Sunday, 31 January 2016


10 Writing Systems Used By Only One Language
By James Mackie,
Listverse, 31 January 2016.

Writing first appeared around 6,000 years ago, with the earliest evidence being clay tablets from Mesopotamia. The earliest alphabetic writing was developed by the Phoenicians. The Greeks borrowed that alphabet, with modifications to suit the sound system of Greek.

In turn, the Romans borrowed and modified the Greek alphabet to fit the sounds of Latin. Most modern writing systems use some form of the Roman alphabet, although there are several other scripts that have found widespread use, including Cyrillic, Arabic, and Devanagari.

However, there are a few cases of unique writing systems that were invented to suit the needs of a single language. Here are 10 of those writing systems.

10. Hmong Syllabary (Pahawh Hmong)

In 1959, the Hmong script was invented by Shong Lue Yang, who was born into a poor farming family. His parents died when he was a child, and he never received any formal education. Tradition holds that Yang created the Hmong syllabary through divine inspiration.

One day, his grandfather sent him out to the fields to chase away monkeys that were stealing crops. Yang fell asleep in the field and dreamed of two spirits that brought him knowledge of writing. They placed a book in his hand and told him to spread writing to the Hmong.

The Hmong script is syllabic, rather than alphabetic, with only two types of syllables that are possible. A syllable can be just a vowel, or it can be a consonant onset followed by a vowel. Additionally, vowels can carry one of seven different tones.

Writing is simple. Each syllabic symbol has three parts, which represent the onset (if there is one), the vowel, and the tone. However, these sounds are not written in the order that you might expect. The vowel of a syllable is written first, even if the syllable starts with a consonant. Since about 90 percent of the language is monosyllabic, this is a practical way of writing.

Shong Lue Yang later fled to Laos from communist Vietnam and taught the script to the Hmong living there. In 1971, he was killed by Laotian soldiers due to his increasing influence with a resistance group. Today, his script persists, but it is not as commonly used as the writing system based on the Roman alphabet.

9. Hangul (Korean)


Hangul, the Korean writing system, was created in 1443 by a group of linguists working for King Sejong. One striking property of Hangul is its “visual phonetics.” Each letter was designed to convey information about how to pronounce it.

For example, consonant sounds made at the lips - which include [b], [m], and [p] - are all written as box-like symbols. Consonants that are plosives (which involve the brief stoppage of air) are indicated with a top horizontal stroke. Vowels are drawn as perpendicular intersecting straight lines, making them visually distinct from consonants.

Another interesting feature of Hangul is that letters aren’t written sequentially like most alphabets. Instead, each syllable of a word is written as a block of letters, with some stacked on top of others. There are thousands of possible syllables, and you can see an exhaustive list here.

Each stack begins with a consonant symbol, followed by a vowel symbol which is placed either underneath or to the right depending on the shape of the vowel. Some of the rules for stacking symbols can be found here.

In 2009, speakers of Cia-Cia, an Austronesian language of Indonesia, began a project to adapt Hangul to their language. However, that project was later abandoned due to an Indonesian law that requires languages to be written in Roman script.

8. Ogham (Primitive Irish)

Photo credit: Jaqian

Irish is a Celtic language that is spoken in Ireland. Today, the language is written using the Roman alphabet. Just like other Celtic languages, it has notoriously complicated spelling rules. Long ago, however, Irish had its own native writing system known as ogham.

Hundreds of inscriptions in ogham have been found all around Ireland and western Britain. You can see images of many of them here. Most inscriptions are simple and generally consist of names.

Ogham is a vertical script, read from bottom to top. It is designed to be written on wood or stone. There is a long straight line that leads down the middle of an inscription. Most consonants and vowels are indicated by drawing one or more lines at a right angle to the main line. However, some sounds are indicated by lines that cross diagonally through the main line, and a few vowels are shown with dots.

