October 22, 2013 11:28 am
Despite how easy NASA makes it look, going to space is incredibly hard, and the dream of space tourism—Virgin Galactic or some other company blasting you off in their custom-made rocket ship—always seems to be just a year away. But by lowering the bar just a little bit, says Irene Klotz at Discovery, a new company wants to give would-be space travelers a much more realistic (and much more affordable) shot at seeing the top of the Earth.
For $75,000, a third of Virgin Galactic’s price, World View wants to send you to the upper atmosphere. A giant helium balloon would take you to 18.6 miles altitude. That’s four miles shy of the height Felix Baumgartner jumped from on his record-setting skydive last year. At that point, says Klotz, you wouldn’t get to feel weightless, but the view would be stunning.
That altitude is not technically space, but the region of the upper atmosphere called the stratosphere. Then again, the International Space Station, at a bit over 200 miles altitude, isn’t technically in space, either, and it cost $1.5 billion to go there. So really, World View’s dollar-per-mile rate is pretty good.
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October 17, 2013 3:12 pm
Mike Spencer Bown, 42, has been on the road since he sold his import company and, in 1990, left his home in Calgary. This week, upon arriving in Ireland, he completed his mission of more than twenty years—to experience every country in the world.
While many other people have also managed to visit more than 190 countries, in Bown’s book, many of those visits don’t count. “What they do is fly between major cities and especially capital cities, stop off in the airport or take a hotel for the night, and then say that they’ve ‘done’ such and such country,” he said on Canoe.ca.
Sometimes, Bown’s dedication to extensively visiting each place landed him in potentially dangerous situations. On his trip to Somalia, for example, he very well could have landed in prison. Officials there were flabbergasted when he insisted that he was a tourist, instead assuming that Bown must be a spy. Middle East Online reported on incident in 2010:
“They tried four times to put me back on the plane to get rid of me but I shouted and played tricks until the plane left without me,” the 41-year-old told an AFP correspondent in Mogadishu on his hotel’s roof terrace.
Somali officials then tried to hand him over to the African Union military force in Mogadishu, refusing to believe that he was in the city for pleasure.
“We have never seen people like this man,” Omar Mohamed, an immigration official, said Friday. “He said he was a tourist, we couldn’t believe him. But later on we found he was serious.”
Iraq was also difficult to visit, Bown said on his Facebook page. He tried not to talk while he was there, because he was attempting to pass as a local. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, he almost ran into a camp of genocidal rebels.
According to Canoe.ca, talk about a book and movie about Bown’s life are in the works. But if you’d prefer to experience the world’s highlights for yourself, Bown provided a list of the top 80 on Backpackology. Here are the top ten:
10. Living in a leaf hut with an African Pygmy tribe, Democratic Republic of Congo
09. Poling away from cantankerous hippos in a mocoro boat, Okavango Delta, Botswana
08. Pretending you’re Indiana Jones in the incredible, cliff-carved ruins of Petra, Jordan
07. Testing your liver on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, Russia
06. People watching over a sheesha pipe in an ahwa, Damascus, Syria
05. Coming face to face with Silverback Gorillas in Virunga Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
04. Red wine and wheels of cheese, anywhere in the Alps
03. Trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Peru
02. Standing in awe of the Great Herd Migration, Ngorogoro Crater, Tanzania
01. Looking down upon the world from Mt. Everest Base Camp, Nepal or Tibet
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October 7, 2013 3:35 pm
As more people than leave China to visit far away places, Chinese tourists have developed a bad rap among the international community, The New York Times reports. Among the grievances, voiced from Thailand to Paris to New York, are Chinese tourists’ tendency to spit, to speak loudly indoors, and to have no concept of how to form or respect a line. Specific recent transgressions that sparked outrage both domestically and abroad include Chinese tourists inadvertently killing a dolphin and a Chinese youth carving his name into an ancient Egyptian relic.
Lately, the Washington Post writes, China has become more self-reflective about this problem:
Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang has criticized the “uncivilized behavior” of his countrymen when they travel abroad, which he says has harmed the nation’s image. He blamed the “poor quality and breeding” of the Chinese tourists.
In an attempt to find concrete means to alleviate some of the common complaints about Chinese tourists abroad, the country approved its first tourism-related law in April, which came into effect on October 1, CNN reports. The law includes 112 articles, some of which address shady tour operators within China, but including others that speak to Chinese tourists abroad.
Tourist behavior is even singled out in a couple articles of the new law.
Article 14 states: “Tourists shall observe public order and respect social morality in tourism activities, respect local customs, cultural traditions and religious beliefs, care for tourism resources, protect the ecological environment, and abide by the norms of civilized tourist behaviors.”
