Northern Lights spectacle

Over the past week, the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, have been visible in unusual locations across Europe and North America. These celestial lights are often limited to northern most territories and high-latitude regions. However, a massive G5 level geomagnetic storm event in space made it possible for the lights to be seen farther south. The Southern Lights, similar to the Northern Lights, were also seen in New Zealand due to its location near the southern pole.

For many travellers, seeing the Northern Lights is often at the top of the bucket-list. So, they visit places such as Iceland, Sweden, Norway, and Alaska from different parts of the world. However, there is no guarantee of catching a glimpse of the magnificent lights, even during peak seasons. Fortunately, according to experts, 2024 is the best year to enjoy the unforgettable light show. 


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 (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.

Do trees talk to each other?

People generally think of trees as disconnected loners, competing for water, nutrients, and sunlight, with winners shading out losers and sucking them dry. But evidence to the contrary is coming to light. Forest trees are, in fact, cooperative and live in interdependent relationships maintained by communication and collective intelligence similar to an insect colony.

Unlike other organisms, most of the communication between trees happens underground, through a system known as the “Wood Wide Web”. “[Trees] in every forest that is not too damaged”, explains Peter Wohlleben, a German forester and author, “are connected to each other through underground fungal networks. Trees share water and nutrients through the networks, and also use them to communicate. They send distress signals about drought and disease, for example, or insect attacks, and other trees alter their behaviour when they receive these messages.”

How humanity nearly went extinct

According to NPR, around the year 70,000 B.C., a volcano called Toba on Sumatra Island in Indonesia, erupted, blowing about a thousand kilometres of vaporized rock into the air. It is by far the largest volcanic eruption we know of.

That eruption dropped roughly six centimeters of ash over all of South Asia, the Indian Ocean, the Arabian and South China Sea. With so much ash, dust and vapor in the air, science writer Sam Kean says Toba "dimmed the sun for six years, disrupted seasonal rains, choked off streams and scattered whole cubic miles of hot ash (imagine wading through a giant ashtray) across acres and acres of plants." Berries, fruits, trees, African game became rare. Early humans, living in East Africa just across the Indian Ocean from Mount Toba, probably starved, or at least, he says, "It's not hard to imagine the population plummeting."

Earth's new ocean

According to the National Geographic Society, Earth now has a new ocean: the Southern Ocean.

Geographers have debated whether the waters around Antarctica had enough unique characteristics to deserve their own name, or whether they were simply cold, southern extensions of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans. 

With a range stretching the circumference of Antarctica to the 60-degrees South latitudinal line, the Southern Ocean “encompasses unique and fragile marine ecosystems that are home to wonderful marine life such as whales, penguins, and seals,” explains National Geographic’s Enric Sala. The region includes such creatures as migrating humpback whales and many different seabirds.

A peak experience

The idea of "peak experiences" was created by psychologist Abraham Maslow in the mid-20th century. Such experiences inspire feelings of intense happiness. They are said to give you a sense that you're one with all of creation.

I've had a few peak experiences. The one I think about the most happened about 20 years ago. At the time I lived in the southwest desert of the United States. About an hour from our home was a small lake called Whitewater Draw where tens of thousands of Sandhill cranes spend the winter. Sandhill cranes are the oldest living bird species, going back at least 2.5 million years. I used to go visit them every year.

Rare giraffes come under threat

According to National Geographic, the remains of two white giraffes were found in a nature conservancy in northeastern Kenya. The giraffes likely had a rare genetic condition called leucism, which inhibits skin cells from producing pigment. It is believed that they were killed by poachers.

The animals had been well-known since 2017, after rangers spotted them in the conservancy and posted a video to YouTube, which then went viral.

This highlights a modern-day paradox: social media allows people to experience the joy and wonder of the planet’s rarest creatures while simultaneously putting animals at increased risk. Rarity and exclusivity are among the driving factors of the illegal wildlife trade, so unusual animals are more likely to be targeted by poachers.

National Geographic concluded that navigating how to report on unique animals without helping to put a target on their backs is a delicate process. 

The Kumano Kodo pilgrimage

An ancient pilgrimage trail winds through the mountains of Japan’s Kii Peninsula, a densely forested region south of Osaka and Kyoto. It is the Kumano Kodo, a sacred passage of immense natural beauty that has been in use since the 10th century. There are early recorded visits to this region by Emperor Uda (907) and Emperor Kazan (986 and 987) but the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage became more broadly popular in the 11th century. 

The pilgrimage centers around the Three Grand Shrines: Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Nachi Taisha, and Kumano Hayatama Taisha. With steep inclines, long stretches of trail without a place to rest, and venomous snakes, it is not a hike for the faint-hearted. Early pilgrims did the arduous trek in crude wooden or straw sandals and kimonos. Many perished on the journey and along the trail are countless Jizo statues dedicated to those who died on the pilgrimage. 

Coral reefs in danger

A steep decline in coral cover right across the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Queensland, Australia, is a phenomenon that “has not been observed in the historical record”, a new report by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) says.

 “The predicted consequences of climate change include more powerful storms and more frequent and more intense bleaching events. Reefs in the northern section have lost about half their coral cover. The central section also sustained significant coral loss”. Total coral cover decreased from 22% in 2016 to 14% in 2018.

“It is unprecedented that all three regions of the [reef] have declined and that many reefs now have very low coral cover. More frequent disturbances, each causing greater damage to reefs, combined with slower rates of recovery will inevitably lead to less living coral on reefs.”