The letters of the ogham alphabet are grouped into categories based on how the lines intersect. Their names comes from an ancient Irish categorization of trees. Letters with lines to the left are “ordinary trees.” Those with lines to the right are “chieftain trees.” Those with diagonal crossing lines are “shrub trees.” Finally, those with horizontal crossing lines are “bramble trees.”

7. Dongba (Naxi)

Photo via Wikimedia

Naxi is a Sino-Tibetan language spoken by around 300,000 people in the Yunnan province of China. Their traditional writing is unique because it is a mixture of a phonetic system with a pictographic system. Some of the symbols represent sounds, but other symbols are pictures that represent a concept directly.

For example, the word for “flower” is actually a picture of a flower rather than a sequence of symbols that make up the sounds in the word “flower.” This page has many samples of documents written in Naxi. The origins of this script are unclear, but it probably developed in the 13th century through contact with other writing systems such as Chinese and Tibetan.

Today, few people know how to use this writing system, and it is mainly found in a religious context. The traditional religion of the Naxi is called Dongba, with the writing system often called by the same name. The majority of Naxi speakers today use the Roman alphabet to write their language. Ancient Naxi manuscripts are registered in UNESCO’s Memory of the World.

6. Cherokee Syllabary (Cherokee)

Photo credit: Kaldari

Cherokee is an Iroquoian language that is spoken in Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Delaware. The alphabet used to write this language was invented by a Cherokee man named Sequoyah in the early 1800s. What makes this invention particularly amazing is that Sequoyah was previously illiterate and never learned to read any other languages. He discovered the principle of phonetic writing entirely on his own.

The Cherokee knew that English colonists could communicate with bits of paper, but they did not understand how. Sequoyah suspected that symbols on the paper stood for words. Furthermore, he was certain that it was possible for his people to communicate in the same way. He began a multiyear project of developing Cherokee writing from scratch.

In his first attempt, he decided to use one symbol for each word. But he quickly realized that this type of system required thousands of symbols and would be difficult to learn.

He then hit upon the idea of representing sounds on paper instead of entire concepts at once. This proved to be much more practical. After some more work, Sequoyah had developed about 80 syllabic symbols.

To demonstrate that the system worked, Sequoyah taught it to his six-year-old daughter. Then he took her to visit another group of Cherokee further away. While his daughter waited out of earshot, Sequoyah asked some other Cherokee to say a few words, which he wrote down. Then his daughter was called over, and she amazed everyone by reading and repeating the exact words.

Sequoyah’s writing system spread quickly through the population. It was easy to learn to write, and people could generally master it within a week. Today, it is still in wide use for everything from newspapers to novels to Wikipedia.

5. Vah (Bassa)

Photo via Wikimedia

Bassa is a Niger-Congo language in the Kru family that is spoken in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The Vah script was developed by Thomas Narvin Lewis in the early 1900s.

It is an alphabetic script with symbols for individual consonants and vowels. Although most languages in West Africa are tonal, indigenous writing systems do not often indicate tone. The Vah script is unusual in this respect. There are also special tone symbols that can be added to vowels.

The exact origins of this script are uncertain. Lewis was from Africa but attended Syracuse University in the US. When he returned to Liberia after graduation, he claimed to have met a small group of Bassa who had kept an ancient script alive.

His Vah alphabet is supposedly based on this ancient one. Others dispute this and suggest that Lewis developed the script elsewhere, either while studying in the US or possibly during a trip to Brazil.

Lewis’s life ended tragically when he was poisoned in a plot by his wife and brother. The Liberian government viewed Lewis as a threat to their nationalization programs, and they paid his family to kill him.

4. Fraser Alphabet (Lisu)

Photo credit: Richard Cook

Lisu is a Tibeto-Burman language that is spoken throughout parts of southwest China, northern Burma, and Thailand. The alphabet was invented by Protestant missionaries in the 1910s and refined over several years. It is named after James Fraser, one of the missionaries.

