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Amusing Planet - Amazing Places, Wonderful People, Weird Stuff

Draining of Fucine Lake  

In western Abruzzo, in central Italy, about 80 kilometers east of Rome, lies one of Italy's most fertile plains. The vegetables that are grown here are highly appreciated across Italy for their distinguishing quality and taste. Particularly popular is the Fucino potato which was awarded the "Protected Geographical Indication" in 2014—a quality label awarded by the European Union to agricultural products of excellence closely tied to a particular territory. Surrounded by low hills, ...

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2020-05-20 20:37:00

Tsar Tank  

Before World War I, military tanks were a mere concept. Leonardo da Vinci made sketches of a human-powered armored vehicle, with canons all around it. In the 15th century, a Czech general built armored wagons fitted with cannons and used them effectively in several battles. In the short story, The Land Ironclads, first published in 1903, H.G. Wells imagined hundred-foot long armored fighting vehicles equipped with canons and rifles, and large enough to carry a platoon. Around the upper edges of

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2020-05-19 16:30:00

Aerotrain: The High-Speed Train That Almost Revolutionized Transport  

Some of the fastest trains in service today have a top speed in excess of 200 miles per hour. With the exception of Shanghai maglev, all of them are conventional wheel-on-tracks system, which is remarkable because rolling friction has always been the biggest obstacle to high-speed travel. But if you want to see what the future has in store for rail travelers, just look at the world speed records—out of the top ten speed record holders, eight are maglev trains. The highest speed achieved by a...

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2020-05-15 20:37:00

Remembering Epidemics With Plague Columns  

Military victories are much celebrated, but a victory against a common enemy, such as a disease, is as important, especially in older times when human population was routinely decimated by waves of killer epidemics. In such times, people desperately seeking for cures and respite from the sufferings offered prayers and votive offerings to the Gods. Those cities who could afford erected large churches, such as the Santa Maria della Salute in Venice, constructed after the Italian Plague of 1629-1...

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2020-05-14 16:04:00

Vennbahn: The Railway That Created a Peculiar Border Problem  

Germany and Belgium's border problem. Photo: gunnsteinlye/Flickr Along the German-Belgian border runs an old disused railway track, the Vennbahn. It passes through three countries, starting at the German town of Aachen, goes through Belgian territory and ends in Troisvierges in northern Luxembourg. Along the way it snakes in and out of Germany and Belgium creating a very odd border situation in the region. © Amusing Planet, 2020.

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2020-05-12 15:23:00

Turnspit Dogs  

Observe the scene above depicting the inside of an inn at Newcastle, Wales, in the late 19th century. Men and women are sitting around the tables gossiping over drinks and smoke, waiting for the meat to get done. A woman is sitting by the fire tending the rotisserie, but the actual work is being done by a small dog furiously running inside a small hamster wheel hanging from the ceiling. He is the turnspit dog—a short-legged, long-bodied dog breed with a heavy head and drooping ears. Famed zo...

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2020-05-11 20:21:00

The Pearl Rush of Caddo Lake  

Caddo Lake. Photo: Maciej Kraus/Flickr Natural pearls are a rarity today, but a hundred years ago, before British biologist William Saville-Kent first developed the technique of pearl culturing, natural pearls were found in many parts of the world and it was the only kind of pearl people wore. For thousand of years, divers retrieved natural pearls from wild oysters in the Indian Ocean in areas such as the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Mannar. The pearl fisheries of the Persian G

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2020-05-09 12:16:00

Kruger Shalati: The Train Hotel Over Sabie Bridge  

For several years, it was possible to hop into a train at Komatipoort, on the South Africa-Mozambique border, and ride through the wilderness of the Kruger National Park up to Tzaneen, a large town located outside the National Park. On the way, the train stopped at the railway bridge over Sabie river, where guests disembarked and were escorted by armed rangers right into the bush. After enjoying the park by day, the guests retreated to their carriages at night to sleep before moving on to thei

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2020-05-07 16:36:00

The Bayeux Tapestry  

History is not always written. Sometimes it's carved. Sometimes it's embroidered. In a museum in Bayeux, in Normandy, is such a piece of commemorative work—a 70 meter stretch of fabric embroidered with figures and scenes that tell one of the most famous stories in British history—the Norman Conquest of England in the 11th century by William, Duke of Normand,y who became the King of England in 1066 after the Battle of Hastings. The Bayeux Tapestry was made soon after the battle, and te...

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2020-05-06 20:03:00

The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary  

When cotton first came to Europe from Central Asia during the Middle ages, people were fascinated by the fluffy, fibrous balls that resembled wool. They knew cotton grew on trees, but they were unaware exactly how. Having never seen a flower that fluffy, people just assumed that the cotton came from lambs, but the lambs themselves grew on trees. © Amusing Planet, 2020.

