Before the ancient Greeks, many humans thought of the Earth as flat—perhaps pancake-shaped, with oceans, land, people and fluffy whipped-cream clouds sitting on top. You didn't want to flip that flapjack. The bottom side of it (some thought) was a fiery, hellish, blackened cinder of death.
Never mind that my homemade pancakes often fit that description. As we celebrate Earth Day Weekend (perhaps with waffles), we should think about the beautiful blue orb we call home. It's not a perfect sphere—our 4.5-billion-year-old mama has a bit of a bulge around her equatorial belly—but it's definitely not flat. That said, it's intriguing to think that even as we walk on one side of the Earth, people are walking on the exact opposite side, upside down to us. The soles of their shoes are facing the soles of ours.
How might we find the size-8 sole mate who is walking upside down in our footsteps? By digging a tunnel all the way through the Earth, of course. And we know, because it's the only place ever mentioned in discussions of tunnels through the Earth, that such a mega-hole would break through to the surface in China. We'd climb out, stand wrong-side up, shake our sole mate's hand and go visit the Great Wall together.
Or perhaps not. To reach China via a tunnel straight through the Earth's core, you'd need to start in either Chile or Argentina, because those are the only countries that are directly opposite from China on the globe. The hole would have to be nearly 8,000 miles deep. The deepest hole ever made by humans—the Kola Superdeep Borehole in Russia, drilled in the 1970s and '80s in the name of scientific research—goes into the ground only about 7.5 miles (40,230 feet, to be exact).
I'm skipping the part about the tunnel having to bore through rock, molten magma and, at the very center of the planet, a solid iron core that is nearly 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, the same temperature as the surface of the Sun. There's probably a guy in Texas who could handle that. The bigger question is, what's actually on the opposite side of any particular place on Earth? Let's take Seal Harbor, Maine, home of The Naturalist's Notebook. As noted above, it's directly opposite a spot in the Indian Ocean off the southwestern corner of Australia. Turns out that pretty much the entire United States is directly opposite from...ocean. There are a couple of exceptions. One is far northern Alaska, which is exactly halfway around the world from Antarctica, at a spot directly south of Africa. The other is Hawaii, which is opposite from the African country of Botswana.
Because three-quarters of the Earth is covered with water, there aren't a lot of great tunneling options anywhere. If you dig a hole from certain portions of Portugal or Spain, you'll end up in New Zealand. If you're anywhere else in Europe, don't bother picking up a shovel—you're almost certain to come up in the Pacific Ocean. Colombia and Venezuela connect nicely by trans-global tunnel with Indonesia, as do far northern Russia and Antarctica. But that's about it. You can do your own opposite-side-of-the-Earth searching at: http://www.freemaptools.com/tunnel-to-other-side-of-the-earth.htm
If you stay above the surface of the ground this weekend, you might think about what's overhead. All of those gorgeous Earth Day photos of the planet that you've been seeing come from cameras in space. Below is an image of some of NASA's Earth Observing System (EOS) satellites, which take photos as they monitor weather and planetary changes. They're a crucial tool in environmental studies. In all, nearly 2,500 human-made satellites of all types and functions are currently circling the planet, connecting our communications systems and showing us what no human had ever seen until 50 years ago.
Return of the Blue Starfish This week's ultra-low tides have offered a great opportunity for exploring the Maine shoreline. I found a lot of the small blue starfish (or sea stars) that few other Mainers seem to find in their waters. I'm guessing that these starfish change color at some point later in the spring or summer, because we don't find them in this color for much of the year. At this point most of them are no more than an inch from tip to tip.
GISS and the Buffleheads Our hundreds of American black ducks and common eiders have moved on from Western Bay to their breeding grounds, but some beautiful bufflehead ducks have been hanging around lately. Buffleheads are very small (they often nest in holes in trees carved out by Northern flickers, a type of woodpecker) and they constantly dive underwater to feed. The males have distinctive wedges of white plumage radiating back from their eyes. Birders have a useful term called GISS, which is pronounced jizz and stands for general impression of size and shape. It's a tool for identifying species that the birder sees only momentarily, or from a distance. In trying to judge from afar whether the dark-and-white ducks we're looking at are buffleheads, eiders or goldeneyes (or something else), Pamelia and I make use of our general impressions of how they behave, how large they are and where on their bodies their white plumage seems to be. Buffleheads are easy to I.D. if they're close enough; their name is short for "buffalo head" because when the male puffs up his feathers his head looks gigantic. That's a jizz clue that's hard to miss.
Llama Font I've never written "llama font" before. But it's an actual type style that I learned about this week. You can go to llamafont.com and type any message you want in these unusual letters.
Answer to the Last Puzzlers:
1) What comes once in a minute, twice in a moment but never in a thousand years? The letter M.
2) What holds water yet is full of holes? A sponge.
3) The young tree that doesn't shed its dead leaves in the winter is a beech tree.
No puzzle, just a joke that a young visitor told me this week: Why did the fungus go to the party?
Ray Tomlinson, the New York-born electrical engineer who invented the first true e-mail system back in 1971, turns 70 on Saturday. Tomlinson is posed with the @ symbol in the photo below because he's the one who first used it in e-mail addresses. That symbol doesn't even have a name in English (the Germans call it a "monkey ear"), and no one is sure how or when it was invented. But Tomlinson found it perfect for e-mail needs.
It's not his birthday, but 86 years ago this week John Scopes allegedly taught evolution in a high-school biology class in Dayton, Tennessee. In hopes of challenging a state statute that banned the teaching of that subject, the American Civil Liberties Union had recruited Scopes to violate the law and get himself arrested. I say Scopes "allegedly" taught evolution because after his famous 1925 trial he told a newspaper reporter that he hadn't actually bothered to teach an evolution lesson. Scopes said that his side's lawyers had merely coached his students to testify that he had done so. That was but one of the many bizarre twists in his trial, in which he was found guilty and fined $100 before a higher court overturned the verdict on a technicality. Scopes went on to become a geologist and the Tennessee law stood, amazingly enough, until 1967. Even today, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence confirming the theory of evolution—a mountain of work done by tens of thousands of scientists around the world in fields from genetics to archaeology—25 percent of the Americans polled say they don't believe in evolution and 36 percent say they aren't sure.