Unbelievable Real Life

Unbelievable Real Life: The Crystal Cave of Giants

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

My husband and I love caves. I’ve been to the Mammoth Caves in Kentucky, together we visited Luray Caverns in Virginia, and we’ve even been spelunking at Metcalfe Rock near Collingwood, Ontario. So we’ve seen a lot of crystal formations, stalactites, and stalagmites. We’ve never seen ones big enough to walk on like a bridge.

Image Credit: Alexander Van Driessche, used under Creative Commons license

Image Credit: Alexander Van Driessche, used under Creative Commons license

Welcome back to my Unbelievable Real Life feature, where I showcase weird creatures and offbeat places on our planet that seem like they should belong in a fantasy or science fiction story. Today we’re going to the Crystal Cave of Giants in the Naica Mine in Chihuahua, Mexico.

Take a look…

You’re close to 1,000 feet below the surface in this mine, and some of the gypsum crystals are four feet around (I’m only 5 foot 2 inches tall!) and 35 to 50 feet long (that’s the width of a high school basketball court). They can weigh up to 55 tons.

After their discovery in 2000, the question became how did they get so big?

One of the geologists who discovered them studied tiny pockets of fluid inside the crystals and concluded that the caves were once filled with water that stayed at a stable temperature and was rich in minerals. The water is long gone, but the crystals that formed over thousands of years remain.

Sadly these mines aren’t open to the public. Would you want to go if they were?

If you like suspense, I hope you’ll take a look at my ebook Frozen. Twisted sleepwalking. A frozen goldfish in a plastic bag. And a woman afraid she’s losing her grip on reality.

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A Real Island in the Clouds

Image Credit: Martin Gysler, CC license

Image Credit: Martin Gysler, CC license

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

When the movie was in theaters, my husband and I watched Jack the Giant Slayer. While the movie was mediocre, I loved the floating island in the clouds where the giants lived. Imagine my delight when I found out there was a real floating island—or at least as close as we’re going to get—in Mt. Roraima, Venezuela.

Welcome back to my Unbelievable Real Life feature, where I showcase weird creatures and offbeat places on our planet that seem like they should belong in a fantasy or science fiction story. Today we’re going to Mt. Roraima, Venezuela.

This mountain was the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. Its plateau sits 1,200 feet above the ground. Along with the fact that it often appears to float in the sky, it’s also home to a unique ecosystem, including nearly daily rains, some of the world’s highest waterfalls, and a carnivorous pitcher plant. (I had to look it up. The plant is the Heliamphora nutans, and it eats insects.)

Image Credit: Dryas, CC license

Image Credit: Dryas, CC license

Take a look at the mountain…

Mt. Roraima is surrounded at its base by tropical rainforests. The moist air rising off of the rain forest is what creates the thick clouds that make the mountain look like it’s a floating island.

If you had a chance to visit a floating island, would you do it? Or would you be afraid of finding something more dangerous than a carnivorous plant hiding there?

I hope you’ll check out my book of suspense short stories–Frozen!

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Is This Motorcycle Riding on Water?

Salar de Uyuni, BoliviaBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Even since I read the Bible story about Jesus and Peter walking on water, I’ve wondered what it would be like. Without divine intervention, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, is the closest we’re going to get.

Welcome back to my Unbelievable Real Life feature, where I showcase weird creatures and offbeat places on our planet that seem like they should belong in a fantasy or science fiction story. Today we’re going to Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, is the world’s largest salt flats. At 4,086 square miles, they’re bigger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined.

Big deal, I hear you saying. So they’re big plains of salt. That’s not that cool.

But watch this…

The motorcycle looks like it’s either riding on the sky or on top of a lake.

This happens because this is one of the flattest areas on earth. When it rains, the water spreads out smoothly and deeply enough to create what amounts to the world’s largest mirror. It perfectly reflects the sky.

What do you think? Would you like to go and have your picture taken “walking on water”?

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Image Credit: Entrophy1963, used under Creative Commons license

How Close Are We to Having Star Trek Holodecks?

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

If there’s one thing every science fiction fan wants, it’s a Star Trek holodeck.

For those of you who don’t know, a holodeck is a simulated 3-D environment filled with holograms. In other words, it’s like being inside a movie while watching it. You can also be a character in the story if you’d rather. The holodeck is completely immersive, allowing you to touch, smell, see, taste, and hear the holodeck environment as if it were real.

And we might not be that far away from getting it.

In December 2012, the University of Illinois created CAVE2, a hybrid reality environment that was basically 3-D glasses and a circular wall of high definition television screens. They touted it as the closest we’ve come to the technology seen in Star Trek. You can see the trailer they created for it below.

And while I’ll admit that it looks pretty cool, it’s not the closest we’ve come. That honor goes to a simulator created by The Gadget Show a year earlier.

