Category Archives: From the Archives

From the Archives: Historical Bad@$$es: The Moonwalkers (August 25)

In memoriam of the first moonwalker, Neil Armstrong, today’s fun fact is about the moonwalkers:

Nine manned missions to the moon have taken place since 1968 when the Apollo 8 mission was launched, and all have been undertaken by the United

States. Of those missions (Apollo 8, 10-17), six (Apollo 11, 12, 14-17) landed on the moon. The following is the list of people who have been to the moon (meaning they have at least been in orbit around the moon), in order of date orbited, then rank for mission. Those marked with an asterisk (*) walked on the moon during the indicated mission, those marked with a caret (^) are appearing on the list for a second time.
Apollo 8: Commander Frank Borman II
Command Module Pilot James Lovell Jr.
Lunar Module Pilot William Anders
Apollo 9: Commander James McDivitt
Command Module Pilot David Scott
Lunar Module Pilot Russell “Rusty” Schweickart
Apollo 10: Commander Thomas Stafford
Command Module Pilot John Young
Lunar Module Pilot Eugene Cernan
Apollo 11: Commander Neil Armstrong*
Command Module Pilot Michael Collins
Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr.*
Apollo 12: Commander Charles “Pete” Conrad Jr.*
Command Module Pilot Richard Gordon Jr.
Lunar Module Pilot Alan Bean*
Apollo 13: Commander James Lovell Jr.^
Command Module Pilot Thomas Mattingly II
Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise Jr.
Apollo 14: Commander Alan Shepard Jr.*
Command Module Pilot Stuart Roosa
Lunar Module Pilot Edgar Mitchell*
Apollo 15: Commander David Scott*
Command Module Pilot Alfred Worden
Lunar Module Pilot James Irwin*
Apollo 16: Commander John Young^*
Command Module Pilot Thomas Mattingly II
Lunar Module Pilot Charles Duke Jr.*
Apollo 17: Commander Eugene Cernan^*
Command Module Pilot Ronald Evans
Lunar Module Pilot Harrison Schmitt*

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Filed under From the Archives, Historical Bad@$$, History, Science, Space

From the Archives: Lacuna (Matata) (August 24)

A lacuna is the untranslatability of a word from a given language to another, or the accidental absence of a word that is allowed by that languages grammatical rules. In the case of accidental absence, you can turn some verbs in English (recite, arrive, etc.) into nouns by dropping the “e” and adding “al” (recital, arrival). However, describe does not have it’s noun form (describal). Similarly, in English, there is no gender neutral form of “uncle” or “aunt”, and there are no male or female forms of “cousin”. In the case of untranslatability a concept that has a word in one language might not have a word in another. For example, English has no word for someone who is not a virgin (specifically no noun), Romanian has no word for shallow (as in shallow water) and Welsh has no word for 11 (really it’s something like tenty one, but that’s two words so it doesn’t count). Untranslatability is overcome by borrowing words from other languages, creating new words, or translating into a phrase in order to convey that missing concept.

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Filed under Culture, From the Archives, Language

Double Post From the Archives: Sharks (August 14 & 15)

Sharks are arguably the oldest family of large animals still alive, with the oldest accepted shark fossil being about 420 million years old, predating the dinosaurs, land animals, and even land plantlife. Sharks as a group have survived four major mass extinctions, each of which had killed at least 70% of all species then living on the planet. Sharks have a great sense of smell, able to detect blood in a concentration of one part per million (for every drop of blood, there are 1 million drops of water), and they have another sense called electroreception, which allows them to detect Earth’s magnetic field…and any movement of nearby prey. Only four shark species (great white, tiger, bull and oceanic whitetip) produce a significant number of fatal shark attacks. Sharks in general, and those four in particular, are the top predators of their environment, and like many other natural hunters, are curious of unfamiliar creatures (read: humans). However, they lack any means to explore the unknown other than their mouth, which can explain some shark attacks considering humans are generally not sufficient prey to warrant feeding as a reason to attack. On average, there is less than one death from a shark attack each year while there are, on average, forty deaths from lightning strike. Finally, the eggs of the grey nurse shark hatch inside the mother and when the first embryo develops, it eats its sibling’s embryos and any unhatched eggs. Talk about sibling rivalry.

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Filed under Biology, From the Archives, Science

From the Archives: Operation Bernhard (August 17)

Notice: the following post is an obligatory fulfillment of Godwin’s Law, which may or may not be discussed in a later post.

Beginning in 1942 Nazi Germany devised Operation Bernhard, a plan to bomb and demolish the British economy. Using prisoners primarily from Sachsenhausen but also Auschwitz and other concentration camps, SS Major Krüger directed a team of about 140 prisoners to forge £5, £10, £20 and £50 notes which, at the program’s end in 1945, would end up totaling £134,610,810. The forged notes are considered the best counterfeits ever produced, being virtually indistinguishable from official Bank of England notes. The notes were never dropped on England, but were used by the Nazi foreign intelligence to pay for their activities. In early 1945 another similar operation was in the works to forge American $100 bills, but was cancelled one day after starting.