The Fraser alphabet consists entirely of symbols that look like uppercase letters of the Roman alphabet. However, some are rotated or turned upside-down. Few of them have the sound values that you would expect from English. For instance, the symbol “F” stands for the sound [ts], and an upside down “J” stands for the sound [f].

In 1915, the decision to use rotated characters made it challenging to type Lisu on a typewriter. So it was handled by leaving spaces in a document and then inserting the upside-down characters later.

But the letters didn’t always line up properly on a page. Eventually, in the 1920s, people converted their old typewriters by welding upside-down letters onto keys that weren’t otherwise needed. Now there is a Unicode block for the Fraser alphabet.

The writing system is still in use today, predominately among Lisu Christians. In 1992, the Chinese government declared the Fraser alphabet to be the official writing system for Lisu.

3. Vai

Vai is a language in the Mande family that is spoken in an area between Sierra Leone and Liberia. The Vai writing system is syllabic, meaning that each symbol represents either a vowel or a combination of a consonant and a vowel.

The spoken Vai language has 12 vowels and 31 consonants, which makes for a large number of possible syllables. Unsurprisingly, the writing system is also quite large, with more than 200 symbols.

The symbols themselves are also complex. Mathematical analysis has found that the symbols of written Vai are more complex than those of the Latin or Cyrillic alphabets.

The origin of this script is somewhat unclear. In the 1820s, it was invented by a Vai man named Momolu Duwalu Bukele, who claimed that God had appeared to him in a dream and showed him all of the symbols to use. Bukele is not the only person to have received divine inspiration for a writing system. There are other examples throughout West Africa.

A less supernatural possibility is that Vai was influenced by the Cherokee language spoken in the Southeastern US. Despite the vast distance between the two countries, there is some evidence of a connection.

A Cherokee man named Austin Curtis immigrated to Liberia and married into a Vai family. It is possible that he spread some knowledge of the Cherokee writing system, which might have provided some inspiration for the Vai script.

2. Mayan

Mesoamerica was one of the few places on Earth where writing developed independently. Several writing systems existed, and the Mayan script is the most deciphered and well studied.

Research has found that Mayan writing is one of the oldest in the region. It is also one of the most elaborate scripts in the world. Mayan writing is a mixture of syllabic and logographic: Some symbols represent a syllable while others represent an entire word.

In fact, the same word can be written using either method, and sometimes, both are combined. There are roughly 700 symbols, each with enormous amounts of detail. Many of the symbols look like pictures of animals, people, spirits, or objects.

Mayan words were written in units called glyph blocks, with each block containing one or more symbols. There is usually a main symbol in the centre and other symbols stacked to the left (prefix), to the right (postfix), above (superfix), or below (subfix). For example, the subjects of verbs in the ergative case are prefixes, while in the absolutive case, they seem to be subfixes.

Literacy was not widespread in Mayan society. Knowledge of writing was mainly restricted to a class of scribes. Most of the Mayan codices were destroyed by the Spanish in their attempt to convert the population to Christianity. A few texts survived, mostly on the topics of astronomy and religion.

1. Stokoe Notation (American Sign Language)

One of the most famous linguists of the 20th century was William Stokoe, whose work on sign language was revolutionary. Until the 1960s, the common belief was that sign languages were simply gestures or pantomimes and lacked any grammar. Stokoe demonstrated that sign languages contain complex systems of syntax and morphology and can be analyzed in the same way as spoken languages.

He even developed a way of writing American Sign Language. At first, this might seem impossible. Written language represents sounds on paper. By definition, sign languages are soundless. So how could this be done?

In his research, Stokoe discovered that signs are not holistic units. They contain smaller parts, which are reused and recombined to make different signs, just like consonants and vowels can be used to make different spoken words.

Stokoe identified three major properties of a sign that he included in his writing system. The first property is location, which encodes where the sign is made in physical space. For example, the sign can be made in front of the eyes, by the chin, at chest level, etc.