The hosts built their “holodeck” environment around a first person shooter video game. (In a first person shooter game, the screen already works so that what you see on the screen is supposedly what your “character” in the game sees. You are the character rather than watching a character move from an outside perspective.)

They installed a multi-directional treadmill to allow the player to run, and motion sensors so that when you jump or crouch, the game moves forward in kind. Paintball guns shoot the player when their character in the game is shot. LCD lights, surround-sound speakers, and a wrap-around screen make them feel like they’re right inside the game. It’s not exactly a holodeck, but it’s pretty close. 

The Gadget Show doesn’t allow their videos to be embedded so I can’t share it here. If you’d like to watch the whole thing, you can see it on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eg8Bh5iI2WY&feature=player_embedded. It’s well worth the time.

If you could play a character from one of your favorite books, who would you want to be?

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And don’t forget that you can receive a copy of my suspense short story “Purple” by signing up for my newsletter. <–Click right there. You know you want to :)

Is This Magnetic Putty Alive?

Welcome back to my unbelievable real life feature! In the past we’ve looked at sleeping in an ice hotel, sleeping under water, and a bat that looks like Jedi Master Yoda.

This week, it’s some unbelievable science. Watch as the magnetic putty “eats” the cube.

Think it was hungry?

I hope this isn’t too much like revealing a magician’s tricks, but I just had to find out what made this work. (If you don’t want to know, this is your last chance to leave.)

It turns out the putty is composed of ferromagnetic particles (permanently magnetic bits of metal) that are so small we can’t see them with our naked eye. In fact, this putty apparently feels just like Silly Putty, soft and stretchy. You can even tear it apart. But unlike Silly Putty, if you roll it into a ball and hit it with a hammer, you can also shatter it.

The cube in the video is a powerful neodymium iron boron magnet. (In other words, don’t put it near your electronics or your credit card if you want them to keep working.) The ferromagnetic particles are so attracted to the neodymium magnet that they cover it and will eventually spread out evenly so that cube is in the exact center.

This video is time lapse. It actually took an hour and a half for the putty to eat the cube. Still cool and spooky if you ask me.

What do you think? Creepy or really cool?

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Would You Sleep 40 Feet Underwater?

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Tropical Coral ReefEvery girl who watched The Little Mermaid growing up was enchanted by Ariel’s undersea home. So imagine my delight when I discovered someone had built an underwater resort for adults.

Welcome back to my Unbelievable Real Life feature, where I showcase weird creatures and offbeat places on our planet that seem like they should belong in a fantasy. Last time we explored an ice hotel (figuratively speaking) and met a bat that looks just like Jedi Master Yoda. Today we’re going under the sea since some of you mentioned you’d prefer a warmer adventure.

Is the Resort Actually Under the Water?

The Poseidon Underwater Resort is the world’s first fully-underwater resort. It’s so new I don’t think they’ve even had their first guests yet.

You walk down a pier and take an elevator 40 feet down under the water. The pressure within the resort is the same as the pressure on the surface (just like in a submarine), so there’s no uncomfortable pressure in your ears and you don’t have to pass health criteria to stay as a guest.

Each of the 24 available rooms is 70% clear acrylic (4-inches thick, which is longer than my index finger) so you can see the coral and aquatic wildlife around you. You can even press a button and feed the fish.

Along with the rooms, the underwater resort includes a fine dining restaurant where you’ll eat your meals (included in the price of your stay), a spa, library, chapel, and fitness center. The restaurant rotates 100 degrees every hour so there’s no bad seat.   

Stepping Into a Jules Verne Novel…

 

Snuba Diving

This is SNUBA. See how they’re still attached to the surface and no heavy gear?

If you have your PADI certification (my husband does) or are willing to earn your certification while there, you can SCUBA dive. For those who find SCUBA diving too intimidating, you can SNUBA instead. Your airline is supplied from the surface and you can walk along the lagoon floor. All you need to remember is to breathe through your mouth. Clear waters allow you to see for 200 feet (about half a city block in distance).

Apparently the water is a beautiful 83 degrees Fahrenheit (28 degrees Celsius).

You can also learn to pilot a three-person Triton submarine, or if you want someone else at the controls, you can ride the 16-passenger submarine and sip drinks along the way.

You can see the lagoon from the air via parasailing.   

Protection of the Ecology

Because they knew a project like this would bring objections about the negative impact it could have on the environment, they formed the Poseidon Coral Reef Sanctuary Project. This non-profit focuses on conservation, research, and education. Visitors will also be able to visit the Poseidon Coral Farm, one of dozens of international organizations working to propagate coral and restore damaged reefs.

You can find out more about the Poseidon Underwater Resort at their website.

What do you think? Would you spend a night in an underwater hotel?

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Images: SNUBA divers (c) Jim Mayfield, president of Snuba International, Inc., via Creative Commons License; Coral Reef (c) Nick Hobgood via Creative Commons License.

Which Came First – Yoda or the Yoda Bat?

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Just when we think every animal species in the world has been discovered, scientists find a new one.

In 2009, scientists Piotr Naskrecki and David Rentz traveled to Papua New Guinea’s Nakanai and Muller mountains, an area still relatively unexplored. Among the many creatures they discovered was what’s been colloquially dubbed the yoda bat thanks to its resemblance to Star Wars’ Yoda.

Star Wars YodaThe yoda bat is actually a nyctimene tube-nosed fruit bat. Nyctimene is just the scientific classification meaning they’re a genus of “megabats” in the Pteropodidae family. (Incidentally, megabats aren’t necessarily big. It’s just another classification that refers to fruit bats, old world fruit bats, and flying foxes.) All megabats eat only fruit or nectar.

The yoda bat uses the tubes on its nose as snorkels so it can breathe while its face is stuck inside a piece of fruit.

I don’t know about you, but I think this bat should be officially named the Yoda Tube-Nosed Fruit Bat.

If you didn’t know the yoda bat had only recently been discovered, would you think it was the inspiration for George Lukas’ Yoda?

This has been an episode of my Unbelievable Real Life series, where I showcase weird creatures and offbeat places on our planet that seem like they should belong in a fantasy. If you’re not already a subscriber, be sure to sign up below for free emailed posts so you don’t miss the next feature.

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Would You Sleep in a Hotel of Ice?

Would You Sleep In A Hotel Made of Ice?

Ice Hotel in SwedenWhat do Captain America, Brendan Fraser, and Scrat the saber-toothed squirrel have in common?

No idea?

They were all frozen in ice and re-animated years later.

Far be it from me to argue with the writers of Captain America, Encino Man, and Ice Age, but even though it would mean prolonging my life, the idea doesn’t appeal to me. An ice hotel, on the other hand, where I can sleep for a night rather than for years…kind of does.

Ice hotels are what the name suggests. Each year, they’re built fresh, the best using nothing but ice and snow for support. Because they depend on sub-zero temperatures to survive, the season could be over with an early thaw.

Who Decided Sleeping on Ice Was A Good Idea?

The first ice hotel, aptly named Icehotel, started as an art exhibit in the village of Jukkasjärvi, Sweden. In 1990, a French artist displayed his ice art in an igloo there. One evening, the village didn’t have enough rooms to house all the visitors overnight, so the overflow stayed in the exhibition igloo in sleeping bags laid on top of reindeer skins. The first ice hotel was born.

Ice Glasses at the Ice Hotel in SwedenThe Icehotel expanded until it became not only the first but also the biggest ice hotel in the world. It covers 64,600 sq ft., which is larger than a U.S. football field, and houses 100 guests. The inside of the Icehotel remains at a relatively constant 23 °F (−5 °C).

When you check in, you leave your luggage in a nearby warm house (where the washrooms are also located), and slip into the warm winter clothes, gloves, and shoes provided by the Icehotel so that you look like a giant blue marshmallow. Once you’re checked in, you can visit the Icebar, where you’ll be surrounded by original ice sculptures and blue lights to reflect off the snow as your lips melt your glass of ice.

Aurora BorealisOutside, the Aurora Borealis treats you to one of the world’s most spectacular shows of yellow, green, blue, and red streaks of colors in the sky. Their name comes from Aurora, Roman goddess of dawn, and Boreas, what the Greek’s called the north wind. The lights play across the horizon exactly as if the wind stole the colors of the dawn and now taunts her in a game of keep-away.  

Like the first Icehotel guests, when you finally return to your room to sleep, you’re sleeping in an art exhibit. Each room is designed by an artist, and the honor of creating an Icehotel room draws creatives from all over the world. Staff wakes you in the morning with a hot cup of lingonberry juice, like a sweeter cranberry juice, served to you in bed.  

Can’t Travel to Sweden? No Problem

The coolest (no pun intended…well, maybe a little) thing about ice hotels is that you don’t even have to leave North America to visit one. Hôtel de Glace is located 10 minutes outside of Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. It was the first ice hotel in the world to make a bed entirely out of ice.

What do you think? Would you spend a night in a hotel made entirely of ice?

This has been the first in a new regular “unbelievable real life” feature where I’ll be showcasing weird creatures and offbeat places on our planet that seem like they should belong in a fantasy. Be sure to sign up below so that you’ll receive free updates and won’t miss the next edition.

Image Credits (in order): Tom Corser (Creative Commons), Jacopo Werther (Creative Commons), and Skeezix1000 (Creative Commons).

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