What's the oldest tree on Earth? What's a rainbow? Is the Earth wobbling? It's fun to ask these questions but trickier to answer them — in simple terms, at least. Luckily, Viennese designer Michæl Paukner has done us all a huge favour by creating these lovely visual explanations.
Paukner is a graphic designer by trade, but a personal interest in Earth science gives his wonderful Flickr a celestial bent — it's well worth checking out if you've got a few minutes to chew on a theory or two. In one illustration, he maps the Phantom Time Hypothesis, which posits that our calendar is incorrect and 297 years of the Middle Ages never happened. In another, he imagines if the bunk theory of a Hollow Earth were real.
You can buy most of these as prints on Paukner's shop — in the meantime, check out seven of his best graphics below.
Confronted by a dazzling double rainbow, most of us are too busy completely freaking out to wonder about their relationship to the earth's axis. Paukner's graphic explains how the angle of the sun, the angle of the mist, and the angle of the viewer's eye coalesce to create a rainbow.
The Pole-Shift Hypothesis
The Cataclysmic Pole-Shift Hypothesis posits that the earth's poles shift roughly one degree every million years (or 30 degrees in the last 200 million years, according to some estimates). The theory goes that the earth's crust is loose and fluid ("like an orange or avocado skin," says Pauken), and it's shifting every-so-slowly around its core. It's widely debated amongst scientists, but some claim it explains everything from tectonic shifts and extreme weather.
There are more than 300,000 particles of space junk orbiting the planet right now — and NASA, the ESA, and other agencies are doing their best to map them, simply for the safety of their astronauts. Here, a map of the pollution as well as the working satellites shows just how much debris we've launched up there.
The Redwoods are old, but the oldest tree on earth is, surprisingly, in Utah. Pando (also known as The Trembling Giant) is a rhizome of Aspen trees in southern Utah that all share the same roots. It (he? she? they?) dates back 80,000 years — and it's the heaviest living organism on earth.
The Composition of the Cosmos
"What is the stuff that makes up the majority of the universe?," writes Paukner. "Stars and galaxies? Hydrogen gas? Planets like ours? Nope. It's none of them. Here's a hint: we have absolutely no idea." This graphic shows the generally accepted thinking of the moment. Plain old matter (like Earth and stars) account for five per cent of the universe. Dark matter accounts for 25 per cent and dark energy, 70.
Earth Wobble was discovered in the 1890s by an American astronomer named Seth Chandler, who theorized that the earth's rotation actually deviates a bit each year, slowly changing its polar orientation (a full rotation takes 26,000 years). It wasn't clear why until 2004, when group of scientists proved that it's due to the redistribution of water and mass over the Earth's surface. "Nothing's fixed," says Paukner. "Not even a fixed star."
Solar Eclipse Paths
Most of Europe won't see a total solar eclipse — where the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun — until 2026, but central Asia and parts of the Arctic are in for a show.
Bonus: Make your own model of the Earth's Magnetosphere using Paukner's template.