The second property is hand shape, which encodes which fingers are extended and whether they are bent or straight. The third property is movement, which encodes how the hands move through space while signing. Unfortunately, there is no way of representing information about facial expressions, which are also important parts of a sign.

This notation is rarely found outside linguistics today. Most users of American Sign Language are bilingual in written English.

Top image: Mayan hieroglyphs. Credit: Mark Van Stone via YouTube.

[Source: Listverse. Edited.]


Supercharge Your Staff! 7 Hacks That Put Productivity into Overdrive [Infographic]
Slick Text.

Let’s get right to the point. If your employees don’t feel comfortable and inspired in their professional surroundings, they simply won’t succeed. At best, they’ll put in a bare minimum effort, and long-term productivity will eventually reach an all time low. If your business and employees have been around for a while, you’re probably no stranger to this unfortunate, downward spiral. But, have no fear. There is a solution.

Supercharge your staff with these 7 productivity hacks. In addition, keep these three important tips in mind.
  • We all have lives outside of work. Make sure your expectations are fair and reasonable.
  • If you have a true concern about an individual’s performance, don’t air out your dirty laundry in a group setting. Approach this person, and express your concern in an honest and fair manner.
  • For the most part, work should be fun. Don’t be afraid to reassign job responsibilities, especially if you see individuals growing in another area. Cater to your employee’s growth and potential, not your ever-changing to do list.
Without further ado, get to work. It’s time to give your staff a superhero level dose of productivity.

online texting service productivity infographic

[Source: Slick Text.]


Exploring One of the Largest River Caves in the World Is Like Exploring an Alien World
Exploring One of the Largest River Caves in the World Is Like Exploring an Alien World
By Casey Chan,
Sploid, 29 January 2016.

The eerie green glow of the kayak against the Xe Bang Fai river obviously enhances the spooky alien feel but the truth is, the river cave Tham Khoun Xe in Laos really looks like a completely different world. Ryan Deboodt shot his two day kayaking trip through the 4-mile long cave and showed the heights of the cave (it’s over 180-feet tall) and its unbelievable beauty.

[Source: Sploid.]

Saturday, 30 January 2016


10 Real Supervillain Plots That Governments Actually Tried
By Sam Derwin,
Listverse, 30 January 2016.

We’ve already covered various supervillain plots by governments and individuals, but many of those entries were merely proposals, with some of them rejected proposals at that. This list covers 10 supervillain plots by governments that were actually attempted.

10. Japan Tried To Set The US Ablaze Using Intercontinental Fire Balloons

Photo via Wikimedia

Just before World War II, Japanese scientists launched balloons to measure wind currents over the Pacific Ocean. That’s when they discovered the jet stream, a current of air crossing the Pacific at 9,000 metres (30,000 ft) up.

Since Japan was soon fighting for its life against the US, the Japanese tried to weaponize this discovery. Launching balloons filled with incendiary devices, the Japanese hoped that the “Fu Go” balloons would start huge forest fires in the western US and hinder the American war effort.

Beginning in late 1944, the Japanese started launching thousands of these balloons from eastern Japan. Hundreds of them did reach America. Considering what the Japanese hoped to achieve, the damage was minimal. But it was still tragic - a pregnant woman and five of her children died.

US leaders worried that knowledge of the balloons among the civilian population would cause mass panic. So the government suppressed information about the existence of the balloons. The project ended when the Americans bombed Japan’s hydrogen plants - which made the element required to float the balloons - and the Japanese decided to direct their resources to other projects.

9. The Nazis Tried To Build A Superweapon Fortress

Photo credit: Clare Wilkinson

Remember the concrete superweapon fortress that Captain America assaults in Captain America: The First Avenger? The Nazis actually tried to build one of those intimidating concrete structures.

Constructed between 1943 and 1944 by Organization Todt, the premier Nazi engineering group, La Coupole was to be a gigantic underground base from which the Nazis would constantly bombard London with V-2 rockets. Fortunately, the base was bombed and rendered unusable before it could become operational. But the outside structure still stands in an intimidating fashion, with a concrete dome poking out from the side of a hill.

