Category Archives: Weird&Wonders

Amazing Places, Wonders, Weird Stuff

Patterned Grounds

The repeated annual freezing and thawing of permafrost soils can produce very interesting geometric features called patterned ground. These include polygons, circles, nets, steps, and stripes. They typically occur in periglacial regions such as those in Siberia, Canada, Alaska, Iceland, Greenland, Antarctica and the Andes. The actual process by which these patterns form had long puzzled scientists but the introduction of computer-generated geological models in the past 20 years has allowed scientists to relate the formation of these features to phenomena associated with frost heaving, which refers to expansion that occurs when wet, fine-grained, and porous soils freeze.

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© Amusing Planet, 2015.

Al Bahar Towers’ Responsive Sun Shades

Glass-façade towers are popping up every where with little thought and consideration for the local climate, even in the harsh desert environment of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates where the mercury can shoot north of hundred degrees in the summer. These glass buildings let in sunlight that quickly heats up the buildings’ interior turning them into greenhouses, consequently requiring even more air-conditioning to make the buildings habitable. The increased energy cost negates any benefit in time, materials and money that was to be had by choosing glass instead of brick and mortar.

The Al Bahr Towers in Abu Dhabi is no different. The 29-story, 145-meter-tall twin towers, located at the intersection of Al Saada and Al Salam Street, has a façade made entirely of glass. But Al Bahr’s exterior is covered by a protective cocoon of 2,000 umbrella-like sunshades that open and close automatically in response to the intensity of sunlight.

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Photo credit: www.geberit.com

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© Amusing Planet, 2015.

The Chapel of The Holy Cross in Sedona

Jutting out of the red sandstone walls in the Arizona desert, the Chapel of the Holy Cross near the town of Sedona, is a marvel of modern architecture. The Roman Catholic chapel was designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude, who drew inspiration for its design from the newly constructed Empire State Building in New York. The chapel is directly over a butte, nearly 200 feet above the valley. The interior is very simple, with nothing more than a few pews and an alter. No traditional services are held within the chapel, as it is meant to be a place of reflection and meditation.

The chapel is located on the lands of Coconino National Forest, and required a special-use permit to have it built. It was completed in 1956. The chapel belongs to the Parish of Saint John Vianney and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pheonix.

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Photo credit: Madeleine Deaton/Flickr

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© Amusing Planet, 2015.

A Used Car Vending Machine in Nashville

Online used car retailer Carvana, that has revolutionized how people buy cars, is back with another innovation — the world’s first coin operated car vending machine that can dispense cars in a fully automated process. The five-story glass tower, which can house as many as 20 used cars at a time, stands on Interstate 65 in the US city of Nashville, in Tennessee. Carvana said the move was to simplify the car delivery process, and at the same time make picking up the car an experience for the buyer.

Carvana, a technology start-up based in Phoenix, has been selling used cars online since 2013. Typical of online shopping sites, Carvana allows customers to browse its selection of used cars online with high-resolution photos and 360-degree virtual tours. Once a vehicle is selected, customers can get financing, trade in a vehicle, and sign contracts — everything done online. The car is then delivered to the door or picked up from the company’s store. Buyers get a 7-days test-drive period after which they can return the car if they aren’t satisfied.

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Photo credit: www.carvana.com

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© Amusing Planet, 2015.

Ships Made of Concrete

Perhaps the most bizarre choice of material humans ever made to make a vessel that floats was reinforced concrete. For centuries ships have been made of wood, which later gave way to tougher materials such as steel. But steel was expensive and not readily available, which became a major issue during the World Wars when there was an acute shortage of the metal.

Long before the war, in 1848, Joseph-Louis Lambot, the inventor of reinforced concrete, tried and successfully fashioned a small boat out of ferrocement, jumpstarting the small and short-lived industry of concrete shipbuilding. Before long, ferrocement barges were regularly plying the canals of Europe, and just as the century was drawing to an end, an Italian engineer made the first concrete ship.

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The concrete ship SS Palo Alto on Seacliff State Beach, California. Photo credit: David Wan/Flickr

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© Amusing Planet, 2015.

