Digital Vacations Part 3- Natural Wonders of the World and Beyond
BY MANIDIPA MANDAL
This is part 3 of a planned 4-part series on digital vacations. In part 3 here, explore some of the natural wonders of the world before you head out to space! To read part 1 on digital vacations around the globe, head here and to read part 2 on all about animals and their habitats, head here.
We did the cultural circuits and then we went wild; there’s still more than half a summer’s holiday left though. This week, we suggest a coronacation exploring some of the natural wonders of the world, before you carry on to outer space, with a short detour through the science and tech that makes such explorations even possible.
NATURAL WONDERS OF THE WORLD
All of these are suitable from toddler up, really—just that they won’t necessarily have the patience or the perspective to stay through all of these, perhaps.
The Northern Lights
Chase the aurora borealis from the American half of the globe—specifically Manitoba, Canada—to the European edge, where you will find Lights over Lapland. They also appear over Russia, as attested by many a fairytale featuring the Nainas brothers; in Norway; and in Iceland.
The Swiss Alps
The Matterhorn, Aosta Valley, Italy; Valais, Switzerland
Would you credit you can slip through Switzerland in a train for almost an hour online? This Golden Pass tour does demand cheese and hot chocolate on the side—hey, make it a fondue dinner while you’re at it, maybe, with fruit, toasted crusty bread and potatoes to dip, pickles on the side? This much picturesque calls for a special picnic.
Mangrove Forests in Sundarbans, Bangladesh
Some of the most threatened places in the worlds in the event of global warming are mangrove forests, many of which are in deltaic areas. Here’s one in Abu Dhabi (did you even know?) and one in Pichavaram, Tamil Nadu, besides the famous Sundarbans. Then come home to the Mangrove Action Project to learn about the worldwide importance of this type of ecosystem.
Hang Son Doong, Vietnam
The world’s largest cave is showcased in this National Geographic project that follows a trekking expedition deep into the interiors. See if you can zoom in to catch the cave’s flora and fauna, too!
Perito Moreno glacier, Patagonia (Argentina)
Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia, Argentina
Likely unique in that it is actively growing despite global warming, the Perito Moreno glacier in Los Glaciares national park is fed by the melting waters of the Andean ice fields. Curiously, it is surrounded by quite a diverse landscape, not just frozen wastelands.
Zhangjiajie National Park, China
If you thought the Grand Canyon was awe-inspiring, you should see quartz and sandstone pillars here in Zhangjiajie, carved by water, ice and vegetation. Site of an ancient temple from about 870 AD and a glass elevator as well as the world’s highest and longest glass bridge, this terrain was inspiration for some of the mountainous landscape from the Avatar movie.
The Glass Bridge, Zhangjiajie
Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
Giant's Causeway, Ireland
It’s not often that nature’s creations seem to mimic human craftsmanship, which is what makes the 40,000 interlocking basalt columns of Giant’s Causeway an unique attraction. So regularly sized that they appear to be hexagonal paving stones, this strange phenomenon actually originated in a disrupted lava flow, where molten basalt erupted through the chalky layer of the original coastline, further exploration of which here.
Avachinsky Volcano, Kamchatka
This ‘small’ European nation is no longer the giant USSR, but it is still such a diverse space, yet largely ignored. Come, descend into an erupting volcano in the Kamchatka. Step back into the frozen desert of the Chara Sands in Siberia. Drop back down to a red lake in Crimea. In the Urals, you will find the bijou nature sanctuary of Shaitan-Tau and Orenburg, which holds limestone reefs risen from the Cambrian age, besides the expected steppes and bogs.
Of course, we recommend starting at the Great Barrier Reef, with David Attenborough. Have you been to the Palau Islands yet? (Even if you have, we bet baby has not!). Here’s a dive through the reefs of the Bahamas, for good measure.
- The salty clay pan of Deadvlei sits amidst the shifting dunes of the Namib desert.
- The Amazon rainforests—they need no introduction, do they?
- Most of the United States National Parks can be visited via Google, from the fjords of Alaska to lava tubes in Hawaii and the coral reefs of Florida.
- Here’s a dive through the reefs of the Bahamas.
- Explore mud volcanoes and hot springs in the USA’s Yosemite National Park.
Yosemite National Park, USA
- Then come up for the Niagara Falls, Canada.
Niagara Falls, Canada
- Diametrically on the other side of the world, go waltzing through the Australian Outback with Story Spheres’ tour of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
Kata Tjuta, Australia
- Even further down under, see the Aurora Australis.
- How to keep all of these natural wonders intact for ourselves and generations to come? You can find out at nature.org.
Space: the final frontier
This selection, on the other hand, is mainly for middle-school children and older; though some guided exploration will thrill the younger set too, especially via Curiosity.
