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cover of May 30, 2015 issue

Douglas Fox's Articles

  • Mystery microbes of the sea

    Biologists find archaea a true curiosity. They make up one of life’s three main branches. The two better known branches are bacteria and eukaryotes (u KARE ee oatz). That last branch includes animals, plants and fungi. But archaea have remained mysterious. Very little is known about them. In fact, their unique status wasn’t even recognized until relatively recently, in 1977.
  • Mud worth more than gold

    Reed Scherer and Ross Powell have studied mud from all over the world. It is different in each place. Mud from the Sulu Sea near Borneo is as smooth as cream cheese. Mud from Chesapeake Bay, in the mid-Atlantic United States, clings to your skin like peanut butter.
  • Explainer: Antarctica, land of lakes

    Antarctica’s ice isn’t stuck tight, frozen onto the continent like frigid glue. In many places, liquid water sits between the ice and the ground beneath it. This water forms because heat seeping from inside the Earth gradually melts away the bottom of the ice sheet. Layers of water, thinner than a few stacked coins, melt off of the bottom of the ice each year. This water collects in low places, forming lakes. The water flows from one lake to another. Eventually it empties into the ocean.

  • Watching our seas rise

    Visit the beach on a hot afternoon and you may not realize it, but someone — or rather something — is watching from above. If you stand in the right place, the silent watcher’s invisible spotlight will pass right over you, like the spotlight of a police helicopter flitting overhead.

    That aerial observer zooming over your head is the Jason-2 satellite. It flies 1,340 kilometers (832 miles) high — as far above the ground as New York City is from Chicago. It travels 25,000 kilometers per hour, 27 times as fast as a commercial jet. And it circles Earth a little over 12 times a day.

  • A ghost lake


    The deserts of northwest Utah are wide and flat and dusty. As our car zooms along Highway 80, we see only a few green plants — and one of those is a plastic Christmas tree that someone stood up by the road as a joke.

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