For Robin Mckie's latest contributions to The Japan Times, see below:
Mar 16, 2014
They were some of the strangest animals to walk the Earth: wombats as big as hippos, sloths larger than bears, four-tusked elephants and an armadillo that would have dwarfed a VW Beetle. They flourished for millions of years, then vanished from our planet just as humans emerged from their African homeland.
Nov 17, 2013
European scientists are preparing to launch a probe that will transform our understanding of the galaxy. The spacecraft, called Gaia, will carry the world's biggest, most accurate camera, which it will use to pinpoint more than a billion stars with unprecedented precision and create a 3-D map of the Milky Way.
Aug 23, 2013
For a ship on a mission of worldwide importance, the Yong Sheng is a distinctly unimpressive sight. The gray and green hull of the 19,000-ton cargo vessel, operated by China's state-owned Cosco Group, is streaked with rust, while its cargo of steel and heavy equipment would best be described as prosaic.
Aug 2, 2013
Nestled below the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory outside Pasadena has a surprisingly low-tech feel. For more than 40 years, space missions to the planets have been controlled from its operations rooms, yet the place is still striking for its bucolic charm. Mule deer crisscross its paths, pausing only to nibble plants, while its buildings, erected during the heyday of the U.S. space program, now have a settled, slightly worn aspect.
Jul 19, 2013
Jul 12, 2013
For a site symbolizing a future that will either poison our countryside or bring us unlimited amounts of cheap, pollution-free energy, Elswick, in northeast England, is a distinctly underwhelming destination for a visit. The gas-power station, owned by the U.K. drilling company Cuadrilla, lies in the Fylde area of the county of Lancashire and consists of a large square of cleared ground, a few cabins and some metal pipes. For most of the week, the site — surrounded by farmland — is unmanned.
Jun 8, 2013
Barbara Oliver has had an intriguing relationship with her identical twin sister, Christine, over the decades. Throughout their childhoods, they were effectively treated as two versions of the one person: they were dressed in exactly the same manner and were given the same hairstyles. "Our parents did everything to stress how similar we were," Barbara recalls.
May 4, 2013
Apr 21, 2013
In August 1930, the Norwegian ship Bratvaag, carrying a party of scientists and seal-hunters, moored off the tiny Arctic island of Kvitoya. Few humans had ever set foot there — it is extremely remote and usually surrounded by thick pack ice. A couple of sailors began to explore and stumbled on a boat, protruding from a snow drift. Inside they found books, shotguns and instruments. Outside were human remains.
Apr 20, 2013
Across the world's great deserts, a mysterious sheen has been found on boulders and rock faces. These layers of manganese, arsenic and silica are known as desert varnish and they are found in the Atacama desert in Chile, the Mojave desert in California, and in many other arid places. They can make the desert glitter with surprising color and, by scraping off pieces of varnish, native people have created intriguing symbols and images on rock walls and surfaces.
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