Week 34 was filled with curiosity because of
- How hot can the hottest place on Earth get?
- Mosquitoes in Mosquito City and
- How does a car actually turn?
1. It is the Death Valley for a reason
When I read that a place called Death Valley recorded its highest ever temperature this week, I got intrigued for two reasons: the temperature and the name.
At around 3pm on 16th August, Death Valley recorded 54.4C, making it the hottest place on Earth this year. Since 1911, the average high temperature in the valley during the summer months (May to September) is a painful 41.8C. The consistent high temperature has created an oxymoron; the valley floor would look like it is covered in snow. But when you inspect it, what appears to be snow is actually the leftover salt from the dried-up surface water.
Furthermore, the weather is extreme enough to make rocks move – I am not kidding. Scientists, for many years, were baffled and confounded to find rocks as heavy as 700 lbs (~317 kg) move across the valley and leave trails behind them. Through research, they found out that the rocks moved because of thin sheets of ice formed below it during the night. As the ice thawed during dawn, heavy winds nudged the rock because of the slippery surface it sat on.
A group called the Lost 49’ers gave the valley its renowned name. After getting lost in search of a shortcut to reach California in 1849, they found themselves in this barren, arid, dry, and hot piece of land. A few did not survive, and the rest clung on to dear life for weeks. When the remaining finally found their way out, one member from the group said, “Goodbye, Death Valley”. The rest is history.
But there is humour as well
Although the Death Valley had a grim start and is a land of extremes, artists have been inspired to find humour. I found out that one of my favourite childhood cartoon programmes – the Road Runner Show – was based on a bird that lives in the valley. Along with roadrunners and other animals, the valley is inundated with flowers that spring to life – when it is not hot of course.
If all of this did not surprise you, then there is still more. The highest temperature recorded in Death Valley was on 10th July 1913 at a whopping 56.7C.
2 – The Mosquito City
Bill Gates’ article on the need for malaria prevention was an eyeopener. Hot and humid regions such as Africa are gearing towards finding ways to battle against the tiny mosquitoes (as if COVID didn’t suffice). At one point, malaria infected 80% of Tanzanians. Looking at all-time figures, malaria and other diseases spread by mosquitoes have been around for longer and are still at large.
Mosquito City sprang up as a dedicated research centre to learn more about these mosquitoes and to find ways to eradicate the menace caused by them. In the name of research, scientists are literally going above and beyond. What made me shiver the most was watching a guy feed 500 mosquitoes by placing his arm inside a box filled with them.
It is not just Africa battling these mosquitoes. Florida, a state located in the south-east of the United States, has decided to release 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes as an effort in reducing the Zika causing pests. In this new breed, the genes pass down from the male counterparts (which are the non-biting types). So hopefully over a few years, mosquitoes will soon stick to only flowers and not pester us. However, there is concern over the ethics in making these changes.
The level to which science has advanced does not fail to awe me. However, that is not to say that once in a while, it is good to revisit the basics.
3 – The differential gear
The next time you travel in a car and when it makes a turn, remember this – one wheel is not turning as fast as the other.
Thanks to Onésiphore Pecqueur, the marvel of the differential gear lies in its elegance. Reading about the differential gears is hard to visualise how it works and will leave you feeling overwhelmed. But the physics behind it is simple. The principles are innately engineered within us as well that we don’t realise that we use it when we move.
This video below is an excellent refresher on the engineering behind the workings of the differential gear. It is only a 10-minute video, but a great conversation topic that will be handy in the future.
If you would like to find more such stories to pique your curiosity, visit Curiosity Box
Editing supported by @noodle_god