Monday, 29 October 2018


10 Extreme Stories of Weight Challenges and Weight Loss
By Dustin Koski,
Toptenz, 21 October 2018.

Many of us at Top Tenz have dealt with the modern problem of being overweight. We’ve counted calories by the thousands. We’ve endured a parade of diets and cleanses with only a few cheats for solace. Most of all, we’ve turned ourselves into sweat sprinklers at the gym. So we have some firsthand perspective on just how much of a strain carrying around extra pounds puts on a person, from their vital organs to their knees. We know just how much of a relief losing them is too…however briefly. Hopefully, we never come anywhere near having to know what it’s like to be in any of the following situations.

10. Most Weight Lost by a Living Person

By 2010, 49-year-old Paul Mason was a target of national mockery in the UK. At 980 pounds, he was known as the heaviest man in the nation. In his own words, he was as wide as he was tall - and naturally, bedridden - owing to being so addicted to eating that he would regularly consume as much food as 10 people. He claimed that by this point in his life, he had so given in to his addiction (which GQ magazine implied was at least partially attributable to some unhealthy treatment by his family during his upbringing) that he felt no embarrassment or connection with any other human being. It was mostly boredom that compelled him to take up the National Health Service’s offer to have bariatric surgery (often referred to as “stomach stapling”) performed for him as a cost-saving measure.

The high pressure surgery began a nearly miraculous turnaround. Six years later, he was down to a comparatively slim 280 pounds, and though he’d needed to have such additional surgeries as have dozens of pounds of loose skin removed, the fact he was able to talk around with a cane after years of immobility was a wonder. He presumably would be the poster boy for bariatric surgery if the operation hadn’t had a roughly 50% chance of killing him through such dangers as blood clots. Still, his was, naturally, an extreme case, and it would be best for the obese community if the stigma against the procedure went away.

9. Heaviest Woman in the World

In 1993, Carol Yager, a 34-year-old resident of Beecher, Michigan was taken to the hospital, weighing over 1,200 pounds, well exceeding the previous female record holder. Her extreme addiction to eating and general apathy had left her completely dependent on a social worker and her 14-year-old daughter Heather. She would have gone to the hospital sooner for treatment, but at the time she was effectively uninsurable and certainly couldn’t afford to have what was considered an elective surgery performed. It wasn’t until she contracted cellulitis and came down with a fever that she had a condition that would be covered by Medicare.

In the hospital, Yager set a second record when she lost 500 pounds in three months, without having any surgery to remove the weight. Tragically, it was not enough to set her on the road to a healthy life. She died in 1994 at the age of 34 from kidney failure.

8. Most Weight Lost in a Single Day with a Regular Daily Workout

Doesn’t the idea of losing 25 pounds in a day without going under the knife sound like an impossible dream? Well, it won’t after you hear this surefire but torturous (and dangerous) method. In 2013 Ross Edgley was determined to make a point about the ineffectiveness of weight as a metric for health, so he decided to spend a day showing just how much he could lower his weight while doing no more than a completely normal workout.

He accomplished this by only drinking water that was filled with diuretics, taking a bath in epsom salt-filled water, eating only food with little water and carbs, and dressing in layers, including plastic. Naturally he felt awful and regained the lost pounds quickly when he rehydrated himself, but he did drain his body of enough water to have dropped 25 pounds by the end of the day.

7. Most Weight Removed from a Person from a Single Operation

Your initial reaction might be that an extreme liposuction would remove the largest amount of spare tissue from a human being. But surgical guidelines dictate that the most that can be liposuctioned from a patient during a procedure is five liters (roughly 11 pounds). After all, liposuction is meant to be more about cosmetic sculpting than a weight loss technique.

No, the most removed from a person was a tumor removal. It was performed in 1991 by Katherine O’Hanlan. The weight of this growth was a staggering 137 pounds, meaning that it had been well over a third of the patient’s total weight. It had grown on, of all things, one of the patient’s ovaries. Imagine what a relief it must have felt like after she recovered from having that removed!

6. Dramatic Weight Loss Time Lapse Video

There are doubtless some who feel it’s a sign of our narcissistic age, but it can be very pleasing and encouraging to watch progress videos of people committing to diets and exercise. One of the highest profile and most impressive was Hunter Hobbs, who in 12 weeks from January to April 2018, through a chicken, egg, and oatmeal diet and cardio exercise, shed 42 pounds while getting much better muscle definition, something Ross Edgley certainly never pulled off by dehydrating himself.

