A whole bunch of hardcore science stuff went into designing pretty much anything within your line of sight right now. Why, your smartphone alone took up to three Sciences to make. Three! Some of those Sciences were Scienced up in boring old Science Buildings, sure — but some of them were birthed from bizarre, fantastical landscapes like …7
The “Russian Woodpecker” Looks Like A Kaiju Wall
In 1976, radio signals around the world were interrupted by a strange, regular, tapping noise over the airwaves that people nicknamed “The Russian Woodpecker.” Nobody knew what it was exactly, but radio geeks eventually managed to triangulate its origin to a place just outside Chernobyl, in Ukraine. Specifically this thing:
Ingmar Runge/Wiki CommonsIt was, at the time, the scariest thing anywhere near Chernobyl.
This was before that other incident that made Chernobyl famous, so of course back then it looked a little … fresher … than it does these days.
Ryan MenezesBut it’s holding up pretty well for 40-year-old untended steel.
Given the supervillain-bent of most massive Soviet projects, and, well … just the look of that crazy damn thing, speculation was rampant: It was a mind-control device, a weather machine, hell, maybe just a giant antenna to pirate Martian pornography. We weren’t really on speaking terms with the Soviets, so it’s not like we could just ask them.
Alexander Blecher, blecher.infoIt would be decades till Russians occupied and controlled the White House.
After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the Woodpecker kept tapping for a couple more years and then fell silent. It was only after the Cold War ended that we were able to find out what it really was: The nearly 500-foot-tall metal wall known as Duga-3 was one of three radar installations capable of detecting incoming American missiles. That’s not as interesting as our wild guess: Giant Gamera fence. But reality so rarely is.
Ryan MenezesWow, what a truly amazing structure, rendered almost instantly obsolete by satellites.6
The World’s Most Silent Laboratories Look Like Weird Video Game Levels
Want a little peace and quiet? Go to the park. Want all the peace and quiet? Your options are:
1. The grave, or …
2. An anechoic chamber, like the one at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
US Air ForceBecause if there’s one thing we all associate with jet engines, it’s absolute silence.
It looks like aliens holding Air Force One for ransom, but that blue spiky padding is just sound- and radar-absorbing polyurethane, which completely shields the inside of the building from outside sound and electromagnetic waves, allowing the Air Force to test sensitive radar equipment.
US Air ForceInside, you hear nothing, other than your own screaming hallucinations.
And this isn’t some bizarre technology limited to the military — scientists all over the world make use of these chambers for testing sensitive sound and radio technology. Eckel Industries has one that looks even more alien:
Andrew EckelAre we sure this isn’t a 2001 screen cap?
And, of course, techno-supervillains Apple have furnished 17 of these rooms at a total cost of $100 million to test transmitters and general iPhone performance:
AppleTo eliminate sound, they started by removing all headphone jacks.
But if you’re looking for the quietest place on the entire planet, that’s Microsoft’s audio lab in Redmond, Washington:
MicrosoftWe don’t hear much activity in Bing headquarters.
It’s so quiet in that room that people can hear their own blood. It’s the only place in the world where instruments can actually pick up the sound of goddamn molecules brushing against each other. And Microsoft uses it pretty much exclusively to prove that they’re better than Apple.5
California’s Water-Saving Devices Look Like Alien Egg-Spheres
California’s historic drought has necessitated some pretty novel water-conserving technologies. Take, for example, this clutch of gleaming black extraterrestrial eggs infesting Los Angeles’s municipal watering holes.
Gerd Ludwig/National GeographicIt looks less gross than most LA water, but still.
It looks like the West Coast is about to be swarming with tens of millions of face-huggers, but these are actually just harmless plastic “shade balls” that the LA Department Of Water And Power deliberately dumped into the city’s reservoir in 2015.
Gerd Ludwig/National GeographicMaking it the most epic case of throwing shade in city history.
There’s about 96 million balls in the reservoir, which means, even though each individual thingamajig only costs 36 cents, the whole project cost around $34.5 million.
Los Angeles Department of Water and PowerIt’s the most expensive teabagging imaginable.
And while dumping the entire GDP of a small state straight into a water supply would ordinarily be labeled a bizarre catastrophe, there’s a good reason for this: the balls reduce evaporation and slow algae growth. The department estimates it saves around 300 million gallons per year, and only looks a little like alien caviar.
Gerd Ludwig/National GeographicAlien caviar is $120 a plate at Spago.
The World’s Biggest Solar Power Plant Looks Like A UFO Launch Pad
Deep in California’s Mojave Desert, there’s something that looks like a Prius charging station for electric UFOs.
Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesNote: This is one photo, not several put together.
That’s the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility, the world’s largest solar plant, and a major step toward California’s goal of providing 33 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
To milk that much juice out of the blazing daystar, you need a hell of a lot of mirrors. Around 173,500, to be precise. Their job is to take most of the sunlight that falls on the 3,500-acre facility and concentrate it all onto one of the three Ikea-brand Eyes Of Sauron that stand at the center.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images“We hang our enemies’ lesser furniture on the tower and watch them burn.”
Water inside the nearly 460-foot-tall towers is turned to steam and funneled into a turbine. The facility has a capacity of 377 megawatts, and at full production, the plant could light up 140,000 California homes.
Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesOr light them to a crisp, when the ray’s aimed right.
