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Entomologist Piotr Naskrecki found this fantastic centipede hiding under the smushy bark of a fallen log in Mozambique. You can see more photographs of it, and read more about its discovery at his blog, The Smaller Majority.
What makes this centipede particularly interesting (besides that great handlebar moustache it's sporting) is the long, fuchsia appendages on its rear end, each one topped with a feathery, yellow bit, like a flag on a pole. According to Naskrecki, nobody knows what those appendages are for. They seem to have evolved from the animal's rear-most legs, but their function is a total mystery.
All this month, we've been telling you about a fantastic challenge from the Encyclopedia of Life. Called Armchair Taxonomist, it's an opportunity to research and write about different plants, animals, fungi, and microscopic organisms — and, in the process, help move scientific information from places where it's hard for most people to see, to an open-access sandbox on the Internet.
If you've taken the time to write up an entry, fantastic. We're looking forward to reading them. You've also got a shot at the great stuff up for grabs — including a private, behind the scenes tour of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. If you've not entered yet, though, this is the last weekend you can. The deadline is Monday, May 20th at 6:00 pm Eastern.
And be sure to check out the stories in BoingBoing's taxonomy series:
• Learn what leeches and ligers can teach us about evolution
• Meet the model animals against whom entire species are judged
• Find out what taxonomists and Mr. Spock have in common
National Geographic calls Ethiopia's Danakil Depression "the cruelest place on Earth." It's a desert wasteland, where temperatures can push past 120 F, where ancient and current lava flows impede movement, and where water is so scarce that that people build rock domes over the top of volcanic vents to trap and condense steam.
It's also a place where Ethiopian men and boys regularly travel in order to cut slabs of salt off of the surface of the Earth and haul them back to civilization. Salt flats like this occur when entire bodies of water totally evaporate. In the Danakil Depression, you'll also find salt towers and other formations caused by evaporation off of volcanic geysers and hot springs.
The photo above was taken by Reuters photographer Siegfried Modola, who traveled with a group of salt miners into the desert and then followed their haul all the way back to the marketplace. You can see his full slideshow of images online. I chose this one because it gives you a view of the salt as it's found on the ground, and the neat, rectangular blocks the merchants cut it into for shipping.
The spot is a favorite of photographers. I'd also recommend checking out the photos and story put together by Christina Feldt, who posted about the Danakil salt flats earlier this year.
Kiera Wilmot — the Florida 16-year-old who created a small explosion just outside her school before classes started by mixing cleaning solution and tin foil (she was just curious, nobody was harmed) — will not be charged with a felony, after all. Florida State Attorneys dropped the charges against Wilmot yesterday. After her case garnered national attention, she ended up with a lawyer who has defended her mostly for free. There's no word yet on whether she'll be allowed to return to the school that expelled her and pressed charges in the first place.
In the meantime, the Internet has created a nice happy ending here. Homer Hickam — the writer and former NASA engineer whose memoir is the basis of the movie October Sky — started a Crowdtilt campaign to send Wilmot and her twin sister Kayla to the Advanced Space Academy program at the U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala.. The cost of space camp can run upwards of $1200. Hickam paid for Kiera Wilmot to go and the Crowdtilt campaign raised the other $1200 for her sister, plus extra money for their travel expenses. The campaign hit its $2500 goal in just two days and is now up to $2920. Hickam says the extra money is going to the girls' mother.
A second Crowdtilt campaign raised more than $8000 for a Kiera Wilmot Defense Fund. Now that the charges have been dropped, that money will go into a trust, to pay the few legal expenses the family does have and to cover costs associated with Wilmot's education — especially since it's still unclear whether she'll be allowed back into the local public school.
Good job, Internet!
Apparently, there were some private citizens from the USSR who were allowed into the U.S. for travel during the Cold War. But they couldn't just visit anywhere they wanted.
This map, from a post at Slate's Vault blog, shows the no-go zones, shaded in green. Some of this is quite funny — gee, guys, I wonder what you're keeping hidden out in rural Nevada? Another interesting point: Soviets could visit Kansas City, Kansas, but not Kansas City, Missouri. Which could just be a pretty good joke, on our part. The fun stuff is all on the Missouri side.
EDIT: In the original version of this post, I'd mentioned that Kansas had once been home to many, many missile silos, and speculated that this might be why so much of that state (and the Dakotas) was off-limits to Soviet travelers. But, Cold War historian Audra J. Wolfe contacted me and pointed out that there were no missile silos at the time this map was made, because there were no Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. So why ban the Ruskies from Kansas? Wolfe isn't entirely sure. She speculated that it might have had something to do with limiting access to public lands managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the Bureau of Land Management. It also could have been tied to the presence of Strategic Air Command bases in the state. And there were tons of Atomic Energy Commission-owned sites scattered all over the U.S. — it's hard to keep track of where they all were.
Of course, Wolfe also said that there wasn't always a clear logic behind the decisions about which parts of the country were made off-limits to Soviet citizens. For instance, much of our coastline was off-limits for no other reason than the fact that much of the Soviet coast was off-limits to Americans. "The main premise is 'strict reciprocity'," she wrote in a message to me. "X% of Soviet coasts are off-limits, therefore x% of US coasts are off-limits, too." So there, one might add.