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Jen Guyton
Jen Guyton

Scientists Identify the Creators of Namibia’s "Fairy Circles"

Jen Guyton
Jen Guyton

There’s a lot to explore on this planet. For instance, fairy rings, which are weird bald spots that appear in African grasslands. On this front, a team of scientists have made some headway. They wrote about their findings in the journal Nature.

Jen Guyton

 
Scientists define fairy circles as evenly spaced, circular bald spots in areas otherwise covered by vegetation. The spots can be between 2 and 35 meters across and have so far been spotted in the grasslands and deserts in both Africa and Australia. The most famous fairy circles in the world can be found in a stretch of sandy soil in Namibia, where scientists have been trying to nail down a culprit for years.

There are currently two prevailing theories. The first is that the circles essentially make themselves when plants opt out of growing in these spots in order to out-compete other plants nearby. The second is that the circles are the product of underground activity by rodents, ants, or termites. Both theories make sense; plants have to be extra-strategic with their growth in dry regions, and many fairy circles abut termite mounds or anthills.

Ecologist Corina Tornita of Princeton University decided to put both theories to the test. She and her colleagues created computer simulations that incorporated just about every element of fairy circle existence: termite colony growth, mortality, rainfall, vegetation spread, root systems—you name it.

Tyler Coverdale

 
After crunching the numbers and reviewing the simulations, the researchers realized that neither theory was correct—at least on its own. Fairy circles required involvement from both plant and animal mechanisms to form.

The study authors say their results show that “interactions among social-insect colonies and vegetation can explain a diverse global suite of regular spatial patterns,” and that understanding weird natural phenomena will require considering a broad range of elements, including “behaviours and competitive dynamics of cryptic ecosystem-engineer species, the ways in which plants and SDF respond to bioturbation and climatic variability, and the movement of water through soil in different environmental contexts.” 

In other words: Even seemingly simple shapes are the result of complex networks, in which living and non-living things all influence one another. Some "fairies" are six-legged, some have roots, and others are made out of water or dirt, but it takes all of them together to make what looks like magic.

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iStock
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Space
Look Up! Residents of Maine and Michigan Might Catch a Glimpse of the Northern Lights Tonight
iStock
iStock

The aurora borealis, a celestial show usually reserved for spectators near the arctic circle, could potentially appear over parts of the continental U.S. on the night of February 15. As Newsweek reports, a solar storm is on track to illuminate the skies above Maine and Michigan.

The Northern Lights (and the Southern Lights) are caused by electrons from the sun colliding with gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. The solar particles transfer some of their energy to oxygen and nitrogen molecules on contact, and as these excited molecules settle back to their normal states they release light particles. The results are glowing waves of blue, green, purple, and pink light creating a spectacle for viewers on Earth.

The more solar particles pelt the atmosphere, the more vivid these lights become. Following a moderate solar flare that burst from the sun on Monday, the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center forecast a solar light show for tonight. While the Northern Lights are most visible from higher latitudes where the planet’s magnetic field is strongest, northern states are occasionally treated to a view. This is because the magnetic North Pole is closer to the U.S. than the geographic North Pole.

This Thursday night into Friday morning is expected to be one of those occasions. To catch a glimpse of the phenomena from your backyard, wait for the sun to go down and look toward the sky. People living in places with little cloud cover and light pollution will have the best chance of spotting it.

[h/t Newsweek]

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The North Face
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Design
The North Face's New Geodesic Dome Tent Will Protect You in 60 mph Wind
The North Face
The North Face

You can find camping tents designed for easy set-up, large crowds, and sustainability, but when it comes to strength, there’s only so much abuse a foldable structure can take. Now, The North Face is pushing the limits of tent durability with a reimagined design. According to inhabitat, the Geodome 4 relies on its distinctive geodesic shape to survive wind gusts approaching hurricane strength.

Instead of the classic arching tent structure, the Geodome balloons outward like a globe. It owes its unique design to the five main poles and one equator pole that hold it in place. Packed up, the gear weighs just over 24 pounds, making it a practical option for car campers and four-season adventurers. When it’s erected, campers have floor space measuring roughly 7 feet by 7.5 feet, enough to sleep four people, and 6 feet and 9 inches of space from ground to ceiling if they want to stand. Hooks attached to the top create a system for gear storage.

While it works in mild conditions, the tent should really appeal to campers who like to trek through harsher weather. Geodesic domes are formed from interlocking triangles. A triangle’s fixed angles make it one of the strongest shapes in engineering, and when used in domes, triangles lend this strength to the overall structure. In the case of the tent, this means that the dome will maintain its form in winds reaching speeds of 60 mph. Meanwhile, the double-layered, water-resistant exterior keeps campers dry as they wait out the storm.

The Geodome 4 is set to sell for $1635 when it goes on sale in Japan this March. In the meantime, outdoorsy types in the U.S. will just have to wait until the innovative product expands to international markets.

[h/t inhabitat]

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