Watching the World

In Germany, only 8 percent of the population consider the most important aspect of Christmas Eve to be religious. In 1980, the figure was 47 percent.​—TV NEWS CHANNEL N24, GERMANY.

“For the first time in [U.S.] history, more than one in 100 American adults are behind bars . . . Nationwide, the prison population [is] almost 1.6 million.”​—THE NEW YORK TIMES, U.S.A.

A study has found that “100% of Spaniards analyzed” had in their bodies at least one type of pesticide, that is, “substances internationally classified as potentially harmful to one’s health.”​—UNIVERSITY OF GRANADA, SPAIN.

“In countries with available information, tobacco tax revenues are more than 500 times higher than spending on tobacco control.”​—WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION, SWITZERLAND.

Islam has surpassed Roman Catholicism in the number of adherents. In 2006, Islam claimed 19.2 percent of the world’s population and Roman Catholicism 17.4 percent.​—REUTERS NEWS SERVICE, BRITAIN.

Kite Helps to Pull Ship

In these times of rising fuel costs and growing environmental concerns, shipowners are searching for ways to reduce fuel consumption and emissions. And they are using an old ally​—the wind. One idea that has already been tested is that of using a kite to assist with pulling a ship, reports the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The kite, 1,000 feet [300 m] in the air, harnesses the wind, allowing the captain to throttle back the ship’s engine. A 1,722-square-foot [160 sq m] [8 by 20 meters] kite recently helped to power a cargo vessel across the Atlantic.

Surviving Drought

“The larvae of an African fly survive severe droughts by essentially turning into candy drops,” says Science News. When extremely dehydrated, the larvae of the fly Polypedilum vanderplanki replace water in their cellular fluids with a glassy substance, similar to melted sugar when it solidifies. In this mummified condition, the metabolism of the larvae ceases completely. The larvae can remain in this “state of suspended animation” for up to 17 years until the next rains allow them to revive.

The Best Place for Astronomy

An international team has set up a fully robotic astronomical observatory at Dome Argus, which at 13,400 feet [4,000 m] above sea level is the highest point on the East Antarctic plateau. Just 700 miles from the South Pole, the site is very cold and at times exceptionally dark. It has very dry, calm air as well as nights that are four months long. Dome Argus is said to be the best place on earth for astronomical observations. With a telescope here, says Lifan Wang, director of the Chinese Center for Antarctic Astronomy, “it is possible to achieve near-space-quality images at a much lower cost than launching a telescope into space.”