He was featured in such publications as People magazine, Mens Health, and even on The Today Show. If your reaction to that is, “Well, I think I could do that!” then that would be great! Please do! We all benefit when people make the effort to get in better shape.

5. Most Weight Lost for a Film Role

Of all the ways actors and actresses indulge in “method acting” (i.e. altering their lifestyles to closer reflect the parts they’re playing), the most attention-grabbing seems to be if they commit to changing their weight for a role. What more physical, tangible way to approach it could there be, short of getting a major organ removed?

Christian Bale is a particularly noted believer in this. He gained significant muscle mass to star in American Psycho and the Dark Knight films (Bale claims he put on 20 more pounds of muscle mass than Christopher Nolan wanted for Batman Begins). He was also willing to put on weight for American Hustle and to play Dick Cheney in the upcoming film Vice. On the other end of the spectrum, he shed 55 pounds to play starving prisoner of war Dieter Dengler for Rescue Dawn. But even that was completely overshadowed when he lost 65 pounds to play the dangerously skinny insomniac industrial worker Trevor Reznik in The Machinist. He was only eating an apple and a can of tuna each day for that part, and he is truly uncomfortable to look at when he takes his shirt off in that film. It’s enough to make you wonder if it’s really so much about the craft of acting, or just a disorder.

4. Most Weight Gained for a Film Role

Probably the most famous case of an actor putting on weight for a role is Robert De Niro gaining 56 pounds to transition between Jake LaMotta’s time as a champion boxer and when he had gone to seed in the 1980 classic Raging Bull. That record amount actually didn’t stand for very long. As early as 1986, Vincent D’Onofrio outdid him by gaining 70 pounds to play Pyle in Full Metal Jacket. Considering D’Onofrio had been a bouncer when he was cast, it seems odd that it would occur to someone to have him play the out-of-his-depth, bumbling recruit.

D’Onofrio found that while he was heavier, people wouldn’t just actively avoid him, but would tend to talk down to him. No doubt this contributed to his decision to not act in any films for a year until he lost all the weight. Unfortunately, he never seemed to get the acclaim for it that De Niro did. The audience doesn’t ever see a thinner Pyle in the movie, so the change in weight for the role couldn’t help but have less impact if the viewers couldn’t see that it wasn’t his usual shape.

3. Most Weight a Person had Placed on Them for a Sustained Time

For some variety, this is the story of a man who, in 2010, decided to go on Italian TV with a curious hook for setting a world record, to say nothing of an uncomfortable one. He would place 71 cement blocks and four people on himself, a combined weight of roughly 3,270 pounds. Eduardo Armallo Lasaga left the weight on for a prolonged period, as cement blocks were gradually placed across his body before the four people stepped on top of him for a five second count.

Watching the video, everyone who removes the weight is moving with considerable urgency, but it still took more than a minute for the many blocks to be removed. It’s little wonder that his vital signs were monitored the entire time he was undergoing his ordeal. It’s also a bit of a relief that he was able to stand under his own power right after he set his record.

2. Most Weight a Person has Ever Lifted

We’re going to stick with crazy achievements for these final two entries. Despite even 3,270 pounds being placed on a person sounding like enough to kill them, it’s actually considerably less than the most a human being has ever used only their physical strength to lift. The confirmed record was achieved by 32-year-old Gregg Ernst in 1993, while following all Guinness World Record requirements in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. The culmination of 15 years of intense strongman training, he lifted all of 5,340 pounds in the form of two Ford vehicles with drivers and passengers at a fair on a rainy night. His lifting method was a backlift, meaning that the weight was balanced across his back and shoulders.

As it happened, there was a bit of prolonged drama before he was given his honor. For 21 years, Guinness insisted that the actual record had been set by Olympic gold medalist Paul Anderson in 1954, with 6,270 pounds. It wasn’t until 2014 that Dr. Terry Todd consulted with the Stark Center - the people who were maintaining the records for strongman achievements. Or, as it happened, not really maintaining them, because it turned out Paul Anderson hadn’t provided a shred of evidence that he’d really lifted the largest amount of weight in human history. So it was easy to make the case that Gregg Ernst’s procedure-following lift was the real champion. A slip-up like that really should have been enough to call many Guinness records into question.

