaina Murthy

 


The Siberian Heat Wave

World Atlas

The Arctic region is known for its extreme cold and freezing temperatures. Ironically it has been in the news for experiencing record breaking high temperatures.

Why is that? On the 20th of June, for the first time in history, Verkhoyansk, a small town in a region of Russia called Siberia, recorded temperatures just over 100°F (38°C). This is 18°C higher than the usual temperature during the summer months. This could be the hottest temperature ever recorded north of the Arctic Circle!

Air temperatures across the Arctic are rising at roughly twice the rate of the rest of the globe. There have been record highs in the Siberian region for months and Russia just had its warmest winter on record. This unusual heat was also felt in other regions that are in close proximity to Siberia such as Scandinavia and Northern Canada.

Scientists say there are several reasons for the warmer weather. It’s a sign of the broader effects of human-driven climate change that’s transforming weather patterns in the Arctic Circle. Some of it also comes down to our planet’s natural weather patterns. An area of high pressure in the Arctic air is making conditions right for the heat wave.

Meteorologists have suggested that despite the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions due to COVID 19, this drastic increase in temperatures could make 2020 the warmest year ever recorded.

Arctic temperatures have been rising faster than the global average. This map shows the average change in degrees Celsius from 1960 to 2019. NASA-GISS
Arctic temperatures have been rising faster than the global average. This map shows the average change in degrees Celsius from 1960 to 2019.
NASA-GISS

Why should we be worried?

The record warming in Siberia is a warning sign of things to come. The warmer and drier weather is already making it harder to control wildfires. Many fires are burning across Siberia, with some near the town of Verkhoyansk. Satellite images show smoke stretching for thousands of miles. Many of these fires are larger than those last year, and scientists worry that the wildfires will get worse as the burning summer continues.

Warmer temperatures are speeding up the thawing of the permafrost. Permafrost is the thick layer of frozen soil. This is a matter of much concern, as when permafrost melts, stores of CO2 and methane that were secured below the ground are let out into the atmosphere. This leads to a vicious circle wherein these pollutants cause temperatures to further increase making the permafrost melt even faster. The end result of this is that land ice in the Arctic begins to melt and causes a large amount of runoff into the ocean, in turn making sea levels rise. In fact, scientists have predicted that the Arctic will face summers without sea ice by 2050.

In addition to that, buildings and pipelines are built on the permafrost. This thawing has caused many issues in Siberia, including buckled roads, damaged homes, and even a major fuel spill wherein a fuel tank ruptured, leaking 20,000 tons of diesel fuel into the Ambarnaya river.

What is the solution?

The melting of land and sea ice along with a host of other problems caused by increasing temperatures in the Arctic can be reversed, however, it won’t be easy. By cooling the atmospheric conditions, the sea ice would remerge, although there are only a limited number of ways this situation can be salvaged. This includes: using trees or advanced technology to extract large amounts of CO2 from the aerosphere; spraying sunlight reflecting molecules into the stratosphere that would reflect some of the sunshine into space; or finally wait for a couple of decades for the earth to heal itself. Nevertheless, scientists are working their hardest to put these methods to the test to cool down the earth’s temperatures. We can lend a helping hand to save our earth by being aware of our carbon footprint and by making small changes to reduce it.

To calculate your carbon footprint click herehttps://footprint.wwf.org.uk/#/

Did you know that Siberia is in the Guinness Book of World Records for its extreme temperatures?  It’s a place where the thermometer has swung 106 degrees Celsius (190 degrees Fahrenheit), from a low of minus 68 degrees Celsius (minus 90 Fahrenheit) to the current 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit)!


Zara Shroff is a 17 year old who loves writing and singing

 Zara Shroff is a 17 year old who loves writing and singing. She enjoys writing and is a student at the Ecole Mondiale World School.


Two Danish Architects have designed a moon-friendly habitat inspired by origami. Check it out!

SAGA Architects

Did you know that no human has walked on the Moon since NASA’s Apollo 17 mission in December 1972? Yes it has been a long time. Now many space agencies like NASA and ISRO are planning manned missions to the moon. NASA plans to send astronauts to explore the lunar surface in 2024.  This time, though, the astronauts will stay much longer and will have to build their own sturdy and tough habitats or homes on the moon.

What would a moon-friendly habitat look like? A moon friendly habitat will have to take a lot into consideration. The moon is a harsh environment for humans – there is no air and it is subject to extreme temperatures.  A lunar habitat would need to be cooled during the day to beat extremely high temperatures and heated during the night to battle extremely low temperature. It will also need a water recycling system, a power generating system, and food storage and preparation facilities for space travellers to survive. The habitats would need to be easy to assemble by the explorers once they arrive. Is this even possible? Yes! There is some good news.

