Nature

Men artists: Naoki Onogawa

Tokyo-based artist Naoki Onogawa folds hundreds of tiny cranes (no bigger than a centimeter each) by hand, then attaches them to branching wire forms. The results look like bonsai trees—bonsai trees with birds for leaves.

Onogawa started making the sculptures after visiting the site of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. He felt terrified by our powerlessness over nature when he saw 1,000 paper cranes at the site of a ruined school building. Amazingly, he also felt "empowered by the power of life ... that shined so brightly in the aftermath" of the disaster. This inspired him to create his own art with origami cranes.

Cherry blossom season

Cherry blossom season is known for attracting tourists to any city that has these ornamental cherry trees. More than 1.5 million people visit Washington, D.C each year for its National Cherry Blossom Festival, and Japan also experiences an influx of millions of tourists when the trees begin to bloom in March.

Did you know:

A walk in the park

Nature provides a place of inspiration, reflection and healing. Studies show that nature has the ability to affect the mind, body, and spirit positively.

The health benefits for kids are astounding: outdoor activities improve distance vision, increase physical fitness, reduce attention deficits and hyperactivity, and raise test scores.

Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing is the act of walking and spending time in forests. It is a well known form of preventive health care in Japan. In Scandinavian countries, the essence of spending time outdoors is summed up in the word friluftsliv (free-loofts-liv), translating to “open air life.” These views show that life can be improved by spending time in forests.

Since most people now live in urban areas, green spaces are becoming essential to our health and well-being. Just taking a 30-minute walk along a path lined with trees is physically and psychologically beneficial.

Son Doong—the world's largest cave

Son Doong ("Mountain river") cave in Vietnam is the largest cave in the world. It was discovered first in 1991 by a local farmer, then in 2009 British explorers relocated it with the farmer's help. About 9km (5.5mi) long, with a rushing river and caverns that could hold an entire New York City block with 40-floor skyscrapers, it's more than twice the size of the largest previously known cave, Deer Cave in Malaysia. Just imagine—a Boeing 747 jet plane could fly through some areas without the wingtips touching either side!

Even more incredible is the rainforest that has grown beneath a place where the limestone ceiling collapsed. Vegetation, insects, birds, and other animals (including tigers!) all live in this miniature forest. Elsewhere, there are "cave pearls" the size of baseballs, stalagmites 70m (230ft) high, and even a sandy beach.

Tardigrades

Tardigrades (TAHR-di-greyds), often called water bears, are near-microscopic animals with long, plump bodies. They have eight legs, with four to eight claws on each. While strangely cute, these tiny animals are almost indestructible.

Water bears can live in just about any type of water body. They prefer to live in sediment at the bottom of a lake, on moist pieces of moss or other wet environments. They can also survive a wide range of temperatures and situations. 

Researchers have found that tardigrades can withstand environments as cold as -200˚C (-328°F) or highs of more than 149˚C (300°F). They can also survive radiation, boiling liquids, massive amounts of pressure (up to six times the pressure of the deepest part of the ocean), and even the vacuum of space, without any protection. A 2008 study found that some species of tardigrade could survive 10 days at low Earth orbit while being exposed to space vacuum and radiation. 

Gazing at satellites

When I was a kid, my father would drag us out of bed in the wee hours of the morning to watch a rocket launch, on our fuzzy little 9" black-and-white TV. They were momentous occasions. When I was 7, the Apollo 11 mission took us to the moon. I saw that happen! It was awesome.

For years after that, my father would point out satellites as they traveled across the night sky. It was amazing to see them out there. But that was about 50 years ago. Today there are so many satellites that you almost always see one. And with the new mega-satellite arrays being developed, that number is going to explode. SpaceX alone plans to launch more than 30,000 in the near future. While this will make huge advances possible in various technologies, it will also add to a new problem—satellite pollution. 

The Enchanted Forest

Hidden on the north coast of California is a stand of very unusual redwood trees. Salty winds off the ocean break the trunks, but the trees keep on growing. New branches grow straight up from the broken trunk. Since the trunk is tipped over on its side, the tree ends up looking like a candelabra. After generations of this cycle, the trees have become twisted into fantastical shapes.

Redwood conservationists say they've never seen anything like it anywhere else. It's become known as the Enchanted Forest. Thankfully, the twisted trunks and branches have saved the trees from being cut down. Lumber companies need tall, straight trunks, so even though the old-growth forests around them have been destroyed by logging, the Enchanted Forest remains.

The Himalayas—taller every year

The Himalayan mountain range is nearly 25 million years old, yet it is one of the youngest mountain ranges in the world. It was formed as a result of the collision of two tectonic plates over millions of years. The Indo-Australian plate is presently colliding against the Eurasian plate at a speed of 67 millimetres per year, which means that the Himalayan mountains, the tallest in the world, are getting even taller.

The Himalayas were named by joining two Sanskrit words that mean “Abode of Snow.” People in Nepal call Mount Everest Sagarmatha, which means “Goddess of the Universe.” Mount Everest derived its English name in honour of Sir George Everest, a 19th-century Surveyor General of India.

Visuals: Nature Magazine evolves

Nature Magazine is one of the world’s most important international weekly scientific journals. According to its website, it publishes “peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology on the basis of its originality, importance, interdisciplinary interest, timeliness, accessibility, elegance and surprising conclusions.”

The first issue was published in 1869. Since then, the magazine has changed quite a bit. Have a look at the graph below and discuss with your teacher how the content has evolved over the past 150 years.

 

Urban birdwatching

Birdwatching is a popular pastime across the globe. Some people take it very seriously, buying expensive gear and traveling all over the world to see rare birds. Most people, though, just have a good pair of binoculars and stay closer to home. 

But what if your home is a big city? What birds can you see in a city besides really common ones, like pigeons or crows, that are often pests and boring to watch?

I thought that way until I watched a film called, Birders: The Central Park Effect. The lake in the middle of Central Park is the only large body of water for miles on that migration route, so flocks of birds use it as a stopover. You can see birds there—in the middle of a huge, busy city—that you'd normally only see in the wild. And even in winter and summer, between migrations, there are lots of different species to see.