Posted in Science & Nature


Why is the sky blue? This is because of a phenomenon called Rayleigh scattering where molecules and tiny particles in the atmosphere scatter direct sunlight. Light scatters at different amounts depending on its frequency. Because of this, blue and violet light (short-wavelength light) scatters more than the other colours, causing the sky to be blue. But during sunrise and sunset, the light enters the atmosphere from an angle, causing blue and green light to be so scattered that you cannot see it. This produces a red or orange colour.

The deep ocean is blue for a similar reason; red and yellow light is absorbed while blue becomes scattered by the water. However, the colour of the sea is also largely dependent on the colour of the sky at the time, as it reflects the sky. The colour of the sea may change due to algae in the water, which can make it green, brown or even red.

A similar form of light scattering called the Tyndall effect is responsible for blue eyes, caused by a turbid layer in the iris. The Tyndall effect can also be seen in a glass of water mixed with milk, or flour suspended in water.

Blue has one of the most interesting histories compared out of all the colours. In the ancient world, blue was considered a lowly colour, with some cultures such as the ancient Greeks not even considering it a “real colour” such as red, black, white and yellow. In fact, the Greeks did not have a word for the colour blue; it was merely called bronze colour. The ancient Romans considered blue the colour of barbarians. The Romans stereotyped blue-eyed women as promiscuous and blue-eyed men as aggressive and foolish. Only the ancient Egyptians liked the colour blue, as they considered it a colour of divinity. They made blue dye from copper.

Perhaps the hatred for the colour blue was due to the difficulty of making blue dyes. This all changed nearer to medieval times as artists and dyers successfully created blue dyes from minerals such as lapis lazuli, azurite and cobalt. Blue became the colour of the Virgin Mary. Artists began painting the sky and the sea as blue, which were previously depicted using black, white and green. Nobles began wearing blue instead of the traditional red and purple, and dyers followed this trend by devising better blue dyes with a variety of shades.


This led to the thriving of blue dye industries in European cities such as Amiens, Toulouse and Erfurt, where blue dye was made from a plant called woad. Although this was a very lucrative business, blue was still a very expensive and difficult colour to use, with the dying process involving soaking the woad in human urine (which contains ammonia) to extract the colour.

Blue became a much more accessible colour in the 18th century when flourishing trade brought indigo from the Americas. Indigo was much easier to use, more concentrated and produced a richer, more stable blue than woad. As blue became more and more popular, synthetic blue dyes were discovered – one of the most famous being Prussian blue which was discovered in Berlin in 1709.

Throughout its history, perhaps the product that best promoted the status of blue as a colour is the denim jean (dyed with indigo blue), invented by Levi Strauss in 1873. 

In modern times, blue is an extremely popular colour that is widely used in art, fashion, architecture etcetera. However, the one field that blue has not yet been able to set foot in is food. Researches show that the colour blue drastically decreases a person’s appetite as it is associated with poison in the natural world.

Posted in Science & Nature


One of the joys of going to a beach is listening to the breaking of waves. Waves are typically associated with the ocean, but can also form on lakes, rivers, canals or any body of water with a free surface. 

Waves are caused by wind blowing over the water surface, dragging it in a certain direction. As the wind only affects the surface, the water below rises to fill the space, causing a circular movement. This appears as a wave on the surface. The faster the wind blows, the more the surface is shifted and the bigger the waves become. Other factors that determine the wave size are: water depth, distance of water that the wind blows over (fetch), the width of the area of the fetch and the duration the wind blows over the area. Because of these factors, some lakes may be as wavy as the sea while others are completely tepid.

The waves formed by the wind merge to form bigger waves in the ocean. The resulting wave is known as a swell. When the swell reaches the shore, the depth of the water reduces, causing the wave to rise in height and become steeper. If the wave is high enough, the base becomes unstable and the wave collapses, which is what causes waves to break.

Although it sounds like a simple process, the consequences can be deadly. Wind waves can reach heights above 30m given that the conditions are right (usually during extremely serious storms). Such a wave can flip a cruise ship with ease like a rubber toy.

Posted in History & Literature

Mary Celeste

In 1872, a ship by the name of Mary Celeste was spotted off the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean – completely intact and undisturbed aside from its missing crew. Not a single person, alive or dead, could be found, despite everyone’s personal belongings still sitting undisturbed where they had been left. Even little things such as valuables and piano music were right where they should have been. It was as if its crew had simply evaporated. There were no signs of a struggle and no cargo was missing. To this day, the case of the disappearing crew of the merchant ship Mary Celeste is one of the most famous maritime mysteries in history.

So what happened to the ship’s crew? Historians have been trying to figure out their fate for decades, but the question was finally solved by scientists. One fact that is known about the Mary Celeste is that of its cargo of 1701 barrels of alcohol, 9 were empty. Although an obvious answer is that the sailors went overboard with a party, the truth is even more spectacular. In 2006, Dr. Andrea Sella, a professor of chemistry at University College London, created a replica of the Mary Celeste’s hold to find out how to create an explosion without leaving a trace of fire. He simulated a leak of the ship’s nine barrels of alcohol and found that once the vapour was ignited, say by a pipe or a spark, it created a pressure-wave type of explosion. There was a spectacular wave of flame but, behind it was relatively cool air. No soot was left behind and there was no burning or scorching.

Ergo, the mystery of the Mary Celeste is most likely as follows: there was a leak of the alcohol, the vapour of which fuelled a massive ghost explosion that swept through the ship. The sailors, completely unscathed but utterly horrified, would have piled into the ship’s lifeboat without any useful things like food or water, eventually sinking or dying of thirst and exposure. The Mary Celeste would have still looked perfectly fine as it drifted the vast ocean, all by itself.

Posted in History & Literature

Zodiac: Taurus

Taurus is the Zodiac sign for those born between April 21 and May 20. The symbol for Taurus is a giant ox.

The model for Taurus is none other than the king of gods, Zeus. Zeus often came down to the human world for fun, but one day he set his eyes on a beautiful princess by the name of Europa. Europa often played on the farm with the herd of cows. Zeus fell head over heels for her and plotted how he could profess his love to her (alternatively, rape her). He decided to transform into an ox and hid among the herd. Europa was drawn to this magnificent, white ox that could even sing. She was fascinated by it, caressing it and even riding on its back. At that moment, Zeus dashed for the sea and jumped in with Europa on his back. He swam across oceans until they reached the island of Crete. There, he transformed back to his usual form and told her how he was madly in love with her. She accepted his love and the two lived happily on Crete. To honour her, Zeus named the land across the ocean they crossed Europe, thus naming the continent that we know so well.

(Part of the Zodiac series:

Posted in History & Literature


Mayday is the universal phrase for requesting emergency assistance in a crisis situation on the sea or in the air. 

It was first created by Frederick Stanley Mockford, who was a senior radio office trying to figure out a simple distress call sign. As he worked at Croydon Airport, London, and dealt with traffic mainly between England and France, he decided on the word mayday, which is derived from the French words venez m’aider, meaning “come help me”.

Another famous distress call is SOS, or  … – – – … in Morse code. It was first used by German radios but then became the worldwide standard in 1906. Although it is often thought to stand for “save our souls”, it is in fact a backronym that was made decades after it came to be. Instead, it was chosen as it is simple to remember (the backronym may have been devised to help people remember the letters) and easy to signal via Morse code. It was most famously used by the RMS Titanic

The reason why mayday was created (and set as a standard in 1927) was due to the need for a spoken word as the audio radio transmitters were developed.