The facility was to be a final assembly plant for V-2 components and a rocket fuel factory. Finished components would be shipped via railroad to La Coupole, where they would be integrated into the final rocket. Then the rockets would be fuelled and rolled out onto one of two launchpads. Nazi engineers would oversee the launch of the rockets from an armoured tower.

The Allies were aware of the base and attacked it during construction. They systematically bombed it to the ground via air strikes until the Nazis abandoned the project.

8. The Israelis Stole Their Own Navy Ships From Under The Noses Of The French

Photo credit: Avi Brillant

Remember when Hugo Drax had to steal one of the shuttles he’d loaned to the UK because he desperately needed it to complete his evil plans? Israel pulled off a similarly ludicrous scheme when they had to steal their own one-of-a-kind naval ships from the French, who had embargoed Israel.

As the French were a major arms supplier to Israel at that time, a lot of the military equipment that Israel desperately needed was stuck in France. This included five missile boats - the first in the world - which were critical for Israel because their navy was operating out-dated equipment.

So Israel decided to steal the missile boats from the French port of Cherbourg. Mossad contacted a Norwegian oil magnate who set up a dummy corporation to buy the boats. In the interest of time, Israel set the date of the heist for Christmas Eve 1969 when harbour security would be home celebrating Christmas. Israeli sailors secretly made their way to Cherbourg, where they joined other crews and hid below decks until Christmas.

The Israelis weren’t going to sail the boats straight home without stopping. They had set up refuelling ships along the 3,000-kilometre (2,000 mi) route. Since it was Christmas Eve when they left, it took a full two days before anyone noticed that the boats were missing. By that time, they were far away.

7. The US Tried To Use Nukes To Frack Oil Wells

With all the major issues about fracking nowadays, it seems hard to imagine that the US once tried to frack for oil and gas using nuclear explosions. But there were a few actual tests. This was back in the 1960s, when everything atomic was in vogue. But only a supervillain could come up with that scheme today.

The nuclear fracking was done under the auspices of the Plowshare Program, an attempt to determine whether nukes could be used for industrial purposes. In 1967, the first test, code-named “Gasbuggy,” was detonated in New Mexico more than 1,200 metres (4,000 ft) underground.

The project immediately saw an increase in natural gas production, which prompted further tests. In 1969, Project Rulison detonated a nuke 2,500 metres (8,500 ft) underground. Four years later, Project Rio Blanco was another test.

However, by the early 1970s, public opinion had turned against nuclear weapons. Also, even if the oil or gas well was fully used for 25 years, the revenues generated wouldn’t come close to covering the cost of the nuke. So these crazy schemes were abandoned.

6. The US Tried To Expose Vietnamese Hiding In The Jungle With Herbicides

Photo credit: USAF

We’ve all heard of Agent Orange and its mutagenic effects on Vietnamese children, but why exactly was it sprayed so liberally? It turns out that the US, frustrated by the ability of the Vietcong to hide in the jungles of Vietnam, decided to smoke them out by defoliating the forest with chemicals.

Called Operation Ranch Hand, the project ran from 1962 to 1971 and extended into parts of neighbouring Laos, where the Vietnamese sometimes went to escape the Americans.

While the vast majority of the 20 million tons of herbicides sprayed over Vietnam was Agent Orange, the US also used other herbicides, including Agents Pink, Purple, Blue, and White. The official motto of the operation was “only we can prevent the forests,” which was what they were trying to do.

They only partially succeeded. Despite its audacious scope and aims, the operation failed to reveal the North Vietnamese tormenting the Americans in the jungle.

5. The Nazis Tried To Destroy The British Economy With Tons Of Fake Money

Photo credit: Thierry Caro

Part of a top secret plot named Operation Bernhard, this scheme called for forgers to make perfect British banknotes and inject them into the British economy, causing inflation and destabilizing the British war effort.