- Start at the world’s largest telescopes, the twin pair at W. M. Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Let elementary-school kids see where our sky (as marked by the clouds) meets outer space with this ‘cosmic cam’. Older children can explore some of their cosmic videos, and there’s plenty to even awe us adults.
- Also worth a visit: the European Southern Observatory in Chile. Their site also offers lots of images to browse, information on its key discoveries and wallpapers you can use! This app will tell you more about the region, while you’re stopping by.
- Then there’s NASA at Home, with 360-degree walk-throughs of space stations, e-books on the solar system and virtual visualizations of the planets’ surfaces, besides videos and podcasts on outer space exploration. Don’t miss the Exoplanet Travel Bureau.
- For iPhone and iPad users, there’s the Apollo Moon Shot AR simulation games.
- Especially for the older would-be space cadets, may we recommend a virtual acquaintance with aerospace technology, courtesy Boeing Future U? This is where they learn that the future of space exploration is not just about mastering and harnessing STEAM, but also thinking about sustainability—without which, there is no tomorrow, literally. And yes, the future of commercial space travel is in there too.
- And finally, Access Mars with the Curiosity Mars rover, courtesy this collaboration between NASA and Google.
Curiosity Mars Rover
- (As an aside, I guess most of us will miss following the sun for its solar eclipse over Chile this year; watch one from outer space instead, with the BBC.)
…and back to Earth for more science and tech
For a history of human understanding of science and space, the Museo Galileo’s the place. From armillary spheres and planetary clocks, to sandclocks and water clocks and hourglasses, through scary obstetric instruments and models, to old-fashioned chemistry and alchemy cabinets (complete with crucibles), all the way to Galileo’s actual fingers (and a tooth), this tour is for the strong of purpose—and stomach. Oh yeah, they have his original telescope too.
Age: Definitely PG; educated to middle school, at least.
History of Science Museum, Oxford
Another older-child’s journey into ‘how we got there’, the Oxford museum of the history of science has archives of exhibitions on everything from antibiotics, al-mizan and BioArt to steampunk and small worlds (all the way to invisible ones). A personal favourite is Geek is Good, a growlery of geekery through the ages, and another titled simply (self-explanatorily) Eccentricity.
- Tools and inventions right up to the super-computers of the 1980s may be wondered at in the Musee de Arts et Metiers in Paris.
- For the world’s largest selection of working (pre?)historic computers, though, surf over to America’s National Museum of Computing.
- All aboard the world’s largest aircraft, the Airlander 10!
- Rise into the stratosphere via helium balloon.
- Google Expeditions’ curated adventure collection includes a gorge walk and jumping off a cliff.
- Stop by the South Pole, greet the penguins, mind the leopard seals and visit Sir Ernest Shackleton’s hut.
- The USS Midway, formerly an aircraft museum, is the world’s largest floating museum.
- The USS Intrepid, meanwhile, is a sea, air, and space museum rolled into one vessel of awesomeness—and has something to suit a school-aged child of every level!
USS Intrepid, Manhattan, New York, USA
- Ever considered looking at marine traffic across our oceans? Yet not too long ago, continents full of people thought they were the only land in a vast sea!
- Your youngest construction fanatics will feel right at home in Boston Children’s Museum, complete with a gallery of Japanese houses; there’s an on-site STEAM lab too.
- What’s the science in the plate you eat on, the casserole you bake in? See through the science of glass with Corning’s own museum.
Corning Museum, New York, USA
- In Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, Twitch the robot needs some small person’s to help build some simple machines…
- Psst! Ever heard of the Spy Museum? Of course not—it’s super secret. But we got a sneak peak into some of the greatest superpower-free gadgetry real agents use.
- If you like a fast car—and are tall enough to get behind the steering wheel, licence or not—the Ferrari Museum.
Ferrari Museum, Italy
- Should the summer scorcher have you longing to burrow underground, consider the Mines of Mercury, in Italy, and the history of our extraction of minerals from the earth, maybe?
- Back up in space, or rather from down on earth, we love exploring the skies via the Stellarium mobile apps or web app.
Screenshot of Stellarium App
- The Exploratorium is technically a museum, yes—but right now, you can explore exhibits and allied microsites, and also treat it as a summer science camp, if you like. They have apps to support online and offline learning too.
- Another truly exhaustive map is laid out by Nova, which is like the TedEd of science-specific virtual travel.
- Have your older children heard about the Doomsday Clock yet? Time’s a-ticking.
This is our penultimate post in this series. How are you enjoying it? Is there a new area you’d like us to explore for you? Let us know in comments below!
Manidipa Mandal is a seven-year-old parent still learning about parenting. She also likes to read and write about ecology, biology (especially gender), food and travel.