The Hexagon Storm

By Anupum Pant

Saturn is probably the most beautiful planet we have in our solar system. But did you know, Saturn is also home to a very peculiar phenomenon which has never been seen anywhere else before – a hexagonal hurricane.

A hurricane in the shape of a hexagon (six-sided), not circle. If that doesn’t blow your mind, try this – the storm is an incredibly huge – 30,000 km across! And it is about 100 km deep, with winds of ammonia and hydrogen moving at  more than 320 km per hour. It is large enough to swallow four planets of the size of Earth. This is what the Earth would look like if it were kept beside the storm.

saturns hexagonal storm and earth comparision

It’s only natural for hurricanes to be circular. And yet, researchers at Ana Aguiar of Lisbon University have been able to show that the hexagonal storm raging in the north pole of Saturn is also very natural too. In the year 2010, they proved  to by reproducing a similar effect in the laboratory by using rotating liquids.

According to them, a very narrow jet stream that goes about the hurricane’s edge creates a couple of other tiny hurricanes. These little storms are the ones that push the larger hurricane’s borders and give it a hexagonal shape.

In the 80s, the storm was first spotted by the twin voyager spacecraft.

Evolution of Eggs

By Anupum Pant

Eggs come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours. Birds, a major group of creatures that descended from reptiles have, for several years, continued to evolve the design of their eggs for millions of years now (not consciously, through natural selection).

Eggs could have been cube shaped. In that case they would have been very difficult to lay. Also, they would have been weakest at the centre points of a face of the cube. Hence, eggs didn’t end up being squarish.

While most eggs have evolved to, well, an egg-shape, some eggs like those of some owls are nearly spherical in shape. But oval and pointy eggs do have an advantage of sort.

Spherical eggs tend to roll easily, and if laid somewhere near a cliff, they’d roll away, never to be seen ever again. Oval eggs normally tend to roll in circles. Usually, they roll in big circles. Still dangerous for birds who perch on cliffs most of the time.

Of all the eggs, the egg of a common guillemot bird is probably the most incredible – in the sense that it has a design that doesn’t let it roll down cliffs very easily.

Common guillemots are sea birds and they normally like to perch on cliffs. To add to the danger of their precarious perching places, they usually perch on such cliffs with a huge group. Also, they don’t even make nests.

Had their eggs been shaped like those of owls, they would have easily gotten knocked by someone from that huge group of perching birds, perching on precarious cliffs. So, their eggs have evolved to survive these conditions.

This is how their eggs look like. They are very awkwardly shaped. But when it rolls, thanks to natural selection, it rolls in very small circles! They don’t fall off cliffs easily. Wonderful!

common guillemot egg

First seen at [io9]

Cutting a Round Cake on Scientific Principles

By Anupum Pant

Background

For years the phrase “cake cutting” has conjured up just one image in my brain – A triangular section of the cake. This way of cutting a cake is so normal that even the tools (especially the spatula) that are made for cake cutting are made in a way that’d work with best when you are making that traditional triangular cut. Turns out, this method of cutting a cake which we’ve all know for years is totally wrong.

Why is it wrong?

It’s wrong mostly for mathematical loners. People who, on their birthday, have no one around to share the cake with, and cannot finish off the whole cake. For them and the ones who have to store the cake after cutting it, are extremely careful about how moist the edges remain when they next eat it, this right way to cut a cake might be of great importance.

The way we’ve always know is “wrong” because when you cut off, say a single section of the cake and decide to store the larger piece in the fridge, some internal part of the cake remains exposed and it dries off. So, the next time you cut off a piece near the area where you started, you’d get a freshly cut moist wall of cake on one side, and a repulsively hard dried up wall on the other. That, some think, is extremely unpleasant.

What’s the Right way?

About 100 years back, a brilliant Polymmath (and a mathematician), Sir Francis Galton, faced a similar annoyance. So, instead of cursing others for having invented an absurdly inefficient way to cut a cake, he decided to develop his own. He ended up developing a very simple and efficient cut which helped him keep the cake wall relatively moist. Here’s how the cut works. (Cut along the dotted line)

the right way to cut a cake

Describing his new way of cutting cakes, he got an article published in the Nature magazine (dated December 20th, 1906). “Cutting a Round Cake on Scientific Principles

Alex Bellos from the Numberphiles describes it in a video below: