Vanuatu update

The Red Cross has produced this damage assessment map for Vanuatu (click to zoom):

The photos below show aid arriving – delivering aid from Australia (below left, photo: Australian Defence Force) and Vanuatu Mobile Force soldiers loading UNICEF aid (below right, photo: Graham Crumb of Humans of Vanuatu). Much more is still needed, of course.

Please help Vanuatu

The island nation of Vanuatu (above, left) has been in the news because of the terrible damage caused by Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam. The capital, Port Vila, was hard hit (see the photo below by Graham Crumb of Humans of Vanuatu), and some islands (such as Erromango and Tanna) were utterly devastated. The right-hand side of the map above shows the track of the cyclone, with the strongest (Category 5) period shown in red.

The people on the devastated islands desperately need water, food, and shelter. The international community is helping out, but donate if you can. Please: there are many donation options.

However, as the cyclone track above suggests, the large island of Espiritu Santo came through the cyclone comparatively unscathed. The people there, strangely enough, need tourists. Tourists are their livelihood, and tourism is also the engine of Vanuatu’s national economy. So you can also support the nation of Vanuatu by taking a holiday there. The beaches and the diving are, they tell me, great, and the brave people of Vanuatu will become more than just faces on the television. To quote a message from one of the locals on Espiritu Santo:

Thank you everyone for your kind thoughts and wishes sent during this very sad time in Vanuatu. Santo has been blessed, Cyclone Pam has passed by the Island of Santo causing only minor damage. We have clean water, power and plenty of food. We also have travelers waiting to return to their countries as soon as possible. ALL RESORTS AND BUSINESSES ARE OPERATING AS NORMAL.

As of today we still have no communications. Turtle Bay Resorts satellite system is being used by the community to send out emails and to keep up with information on Port Vila’s terrible situation. The business community of Santo is terribly concerned of the warnings for travelers to cancel their travel plans to Vanuatu. The media of course is reporting the situation in Vila but this is not Santo. If our Island can keep receiving the visitors, businesses in Santo will survive the crisis situation in the months to come. This in turn will support many local people who will be able to support their families in Port Vila to rebuild their lives. No tourism and our Vanuatu economy will suffer greatly.


Hallucigenia: as reconstructed in the 1970s (left) and later (right). Images from the Smithsonian.

One of the most interesting of Cambrian fossil creatures is the aptly named Hallucigenia (see above). Famously, Hallucigenia fossils were once reconstructed back to front and upside down, with the spines on the animal’s back seen as bizarre stilt-like legs, and the actual legs seen as strange tentacles. Later reconstructions addressed these errors, but still showed unrealistic stilt-like locomotion.

Hallucigenia is now seen as a close relative of the onychophorans (velvet worms), so that adding spines to the photograph below would give a better indication of appearance. A fascinating recent paper in Nature by researchers at Cambridge clarifies the relationship by showing that a key feature of Hallucigenia’s claws – their construction from stacked elements – resembles that of the jaws and claws of modern onychophorans. This makes Hallucigenia no less nightmarish, but a great deal more comprehensible!

A modern onychophoran (velvet worm). Photo by Martin Smith.

Saving Daylight

Daylight saving time began in the USA (except Arizona and Hawaii) and in most of Canada on March 8 this year, and to mark the occasion, “Nacho Punch” have produced a hilarious sequel to last November’s mock movie trailer (which is even better).

The UK and most other European countries begin DST on 29 March. DST ends in Australia (except QLD, NT, and WA, which do not use DST) and in NZ on 5 April. See this map for details.

Breakfast at Ceres

The Dawn spaceprobe is hours away from entering orbit around Ceres. This dwarf planet is named after the Roman goddess of agriculture (who is also the origin of the word “cereal”). The above painting of her is by Pierre Mignard, while the photograph of Ceres was taken by Dawn on 25 February. The image below shows a simulated view from the spaceprobe, looking back to Earth.

Space probe update

The Dawn spaceprobe, en route to the dwarf planet Ceres, took the images above on February 19, at a distance of 46,000 km (images processed by NASA to enhance clarity). The image below (click for up-to-date pictures) shows a simulated view from just behind Dawn.

Meanwhile, much further out, on the trajectory shown below, the New Horizons spaceprobe is due to arrive at Pluto in July, and is slowly getting better and better images.