The forgeries were made by Nazi concentration camp inmates. Over 160 Jewish inmates were forced to work on the project. Surprisingly, most of them survived the war.

The Nazis printed over £100 million of banknotes, but shelved plans to put the notes into general circulation by dropping them from aircraft. Eventually, the Nazis just gave the fake money to their spies to spend abroad.

The British responded to the scheme by simply withdrawing any notes greater than £5 from circulation, which solved the problem handily. The larger denominations only began to circulate again 30 years later.

4. The US Tricked The Nazi Mail System Into Delivering Anti-Nazi Propaganda

Photo credit: jerrymcrash

In a hilarious World War II operation, the OSS, America’s spy agency at the time, got the Nazis to deliver anti-Nazi propaganda in their own mail system to thousands of Germans.

The original plan was to secretly send mail with anti-Nazi propaganda hidden inside via Switzerland to Germany. But that scheme could only send in a small number of letters. The OSS wanted a bigger bang. So they bombed mail trains and then dropped bags of letters around them for the Germans to dutifully collect and forward to their own citizens.

In retrospect, it is impressive that the Allies managed to pull it off, even with the gradual disintegration of Germany by the time the plan was implemented in 1945. The mail packages had to perfectly replicate German ones, including post cancellations and stationery. Then the Allies had to address each letter so that they could have been plausibly shipped on the mail train through that particular mail route.

The Allies only dropped 120 bags of mail into the Nazi mail system before World War II ended. But the mail that was sneaked in started massive rumours about an underground anti-Nazi resistance group in Germany.

3. Nazi Soldiers Helped To Seize A Soviet City By Pretending To Be Soviet Secret Police

Photo credit: German Federal Archives

When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, their advance was swift. However, there was still critical infrastructure in the Soviet Union that the Nazis desperately wanted. One example was the Maikop oil fields. Hitler had personally ordered the seizure of these oil fields to feed the German war machine.

The task fell to Baron Adrian Von Folkersam, who commanded a detachment of the Brandenburgers, elite German special forces. Folkersam, a German of Russian descent and a fluent speaker of Russian, was ideally suited to the task.

In July 1942, the 60-strong special forces detachment sneaked through Soviet lines dressed as the NKVD, the dreaded Soviet secret police. They drove captured Russian vehicles to complete the disguise.

Folkersam drove straight into Maikop, presented himself to the commanding general as “Major Turchin from Stalingrad,” and got his soldiers billeted in the city. On August 8, as the Germans drew near the city, they spread confusion and panic by telling people that Maikop was being abandoned.

A group of German soldiers took over the local telegraph station and spread panic by politely refusing requests from officers at the front to patch them through to higher command, while another group of Germans tried to stop the destruction of the oil wells. In the end, the Germans captured the oil field, but the Soviets had damaged it and put it out of commission for a year.

2. The US Set Up A Multinational Secret Organization In Europe That Went Rogue

Remember in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol when the head of MI6 set up a secret organization that went rogue and became “supervillainous”? After World War II, the CIA set up at least one such organization in Europe as a stay-behind network of secret agents to resist the Soviets if they took over Europe. Secret equipment caches were set up to supply the agents.

Gladio, the Italian network, eventually became a full-blown terrorist organization because they hated communism so much. Although the facts are still quite muddied, the Gladio network has been linked to an attempted assassination of the Pope, terrorist bombings, and even infiltration of the Italian government at the highest levels. After several damaging revelations, the group was finally shut down.

1. The US Tried To Use Weather Manipulation Offensively In Vietnam

Besides using herbicides to expose Vietcong soldiers hiding in jungles, the US also tried to use weather modification to win the Vietnam War. This is not a conspiracy theory. It was an actual top secret program that ran from 1967 to 1972. It was so secret that its code name was changed several times when people who weren’t cleared to know about the program learned the most current code name.

