Estimating the Distance of a Lightning Strike

By Anupum Pant

Everyone who’s studied basic science at school knows that light travels much much faster than sound. Light can travel about 300,000 km in a single second. Sound, in the same time would cover about 0.3 km. That’s a huge difference.

Considering that, it is fairly easy to calculate how far a lightning strike happens by measuring the time it takes the sound to reach you after you see the lightning. In that case, taking into account the enormous speed of light, you assume that the light instantly reaches you and you just count the seconds it takes for the sound to be heard at the place you are.

Then multiplying the seconds with 0.3 would give you, in kilometres, how far it happened – an estimation of, course.

So, if there isn’t a mess of lightning strikes happening somewhere, which usually isn’t the case, and if you can clearly tell which sound came from which lightning strike, which you can’t in most cases, you can actually estimate the distance of a strike very easily.

If you think that’s great. You might be interested in:
How to estimate the temperature.
and How to estimate the time to sunset.

Appreciating Ants and Their Counting Skills

By Anupum Pant

Success = Ants

Ants are arguably the most successful multi-cellular organisms to have ever existed on earth. The first ants on earth started appearing long before humans, even before dinosaurs – about 120 million years from now. Since then, they have even survived a mass extinction event (Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event) which wiped off all the dinosaurs from the face of our planet.

Sheer Number

Except Antarctica, the Arctic, and some other remote islands, ants have spread into almost every other part of the land. In fact, today, there are so many ants in the world that for each human being on the planet, at any point of time, there are about 1.5 billion living ants – about 10 thousand trillion ants in total! Of these 8000 kinds of ants that exist, only 10% of the species have been studied.

Collective intelligence

Ants, individually aren’t very bright. But they live in vast colonies that can include upto 50 million individuals in a single colony. Each one of them can contribute their own intelligence to the group, to form a huge brain – a “collective intelligence” of a super-organism. Just like each of our neurons in our brains work individually to form an intelligent brain.

For example, it is known that each of the fire ant’s exoskeleton is made up of a material that repels water. Together, these ants can take advantage of this blessing to survive floods. It has been seen that several hundreds of ants can, within seconds, assemble into a raft that floats on water for a long time. They don’t need your boat Dexter.

Their homes

Ants are able to build massive underground cities. Some scientists have tried pouring molten aluminum or concrete, and digging into their underground cities to study their structure. The results were incredible. A colossal network of well ventilated highways and side-roads was found connecting their colonies. It seemed as if the whole structure was designed by a single master-mind. [Video]

And they can also count

In the arid deserts where the winds are powerful enough to blow away the chemical trails marked by ants, they use their in-built pedometers (step counting machines) to find their way back home. [Video]