To make the new law more digestible, China’s National Tourism Administration issued a 64-page pamphlet on how to behave abroad, complete with cartoon-illustrated dos and don’ts. Kotaku reports a few of the suggested points of etiquette, including:
- Don’t aggressively ask locals for pictures with you.
- Don’t assault any animals.
- Don’t shout in public.
- Don’t show your bare chest in public.
- Don’t hoard the public facilities.
- Flush the toilet after use.
- At a buffet, please don’t take everything in one go – they will be refilled.
- Don’t relieve yourself in public.
NBC News elaborates on a few country-specific subtleties the pamphlet covers:
Other snippets of advice were country-specific. The guide warned Chinese visitors to Germany to only snap their fingers to beckon dogs, not humans, and that women in Spain should always wear earrings in public, or be considered effectively naked. Visitors to Japan were advised to avoid fidgeting with hair or clothes in restaurants.
For better or worse, mainland Chinese tourists are likely here to stay. Last year they became the top tourism spenders, dropping $102 billion in destinations around the world, the Times reports. The Washington Post adds that, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Chinese tourism in the States is expected to grow by 232 percent between 2010 and 2016.
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October 1, 2013 11:19 am
In 1257 A.D., a massive volcano erupted, spreading ash all over the world. The explosion was so big that scientists can see its chemical signal as far away as the Arctic and Antarctic. Medieval manuscripts from the time describe a sudden change of weather, failed harvests and confusion. But scientists had no idea where the eruption happened.
Now, one group thinks they’ve solved the mystery. A recent paper in the journal PNAS suggests that the offending volcano was probably Samalas volcano on Lombok Island in Indonesia. Jonathon Amos at the BBC reports:
The team has tied sulphur and dust traces in the polar ice to a swathe of data gathered in the Lombok region itself, including radiocarbon dates, the type and spread of ejected rock and ash, tree-rings, and even local chronicles that recall the fall of the Lombok Kingdom sometime in the 13th Century.
Not much remains of the mountain today—just a crater lake—but the researchers suggest that the volcano was big and fierce. It could have belched out as much as 10 cubic miles of ash, as high as 25 miles into the sky. According to National Geographic, the eruption was eight times bigger than the Krakatau eruption that you might have heard about, and twice as large as the 1815 Tamobra eruption.
The researchers themselves write:
Based on ice core archives of sulfate and tephra deposition, one of the largest volcanic eruptions of the historic period and of the past 7,000 y occurred in A.D. 1257. However the source of this “mystery eruption” remained unknown. Drawing on a robust body of new evidence from radiocarbon dates, tephra geochemistry, stratigraphic data, a medieval chronicle, this study argues that the source of this eruption is Samalas volcano, part of the Mount Rinjani Volcanic Complex on Lombok Island, Indonesia. These results solve a conundrum that has puzzled glaciologists, volcanologists, and climatologists for more than three decades. In addition, the identification of this volcano gives rise to the existence of a forgotten Pompeii in the Far East.
But unlike Pompeii, this volcano left behind no preserved cities or bodies. Just a mystery that might finally be solved.
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September 18, 2013 3:29 pm
The European Space Agency is gearing up to do its best Captain Ahab. For nine years the ESA’s Rosetta probe has been careening through the solar system, inching closer to its target. Rosetta swung by Mars and the Earth, using the planets’ gravitational pulls like a slingshot, picking up speed. In 2011, Rosetta went to sleep—a bid to save energy during its three billion mile endurance race. But in January the probe will wake up and prepare to catch its quarry—the comet Cheryumov-Gerasimenko.
In August, says the BBC, Rosetta will catch up to the comet, which she’ll survey for the next three months. But then, in November, Rosetta’s mission will climax when the spacecraft, quite literally, harpoons the comet.
Using harpoons and screws, says the BBC, the Philae probe, which was carried by Rosetta all this time, will latch itself to the comet. Then, it will hold on as the two head towards the Sun. Or, at least, it will hold on as long as it can.
Comets are relics of the formation of the solar system. Back when the solar system was just a protoplanetary disc orbiting the newly formed Sun, and everything was banging around and clumping together, some of that material went on to become the planets, and some became asteroids and comets. For this reason astronomers have been fascinated with tracking down these celestial fossils.
As this particular comet—a big ball of frozen gas and ice—heats up it will begin to break down, venting gas into space. “How long Philae could withstand any outgassing as the ices heat up on approach to the Sun is anyone’s guess. Will 67-P be a “bucking bronco”?” asks the BBC.
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