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World's Largest Solar Farm Will Generate Enough Electricity to Power 320,000 Households

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World's Largest Solar Farm Will Generate Enough Electricity to Power 320,000 Households

China is helping Pakistan build the largest solar farm in the world. The Chinese company Xinjiang SunOasis took only three months to install a 100-Megawatt (MW), 400,000-panel pilot power project—marking the first solar power plant in Pakistan. The plant started selling electricity to the grid last month, according to China Dialogue.

When complete in 2017, the solar farm could have 5.2 million photovoltaic cells, producing as much as 1,000 MW of electricity. Photo credit: Quaid-e-Azam Solar Power Park

The Quaid-e-Azam Solar Power Park is a $130 million project on nearly 500 acres of land in the Cholistan desert in Punjab. And it's just the first part of a larger project, the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. When the entire project is complete in 2017, the site could have 5.2 million photovoltaic cells, "producing as much as 1,000 MW of electricity—equivalent to an average sized coal-fired power station—and enough to power about 320,000 households," says China Dialogue.

The area's 13 hours of daily sunlight and its flat expanse of desert make it ideal for a solar farm. "The solar park will also shrink Pakistan’s carbon footprint," Najam Ahmed Shah, the chief executive of the solar park, told China Dialogue, "displacing about 57,500 tonnes of coal burn and reducing emissions by 90,750 tonnes every year."

However, there have been criticisms of the project. This solar farm uses a significant amount of water. "An estimated one liter of water is used to clean each panel. Water consumed to clean the eventual 5.2 million panels built will be colossal for a country that is fast becoming water stressed," says China Dialogue. "Currently, 30 people take 10 to 15 days to clean the entire 400,000 cells." Additionally, the massive project has drastically increased activity in the area and required lots of new infrastructure, which will disturb a once-pristine desert environment, home to a rich diversity of wildlife.

Pakistan is far from the only country experiencing a huge growth in solar projects. The U.S. Navy signed on for the largest purchase of renewable energy ever made by a U.S. federal government agency. Hawaii is piloting a solar-powered hydrogen fuel cell generator for one of its ports. And California is in the process of building one of the world's largest solar farms.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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