SpaceX oddity: how Elon Musk sent a car towards Mars

It takes a beat or two for the brain to compute. The image is startling, incongruous, barmy. A car floats in space. At the wheel is a spacesuit, seatbelt on. Earth hangs behind it. The two objects don’t work together. The image jars like bad Photoshop. But it is real. The photograph was beamed down to Earth courtesy of Elon Musk’s ego, bravado and taste for the absurd. It is human folly and genius rolled into one, a picture that sums up 2018 so far. Life on Earth feels precarious,…

‘I believed no man would marry me if I didn’t cut’: battling FGM in Uganda

In 2009, when Rebecca Chelimo was 12, she was forced to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM). “I feared abuse and insults from the community. I was told it was a shame to be an uncircumcised girl. I believed no man would marry me if I didn’t cut. So I did it,” says Chelimo, from her home in Alakas village, in eastern Uganda. Uganda is one of the 29 countries in Africa where FGM is still performed, despite it having been outlawed in 2010. Compared with other countries, Uganda has a low prevalence…

Meet the dogs of Chernobyl – the abandoned pets that formed their own canine community

We are in the woods behind the Chernobyl plant when the dog runs at us. It is thin, with brindle fur and yellow eyes. Igor, our guide, makes a lunge and clamps his hands over its snout. They wrestle in the snow and icy water shakes from the trees. The dog’s eyes flash as Igor grabs a stick and throws it into the trees. Distracted, the animal chases it and our little group is free to move. But the dog reappears and drops the stick at Igor’s foot. He throws…

How Bill Gates aims to clean up the planet

It’s nothing much to look at, but the tangle of pipes, pumps, tanks, reactors, chimneys and ducts on a messy industrial estate outside the logging town of Squamish in western Canada could just provide the fix to stop the world tipping into runaway climate change and substitute dwindling supplies of conventional fuel. It could also make Harvard superstar physicist David Keith, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and oil sands magnate Norman Murray Edwardsmore money than they could ever dream of. The idea is grandiose yet simple: decarbonise the global economy by extracting global-warming…

Launceston for foodies: an excuse to stay in the city

Launceston has long been a popular gateway to tourist hotspots like Cradle Mountain. But while in the past visitors have picked up their hire cars from the airport and taken off to the hills, there are increasing reasons to spend more time in Tasmania’s second city. New hotels are going up in Launceston, plus Mona’s summer festival Mona Foma decamping there next year. An increasingly sophisticated foodie culture is developing using the incredible produce from the area – one that is being celebrated in a food festival this weekend. Launceston…

Trinidad’s jihadis: how tiny nation became Isis recruiting ground

Five years ago, Tariq Abdul Haqq was one of Trinidad and Tobago’s most promising young boxers, a Commonwealth Games medallist with Olympic dreams. ‘An incredible transformation’: how rehab, not prison, worked for a US Isis convert Now he lies dead somewhere in Iraq or Syria, buried in the ruins of the self-declared caliphate, along with dozens of his countrymen. Together they formed one of the most unlikely, and most underreported groups of fighters drawn to Isis. The tiny Caribbean nation, with a population of just 1.3 million, lies about 10,000km from the former…

The long read ‘Migrants are more profitable than drugs’: how the mafia infiltrated Italy’s asylum system

Joy, a young Nigerian woman, was standing in the street outside the sprawling, overcrowded Cara di Mineo reception centre for asylum seekers in central Sicily, waiting for someone to pick her up when I met her. It was late summer 2016, and the weather was still hot. She said she was 18, but looked much younger. She was wearing a faded denim jacket over a crisp white T-shirt and tight jeans, and six or seven strings of colourful beads were wrapped around her neck. A gold chain hung from her…

The strange beauty of Greece’s weirdest town

By Alex Sakalis Originally designed as a utopia by Mussolini’s architects, Lakki fell into ruin and few now know it exists. Alex Sakalis visits to find out why it deserves a second chance. There is a town in Greece like no other. Lakki, on the Dodecanese island of Leros, is unique. Its church, austere and minimalist, is more Bauhaus than Mamma Mia. The school, with its wide, looping porticos, is a hybrid of modernist and Byzantine elements. The pulsating Art Deco cinema seems to power towards the sea like a…

Migrants’ heroine faces jail for people smuggling

A Spanish woman has been credited with saving the lives of thousands of migrants crossing the Strait of Gibraltar to get to Europe. So why is she now facing a lengthy prison sentence? When Helena Maleno gets the call, she does not think twice. As soon as she has been told that a boat has set forth into the treacherous waters of the Strait of Gibraltar, she alerts the emergency services. Based in Tangier for the past 16 years, Ms Maleno, who heads a non-governmental organisation called Walking Borders, monitors…

5 signs the world’s improving, according to Bill Gates’s new favorite book ever

Bill Gates has long been a huge fan of Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker and his book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.” In fact, last year the Microsoft MSFT, -0.15%  founder hailed it as the most inspiring book he has ever read, and he urged college grads to read it. Well, Pinker apparently has managed to top himself with his new book, “Enlightenment Now,” which is “like ‘Better Angels’ on steroids,” according to Gates. “I read the book slowly since I loved it so much, but I think most people…