1. Most a Person has Lifted with Their Mouth

Let’s end this on a relatively light note. Now, we’ve all been told that it’s very bad to open any kind of bottle, bag, and so forth with our teeth. It’s not just bad for the gums; it’s the sort of activity that is prone to rub away the enamel. No one has defied that advice in such a flamboyant manner as Walter Arfeuille on March 31, 1990 in the city of Paris. He’d already made a name for himself, performing such stunts with his mouth as pulling a train car for three meters in 1981, a record which would stand for 22 years. But that time there had been the assistance of tracks.

For his later stunt, Arfeuille had nothing but sheer jaw strength to rely on as he lifted 281.7 kilograms in weights for a distance of 17 centimeters. That’s 621 pounds that he lifted two and three quarters of an inch, for those using the imperial system. It’s something where even the thought of training to try and beat his record will make some wince.

Top image credit: mojzagrebinfo/Pixabay.

[Source: Toptenz.]

Wednesday, 24 October 2018


The 10 Fastest Animals in the World
By Austin Thompson,
Mental Floss, 25 September 2018.

Though humans love to assign superlatives - smartest, fastest, strongest - to the creatures of the animal kingdom, those attributes are, in practice, pretty difficult to measure. There are stories of sailfish traveling at 68 mph, for example, but they date to the 1940s and '50s; since then, scientists have determined that anything faster than 33 mph is likely impossible and would lead to "destructive consequences for fin tissues." Old record breaking numbers might be inflated by everything from high wind speeds to inaccurate methodology - not to mention the difficulty of determining the top speed of animals that may or may not be going full out when measured, or the lack of measuring all animals all the time (which means that there still might be record breakers out there). But of the measurements that have been done - and with those caveats in mind - scientists have determined that these 10 creatures are good candidates for the fastest animals on Earth.

10. Quarter horse - 55 mph

Credit: werner22brigitte/Pixabay

At the lower end of the list there are several animals that run around the same speed. One of these is the quarter horse, which is generally faster than its more famous thoroughbred relatives - at least over short distances like a quarter mile. And the differences can be pronounced: One study found that over various races of various distances the quarter horse averaged 45 miles per hour, while the thoroughbred averaged only 35 mph - although the thoroughbred generally ran longer races. More impressively, the quarter horse was able to manage over 55 mph near the end of the race [PDF].

9. Springbok - 60 mph

Credit: Peter Thomas/Wikimedia Commons

According to recent research, the black wildebeest has unusual muscle fibers that allow it to run at high speeds for long distances. It's thought that the springbok - which is related to the wildebeest - may also have these fibers, which allows them to escape predators on the African Savannah.

8. Pronghorn - approximately 40-62 mph

Credit: Robb Hannawacker/Flickr

The pronghorn is frequently cited as the second fastest land animal on Earth, although many of those speed estimates are based on studies from the 1940s [PDF], when researchers proposed they could run at around 60 mph. Other observations have put pronghorns running almost seven miles in just 10 minutes, which works out to 40 mph.

7. Anna's hummingbird - 61 mph

Credit: Pat Durkin/Wikimedia Commons

This little critter can travel at 61 mph for short distances during mating dives. That fact alone is impressive, but this hummingbird is a good candidate for fastest vertebrate by body lengths per second. According to a 2009 paper, it can reach speeds of 385 body lengths per second (that figure doesn't factor in the avian's .59-inch bill; factoring that in reduces the speed to around 320 bl/s). By comparison, the space shuttle reentering the atmosphere travels at around 207 bl/s. For a blue whale to match this hummingbird's relative speed, it would have to circle the entire planet in about an hour.

6. Cheetah - 65 mph

Credit: DrZoltan/Pixabay

The top speed of a cheetah is extremely difficult to determine. One of the fastest reliable records was obtained by a conservationist and the cheetah he'd raised. He attached some meat behind his vehicle and took off, and the cat gave chase, clocking approximately 64 mph over the trials. Meanwhile, a cheetah from the Cincinnati Zoo managed 61 mph in 2012. But these numbers aren't indicative of wild cheetah speed: When scientists put GPS collars on wild cheetahs, they found that although one reached 59 mph, the average top speed was just 33 mph, because it's easier to maneuver at slower speeds.