Space architects Sebastian Aristotelis and Karl-Johan Sorensen have recently designed a model for a moon-friendly habitat. This origami-inspired foldable house has been designed so human space travellers can live on the moon comfortably for longer periods of time. The Danish architects have named this project the “Lunark Habitat,” and plan to test it in the Arctic region later this year where conditions are closest to that on the moon.

SAGA Architects

What does this Lunark Habitat look like? 

It is a lightweight structure has strong aluminium panels with solar cells on the exterior.

The shelter weighs about 1,700 kilograms and from its compact state to its unfolded state, it expands in volume by 560 per cent. This means it’s light and compact enough to to be thrusted out of Earth’s gravitational field using space rockets. But when it expands, they imagine it being divided into areas for sleeping, studying and that it will include a small toilet. They have also designed a vertical farm inside the habitat that would help support the space traveller’s food needs.

The habitat will be powered by solar cells and will be insulated to withstand the freezing temperatures and strong winds of the moon.

What if the home needs to be repaired? Since it is 3D printed, any parts of the habitat that needs replacement can quickly be reprinted.

Have they designed anything to look after the psychological wellbeing of space travellers?

Yes they certainly have. Since the moon does not have weather, and its days and nights last 14 days each, living on the moon can cause a lot of uneasiness for space travellers living in isolation for long periods of time.

Humans have a 24-hour internal clock that runs in the background of our brain. It cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals and is also known as our sleep/wake cycle. To help maintain this cycle, the architects have designed the habitat so it glows brightly in the morning and dims to a warm pink or orange when it’s time to sleep.

The designers are also working on a weather simulator that might display a storm one day, sunshine another and a rainbow the next! This will break the monotony that space travellers on the moon will face. Isn’t that cool?!

So will this model be ready by 2024? The two Space Architects will test the efficiency of the habitat this fall, living in complete solitude in the Arctic Greenland for three months, where the temperature is -30 degrees Celsius. This is said to replicate the freezing conditions on the moon. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that their experiment is successful!

If you want to take a go at being a space architect, check this out! NASA has launched a “Lunar Loo” competition offering almost $30,000 for the best new space toilet design for their 2024 mission to the moon.  The agency issued its invitation on the HeroX platform.


Sources: SAGA Space Architects, NASA


Twitter, TikTok, K-Pop fans and the power of technology!

A finger heart sign is used in Korea to signify that you like or love something or someone.

The News: US President Donald Trump was holding a big rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma last Saturday night, as part of his campaign to win a second term as the US President. The  election is scheduled to be held in November 2020.

The venue was a big stadium designed to hold 19,000 people inside and 40,000 people in a spillover area outside. Trump was anticipating a huge crowd, and people in his campaign had said at one point that more than 1 million people had expressed an interest in attending the event!  However in actuality, only 6,200 people showed up, which then fell flat on its face.

What happened? Well, some people would have stayed away from such a large gathering of people due to the coronavirus. There were also media reports that wide spread protests were expected at the arena, so that might have kept some people away. But one more reason was a week-long effort by K-pop fans on TikTok and Twitter! Read here to find out about Korean pop or K-pop.

Some accounts say that when the Trump team alerted people on Twitter that tickets to the event could be easily booked for free, K-pop stars and influencers with many followers on Twitter and TikTok encouraged people to reserve tickets and then not turn up. Apparently a lot of them did, using fake email addresses and phone numbers. They were able to falsely boost the number of people projected to be there and pranked the Presidential rally! Needless to say, the event was very poorly attended.

That’s a lot of influence! Why would K-Pop stars care about the US Presidential election? K-Pop stars have huge fan bases of young people, and they are very active in speaking out for what they believe in. Their fans are very engaged, and together they wield a lot of influence and raise awareness about many social and charitable issues. The K-pop community has contributed to many causes such as the Black Lives Matter movement and helping Syrian refugees with food and clothing. They are sympathetic to LGBTQ issues, and are active politically.

The US Presidential election will be very important, as President Trump is running for his second term, and while he has many supporters, he is a polarising and opinionated person who has also made decisions that have alienated many groups of people. This will be a very interesting election to follow.

Social media as a tool and as a weapon: Using TikTok videos and Twitter and other social media to mobilise groups of people on this scale is ingenious. Look at the kind of power that the group wields and the impact that they were able to have! There is a dark side to this kind of power as well. Technology has changed the way that people communicate with each other, and it is used to influence games with high stakes, elections being one of them. It is hard to tell sometimes, what is real and what is not. Remember deepfakes? Even experts have a hard time distinguishing real videos from fake ones. That’s why it is very important to always double check information that you come across and not blindly forward anything that you receive, or to believe everything that people say.


Written by Sunaina Murthy. This article was adapted from those on CNN, BBC and Vox.