Pavlov’s House in Volgograd

On the banks of river Volga in the heart of modern-day Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad, stands a four-story apartment building with a brick memorial attached to its front. The inscription on the memorial reads:

In this building heroic feats of warfare and of labor fused together. We will defend / rebuild you, dear Stalingrad!

This is the famous Pavlov’s House, named after Sergeant Yakov Pavlov, who led a small platoon of the Red Army against the superior German forces and defended this building for two months despite being vastly outnumbered.

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Photo credit: Insider/Wikimedia

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© Amusing Planet, 2015.

Dig Your Own Fossils at These Quarries

People knew about fossils since the time of Herodotus, but it was only in the late 18th and early 19th century, when the importance of fossils to geology and biology was understood, that fossil hunting emerged as a serious hobby and science. Today, there are hundreds —maybe even thousands— of sites where fossils have been found. Some sites are protected where you can look but can’t remove the fossils. Others are in the wild that are still actively pursued by fossil hunters both professionals and amateurs. Some fossil sites are in private land and have been turned into “fossil quarries” where anybody can hunt for fossils by paying a small fee. Such places are great for families, kids and people who’ve never collected fossils before. You are supplied with tools, guidance, and plenty of rocks to split and keep everything you find.

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Fossil of a trilobite found at U-Dig Trilobite Quarry. Photo credit: Paololitico F/Panoramio

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© Amusing Planet, 2015.

Musical Roads That Play Melodies When Cars Drive Over

A Japanese engineer by the name of Shizuo Shinoda was digging with a bulldozer when he accidentally scraped some markings into a road with its claw. Later when he drove over the markings he realized that the vibration produced in his car can be heard as a tune. In 2007, a team of engineers from the Hokkaido Industrial Research Institute refined Shinoda's designs and built a number of “melody roads” in Japan. These roads have groves cut at very specific intervals along the road surface. Depending on how far apart the grooves are and how deep they are, a car moving over them will produce a series of high or low notes, enabling designers to create a distinct tune. The closer the grooves are, the higher the pitch of the sound. The critical ingredient in the mix is the speed of the car.

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The Civic Musical Road in Lancaster, California. Photo credit: roadtrippers.com

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© Amusing Planet, 2015.

Crooked, Drunken And Dancing Forests

A tree, when left to its own device, will normally grow straight. But when the tree is young and its trunk is tender, it can be forced to grow into any shape. At many places on Earth you’ll find trees with such signs of distress, but the identity of the perpetuators is often a mystery. One such location is the Curonian Spit.

Dancing Forest, Kaliningrad

The Curonian Spit is a 98 km long, thin, curved sand-dune spit that separates the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea coast. Its southern portion lies within Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia, and it’s here the Dancing Forest is found. The trees in the Dancing Forest are twisted and deformed into loops and spirals. The trees were said to have been planted in 1961 on a dune near a village to strengthen the sands. The exact cause of their deformity is not known, but there are many theories —mostly paranormal— that try to explain it.

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The Dancing Forest in Curonian Spit, Kaliningrad. Photo credit: Anna Pronenko/Panoramio

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© Amusing Planet, 2015.

A Tsunami of Shelf Cloud Over Sydney

For the last few days, social media is awash with photographs of an extraordinary roll of cloud that has acquired the moniker of “cloud tsunami” hitting the coast of New South Wales, Australia. The ominous cloud measuring several kilometers long that swept across Sydney on Friday last week is actually a shelf cloud.

A shelf cloud is technically an arcus cloud — a kind of low, horizontal, wedge-shaped cloud — that forms at the base of another cloud, usually a thunderstorm cloud, like in this case. When rain from the thunderstorm comes vertically down it drags the air with it, which spreads across the land surface creating a leading edge called a gust front. This outflow cuts under warm air being drawn into the storm's updraft. As the lower cooler air lifts the warm moist air, its water condenses, creating a cloud which often rolls with the different winds above and below. A shelf cloud has a rising motion on the leading edge, while the underside often appears turbulent and wind-torn.

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Photo credit: guysebastian/instagram

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© Amusing Planet, 2015.