5. Common swift - 70 mph

Credit: pau.artigas/Wikimedia Commons

Many sources claim that the fastest bird in level flight is the white-throated needletail, sometimes called the spine-tailed swift. But there's no evidence for the methodology behind determining the record, so it's rarely considered valid. So this spot belongs to another swift: One specimen of common swift was observed flying at almost 70 mph.

4. Gray-headed albatross - approximately 80 mph

Credit: Lieutenant Elizabeth Crapo/Wikimedia Commons

The official Guinness World Record for fastest bird in level flight, however, doesn't go to the common swift. It goes to the gray-headed albatross, specifically one gray-headed albatross that got caught in an Antarctic storm. The paper detailing this record holder explained that "typical air speed of small albatrosses flying with a tail wind is [20±9 miles per hour], that speed being relatively constant with increasing wind force" and noted that the bird seemed to have a 40 to 50 mph tailwind. Audubon summarized this as "the equivalent of avian steroids."

3. Hybomitra hinei wrighti - approximately 90 mph (we think)


According to an article published in Discover in 2000, an entomologist at the University of Florida attempted to recreate the mating behavior of the Hybomitra hinei wrighti horsefly. Males of this species chase and catch the females, and together they fall to the ground. To simulate this, the researcher fired a plastic pellet from an air rifle; the male horsefly chased the pellet, reaching speeds of at least 90 mph. Since then, little research has been done on the subject, and the result is noted as being "a noteworthy record" in "the unrefereed literature."

2. Brazilian free-tailed bats - 100 mph (maybe)


According to a 2016 paper, all seven of the Brazilian free-tailed bats [or Mexican free-tailed bats] studied traveled faster than 55 mph. Five hit almost 70 mph and one flew 100 miles per hour, making it potentially the fastest flying animal in the world. Some scientists that spoke to New Scientist were skeptical of the record, however, saying that the bats may have had gravity or wind assists, but the authors of the study expressed confidence in their results.

1. Peregrine falcon - 200+ mph

Credit: Jimmyc2023/Wikimedia Commons

It's often said that the peregrine falcon can fly around 200 mph, which isn't the entire story. In level flight, the peregrine falcon is usually thought to max out at 40 to 60 mph - fast, but not ridiculously so. It reaches its top speed by falling in a specialized hunting dive called a stoop.

(This may seem like a bit of a cheat - extreme human skydivers can go considerably faster, and if diving speed for all other creatures were counted, this list would be almost entirely birds. A paper published in 2001 [PDF] looked at several dive speeds of just passerine birds and found a barn swallow that dived at 117 mph, a yellow wagtail diving at 118, and a pied flycatcher diving at 120 mph.)

For years, there was suspicion of this top speed, and in the 1990s, some researchers pegged the birds at a more reasonable stoop speed of 90 miles per hour. It wasn't until the 2000s that a researcher began skydiving with a peregrine falcon. Together they were diving at speeds well in excess of 200 mph. But because this is a dive, the title of fastest animal on Earth is still open to debate.

Top image: Anna's Hummingbird. Credit: Robert McMorran/Wikimedia Commons.

[Source: Mental Floss. Images added.]

Saturday, 20 October 2018


10 Most Intriguing Atmospheric Events That Could Happen Near You
By Brian Molinari,
Listverse, 20 October 2018.

Atmospheric phenomena occur constantly and in many forms. From rain to tornadoes, the phenomena generated in the layers of air around and above us often affect our lives, whether for good or for bad. However, there are some atmospheric events that remain hidden for most people, being so exceptional that even science struggles to explain them.

Due to their peculiar characteristics, a large number of natural events occur in specific areas of the Earth, where conditions are propitious.[1] But many atmospheric phenomena - including the rarest of all - are capable of occurring anywhere on our planet, at any time. So, as expected, this list compiles some of the most amazing and least known processes in the sky that humankind has witnessed, directly for your consideration.

10. Positive Superbolts


Normal lightning can contain a billion volts. Now imagine a lightning bolt 1,000 times more powerful than normal ones. Well, there you have a basic idea of what a superbolt is, possibly the most powerful lightning on Earth. And just as it is one of the most powerful, it is also one of the rarest. After its discovery, it was stated that five superbolts occur for every 10 million instances of common lightning.

