A controversial theory claims past, present, and future exist at the same time

Our experience of time may be blinding us to its true nature, say scientists.

  • Time may not be passing at all, says the Block Universe Theory.
  • Time travel may be possible.
  • Your perception of time is likely relative to you and limited.
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The neuroscience behind ‘gut feelings’

Fight or flight? We've all been there. Now we have an understanding of how it works.

  • There is such a thing in neuroscience as a 'gut feeling.'
  • We don't quite know what it's saying yet, but we have an idea.
  • "Gut signals are transmitted at epithelial-neural synapses through the release of … serotonin."
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Finally, a world map that's all about oceans

The Spilhaus Projection may be more than 75 years old, but it has never been more relevant than today.

  • Athelstan Spilhaus designed an oceanic thermometer to fight the Nazis, and the weather balloon that got mistaken for a UFO in Roswell
  • In 1942, he produced a world map with a unique perspective, presenting the world's oceans as one body of water
  • The Spilhaus Projection could be just what the oceans need to get the attention their problems deserve

This is a world map unlike any other. Uniquely, it centres on Antarctica. Disturbingly, it rips Asia and the Americas to shreds. And compellingly, it presents the seas and oceans – 71% of the Earth's surface – as a unified body of water.

The map was designed by a renaissance man who also invented the skyways of Minneapolis and the secret weather balloon that caused the Roswell Incident. And yet you've never heard of him.

It's a name you would have remembered: Dr Athelstan F. Spilhaus. But neither this map, connected to a wartime invention for fighting Nazi U-boats, nor his other creations have earned his name household status.

Born in Cape Town in 1911, Spilhaus studied and worked both in his native South Africa and in the U.S., where he settled later in life. In 1937, he was named assistant professor in at NYU, where he set up the meteorology and oceanography department.

Dr Spilhaus was not just a distinguished meteorologist and oceanographer, but also a prolific inventor. During the Second World War, he developed the bathythermograph, a device for measuring sea temperature at great depth – making it easier to detect German submarines.

In 1948, he moved to the Minnesota Institute of Technology in Minneapolis. Perhaps because of the huge contrast between the harsh local winters and Cape Town's Mediterranean climate, he conceived of a network of elevated covered walkways between buildings, sheltering people from severe weather. The Minneapolis Skyway System is currently 11 miles long, connecting buildings across 80 city blocks.

Following his work on the undersea thermometer, Dr Spilhaus helped develop a similar system of weather balloons for the Air Force, to spy on Soviet nuclear testing. When one such balloon crashed in New Mexico in 1947, the wreckage was whisked away with such speed and secrecy that the rumour mill went into overdrive. Some today still claim the crashed device was an extra-terrestrial space ship – the infamous 'Roswell UFO'.

A man of many talents, Dr Spilhaus built some 3,000 varieties of children's toys and for 15 years authored a science-focused, globally syndicated weekly comic strip called Our New Age. In 1954, Dr Spilhaus became America's first representative on the executive board of Unesco, the UN's educational and cultural department. A few years later, president Kennedy appointed him to direct the U.S. exhibit at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. "The only science I ever learned was from your comic strip", JFK told him.

"Population" Our New Age. Text by Athelstan Spilhaus, drawn by Gene Fawcette. First published June 19, 1960

Image: Picturing Meteorology


Dr Spilhaus also proposed the establishment of Sea Grant Colleges – a network of institutes of higher learning focusing on the exploitation and conservation of marine areas. Which brings us back to the sea, and to this map.

Designed in 1942 while Dr Spilhaus was working on his bathythermograph, it reverses the land-based bias of traditional cartographic projections. The Spilhaus projection – a combination of the Hammer and Spielmann projections – places the poles of the map in South America and China, ripping up continents to show the high seas as one interrupted whole.

The earth-sea is perforated by Antarctica and Australia, and fringed by the other land masses. Two small triangles, one at the top of the map and the other on the lower right hand side, mark the same spot: the Bering Strait – as a reminder that what we're looking at is not in fact a vast inland sea, but a body of water that circles the entire globe.

On most maps, the oceans are so vast that they become easy to ignore. Rather than just use them as background noise, this map focuses on the watery bits of our planet. That's not just a refreshingly different viewpoint but, it could be argued, also a desperately needed one.

Our oceans produce between 50% and 85% of the world's oxygen and are a major source of food for humanity. But they are in mortal danger, from overfishing, acidification, plastic pollution and climate change. Maritime 'dead zones' – with zero oxygen and zero marine life – have quadrupled since the 1950s. Low-oxygen zones have increased tenfold. The trend is fuelled by climate change (warmer waters hold less oxygen) and, in coastal zones, fertiliser and sewage runoff from the land.

Perhaps this map can do what Earthrise did for the planet as a whole. Taken in 1966 by astronaut Bill Anders of Apollo 8 – the first manned mission to circle the moon – that picture shows our planet rising above the lunar surface, an inversion of the moonrises so familiar to humankind. It's been called "the most influential environmental photograph ever" because it so clearly visualises the earth as a single, fragile ecosystem.

Earth rising above the lunar horizon; image taken by Bill Anders of Apollo 8 on 24 December 1968. The land mass visible in the lower right-hand side is northwest Africa.