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Filed under Economics, From the Archives, History

From the Archives: Football, football, and football (August 6)

Of the three types of football only one (association football, aka soccer) is played regularly at the Olympics [Association football has been an event in every Summer Olympic Games except the 1896 and 1932 Games]. Rugby union was a part of the men’s competitions at the 1900, 1908, 1920 and 1924 Summer Olympics and Rugby sevens is expected to be played at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janiero. Gridiron (aka American) football has never been played at the Olympics, but used to be so similar to rugby union that the American team actually took home the gold medal in the 1920 and 1924 competitions.

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Filed under Culture, From the Archives, Sports

From the Archives: Bald Eagles (August 13)

Today’s fun fact is from the original Facebook posts:

The national bird of the United States, the Bald Eagle, can be found in the wild in any state except Hawaii. With a range that stretches from Alaska, though Canada and the Lower 48, and into Northern Mexico, the population of the Bald Eagle is thriving and was removed from the Threatened Wildlife lists of the Lower 48 states in June 2007. The nests of Bald Eagles can weigh up to 1 ton, and are the biggest of any North American bird. The Bald Eagle’s Eurasian cousin, the White-tailed eagle (which resembles the Bald Eagle, but with a brown head), can typically be found in North and East Europe, but has pocket ranges from Greenland to Japan and from Iran to Russia. On average, the White-tailed Eagle is slightly larger than the Bald Eagle, but lacks the distinction of being a national symbol.

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Filed under Biology, From the Archives

Space Week Day 3: Black Holes are not Vacuum Cleaners (August 28)

If Earth were to be replaced by an Earth-mass black hole, almost nothing in the universe would change. It wouldn’t start sucking things up, there would be no major gravitational disturbances, nothing. All that would happen is that anything that passed through a region the size of a peanut would be absorbed into the black hole, and anything that passed nearby would be distorted. All objects have an event horizon (the surface of a black hole), but most objects are far larger than their event horizon (a black hole with Earth’s mass is about the size of a peanut). Black holes also have something called a photon sphere, where photons (light waves/particles) orbit the black hole. Finally, if you were to try and fall into a black hole (for science of course) you would experience a process known as spaghettification. Since, as you approach the black hole, the parts of your body closest to the black hole are being pulled harder by gravity than those far away, you will be stretched, slowly are first but then more quickly, until all of your body is within the event horizon. What happens then? Nobody knows. The current mathematical models used in physics cannot describe what happens within the event horizon of the black hole.

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Filed under From the Archives, Science, Space

Space Week Day 2: The Five Dwarfs (August 27)

…Neptune was discovered in 1846, and there seemed to be no more reason to worry. Then a guy named Clyde came along. In 1930 Clyde Tombaugh discovered a rocky body beyond the orbit of Neptune. Named Pluto late in March 1930, the planet was originally thought to have a mass similar to that of the Earth, but eventually more accurate estimate revised this to smaller and smaller amounts, until a mass of .2% of Earth’s was settled upon. Again, as with the “forgotten four”, Vesta, Juno, Ceres and Pallas, more and more bodies in Pluto’s region of space were found. Some of these bodies were given special names like Eris, Makemake, Haumea, Sedna, Chaos, Varuna, Quaoar and Typhon, among many other trans-Neptunian “planets”. In August 2006 the International Astronomical Union (IAU) put together a definition of a planet as an object that 1) orbits the sun, 2) has a nearly spherical shape and 3) has cleared its neighborhood of debris. The “demotion” of Pluto from planet to dwarf planet was simply the result of not having a formal definition of what a planet is. The five official dwarf planets are: Ceres, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake and Eris. Finally, nineteen moons are large enough to be classified as planets or dwarf planets, should they orbit the sun. They are: Ganymede, Titan, Callisto, Io, the Moon, Europa, Triton, Titania, Rhea, Oberon, Iapetus, Charon, Umbriel, Ariel, Dione, Tethys, Enceladus, Miranda and Proteus.

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Space Week Day 1: The Forgotten Four (August 26)

Planet comes from the ancient Greek astēr planētēs, or wandering star. Back in that period of time it would have been reasonable to call them this, since the only way to observe them was with the naked eye. This method of observation, the Hellenistic astronomer (among other things) Ptolemy created a list of the seven planets, which then included (in order of closest to furthest away) the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. As the heliocentric model gained favor the Sun and Moon stopped being planets and the Earth became one, thus, a planet became a body that orbited the Sun. As astronomers looked, they found more planets (thanks to telescopes). Eventually, Uranus and four other, forgotten, planets were discovered. Those four planets were Vesta, Juno, Ceres and Pallas, and they were found in the gap between Mars and Jupiter. In the mid-1800’s, more and more “planets” like the “forgotten four” had been found. They all, including the “forgotten four”, were substantially smaller than any other planet that had been observed, and were removed from the list of planets and were classified as asteroids. Neptune was discovered in 1846, and there seemed to be no more reason to worry.

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