Superbolts were first detected in the 1970s, when satellites in orbit recorded big electric discharges on the Pacific Ocean. Superbolts are a kind of lightning that originates in storms with positive electric charges. This is already different from normal lightning, which is formed with negative charges. But the weirdest thing is that these discharges are so powerful that they last longer than ordinary lightning, causing the superbolts to contain a huge amount of energy.

For that reason, it is known that superbolts are highly destructive, capable of destroying any building that is not prepared for such a discharge.[2] In 2012, Oklahoma residents woke up early in the morning when they heard a thunderous sound that set off car alarms in their neighborhood. At first, they thought it was an earthquake, until authorities confirmed that the cause of the ground tremor was a superbolt.

9. Ocean-Sucking Hurricanes

Photo credit: @deejayeasya

In September 2017, the inhabitants of the Bahamas were surprised when they saw that the ocean in front of them had suddenly disappeared.[3] All that remained was kilometers of dry seabed, as far as the eye could see. A few days later, the same thing happened along the coasts of Florida, where the water unexpectedly began to recede.

The reason behind this strange event was Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded. In the eye, or the center of the storm, the atmospheric pressure was so low that the hurricane worked like a “vacuum cleaner” over the ocean. Thus, the storm absorbed seawater, accumulating it in its inner walls while it continued to advance. A small part of the ocean was dragged into the sky by the storm, and after a few days, the water was quickly returned to the seabed.

Hurricane Irma hasn’t been the only ocean-sucking storm. In fact, also in the Bahamas, another hurricane in 1936 sucked the adjacent oceanic area. The drying of the ocean floor really looks like a sign of an imminent tsunami. And although it is not, staying in that place for too long can be just as dangerous.

8. Crown Flashes

Let’s move to the state of Indiana to see another magnificent phenomenon. In June 2015, a small-time YouTuber was biking across the outskirts of Greenwood city. Suddenly, he saw in the sky what seemed to be a light between the clouds, moving from one place to another as if someone were there playing with a flashlight. The YouTuber, nicknamed QuadeM13, immediately recorded the event and uploaded it to the Web. Conspiracy theories did not take long to appear, but soon, everything was clarified with some scientific explanation.

The “dancing light” seen in the sky is actually a phenomenon known as a crown flash. Crown flashes are similar to another type of sky light called a sundog, the result of ice crystals in the air refracting sunlight. But unlike sundogs, crown flashes are dynamic lights which rotate and change their shape constantly. When lightning disturbs the electric field between the clouds, floating ice crystals realign with each discharge. As these crystals work as a “lens” that refracts sunlight, each time the crystals rotate, the beam of light also spins and moves, resulting in a crown flash.[4]

Crown flashes are extremely rare, although they can be generated in any thunderstorm. The first mention of this phenomenon dates back to 1885, but it is only in recent decades that we have been able to document crown flashes in visual media.

7. Meteors’ Bloody Rain

Photo credit: New World Encyclopedia

In Egypt, in the year 30 BC, there were “showers of blood mingled with water,” while “comets were observed in the heavens.” In AD 1017, a “comet” was seen in the sky of France for four months, and in the same year, “it rained blood.” In July 2001, red rain fell on Kerala in India, after locals reported having witnessed a meteor airburst in the sky.

As we can see, there are at least two points that these and similar stories have in common. On the one hand, the peculiar rains that fell on those occasions had an aspect like that of blood. And on the other hand, such rains were preceded by sightings of meteors or comets in the sky.

So in the first place, were those rains actually made of blood? Well, to date, it remains uncertain, but findings suggest that there is a correlation between such rains and living beings. Studies based on samples of the red rain from Kerala showed that the liquid contained traces of DNA. In turn, two scientists who participated in the research concluded that the total rain that fell that time contained about 50 metric tons of “biological cells.”[5]

Regarding whether the substance had an extraterrestrial origin, the cells are now believed to be from very terrestrial algae. Nevertheless, red rain has been touted as evidence in favor of the panspermia theory, which states that life on Earth originated in outer space.

6. Dry Microbursts

Photo credit: Brian Wangrud

Microbursts are a type of wind current with great strength and short duration. This wind current descends vertically from storm clouds. When it hits the ground, it expands in all directions at around 160 kilometers per hour (100 mph), with very destructive power. Microbursts are so harmful that many people who were victims of the phenomenon believed at first that they had been hit by a tornado.