The US plan was simple: Seed the rain clouds of a monsoon over Vietnam with silver iodide and extend the rainy season so that the North Vietnamese would get drenched. The goal was to wash away bridges and generally wreak havoc with their supply lines through the mountains and jungles.

But the operation didn’t work that well. In addition, once the program was revealed, there was such a public outcry that a UN treaty was ratified to specifically ban weather modification as a method of warfare.

Top image credit: Michelangelo Carrieri/Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0.

[Source: Listverse. Edited. Top image added.]


How to Make 8 Organic Foods at Home
By Liz King,
Quid Corner, 17 December 2015.

We all know it’s good to eat healthily. Common sense dictates you should choose plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins for a nutritious diet. But when wandering the aisles of your local supermarket, another question arises: should you also buy organic?

Organic food is known for being slightly more expensive than it’s non-organic counterparts. Many argue it’s more nutritious, safer to eat, healthier - and most important of all - tastes better. It all sounds ideal, but it’s not always feasible for everyone’s budget.

But enjoying organic food shouldn’t be confined to the foodie elite. You can easily make some of your favourite foods at home for a fraction of the cost. For example, one of our favourite recipes is for the delicious protein bar, which can be made in four easy steps.

Keen to learn more simple and cost effective organic recipes? Check out the full infographic below. Then all that’s left is to roll up your sleeves and get to work!


[Source: Quid Corner.]

Friday, 29 January 2016


Week’s Best Space Pictures: A Dust-Free Galaxy Sparkles
By Michael Greshko,
National Geographic News, 29 January 2016.

Feed your need for heavenly views of the universe with our pick of the most awe-inspiring space pictures. This week, a distant galaxy blasts its radio (waves), Earth’s waters swirl with psychedelic shades of green, and satellites capture a destructive snowstorm’s rampage.

1. White Houses


On January 24, 2016, Landsat 8 captured this image of Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. A nor’easter pounded the region from January 22 to 24, dumping 18 to 24 inches (46 to 61 centimeters) across the area.

2. Windy Collision


NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spots sand dunes west of the enigmatic Orcus Patera depression. The larger formation - photographed five times during the nine-year-old mission - seems to show two converging wind directions.

3. Starry and Spotless


The galaxy IC 1613, seen here by the European Southern Observatory, is a celestial neat freak. Many galaxies are filled with dark dust, but this one contains very little, allowing astronomers to see its contents with great clarity.

4. Half Hidden


NASA’s Cassini probe spots Enceladus (Saturn’s icy moon) half shrouded in darkness. Its relatively crater-free, wrinkled terrain indicates recent geological activity, probably sparked by the moon’s vast subsurface oceans of liquid water.

5. O Green Whirled


Each winter, monsoons stir up currents that increase mineral nutrient concentrations in the Arabian Sea’s surface waters. The nutritive boost feeds psychedelic swirls of phytoplankton, seen here by NASA’s Suomi NPP satellite.

6. That Sinking Feeling


Shadows reveal a pit crater about 130 kilometres across on the southeastern flank of Mars’ Elysium Mons volcano. Pit craters such as this one are sinkholes, perhaps connected to underground caves in volcanic terrain.

7. On Edge and Edgy


This Hubble image showcases the spiral galaxy LO95 0313-192, seen edge-on about 1 billion light-years away. Its structure is similar to the Milky Way’s, but unexpectedly, its center spews intense jets of radio waves.

8. A Once-Watery Maze


This pit depression in Noctis Labyrinthus, a valley system west of Valles Marineris, bears deposits suggestive of acidic, watery settings and volcanic vents - hinting at Noctis Labyrinthus’ ancient climate.

9. Snowzilla’s Rampage


NASA’s Aqua satellite spots the snowstorm that blanketed much of the eastern United States January 22-24, 2016. The storm caused at least 37 deaths as well as coastal flooding, power outages, and more than 13,000 cancelled airline flights.

[Source: National Geographic News. Edited. Some links added.]