Wonder on the Web

Issue 45: Links to amazing stuff.

Valley of Life

In a place marked by salt flats, sand dunes, and temperatures so blisteringly hot the whole landscape shimmers, the hills are suddenly alive. Death Valley, California, normally gets just 2 inches of rain each year. It’s the lowest, driest, and hottest place in North America. But heavy rains last fall set up the perfect conditions for a rare “superbloom” of more than 20 species of wildflowers—a phenomenon that happens only about once every decade. For a brief window of time, “these areas that are normally just rock, just soil, just barren—not even shrubs—they’re filled with life,” explains Alan Van Valkenburg, a Death Valley National Park ranger. “So Death Valley really does go from being a valley of death to being a valley of life.”

Loving Vincent

We’re eager to see Loving Vincent, an upcoming movie about Vincent van Gogh that aims to portray the life and death of the Dutch painter exclusively through his own art medium, oil paintings. The producers say that every frame in the movie (more than 56,000 of them) will be hand-painted on canvas, making it the “world’s first feature-length painted animation.” The plot of the film comes from the 800 letters written by Van Gogh himself. We’re hoping for nuance and care in the presentation of the artist’s complex, zealous faith: while some scholars depict him simply as an angry apostate of the Dutch Reformed Church, others see “evidence of his strong beliefs in every stroke,” maintaining that “he remained deeply spiritual throughout his life even after rejecting the institutional church.”

Planet Earth Returns

Yes, the BBC’s groundbreaking nature documentary series is coming back, this time with six new episodes of soothingly-narrated, ultra high-definition footage. The original Planet Earth was awesome enough to inspire some intriguing research into the psychological effects of awe. The results of the 2014 study, published in Psychological Science, indicate that people are “more likely to believe in God and the supernatural after watching awe-inspiring nature programs like the BBC’s Planet Earth.” David Attenborough, evangelist? Back when it first aired, the Discovery Channel seemed to anticipate the effect and publicized the series to outlets like Christianity Today. But frankly, it’s the animals themselves that are making us dance with joy at the return of Planet Earth.

Volcanic Art

This photograph of Mexico’s Colima Volcano—glowing lava on a background of stars, illuminated by a surge of lightning—is incredible. But we’re blown away by self-taught photographer Sergio Tapiro’s untiring devotion to his subject. Spending 14 years and around 300,000 images for this one perfectly-timed shutter-click? Totally worth it. “I’m like a child,” says Tapiro, explaining why he never gets bored taking pictures of Volcán de Colima over and over. “Every day amazes me with something like the sunset, the moon, and this volcano.” If Tapiro’s ritual of photography is “monotonous,” it’s a monotony to exult in. (More amazing photos of volcano lightning here.)

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Also in this Issue

Issue 45 / March 31, 2016
  1. Editor's Note from March 31, 2016

    Issue 45: The fun in naming, how pyrite changed the world, and why it’s fine that piratebush didn’t change much of anything. /

  2. Our First Mission Isn’t Finished

    There’s plenty left to name in the sometimes silly, always vast field of taxonomy. /

  3. The Surprising Riches of Fool’s Gold

    Pyrite, the stone rejected as an imposter, is the cornerstone of the modern world. /

  4. Let Us Now Praise Obscure, Useless Plants

    God and I delight in piratebush like he delights in me. /

  5. Fetal Heartbeat

    “like the wings of millions of monarchs returned” /

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