Microbursts originate when large clouds, usually cumulonimbus, enter a dry and cold air mass. This causes the ice crystals in the clouds to melt and cool the surrounding air. When cooled, this air goes down to the surface at high speed, often accompanied by abundant rain. While this type of microburst, aptly called a wet microburst, is easier to locate by the rain it carries, there is another type of current more undetectable and therefore more lethal: a dry microburst.

Dry microbursts differ from other types in that the rain evaporates before reaching the ground, due to the warmer air of the surface. This makes the microburst just a column of air, without any rain. Such wind will be impossible to see, but it will have the same destructive power as the other type of microburst.

In recent decades, there have been numerous air accidents caused by microbursts, leaving a total of about 500 fatalities.[6] Unfortunately, our knowledge about the formation of microbursts is still limited, so it is difficult to predict when and where they will occur.

5. Meteotsunamis


We all know tsunamis, giant waves caused by seismic movements. But an earthquake is not the only thing capable of causing tsunamis. In fact, there is an atmospheric phenomenon with the capacity to cause very large and destructive waves, properly called meteotsunamis. These waves should not be confused with storm surges, another type of wind-driven water phenomenon.

Meteotsunamis are a rare type of natural force which occurs when severe storm fronts cause differences in air pressure over the bodies of water. For this reason, a large wave is generated, which will move at the same speed as the storm. When the wave reaches the coast, it slows down and grows in height. Once on shore, the meteotsunami continues moving forward and destroying everything in its path, resulting in fatalities on many occasions.

The biggest meteotsunami ever recorded occurred in 1929 in the state of Michigan. It was 6 meters (20 ft) tall and killed ten people. In July 2018, a meteotsunami 1.5 meters (5 ft) high hit the coasts of Majorca, off the coast of Spain. Although it would seem that a wave like that is not so dangerous, the truth is that a German tourist died after being dragged out to sea by the water. Given their characteristics, meteotsunamis can be generated anywhere in the world, and scientists still do not know exactly how to predict their formation.[7]

4. Antimatter Storms


From Star Trek to Angels and Demons, countless films and science fiction works use antimatter as a main element in their plots. And antimatter also exists in the real world, in the form of a substance with a charge opposite to that of ordinary matter. The result is that when antimatter touches regular matter, both substances disintegrate violently and release a large amount of gamma rays in the process. These antimatter explosions could become our most powerful energy source, but unfortunately, creating antimatter is very expensive. However, we now know that antimatter seems to be a very common substance, and it is not necessary to go to another planet to find it.

Scientists know that lightning releases significant amounts of gamma rays. So in 2015, a team from the University of Kyoto placed several gamma ray detectors on the coasts of their country. In February 2017, these devices detected a few bursts of gamma radiation after a lightning strike. The largest burst, one minute long, was produced by the disintegration of nitrogen atoms. After being hit by gamma rays, these atoms became unstable and released positrons - the antimatter equivalent of electrons. In other words, reactions in thunderstorms produce antimatter, and when it touches normal atoms, even more gamma rays are released.

Teruaki Enoto, who leads the project, said the following after the discovery: “We have this idea that antimatter is something that only exists in science fiction. Who knew that it could be passing right above our heads on a stormy day?”[8] We also know that thunderstorms do not form only in our world - lightning has been detected on planets like Jupiter, so antimatter could be more common than we thought.

3. Megacryometeors

Photo credit: WBBH-TV

Imagine you are walking your pet, and you hear a strange noise that makes you look up to the sky. You see a big block of ice come crashing to the ground, leaving a large crater. That is what happened to a resident of Cape Coral, Florida, in June 2017. The cause of the strange event was an unusual natural phenomenon with the fancy name of megacryometeor, although it is better known as “chunk of ice that falls from the sky.”

Megacryometeors are huge ice stones with the same chemical composition as hail, although they are different from the latter. Megacryometeors can weigh hundreds of kilograms, like an ice block of 200 kilograms (440 lb) that fell in Brazil. No storm in the world can create such large hailstones.

