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How many stations does Australia have in Antarctica?

19 Mar

I have a bit of a thing for Antarctica. I’ve always wanted to go and always will want to go, even with the lack of reception my mobile phone would be sure to have.

I’m not sure what first sparked this interest. Perhaps it’s the fact that heat makes me so very unreasonable grumpy while cold weather gives me an excuse (like I need one) to drink copious amount of hot chocolate. Then there’s the fact you can see penguins and don’t have to worry about being eaten by a polar bear. It’s also the setting for one of my favourite books – Ice Station by Matthew Reilly.

Anyway, my hunger to go was made all the worse earlier this year when my parents embarked on my – and to be fair their – trip of a lifetime down south, spending weeks on end exploring the southernmost reaches of our planet.

I asked them to bring back a penguin but instead got Gucci’s new Envy perfume, which I imagine tastes far less palatable roasted over an open flame. But on a serious note they did manage to fulfil one of my bucket list items – to visit one of the permanent stations. And the stories they bought back only made me want to learn more. Here’s what I discovered.

The Australian Antarctic Division maintains four permanent research stations, which are occupied year-round by scientists and support staff. They are:

* Mawson (Antarctic continent)
* Casey (Antarctic continent)
* Davis (Antarctic continent)
* Macquarie Island (subantarctic)

You can read more about them here, with information ranging from webcams and science overviews to cultural heritage and information on station facilities. But I found the write-ups so fascinating I had to share one. Here goes…


“About 150-160 expeditioners, including Wilkins Aerodrome ground crew, visit Casey  during the summer. About 16-20 remain on station over winter.

Living at Casey is very comfortable and has often been compared to ski lodges, with the odd exceptions. The local ‘supermarket’ is substituted by a walk in cupboard called “Woolies”, where all expeditioners can browse the shelves for soap, linen etc. in a cashless society.

When blizzard days inhibit fieldwork, the main living area (the Red Shed) has indoor climbing, a home theatre, gym, photographic dark room, library and many communal sitting areas for expeditioners to pass the time.

Casey living is very communal and all expeditioners contribute to the day-to-day running of the station. Rosters are set up for Saturday duties that may include vacuuming the living area, shovelling snow, cleaning the cold porches etc. Expeditioners are rostered on to help the chef out in the kitchen (“Slushy duty”) to help feed the station.

Expeditioners have private bedrooms and share a bathroom between three people. Before the summer melt, water is scarce and therefore all expeditioners are limited to two-minute showers every second day.

Casey living is also very social after work and on days off. Every Saturday night expeditioners dress up for dinner and occasionally a theme night will be organised – with very adventurous costumes! The Casey bar “Splinters” is often occupied after work and on weekends with expeditioners playing pool and darts and drinking the home brewed beer.

Casey also boasts a special hydroponics building, which we use to grow lettuce, green vegetables, tomatoes and fresh herbs. These are welcome additions to our winter diet.”

Wow, sounds amazing, doesn’t it? And I would love nothing more than to spend six months living and working there. But sadly sarcasm, a comprehensive knowledge of power ballads and a liking for D-grade monster movies don’t seem to appear anywhere on the list of preferred candidate attributes. As Homer J Simpson would say: “D’oh”.

Do crocodiles really shed tears?

2 Mar

I finally got around to doing something today that has been on my checklist forever. And that’s buy the book version of the Hunger Games.

I don’t know why I waited so long as I know for a fact I’m going to love it. But at least now the plot will be fresh in my mind when the movie opens in a few weeks.

Anyway, I never go to a bookstore for just one book – I always emerge with a bag full. And while browsing the specials rack today, my eye fell on a title I immediately knew I had to have – Know It All from DK Books, which offers facts, stats, lists, records and more.

Now, I’m interested in random information at the best of times, and this year-long knowledge quest I’m on has only heightened my curiosity. So I decided that for today, I would open up a random page and find an interesting fact. And luckily I have good aim.

It was only on the news today that police fear a woman in the Northern Territory has been taken by a croc. So how appropriate the spread I turned to had information on whether crocodile tears are real. Here’s what the book said …

“If you shed ‘crocodile tears’ people think you are faking it. That’s because crocodiles ‘cry’ while they are eating their victims. But it’s not because they are feeling remorse; as they swallow down great lumps of meat, their jaw muscles expand and contract. The pressure created by the moving muscles squeezes tears out of the crocodile’s tear glands.’

In short – real tears, no sorrow. No wonder they say you should never smile at a crocodile. And now a few pieces of FYI . . .

* A crocodile can hold its breath underwater for an average 10-15 minutes 
* It can swim up to 30km/h
* It has roughly 68 teeth, which are constantly falling out and being replaced

Now let’s finish with a chorus of Crocodile Rock. The cool version from the Gnomeo & Juliette soundtrack.

Did the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs really hit the moon as well?

24 Feb

Jurassic Fight Club. Just the name alone was enough to draw me in. But this turned out not to be the documentary I expected.

The name, of course, suggested a program of celebrity death matches such as raptor versus T-Rex and allosaurus versus triceratops.

But it actually featured scientists, historians and other related experts recreating the last day on Earth before a meteor wiped out the dinosaurs (and pretty much all other life as well) some 65 million years ago.

Much of it I already knew. But what I did learn – having never really given it much thought before – was the origin of this Baptistina meteor. And turns out it tracks back to a collision between two massive rocks in the asteroid belt nearly 100 million years ago. It sent one of them towards Earth, where it struck Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and wiped out life on earth as we knew it.

But that wasn’t the only victim. Turns out other fragments also struck the Moon, Venus and Mars, leaving them with massive craters. A fascinating glimpse into the history of the skies above. And you can read more here.