The environmentally-minded developers made sure to relocate an endangered species of tortoise so that they could develop on its natural habitat. So it’s kind of ironic that the facility inadvertently triggered a bird holocaust. See, those invisible beams of sunlight that the mirrors are shooting out are hot enough to instantly incinerate anything that passes through them. Unfortunately — well, you know how a bug-zapper works? Imagine one big enough to work on rare falcons. Only the rarest. Reports suggest that Ivanpah incinerates an unsuspecting bird around every two minutes.
Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesIvanpah employees perks include a free fried “chicken” lunch every day.3
The World’s Most Powerful Lasers Look Like … Well, The World’s Most Powerful Lasers
According to the University Of Rochester, the purpose of its Laboratory For Laser Energetics (LLE) department is “to investigate the interaction of intense radiation with matter.” This is a research grant-friendly way of saying “blow shit up with lasers.” Lasers like this one:
University of RochesterFact: This is how God made the universe.
That’s the 30-foot-tall, nearly 330-foot-long OMEGA laser system. Among the world’s most powerful lasers, its beams deliver 40,000 joules of ass-shattering energy in a single billionth-of-a-second blast onto a fuel pellet the size of a pencil tip. Here’s what it looks like from inside the chamber, moments before a bumbling lab intern turns you into The Hulk.
SWBR ArchitectsIt’s called the OMEGA laser because it’s the last thing you’ll see.
The OMEGA laser is in friendly competition with the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in Livermore, California. Unlike the OMEGA’s direct-drive method — zapping a fuel pellet with lasers — the NIF focuses an insane 192 lasers on a tiny golden enclosure, generating X-rays which then strike the pellet. It also looks exactly like a Borg sphere:
Lawrence Livermore National SecurityOr their sex toy.
From the inside, it looks like something Jeff Goldblum is about to blow up with a Macbook virus:
Lawrence Livermore National LaboratoryIt is also able to locate all mutants worldwide.2
The Soviet Union Actually Had Crazy Giant Tesla Coils
In Command And Conquer: Red Alert, the Soviet team could build giant Tesla coils that incinerated hapless Allied soldiers. Turns out that wasn’t made up: They really existed.
via Daily TechWeird. We didn’t realize “Thor” was a Russian name.
These 130-foot lightning towers, tucked away in secluded woodland 25 miles from Moscow, weren’t designed to obliterate encroaching enemies, but simply for scientific curiosity and testing electrical insulation. At least, that’s what they tell us.
Russia TodayThey tested the electrical insulation of Gulag prisoners.
The High Voltage Marx And Tesla Generators Research Facility is a mess of tubes and wires that could have been inspired by mid-century science fiction B-movies. And when it’s set to full power, it can match the entire country’s electrical potential with lightning strikes that soar 500 feet into the sky.
via Daily TechTargeting the USSR’s number-one enemy: hope.
It is now the property of the Russian Electrical Engineering Institute and supposedly not at all evil, though it’s still operational, and can sometimes be seen sparking its bolts high into the air for what we are sure are absolutely benign scientific purposes.
Russia TodayToday, all it does is pump out high-energy Putin memes.
Fusion Power Research Looks Like Something From An Alien Sequel
Fusion power is a clean, sustainable energy source that, if mastered, would eliminate our need for non-renewable fuels and provide dirt cheap electricity for everyone on the planet. All we have to do is find a way to mimic the conditions at the core of the sun. Easy!
Toward this end, MIT has created the “Alcator C-Mod,” basically a large metal donut that confines a stream of crazy-millions-of-degrees-hot plasma within a magnetic field. Don’t worry, they tell us the reaction occurs on a small scale and is pretty well contained, so it probably won’t kill you. Unless you bang its giant superconducting girlfriend.
MITThen, it’ll smack you so hard you’ll get permanent fisheye vision.
Unfortunately, the Alcator C-Mod was forced to shut down after losing sponsorship from the Department Of Energy, though not before setting a new fusion world record on its last night of operation. In spite of attaining temperatures of 35 million degrees at an unprecedented 2.05 atmospheres of pressure, federal fusion funds have been diverted to France’s International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), soon to be the world’s biggest, baddest magnetic confinement experiment.
ITERThough its model here is more of an adorable Star Wars droid.
Scheduled for completion in 2015, numerous delays have pushed that to 2021 at least, with its cost soaring from an initial $5 billion to about $40 billion and counting. But hey, it’s shaping up to look dope as hell.
ITERIt’ll be an amazing venue for the 2022 World Cup.
Meanwhile, in Japan, they have the Large Helical Device (LHD), a project of the National Institute For Fusion Science in Toki, Gifu Prefecture. The LHD attempts to mimic the action at the core of stars by trapping hellishly hot plasma within a magnetic field confined inside a twisted 44-foot metal tube. More importantly, though, it looks like they ripped the design straight out of H. R. Giger’s nightmares.
From the outside, the LHD looks pretty innocuous:
Graduate University for Advanced StudiesJust a run-of-the-mill planet factory.
But on the inside, its eight intertwining superconducting coils look like the kind of porn that Japanese robots won’t admit to watching …
Joe Nishizawa/National Institute for Fusion ScienceThey had to invent four new dimensions to build this.
To achieve fusion without the gravitational advantage of a body 330,000 times the mass of the Earth, terrestrial fusion devices must heat fuel to about 100 million degrees Celsius. This roiling hell-stew would quickly melt the very machine that created it, so magnetic fields exerting 1,000 tons of pressure per meter are required to separate the plasma from the inner walls. For some reason, this requires giant metal tentacles.