Stuff YOU Should Know

Posted by on Aug 3, 2017 in Stuff You Should Know

A New Continent?

Can you name all seven continents? Get ready to add an eighth one to the list: Zealandia. It’s a 1.9 million square mile landmass located southeast of New Zealand and northeast of Australia. But don’t bother getting out your map to look for it: Zealandia is located almost entirely underwater.

Aerial view of the reef and islands of the Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia Credit: Chantal Ferraro/ Flickr RF/Getty Images

There may be new land in discovery in the Australia/Oceania region.
Credit: Chantal Ferraro/ Flickr RF/Getty Images

Scientists believe that Zealandia was part of Australia until about 75 million years ago, when it broke off and drifted away. Then, about 53 million years ago, it stopped moving and became submerged. Today, roughly 94 percent of it exists underwater. Scientists have been studying it for the past twenty years, but not in any in-depth way, and it remains largely unexplored. Last week, however, a two month-long expedition was sent to the area with drilling equipment so that scientists can collect sediment from Zealandia to help them figure out how it formed and what happened to it over time. This information can be vital to people hoping to learn about global oceanic changes.

The debate continues over whether or not to classify Zealandia as an actual continent. Most scientists argue that Zealandia meets all of the necessary criteria. If that happens, then it’s time for us to get used to listing eight continents instead of seven.

Dig Deeper Using an atlas or globe and the information you have learned from this article, pinpoint where you think Zealandia is located. What ocean is it beneath? Can you make any guesses about what its topography may be like based on what you know of the surrounding continents?

Iran Launches Missile

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about North Korea, but relations between the United States and Iran continue to worsen as well. Last Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill that would impose additional economic sanctions against Iran, Russia, and North Korea. Two days later, on Thursday, Iran responded by launched a missile into space. The missile is known as a Simorgh, or Phoenix, missile. It can put objects weighing up to 550 pounds into orbit 310 miles above the ground.

Technically, Iran is not prohibited from launching these kinds of missiles. A 2015 nuclear agreement signed by the U.S. and Iran (as well as Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia) says only that Iran has to limit its nuclear program to peaceful purposes. Iran denies that this latest missile is designed to carry nuclear warheads. Although President Trump has spoken out against the UN nuclear deal, he does not have the support of the other member nations when doing so, meaning that if the U.S. were to pull out of the agreement, it would do so alone. Plus, the International Atomic Energy Agency of the United Nations has repeatedly found that Iran is technically holding up its end of the agreement.

Nevertheless, the U.S. government decided to impose additional sanctions against Iran (as well as the other two nations) for threatening regional peace through missile development, software theft, and weapons procurement. After Thursday’s missile launch, Britain, France, and Germany all joined the United States in condemning the test and saying that it violated the agreed-upon nuclear deal. After passing in the House, the sanctions bill will now go to the U.S. Senate for a vote. If it is approved, the bill will freeze any assets that Iran has in the U.S. and prohibit Americans from doing business with them.

What Do You Think? Although the UN has found Iran to be technically meeting the specific terms of the nuclear agreement, the Trump administration has accused Iran of not obeying the “spirit” of the agreement. Which side do you agree with? Explain your position.

Science vs. Religion on Hawaii’s Big Island

What happens when scientists want to develop an amazing new technology, but the place where they want to do it is considered by some groups to be sacred land? That’s exactly the situation in Hawaii right now, where scientists are trying to gain permits to begin building the largest telescope in the northern hemisphere on Mauna Kea, a sacred place in Hawaiian religion and culture.

Mauna Kea, located on the Big Island, is Hawaii’s tallest mountain. Already, several smaller telescopes have been built on top of it. But the new telescope, which will cost $1.4 billion, will be eighteen stories high: the biggest building on the island. It’s called the Thirty Meter Telescope because its primary mirror is 30 meters (about 100 feet) in diameter. Because of its impressive size, it will allow scientists to study distant galaxies in even more detail than they could with the Hubble Space Telescope.

On the other hand, however, Mauna Kea is a special conservation district because of its religious and cultural significance. Opponents of the project are also concerned about the telescope’s environmental impact. Groundbreaking was supposed to begin in 2015, but a group of protestors calling themselves the “guardians of the mountain” blocked construction traffic from getting through. Since then, the project has been mired in legal battles. Last Wednesday, a judge recommended that the Hawaiian Board of Land and Natural Resources issue a new building permit for the project: a victory for the astronomers. However, this was only the first of many legal hurdles that will need to be overcome if the telescope is to be built on Mauna Kea. If this proves impossible, scientists say they will build the telescope in the Canary Islands instead.

What Do You Think? Do you think it’s possible for astronomy and spirituality to coexist on Mauna Kea? Why or why not? Remember to be sensitive as you explain your answer.

Bitcoin Splits!

In case you haven’t heard of it, Bitcoin is a form of digital currency. It was created in 2009 by an unknown coder (or multiple coders) using an alias. Bitcoin transactions are made between the buyer and seller directly, with no banks involved. There are no transaction fees, and both buyers and sellers can remain anonymous. Moreover, Bitcoin is largely unregulated by any government, which means it is a cheaper way to perform international transactions. People can send them to each other digitally, or you can earn them by solving complex mathematical puzzles. At the moment, one Bitcoin is valued at roughly $2755 USD.

Earlier this week, Bitcoin split into two: Bitcoin, and the new Bitcoin Cash. If this sounds confusing, that’s because it is. Users will have double the cryptocurrency now, but how they can spend it depends on how they store it (in a digital wallet or in another platform). Some Bitcoin-storage services say they won’t recognize the new currency. The reason for the split was so that the Bitcoin network could support more transactions per second. But how much the new Bitcoin Cash will be worth depends on how many investors and users switch over to it from the traditional Bitcoin. It’s estimated that one unit of Bitcoin Cash will equal about $300 USD, which is about one-tenth the value of one Bitcoin. It remains to be seen whether or not enough people will invest in Bitcoin Cash for it to survive.

What Do You Think? Would you use (or have you ever used) a digital cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin or Bitcoin Cash, to make purchases? Why or why not? What are some of the advantages of such a system? What are the potential drawbacks?