The oceans need a similarly powerful unifying visual. Even though it's over 80 years old, this projection reminds us that saving the planet is pointless if we don't also save the seas.

This map was designed for Libération by Clara Dealberto, a French graphic designer who has a side project producing strange new countries. Titled Nouvelle Américopasie – atlas aléatoire d'un continent imaginaire ('Random atlas of an imaginary continent'), it generates new fantasy countries out of two existing ones, adding up their inhabitants and areas, and mashing up their flags and names. Here are a few examples:

La Frafrak ('Fraraq'), a compound of France and Iraq – a country with 104 million inhabitants, and a surface just under 1 million km2.

L'Ethiotalie ('Ethiotaly'). This reunion of Italy and its former East African colony Ethiopia would have 163 million inhabitants, and cover 1.4 million km2.

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L'Etasuxique ('Amerexico'), a fusion of Mex, Tex and four dozen other U.S. states. The combination would be home to 450 million Amerexicans, spread over 11.3 million km2.

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Strange Maps #939

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

Major study: Drug overdoses over a 38-year period reveal hidden trends

It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction

  • It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
  • If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
  • The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
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Scientists discover ice volcanos on Ceres

Cryovolcanoes that eject ice instead of magma have been confirmed to exist on Ceres, which will help studying this formation on other planets and moons throughout the solar system.

  • Cryovolcanoes that ooze out ice instead of shooting out magma have been confirmed to exist on the asteroid Ceres.
  • Scientists believe that ice volcanoes may be prevalent throughout the solar system in places like Titan and Pluto.
  • Further research is needed to find out if they serve an important function for planetary structure and exo geological systems.

When we think of volcanoes we often picture plumes of smoke and hellfire lava. These are the molten towers from the underworld. But new research has uncovered that ice volcanoes or cryovolcanoes are also just a stone's throw away in our own solar system. We don't have to go that far to look for strange features of the universe. These mountainous giants spew ice instead of fire and are active planetary features that many moons, planets and asteroids might all possess.

Scientists recently analyzed images of Ceres, an asteroid 588 miles wide and one of the largest asteroids in our asteroid belt. NASA's dawn spacecraft flew by and found that Ceres is one of the first confirmed celestial bodies to have multiple cryovolcanoes. A large mountain structure called Ahuna Mons was first discovered in 2016 and subsequently classified as a cryovolcano.

It's estimated that Ceres forms a new cryovolcano every 50 million years. Studying this asteroid will give scientists more evidence to look for and study Europa, Titan and Pluto to see if they also have cryovolcanoes.

A paper published in Nature Astronomy detailed the findings. Scientists from the project stated:

"Ceres is the only plausibly cryovolcanic world to be orbited by a spacecraft up to now."

Science of a cryovolcano 

Researchers behind the study looked at images taken by the spacecraft's onboard camera. They searched for any exo geological features that were dome shaped and larger than 10 kilometers in diameter. Scientists found and measured 22 of these features and found that these domes were composed of 50 percent of ice. On further analysis, it was found that on average these cryovolcanoes on Ceres spewed out roughly 10 thousand cubic meters per year of ice.

It was determined that a cryovolcano on Ceres doesn't serve an important function say compared to volcanic activity on Earth. But that doesn't rule out that other planet's with cryovolcanoes might be function as an important part to the geological pressures and planetary structural systems.

There were some limitations to the study, as this was all researched through pictures and there wasn't an on the ground rover or robotic presence. Also the scientists weren't able to get a real time reading of the amount of activity each cryovolcano produced.

Cryovolcano on Pluto? Maybe.

Planetary scientist Michael Sori, utilized calculations made from observations and simulations to uncover the mystery about Ceres's cryovolcanoes. His theory was that since Ceres is both made out of predominantly rock and ice, the formations on the planet flow and move due to their own weight – similar to how glaciers operate on Earth. The ice flows would then be affected by slight temperature variations throughout the asteroid.

Sori said:

"Ceres' poles are cold enough that if you start with a mountain of ice, it doesn't relax… But the equator is warm enough that a mountain of ice might relax over geological timescales."

It was observed through simulation with the set parameters that cryovolcanoes on the poles would remain frozen while places in the equator and other latitudes, a cryovolcano would begin to steepen and also grow rounder over time.

Volcanic eruptions on Ceres are much more subdued than what you'd see on Earth. They do not explode, but rather ooze. This output of ice, rock and other chemicals slowly seeps from the openings out onto the rest of the asteroid.

Further research will help yield answers to determine if other suspected formations on other planets and moons may also be cryovolcanoes. After scientists from NASA's New Horizons mission stitched together a high resolution color view of Pluto, it was thought that an area known as Wright Mons may be a cryovolcano. At 150 kilometers across and 4 kilometers high, it'd be one of the largest in the far reaches of the solar system – proving that this phenomenon is not rare

Are there any cryovolcanoes on earth?

There are no cryovolcanoes on earth. The material that erupts out of these formations is either in the form of an icy liquid or gas. Earth simply is too warm for this type of formation to occur, even in the deepest reaches of Antarctica or Greenland, it wouldn't be possible. The higher surface temperature on Earth combined with its thick atmosphere makes it unable to freeze volatiles that would include Nitrogen, Methane and carbon dioxide for example.

Overall, the processes on other astral bodies make them more conducive spots for hosting a cryovolcano.