If this is not strange enough, megacryometeors usually fall under clear sky conditions.[9] After establishing that neither a storm nor an airplane produces these chunks of ice, scientists believe that megacryometeors are formed in the lower stratosphere, between 10 and 20 kilometers (6–12 mi) high. With low ozone levels, ice forms high in the atmosphere and grows as it falls. Over recent decades, a few dozen cases of megacryometeors have been reported worldwide. But the scary thing is that these ice stones can fall anywhere, at any time of the day.

2. Bright Nights

Photo credit: Reid Wiseman/NASA

Over the centuries, there have been times when the night sky was so bright that visibility was almost as good as during the day. In some cases, a person was able to read a book in the middle of the night or see objects hundreds of meters away, even without moonlight. For example, there are accounts from the first century BC about a “nocturnal sun” high in the sky. From the 18th to 20th centuries, stories about “bright nights” were repeated several times. Some theories have been proposed to explain these phenomena, from meteors to auroras, although none was sufficiently consistent with the records.

Now, scientists seem to have found the answer. During the day, ultraviolet radiation from the Sun decomposes the oxygen molecules present in the air of the atmosphere. But at night, hidden from sunlight, the oxygen atoms assemble again. By doing so, they release large amounts of energy in the form of particles called photons. The result is a green light in the sky, which can make the night sky to shine more than ten times above normal.[10]

Bright nights are a very strange phenomenon, representing only seven percent of the nights around the world. Old stories about bright nights are already few, and nowadays it is even more difficult than before to witness such events, due to the light pollution of big cities. Whoever is lucky enough to live in the right place will be able to see only one “bright night” per year.

1. Little Black Holes

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Ball lightning is one of the most mysterious atmospheric phenomena for science. Although more than 10,000 instances of ball lightning have reportedly been seen around the world, scientists still cannot agree on what this phenomenon is. Most events have been reported as luminous spheres that move at ground level and disappear after a few seconds. Explanations for this phenomenon range from simple hallucinations to antimatter meteorites, none unanimously accepted. If you think that is already weird, well, it is about to get weirder. One theory states that ball lightning is actually black holes.

Mario Rabinowitz, from Stanford University, presented a report in 2001 about ball lightning being little black holes (LBHs). While a cosmic black hole has a huge diameter and the mass of many stars, an LBH has a subatomic diameter and a small mass, though it’s enough to emit radiation. When the LBH enters the Earth’s atmosphere, its stored energy is expelled in the form of radiation, ionizing the surrounding air and turning it into plasma. This is what gives ball lightning its luminous appearance. However, the LBH reaches a point where it loses too much energy to continue existing, vanishing with a violent explosion.[11]

Although this theory may seem a little far-fetched, many sightings are certainly consistent with its arguments. For example, we have a case that occurred in North Wales in 1992. An orb of ball lightning hit an oak tree and exploded, tearing the tree to pieces. The eyewitness to the event said that the ball lightning released “waves of lightning” in all directions while disappearing. This description is similar to the way plasma manifests in our atmosphere.

So, if you ever get to see ball lightning in person, remember how lucky (or maybe doomed) you are: There might be a little black hole right in front of you.

Top image: Antimatter bursts released by thunderstorms. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

[Source: Listverse. Top image added.]


The 5 Biggest Cybersecurity Threats of 2019 Revealed
By Luke James,
Make Use Of, 11 October 2018.

Over the last few years, we have seen cyberattacks occurring with increased frequency, complexity, and against bigger targets. The threats that we face from hackers, viruses, malware, and data breaches are not going away - they’re evolving, and there’s far more to come as we approach 2019.

As cybersecurity professionals and companies all around the world prepare for another year of security breaches and stolen data, it is important that you make yourself aware of the latest security threats so that you can protect yourself.

Here are the five biggest cybersecurity threats to be aware of in the coming year ahead.

1. Ransomware

Image credit: jaydeep_/Pixabay

Ransomware has, by far, been the key threat to cybersecurity for the last couple of years. It is going to be just as much, if not more, of a problem for years to come, and is showing no signs of slowing down.

But why is it so popular among cyber criminals?

To put it simply, ransomware has the potential of delivering huge returns - we are talking thousands upon thousands of dollars - when successful. Given that its execution requires very little effort in terms of work, it is a firm favorite among cyber criminals.

