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FLOTSAM: Flashers

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350457.  Mon Jun 02, 2008 7:20 am Reply with quote

Question: Where would you find the world’s biggest flasher?

Forfeit: None

Answer: Taningia danae, a species of squid, is the largest creature to use bioluminescence, however an even bigger flasher is the lightning show in Venezuela at the mouth of the Catatumba River.

Squids are the biggest flashers in the world, well, one of them is. Taningia danae, the Dana Octopus Squid is the largest creature to use bioluminescence - it is found in the North Atlantic. Dana is an agressive predator which uses the light to disorientate potential victims, she gets her name from the ship used by famous Danish biologist Aage Taaning. It is thought that the 7 foot long cephalopod may also use the light as a defense mechanism, as a rudimentary communication device and in courtship rituals.

Bioluminescence is one of those horrible words that comes from both Greek and Latin roots (bios is Greek for living and lumen is Latin for light) it is generally the result of a symbiotic relationship between a host and bacteria that create light-creating chemical reactions. It is estimated that up to 90% of marine life make some use of the phenomenon.

Another answer to the "biggest flasher" is the lightning show in Venezuela at the mouth of the Catatumba River. At this particular spot, you can see lightning arcing from cloud to cloud, for around 140 nights of the year – for 10 hours a night, and for up to 280 times an hour. The phenomenon, known as the Maracaibo Lighthouse (after the lake into which the river drains) has been happening since at least the 16th century, and while there is no consensus as to its cause, it is probably down to cold winds descending from the freezing Andean highlands meeting hot, humid air evaporating from the lake. But it’s not just the beauty of this phenomenon that is important; lightning produces ozone which helps to plug the hole in the ozone layer; the Maracaibo Lighthouse is thought to be the single greatest generator of ozone in the world.

The Met Office locates lightning strikes by tracking the radio waves that are emitted by each flash; these waves propagate in all directions like ripples from a stone dropped in a pond; like fingerprints, almost every wave has a shape unique to that flash. For some reason, Manchester and its environs seem to be the British lightning capital; in the 90s, the Stockport area averaged 17.5 days of lightning per year.

The Aurora Borealis, caused by the collision of charged particles in the Earth’s atmosphere, can be seen as far south as Rome if conditions are favourable and after a particularly strong magnetic storm, as there was in 1859 when a large solar flare meant that the lights were visible across the UK and US. The Southern Hemisphere version of the effect is known as the Aurora Australis

Further sources:
wik "Aurora"

Picture Ideas:
Picture researchers, can we find a pic of Taningia danae?
A pic of a dirty old man in an anorak for the Q


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