Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Electricity around the world: it’s not a perfect science

When it comes to the simple task of plugging an electrical appliance in to make it work, there is no global standard for voltage or wattage. And that’s not to mention the different plug shapes, plug holes, plug sizes and sockets that vary vastly from country to country. Most appliances bought overseas simply cannot be connected to the wall outlets at home. There are only two ways to solve this problem: you just cut off the original plug and replace it with the one that is standard in your country, or you buy an unhandy and ugly adapter.

While it is easy to buy a plug adapter or a new “local” plug for your “foreign” appliances, in many cases this only solves half the problem—because it doesn't address the possible voltage disparity.

A 240-volt electrical appliance designed for use in Europe will provide a nice fireworks display—complete with sparks and smoke—if plugged into a U.S. socket.

The lack of a single voltage, frequency and globally standardized plugs results in extra costs for manufacturers and increase the burden on the environment.

Read the full article.

Monday, November 29, 2010

1,000 mph car ‘on track’ to break record

British officials say they’re set to break the world land speed record in 2012 with a car that can reach 1,000 mph. Construction on the Bloodhound vehicle's rear should begin in January.

"We've got companies all over the world wanting to sponsor the car," project director Richard Noble of Bloodhound SSC Engineering Adventure told BBC News. "We've actually got more people who want to financially back this thing than we've got space for them."

To snag the world record, the Bloodhound will need to beat out the current record of 763 mph set by the Thrust SuperSonic Car in 1997.

The British car will be powered by a hybrid rocket and a jet engine from a Eurofighter-Typhoon, according to Bloodhound SSC.

Once built and ready to go, the car is expected to race across what is now a dried-up lake bed in Northern Cape Province, South Africa.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

When snakes fly

The worst nightmare of ophidiophobes—people with a phobia of snakes—may have just been realized. Scientists have captured footage of “flying” snakes, explaining how five related snake species stay airborne for up to 79 feet. The acrobatic arboreal snakes, all in the genus Chrysopelea, use what's known as gliding flight to sail from tree to tree in their Southeast and South Asia habitats.

The new research, presented by the American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics, explains how the snakes accomplish their seemingly improbable feat.

“The snake isn’t defying gravity or doing something out of the blue,” project leader Jake Socha told Discovery News. “It's the magnitude of the forces that are somewhat surprising. Given that this is a snake, and its cross-sectional body shape is more like a blunt shape than a typical streamlined wing, we wouldn’t have expected such good aerodynamic performance.”

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Chocolate supply threatened by cocoa crisis

Chocolate was once the drink of Mayan and Aztec kings. Now a cocoa shortage may make chocolate an exclusive luxury again. Chocolate could become as rare as caviar, said John Mason of the Ghana-based Nature Conservation Research Council. That means chocolate treats may become unaffordable for the average person.

The price of cocoa, the raw ingredient for chocolate, has been skyrocketing in international markets. Demand for chocolate, especially for dark chocolate which uses more cocoa, has helped fuel price increases.

But unfair trade and environmental problems have resulted in supply not keeping pace with demand. West Africa leads the world in cocoa production. But the profits don't come back to many of the farmers there, and that is one of the main causes of the shortage.

In the Ivory Coast, cocoa farmers often earn less than $1 a day, and in many cases the land they farm has lost its fertility, said Tony Lass, chairman of the Cocoa Research Association in the UK Independent. Ivory Coast farmers are leaving behind unprofitable, failing cocoa orchards for the cities.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Glowing squid found in Indian Ocean’s depths

A new large species of squid has been found among 70 types gathered during an exploration of the depths of the Indian Ocean, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

The 27-inche-long species is part of the "chiroteuthid" family. Its light-emitting organs attract prey in the darkness thousands of feet down, close to the craggy seabed, the IUCN said. The six-week "Seamounts cruise" last year trawled about 7,000 samples of life forms in the southern Indian Ocean from depths of up to 3,936 feet.

“For 10 days now, 21 scientists armed with microscopes have been working through intimidating rows of jars containing fishes, squids, zooplankton and other interesting creatures,” said Alex Rogers, marine biologist at the Zoological Society of London.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

World’s oldest dinosaur embryos found in South Africa

Paleontologists recently identified the world's oldest known dinosaur embryos, according to researchers. The embryos, found in their still well-preserved eggs, date to the early Jurassic Period 190 million years ago. Researchers say they are the oldest known embryos for any land-dwelling vertebrate. They belong to Massospondylus, a member of a group of dinosaurs called prosauropods that were ancestors to the giant, plant-eating sauropods. Sauropods are the iconic four-legged dinosaurs known for their long necks and long tails.

Professor Robert Reisz of the University of Toronto Mississauga and his colleagues made the discovery while analyzing the fossilized eggs, originally found in South Africa. Reisz’s research assistant, Diane Scott, prepared the delicate fossils under high-powered microscopes and compiled the illustrations.

The embryos are so remarkably well preserved that they permitted a complete reconstruction of the skeleton and detailed interpretations of the anatomy.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Yellowstone tourism records continue

Snow may be on the horizon, but tourists taking advantage of mild fall weather are adding to the already record number of people who have visited Yellowstone National Park this year. The park had a record number of visitors in October. That's on top of the record number of visitors to Yellowstone in June, July, August and September.

Tourism in Yellowstone so far this year is up more than 10 percent compared to this time last year. More than 3.5 million people have visited the park this year, already topping the record 3.3 million who visited Yellowstone all last year.

More than 189,000 people visited the park in October. That broke a 22-year-old record. Park officials say unusually mild weather and less road construction compared to autumns past may be encouraging people to visit Yellowstone.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Penguin 'condos' built along Galapagos Islands

“Condo” developers have built beachfront homes along the world-famous coastline of the Galapagos Islands—but it’s all for a good cause. Built into the volcanic shoreline, the condos are actually tiny breeding caves for Galapagos penguins—a species listed as endangered.

The 120 caves were recently dug by researchers with the University of Washington in the hopes of giving the penguins a fighting chance against predators and the beating sun. The local penguin population has also seen older nests disappear due to erosion and volcanic activity on the islands off Ecuador made famous by Charles Darwin.

“Our whole goal is to increase the population of Galapagos penguins, and the way to do that is to make sure that when conditions are good, when they’re not food challenged, that all of them will be able to breed,” lead researcher Dee Boersma said.

Boersma began studying the species 40 years ago and has seen the population decline steadily—fewer than 2,000 might be all that are left.

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