World Solar Challenge: Weather in Darwin

One very helpful input to race strategy in a solar car race is weather expertise. How much sunshine can we expect? And when can we expect it? In 2013, Solar Team Twente took along an expert from the Joint Meteorological Group of the Royal Netherlands Air Force to help with that. This year, Punch Powertrain Solar Team (team 8) is taking along an expert from the the Royal Meteorological Institute of Belgium, who will be blogging his insights and experiences.

For those without his specialist expertise, forget everything you thought you knew about Spring and Summer, Autumn and Winter. Darwin has 7 seasons, as the Larrakia People tell us, and the World Solar Challenge begins towards the end of Dalirrgang (the “Build Up” – click image above for multimedia tutorial). Dalirrgang is a kind of overture to the rainy season (the “Wet”). Traditionally, Dalirrgang is the time to hunt the Magpie goose (photo by Djambalawa below).

Long-term weather forecasts suggest that the World Solar Challenge this year might in fact begin on a partly sunny day, with a little rain, but that’s very uncertain, this far ahead.

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Endless Forms Most Beautiful: a book review


Endless Forms Most Beautiful by Sean B. Carroll (2005)

I recently read, somewhat belatedly, Endless Forms Most Beautiful by evolutionary developmental biology pioneer Sean B. Carroll (the title derives from a line in On the Origin of Species: “from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved”).

This well-written book provides an excellent explanation for how a toolkit of genes like the Hox genes (see image below) control embryonic development in animals. The discovery of these genes shows that fruit flies, starfish, and people are more closely related than was once believed.

These genes work by producing proteins which in turn control the expression of other genes, in what is effectively a kind of computer program that can be visualised (and Endless Forms Most Beautiful contains several lovely colour plates which confirm this).


Photo: Caitlin Sedwick (from this paper)

The book includes chapters on the Cambrian explosion, melanic forms (such as black panthers), and the formation of spots on butterfly wings:

Carroll concludes with a plea for teaching more evolutionary biology in schools. Personally, I think a greater priority would be an increased emphasis on teaching ecology, given the serious consequences which human activities (even well-meaning ones) can have for the planet. However, that quibble does not stop me from recommending this book to anyone who has not read it yet.


Endless Forms Most Beautiful by Sean B. Carroll: 3½ stars