Category: Shorts

The Power of Positive Lightning

A Schleicher ASK 21
A Schleicher ASK 21

A Schleicher ASK 21 glider is a craft of elegance and poise. Its slim wings, seductively curved cabin and tapering fuselage embody a balanced design that moulds modern materials into flowing aerodynamic lines. On the afternoon of 17 April 1999, one such beauty soared gracefully above countryside near Dunstable, England, with an instructor and a novice pilot on board. The student had been given the trial lesson as a 30th birthday present. Although large storm clouds loomed nearby, at 1608 hours conditions in the immediate vicinity were calm and the air was clear.

At 1609 hours a fearsome force suddenly and violently shredded large sections of the glider. The instructor later recalled a “very loud bang” and a distressingly “draughty” cockpit. Dazed and briefly unconscious, he realised that “something was seriously amiss… requiring unpleasant and decisive action.”

By the time he vacated the wreckage—noting on his way out that there was no need to eject the canopy, nor any canopy—his student had arrived at the same conclusion. Witnesses on the ground observed a bright flash and heard a loud crack, and craned their necks to see a ball of smoke and fine debris hanging in the space where the glider had been. Below this, the remnant of a fuselage plummeted earthwards at high speed, with larger sailplane fragments fluttering behind. Thankfully two open parachutes were among them, with deafened and soot-blackened aviators swinging underneath. They were the fortunate survivors of a curious and powerful phenomenon known as positive lightning.

The Ice Worm Cometh

This is the prototype for our new-and-experimental Short variety of article. If well-received, these Shorts will help to fill the gaps between full articles. Please let us know what you think...who likes short Shorts?

In 1887, a glacial geologist named George Frederick Wright was hiking across the Muir Glacier in southeast Alaska when something strange caught his eye. Just as the daylight began to fade, the previously uninterrupted expanse of white snow around him began to develop what appeared to be a five o’clock shadow. These wriggling “whiskers” grew rapidly and emerged from the solid ice, leaving the snow crawling with an astonishing number of small black worms. Within approximately an hour there were tens of thousands of them criss-crossing the snow as far as he could see, leaving nary a square inch unwormed. A few hours later they began to slip effortlessly back into the ice, ultimately leaving nothing but pure white snow behind for the morning sun. The ice scientist brought news of these strange ice worms back to polite civilization, yet even over a century later little is known about the intriguing organisms.

This Looks Like a Job for Vermin!

The common rat is hideous thing to behold. Two species make up what we call the true rat: the black rat Rattus rattus, and the wharf rat Rattus norvegicus. On the whole of the Earth, the only places where rats do not find a home are the forbiddingly cold Arctic and Antarctic regions, some miscellaneous islands where they haven’t gained a foothold, a wildlife preserve in New Zealand, and Alberta Canada where a concerted effort of riled Canadians will massacre rodents upon a hint that a rat may have infested the province.

Historically the rat has been labeled a pest and more-than-a-nuisance due to their capacity to carry diseases that can infect humans, and their propensity to reproduce like… well… uh… rodents. However, in this wonderfully modern time in which we live the rat is being put to task by their human overlords doing much more productive things.

A Fluke of Nature

Dicrocoelium dendriticum
Dicrocoelium dendriticum

As the sun rises over a grassy pasture, and the morning light glints from the countless clinging drops of dew, a single snail resolutely inches toward a mound of steaming nourishment. But unbeknownst to the armored gastropod, this seemingly ordinary heap of cow dung conceals a legion of tiny Dicrocoelium dendriticum eggs, each of which contains the embryo of a sinister mind-controlling parasite. As the snail gorges itself on the fibrous feast, it unwittingly sets the collection of unborn lancet flukes on a miniature adventure which will lead them through slime, zombies, and bile to ultimately find their own unique kind of utopia.

The Association of the Dead

This article was written by Gerry Matlack, one of our shiny new Damn Interesting writers.

In 1976, a farmer in northern India became alarmed when he was informed of his own death. Lal Bihari was in the process of applying for a loan when the bank representative delivered the bad news, and it wasn’t just that his loan had been denied. He was clearly a breathing, animated, fifteen-year-old, and he exhibited none of the classic symptoms of zombiism, yet government records indicated that he was no longer among the living. There was even a death certificate bearing his name.

There was no arguing that he appeared to be alive, but such evidence turned out to be insufficient to correct the error. After some investigation Bihari learned that his situation was not due to some administrative blunder, but rather it was due to an act of fraud. An unscrupulous uncle had bribed a government worker to provide a false death certificate, as well as bribing another fellow at the local Land Registry Office. For less than $100, the uncle had gained the title to Bihari’s farmland in Uttar Pradesh, leaving no legally living soul to challenge the claim. As Lal Bihari began the lengthy effort to bring himself back to life and reclaim his stolen lands, he discovered that there were many others like him, and that the death-by-paper practice was widespread in the region of India known as the “badlands.”

The Lonely Tree of Ténéré

Because trees are so abundant, it is rare for a single one to become well-known. Some trees become distinguished due to their historical significance. The Bodhi Tree in India, for example, is where Buddha is thought to have gained enlightenment; and the Liberty Tree in 18th-century Boston was a gathering place for American colonists who objected to British rule.

A few trees are also worthy of note due to being record-holders. The state of California is home to several such trees: the tallest one known, a 155.5 meter redwood called Hyperion; the largest, the 1,450 cubic meter giant sequoia named General Sherman; and the oldest, a 4,800-year-old bristlecone pine known as Methuselah. It’s difficult to be certain of which individual tree is the most remote. For several decades that distinction belonged to the Tree of Ténéré, an acacia tree standing alone in the vast, hostile expanse of the Sahara Desert. However, in 1973 this tree met an exceedingly improbable end.

Giant Carnivorous Centipedes

The world has many moist, warm, and dark cavities where phobia-inspiring organisms quietly lurk. The tropical climate of South America’s Amazon jungle has an unnaturally large number of such pockets, and consequently that region is home to unnaturally large specimens.

One such example is the Scolopendra gigantea, a venomous, red-maroon centipede with forty-six yellow-tinted legs. These centipedes are the largest in the world, and they are more commonly known as Amazonian giant centipedes due to their massive size. Adults commonly reach lengths of over thirty-five centimeters— the length of a man’s forearm. Not only are these creatures very swift runners, but they are also highly adept climbers, a skill which allows them to scale walls to enjoy some surprisingly ambitious prey.

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