Ransomware works by taking control of a computer or network of computers and inhibiting their use (unless a ransom is paid) by completely locking the end-user out. By doing this, cyber attackers can extort eye-watering sums of money from their victims with ease.

What’s more, the widespread adoption and use of cryptocurrency and Internet of Things (IoT) devices have made ransomware even more popular. The anonymity associated with cryptocurrency and the fact that transactions cannot be traced, mean that there are more devices that can be hijacked.

2. Phishing Attacks

Image credit: teguhjatipras/Pixabay

Another cybersecurity nightmare which has been around since the dawn of the internet is phishing attacks. It is a simple form of attack which is designed to steal personal information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details. Stats compiled by Barkly reveal that 2017 saw phishing attacks on domestic and business users increase, and there’s every reason to expect this pattern to continue.

Often, phishing attacks appear to come from trusted sources such as your banking provider or a website you regularly use. Once you reply to a phishing email or follow its instructions, the information is sent straight to its malicious source. They can then use this information to make purchases among other things.

Most people who use the internet will come across an attempted phishing attack at least once - after all, they commonly come in the form of spam emails - so it is only vigilance and caution which can prevent you from falling victim to one. Common sense is often enough.

3. Botnets

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Using a complicated and powerful network of compromised machines, Botnets are remotely controlled by cyber attackers. They execute large-scale attacks which, in extreme cases, can involve millions of unwilling computers and systems.

Hackers use botnet attacks to carry out distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, perform brute force attacks, send spam, and steal personal information and sensitive data. DDoS attacks can happen at any time, although research from Kaspersky reveals the period around Black Friday is particularly attractive for hackers.

Botnets are increasingly being used by cyber attackers due to the sheer power that they afford. Also, because more and more people are using internet-enabled systems each day, there are more devices that can be compromised and controlled.

Your best defense against botnets is to ensure that your machine does not become compromised by viruses and worms. It is usually the case that people are unaware that their machine has been infected until it is too late. As such,  performing regular scans with robust and up-to-date antivirus software is a must.

It only takes one malicious email or download to infect your machine.

4. Computer Viruses and Worms

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Although they have been around since the birth of the internet and may even pre-date you, you should not underestimate the destructive power of simple computer viruses and worms. They are becoming ever-more problematic, often deployed in files such as spreadsheets and documents, lying dormant until activated.

Files which are infected with viruses infect the machine when opened. Worms, on the other hand, spread throughout your machine and begin replicating so that they can infect all your files. As the basic foundations upon which more advanced cybersecurity threats are built, viruses and worms are serious problems.

Because of the way we use computers and our reasons for doing so, viruses and worms are becoming more dangerous. Often, they seek to steal personal and financial information for identity theft and financial fraud. Again, by using updated and robust antivirus solutions, you can keep yourself protected.

5. Cryptocurrency Hijacking

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If you have found yourself caught in the current cryptocurrency hype and have decided to invest in some, cryptocurrency hijacking - more commonly known as “cryptojacking” - is something which you need to know about.

You are more likely to be targeted by cyber attackers by demonstrating an interest in cryptocurrency. However, anybody can be a victim of cryptojacking - you need not dabble in it to be a target.

Cryptojacking works by infecting a victim’s computer with a virus which utilizes hardware resources such as processors to mine for cryptocurrency. Not only does this massively slow down and impact the overall performance of the victim’s computer, but it also provides the attacker with a passive financial benefit.

In fact, in 2018 it transpired that cryptocurrency-related crime is now more lucrative than ransomware. This looks set to increase in 2019.

The Overall Security Outlook for 2019

2019 is destined to be yet another year where cyber attacks grow in prominence. They will occur more frequently, on a higher scale, and use new technologies, exploits, and developments to do so. The bottom line is that more people around the world are now using the internet, and cyber criminals understand this. Naturally, they recognize that there is a higher potential for illicit gains and set off in pursuit of them.

It is not really the threats which are changing, though - ransomware, phishing attacks, and malware still top the list of common cybersecurity threats - it is more a case of there being more for cyber attackers to gain through the growth of the internet and the careless use of a growing number of devices. As a result, more of them are crawling out of the woodwork.

As has always been the case, your greatest defense against cyber crime is knowledge, vigilance and good antivirus software. Not sure what security software to use? See our list of the best antivirus tools for some suggestions.

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[Source: Make Use Of. Some images added.]