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8 Ways to Cross the English Channel (without a boat)

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The English Channel (La Manche) is the part of the Atlantic Ocean that separates Britain from France. The actual channel is the length of the entire southern coast of England, and contains many inhabited islands. When people attempt new ways of crossing the channel, they do it at the Strait of Dover, which is the narrowest point of the channel at only 34 kilometers (21 miles) between Dover and Calais. The cachet of crossing the channel is way out of proportion to its distance. There is something symbolic about making the trip, particularly if you do it in a new way.

1. Balloon

The first channel crossing by air was in the 18th century. French balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard and American doctor John Jeffries took off from Dover Castle in a hydrogen balloon on January 7th, 1785. The two had to pitch almost everything they took overboard in order to stay afloat, but landed unharmed at Guînes, France about two and a half hours later.

2. Swim

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The first man to swim the channel was Captain Matthew Webb in 1875. It took 21 hours and 45 minutes. Webb trained for two years and made an unsuccessful attempt a couple of weeks before his historic crossing. The course he took was 39 miles, due to strong currents. He became a celebrity and a professional swimmer afterward. Webb died while attempting to swim the Whirlpool Rapids under Niagara Falls in 1883.

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The first woman to swim the channel not only broke ground for her sex, but beat the time of the five men who preceded her by at least two hours! American swimmer Gertrude Ederle had already won a gold medal and two bronze medals at the 1924 Olympics. On August 6th, 1926 she swam from Cap Gris-Nez, France to Kingsdown, England in 14 hours and 30 minutes. That speed record stood until 1950.

3. Airplane

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The first flight over the channel in an airplane came in 1909 when French inventor Louis Blériot piloted a monoplane he designed from Calais to Dover in 37 minutes. He was one of three competitors who answered a challenge from the Daily Mail, which had offered a thousand pounds ($5,000) to the first man to fly the channel.

4. Pedal

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The first human-powered flight across the channel occurred in 1979 when the Gossamer Albatross piloted by cyclist Bryan Allen flew over the channel in 2 hours and 39 minutes. It was powered by pedals that turned propellers. The Gossamer Albatross was designed by Paul B. MacCready and his team. MacCready won his second Kremer Prize (worth £100,000) with the channel crossing.

5. Train

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Since May 6, 1994 it is possible to cross the channel by train. It was on that day the Channel Tunnel (Le tunnel sous la Manche) or "Chunnel" officially opened. A Eurostar train left Folkestone carrying Queen Elizabeth II, and another left Coquelles carrying French president Francois Mitterand. In addition to passengers, trains carry trucks and other vehicles underneath the Strait of Dover.

6. Skydive

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In 2003, Australian Felix Baumgartner became the first person to skydive across the channel. He jumped out of a plane over Dover and landed in Cap Blanc-Nez, France 14 minutes later. Baumgartner wore an aerodynamic suit with a 6-foot carbon fin attached to guide his flight.

7. Jet Pack

Swiss pilot Yves Rossy flew the channel last week using a jet pack. He launched from a plane high over Calais and flew to Dover in just ten minutes. Rossy, known as the Rocket Man, uses a jet wing powered by four kerosene-burning engines.

8. Human-powered Zeppelin

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The quest for new ways to cross the English Channel never ends. 39-year-old Stephane Rousson made an attempt this past weekend to cross the channel in a pedal-powered zeppelin. The French amateur pilot was 11 miles from his goal in Wissant, France when the wind direction changed and he had to abort the flight. Rousson was inspired by a scene in the movie E.T.

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One Day, You May Not Have to Take Your Laptop Out at the Airport
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TSA security lines might be a little less annoying in the future. According to Condé Nast Traveler, the agency will soon test new airport scanners that allow you to keep your liquids and laptop in your carry-on bag during security screening, a benefit currently only available to those who have been accepted into the agency’s PreCheck program.

The ConneCT scanners have met the TSA's "advanced technology detection standards," according to the company that makes them, Analogic, meaning that they can be tested out at airports across the U.S.

Computed tomography scanning technology is regularly used in hospitals and research labs for everything from diagnosing cancer to studying mummies. The imaging technique uses x-rays that rotate around whatever object is being imaged to create 3D images that provide more detail than those created by the regular x-ray scanners currently used to inspect carry-on luggage.

The ConneCT scanners have been in the works for 10 years. The devices have x-ray cameras that spin around the conveyor belt that holds your bag, creating a 3D image of it. Then algorithms help flag whether there's something suspicious inside so that it can be pulled aside for further screening by hand. They've already been tested in airports in Phoenix and Boston, but haven't been used on a national level yet.

But don't expect to see the high-tech scanners at your local airport anytime soon. According to the TSA, they have to undergo yet more testing before any of the machines can be deployed, and there’s no timetable for that yet.

Until then, as you're packing your liquids, just remember—you can always just freeze them.

[h/t Conde Nast Traveler]

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Big Questions
What Are the Northern Lights?
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Over the centuries, many have gazed up at one of the Earth’s most fascinatingly beautiful natural wonders: the Northern Lights. In the past couple of weeks, some lucky American stargazers have gotten the chance to see them from their very own backyards—and could again this week, according to Thrillist. But what are they?

Before science was able to get a read on what exactly was happening in the night sky, ancient tribes had their own theories for what caused the jaw-dropping light show. Many early beliefs had roots in religion, such as that the light was a pathway souls traveled to reach heaven (Eskimo tribes) or that the light was an eternal battle of dead warriors (Middle-Age Europe). Early researchers were a bit more reasonable in their approximations, and most surrounded the idea of the reflection of sunlight off the ice caps. In 1619, Galileo Galilei named the lights the aurora borealis after Aurora, the Roman goddess of morning, after concluding they were a product of sunlight reflecting from the atmosphere.

Today, scientists have come to the general agreement that the lights are caused by the collision of electrically charged solar particles and atoms from our atmosphere. The energy from the collisions is released as light, and the reason it happens around the poles is because that's where the Earth’s magnetic field is the strongest. In 2008, a team at UCLA concluded that “when two magnetic field lines come close together due to the storage of energy from the sun, a critical limit is reached and the magnetic field lines reconnect, causing magnetic energy to be transformed into kinetic energy and heat. Energy is released, and the plasma is accelerated, producing accelerated electrons.”

"Our data show clearly and for the first time that magnetic reconnection is the trigger," said Vassilis Angelopoulos, a UCLA professor of Earth and Space Sciences. "Reconnection results in a slingshot acceleration of waves and plasma along magnetic field lines, lighting up the aurora underneath even before the near-Earth space has had a chance to respond. We are providing the evidence that this is happening."

The best time to see the Northern Lights is during the winter, due to the Earth’s position in relation to the sun (shorter days means darker night skies). And by the way, it’s not just the North Pole that puts on a show—there are Southern Lights, too. There are also aurora borealis on other planets—including Mars—so rest assured that future generations born “abroad” will not miss out on this spectacular feat of nature.

Haven’t seen them yet? Traditionally, the best places to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights are in Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Greenland, northern Canada, and Alaska. Maybe you'll get lucky this week and sneak a peek from your very own window. Check out Aurorasaurus for regular updates on where they are showing.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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