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.

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.

Weather Reporting Leeches

By Anupum Pant

Of all the creatures in the whole wide world, you’ll be surprised to know that leeches have played a fairly important role in the history of weather forecasting. An incredibly bizarre device invented by Dr. George merry weather, in the 19th century, called the tempest prognosticator, was basically a barometer powered by leeches.

Dr. George Merryweather, aptly named, was a surgeon by profession who was a lot into leeches. Since barometers were already being used for a long time then, to indicate approaching storms, he knew that air pressure was crucial in determining weather. However, Dr. Merryweather, an ingenious man, hell-bent on doing things the different way, had a different plan in his mind.

In his profession, he came across medicinal leeches all the time. In course of time, with a keen ability to notice details, he noticed that leeches were sensitive to electrical variations in the atmosphere.
He noticed a peculiar behaviour among these creatures. He observed that the leeches often started squirming around in a chaotic manner before a storm arrived.

Putting this practical knowledge to use, and experimenting with a number of designs, Dr. Merryweather devised a contraption. It consisted of 12 pint-sized bottles arranged in a circle. Each of which contained a leech in one-and-half-inch deep rain water. The top of every bottle had a tube into which the leech could crawl and disturb a mechanism, which in turn would activate a hammer to hit a bell – indicating that a storm is coming.

When a storm would come, the leeches were expected to crawl up the bottle, into the little pipe and activate a Heath-Robinson like mechanism which would make a hammer hit the bell. When the leech had completed its job it would fall down into the water and the hammer would go back to its place.

However, a number of times the leeches would give a false alarm. That was the reason he decided to use a jury of 12 leeches. And said,

The more of them that rang the bell, the more likely it was that a storm would be on its way.

If you ever go to Devon, you must take some time out to visit the Barometer World Museum to check out a full-scale working model of this device. Or you could go to the Whitby Museum in North Yorkshire to see the other working model.