The summer solstice: June 21

June 21 is certainly a busy day for solar matters! It is the date of the annular solar eclipse in 2020, but it is also the date of the summer solstice, when the sun’s rays shine directly on the Tropic of Cancer at 23.5 degrees North. So for those in the Northern Hemisphere, this is when we experience the longest day as the sun rises really early and sets really late on this day.

Why does this happen? Due to the earth’s orbit or path around the sun. Check it out.

 

Credit: Britannica.com

 

So what happens to those in the Arctic Circle on this day? They have sunlight for 24 hours!

Then what happens to those in the Antarctic Circle on this day? They have darkness for 24 hours!

 

 


Space Update – The Solar Orbiter’s first milestone and a newly discovered habitable planet candidate

An artist’s depiction of the joint NASA-European Space Agency Solar Orbiter at work studying the sun.
(Image: © ESA/Medialab)

The Solar Orbiter, a joint mission by NASA and the European Space Agency, has completed its first fly-by of the sun.

The Orbiter is seeking close-up views of the Sun’s North and South poles. It is equipped with 6 telescopes that can directly image the sun. These telescopes will capture close-up images of the sun simultaneously for the first time. According to ESA’s Solar Orbiter Project Scientist Daniel Müller, the images, to be released in mid-July, will be the closest images of the sun ever captured.

It also has another 4 instruments that operate like a mobile laboratory. They will measure the magnetic fields and solar eruptions in the polar regions. They will also track the progression of eruptions on the sun from the surface out into space, and all the way down to Earth.

To find another planet like Earth, astronomers are focusing on the ‘habitable zone’ around stars–where it’s not too hot and not too cold for liquid water to exist on the surface.

Scientists have found a likely habitable exoplanet that is similar to Earth, and orbits a star similar to our Sun.

The exoplanet candidate is named KOI-456.04 was found 3000 light years away. The discovery was made in a nearby solar system and is said to be the most similar planet-star pair to our own planet and sun pair! How is that you might ask?

  1. The planet candidate is less than double the size of Earth unlike many of the other exoplanets that have been similar in size to Neptune (4 times Earth’s size).
  2. It is also unique because it orbits a sweet spot around its dim star known as the habitable zone where temperatures are just right for liquid water to exist on a planet’s surface.
  3. The star it orbits is about the size of the sun and emits visible light. Previously discovered Earth-sized planets known to have potentially Earth-like surface temperatures are in orbit around dim stars, which do not emit visible light but harmful infra-red radiation instead!

That means this planet checks some of the important criteria in an astronomer’s laundry list of what’s necessary to support life. Though these findings are big, scientist will wait for other telescopes to confirm KOI-465.04’s presence before they add it to the  4000 other known exoplanets outside our Solar System.

 


Archeologists use ground penetrating radar to map a 2000 year old city north of Rome

The GPR equipment was pulled over the surface using a four-wheel motorbike. Picture: AFP/ L. Verdonck/University of Cambridge

The News: A team of archeologists have mapped an entire ancient Roman city called Falerii Novi, with remarkable detail and without any digging.

How did they achieve this? The team used ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to map the ruins of this complete city that are buried deep underground. They rode over the buried ruins on a four wheeled bike towing a ground-penetrating radar instrument.

How does GPR work? GPR instruments work by firing radio waves capable of travelling through matter like mud and soil into the ground. These waves bounce off objects or structures buried below the surface, and travel back to the instrument. By recording the characteristics and timing of the returning waves, scientists plot the data to create maps. The maps reveal relics and unknown buildings that otherwise lay hidden underground!

GPR technology unveils ancient Roman city
Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) data from the Roman city of Falerii Novi, near Rome, Italy, revealing the outlines of the town’s buildings. Picture: AFP/L. Verdonck/ University of Cambridge

What did they find in the ancient city of Falerii Novi?

The walled city is north of Rome and more than 2000 years old. The scans revealed it had quite a few features of a ancient Roman city.

It had a very fancy public bath complex and market building, close to 60 large houses and a rectangular temple with columns near the city’s south gate. Near the north gate was a public monument unlike any other, with a roofed structure supported by columns — on three sides and a large open square. It could have been a forum for leaders to address the citizens.

Falerii Novi also had a complex network of water pipes running beneath the city blocks indicating advanced urban planning!

Why is this important?

GPR technology will transform the way archeologists excavate settlements in the future. The technology allows archeologists’ to survey large areas buried  underground without having to engage in time-consuming digging and excavations.

What do we know about the Ancient Roman Cities?

The city of Rome was founded more than 2800 years ago, on the banks of the Tiber as  several tribes came together. Legend has it that it was founded by twins Romulus and Remus who were raised by a wolf.

The city grew into a powerful empire that lasted around a thousand years. During this time, the Romans conquered and ruled over many countries in Europe and parts of Africa and the Middle East. At its peak, 90 million people lived in the Roman Empire.

Ancient Romans were excellent at urban planning and architecture. Their cities were walled and their streets were paved. They built bridges to cross over rivers and a complex road system to connect cities across their vast empire. They also built complex aqueducts or a pipe system to transport water. Ancient Romans worshipped several gods and goddesses and they built beautiful temples for them. They built circuses and amphitheaters to host gladiator fights, naval battles and chariot races.

Some of these ancient Roman monuments like the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Capitoline Hill, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon are still some of the world’s most popular tourist sites.

Let’s hope this GPR technology will help archeologists unearth ancient cities that reveal more about ancient civilisations.

 


Get your DIY gear ready for the annular solar eclipse on June 21!

This Sunday, June 21, is the day we get to see an annular solar eclipse. 

What is a solar eclipse?solar eclipse is one where the sun, moon and earth are all positioned in a line such that the moon is directly positioned between the earth and the Sun. In this position, the darkest part of the moon’s shadow, the umbra, falls on the earth and partially or completely blocks the Sun from the earth.

This is what a total solar eclipse looks like – there will be a time when the sun’s light is completely blocked from the earth and then we can see the ring of fire around the moon once it moves a bit.

Total solar eclipse. Credit: TimeandDate.com

On June 21, 2020, we will see an annular solar eclipse in Africa, India, Pakistan and some more countries.

What is an annular solar eclipse? An annular solar eclipse is when a new moon (which we can’t see)  falls between the earth and the sun, but the moon is at its farthest point away from the earth, so it only partially blocks the light of the sun, which can be seen as a ring of fire around the earth.

When can you see the solar eclipse in Mumbai? TimeandDate.com says that the eclipse will begin at 10 am, will peak at 11:37 am, and end by 1:27 pm.

That’s cool! Can we look at the sun during the eclipse? Yes you can, but with special eclipse glasses that block out the harmful rays of the sun. Don’t look at the sun with your naked eyes as the sun can actually burn your retinas with the infrared and ultraviolet radiation that it emits.

So how can you see the solar eclipse if you don’t have special solar eclipse glasses? 

Here are a couple of ways:

Make a solar eclipse viewer: watch this video created by NASA to find out how. It’s super easy and you will have all this at home. Note: When making the hole in the aluminium foil, make a very, very tiny hole – really just a pin prick!

 

OR: Make solar viewing glasses: If you have a pair of old sun glasses lying about, ask your parents or a grown up if you can do this. Caution: you need to use fire for this, so make sure you have someone responsible with you!

Want to know more about the solar eclipse and how it happens? Here’s our last article on it, with a super video from Vox that really makes it all very simple! Click here! https://currentkids.in/science-technology/solar-eclipse-mania-2017/


Written by: Sunaina Murthy


World Oceans Day

World Oceans Day is celebrated every year on June 8 across the world. This day is used to raise awareness of the role of oceans in our everyday lives.

Over centuries, humans actions have wreaked great damage on the oceans and its inhabitants. Extensive overfishing, pollution from farms,plastics and coastal destruction has adversely effected our oceans. Although there have been several conservation successes, we have a long way to go.

How do people celebrate this day? On this day people honour the oceans by organising beach cleanups, interesting talks from conservationists, and evenexhibits of artwork crafted from marine debris. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic this year’s celebrations were different, with many events taking place online or in a socially-distanced way.

Important Trivia:

  • Around 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by oceans.
  • About 70% of the oxygen we breathe is produced by the oceans. It is produced by marine plants, nearly all of which are marine algae. It is the heart of our planet, circulating heat and water and regulating our climate.
  • The majority of life on Earth is aquatic. As so much of the Earth’s surface is underwater, it comes as no surprise that marine species outnumber those on land. But, it’s an incredible 94 per cent of the Earth’s living species that exist within the oceans
  • Man has only explored about 5% of the world’s oceans.
  • Oceans represent the largest active carbon sink on Earth. The oceans absorb both the excess heat generated by our greenhouse gas emissions, and absorb carbon dioxide itself, helping to reduce the impacts of climate change.
  • The deepest known area of the Earth’s oceans is known as the Mariana Trench. It’s deepest point measures 11km. That’s a long dive down!
  • The longest mountain range in the world is found under water. Stretching over 56,000km, the Mid-Oceanic Ridge is a mountain chain that runs along the centre of the ocean basins.

The ocean provides food, creates millions of jobs, is a source for medicines, and provides inspiration, respite and recreation.Our health and our ocean’s health are intertwined and it is important that we reflect on how to protect it. 

We’d like to hear about what local ocean issues you are most concerned about.