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OpenLearn Live: 28th January 2016

Updated Thursday 28th January 2016

When the sun turns rectangular, and an update on the US Presidential election. Free learning from across the day.

OpenLearn Live puts free learning at the heart of your world. This page will be updated across the day.

Yesterday, we heard of toxic fumes in planes, welcomed back Thinking Allowed and marked Holocaust Memorial Day

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Today's posts

US election: a short reading list


We're finally in election year - and in just another ten months or so America will have its new president. Or maybe a massive legal battle over who the new president might be. Here's a quick catch-up to some interesting pieces on the race for the White House:

He was then given control of his father’s real estate company in 1974, at the age of 28. While it is always difficult to know the exact state of Trump’s finances, it is estimated that if he’d simply invested his share of his father’s company in a mutual fund on the stock market in 1974, it would be worth $3 billion today and if he’d invested the $200m that Forbes magazine determined he was worth in 1982, it would have grown to more than $8 billion. This is what’s behind the idea that Trump would be even richer if he’d done nothing.

However, Trump has done a lot. He has had a rollercoaster career, which has involved carefully negotiating bankruptcy. The current count shows that a casino-hotel he owned and ran filed for bankruptcy in 1991; another hotel of his did the same in 1992; then, again in 2004, a multi-site hotel-casino group he owned and ran went bankrupt; then it happened again to his entire organisation in 2009 and it almost happened again in 2014.

René Lindstädt explains the Iowa caucuses and why they're important:

Partly by accident of history and partly by design, Iowa has made its caucuses the first point at which presidential candidates can actually say they’ve won something.

Winning debates and being ahead in polls is certainly helpful, keeping candidates in the media spotlight and generating momentum. But the Iowa caucuses are the first contest to allocate convention delegates to candidates, and a win or at least a good showing offers a candidate enormous momentum. A poor performance in Iowa is likely to diminish the chances of a candidacy to the point that supporters will withdraw (including and not least importantly financial support).

Hillary Clinton continued the attack on Sunday night. From the debate’s opening minutes, she came out swinging, attacking Sanders for his uneven voting record on gun control and his ambitious heath care proposals.

But none of Clinton’s attacks did serious damage to Sanders, and he was strikingly effective with counterattacks of his own.

Sanders drew blood when he repeatedly criticized Clinton for her close ties to Wall Street. He reminded viewers that Clinton received US$600,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs, a New York investment bank that many Democratic voters see as the preeminent symbol of economic inequality in America.

Sanders also scored points with his sustained criticism of Super PACs and the corrupting influence of large campaign contributions. No Super PACs support Sanders, and the senator has proudly based his campaign on an enormous number of small donors. Sanders' rejection of big money politics resonates with rank-and-file Democratic voters, who overwhelmingly favor campaign finance reform.

In short, Sanders used the debate effectively to position himself as a strong, authentic and defiant liberal candidate for president.

BBC Inside Science

Last week we were a bit vague about what was going to be on BBC Inside Science; so this week we've been a bit smarter and waited until it's gone out. This week's programme has the zika virus (well, it has a feature on the virus, it doesn't actually have the virus) and an update on penguin watch.

Listen to the programme on iPlayer

Download the programme

More about the science behind this week's show

Data Privacy Day


Today is Data Privacy Day. We know you didn't send your loved one a card; we checked your bank details. Why not make ammends by taking time to enjoy the Ministry of Sharing game together?

Play the Ministry of Sharing

Weather curiosities: Novaya Zemyla Effect

This week, we're starting up with a collection of strange weather phenomena. Yesterday, we watched a derecho sweep onto a gas station. Today, we're going to explore the Novaya Zemlya effect.

A possible Novaya Zemlya effect over San Francisco Creative commons image Icon Brocken Inaglory under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license

What is the Novaya Zemyla effect? It's an optical illusion where the sun can appear to be rectangular or like an eggtimer, and can also make it seem to the observer that the sun is rising before the expected time for sunrise.

It's named for a island in Siberia, where the explorer Willem Barents (one of those people who have an entire sea named after him) got trapped by ice during the winter of 1596/97. So far north, the explorer's team saw the sun set on November 3rd and knew they were unlikely to see the sun again until February 8th. They were surprised, then, when the sun appeared in the sky on January 24th, and again on January 27th.

Barents' colleague Gerrit de Veer published his observations on his return to warmer climates, but not everyone believed him. Indeed, it wasn't until the very end of the 19th century that scientists started to accept and understand the claims.

For this to happen, there needs to be a long, long inversion layer - an area where the temperature of the atmosphere changes, with warmer air near the ground (an inversion from how you'd normally expect the air to behave). If this layer is long enough - hundreds of kilometres - light from the sun will refract back and forth, "bending" in the atmosphere. And if the sun is in the right place beyond the horizon, this bending and bouncing of light is enough to make it appear that the sun is higher than it is. Even, under circumstances like those of Novaya Zemyla in 1597, as if it had risen before it was due.

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