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2020-05-05 20:32:00

Black Weddings: Marrying in The Time of Cholera  

Last month, a peculiar wedding ceremony took place at a cemetery in Bnei Brak, a city in Israel, just east of Tel Aviv. With government regulation prohibiting large gatherings in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic, the wedding was a small affair with only a few attendants huddled under a small black canopy, the chuppah. The groom was an orphan and while the identify of the bride was not disclosed, she was probably an orphan herself. The two had never met before, never known each other. These

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2020-05-01 16:06:00

Cosmos 954: The Nuke That Fell From Space  

What goes up must eventually come down, including satellites that are currently orbiting the earth. After their work is done, they will be deliberately tossed back into the atmosphere where they will burn up in the high altitudes. Little, if any, will actually hit the ground. But sometimes a satellite fails and falls back to earth unpredictably, posing hazard to human population, wildlife and the environment. And what if the satellite contained an active nuclear reactor? © Amusing Plan

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2020-04-29 21:01:00

The Allure of Gigantic Excavators  

A young girl stands inside the enormous bucket of "Big Muskie", the world's largest dragline excavator. Photo: Charles Barilleaux/Flickr  Near McConnelsville, Ohio, just off State Route 78, is the Miners' Memorial Park dedicated to the coal mining industry of southeastern Ohio that dominated the economy of this part of America until about fifty years ago. The small park is centered around a single exhibit—a colossal steel bucket that was once attached to the business end of the lar...

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2020-04-28 11:49:00

The Mysterious Hum Nobody Can Explain  

For the past nine years, residents of Windsor city, situated on the Canadian side of the US-Canada border just across Detroit river, have been complaining of a mysterious and persistent low-frequency humming noise. It comes and goes at random intervals, sometimes lasting hours and other times droning on for days. Those who can hear it—for not everyone can—compares the uncomfortable hum to an idling diesel engine or a pulsating subwoofer. Others say it sounds like a continuous distant thund...

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2020-04-25 19:41:00

The Turkish Hotel Built Above an Ancient Ruin  

In 2009, a construction crew digging the foundation for a new hotel in Antakya, Turkey, made an astonishing discovery. They uncovered a vast mosaic dating back to Roman times, along with more than 35,000 artifacts spanning some 2,300 years from at least 13 different civilizations. Construction of the hotel was immediately put on hold, while a six-month excavation took place. The find would have dashed the hopes of any hotelier, but the Asfuroğlu group decided to embrace the challenge, integ...

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2020-04-25 12:29:00

The Artist Who Got Carried Away: The Story of The Peacock Room  

In 1876, the British shipping magnate Frederick Richards Leyland bought himself a grand house at 49 Princes Gate in the fashionable neighbourhood of Kensington in London. Shortly after, he engaged architect Richard Norman Shaw to remodel and redecorate his home. Redesigning the dining room, however, was entrusted to the gifted architect Thomas Jeckyll, who was known for his Anglo-Japanese styles. Leyland had a large collection of Chinese blue and white porcelain, mostly from the Kangxi era o

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2020-04-23 16:30:00

Ama: The Freediving Fisherwomen of Japan  

In ancient times, the only way to gather food and other resources, such as sponge and pearl, from the sea bed was to hold one's breath and dive to the bottom—a technique known as skin diving or freediving. The longer the diver could hold his breath, the longer he could stay underwater and the more he could collect without having to come up for air. The modern breathing apparatus has made this hazardous profession obsolete. Today, skin-diving is performed mostly as a form of competitive sport...

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2020-04-21 17:00:00

The Shortest Rivers in The World  

Most people imagine rivers to be long meandering waterways flowing down faraway mountains, through the valleys and the plains until it reaches the ocean or a lake. Along its entire route, the river fertilizes the land allowing plants and crops to grow. Animals congregate around its banks, humans build towns and cities. Water from rivers are diverted for flood control, irrigation, power generation, drinking, and even waste disposal. This is true for many rivers on this planet. But there are also

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2020-04-20 19:43:00

The Elevator Shaft That Came Before The Elevator  

The Cooper Union's Foundation Building in Lower Manhattan was completed in 1859. This large six-story brownstone building of Anglo-Italianate style featuring heavy, ornate, round-arched windows was the first building in the world that was designed to accommodate an elevator—four years before such an invention became available for passenger use. At that time, New York was growing vertically and Peter Cooper, the founder of Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science—one of America's lea...

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2020-04-17 16:26:00

The Watts Tower  

On a small triangular plot of land, in a suburb just south of downtown Los Angeles, stands one of the greatest pieces of outsider art—a set of tall towers made of steel, wire mesh and concrete, inlaid with broken pieces of tiles, glass, and pottery, and other found items. Its creator was a semi-literate Italian immigrant named Simon Rodia, who spent 33 years from 1921 to 1954 building this architectural marvel known as the Watts Towers. Not much is known about Rodia's early life except that...

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2020-04-16 10:59:00

The Secret of Coade Stone  

The large lion statue that stands at the east end of Westminster Bridge, near the Houses of Parliament, holds a secret—it is made neither of stone nor of concrete but from a special mixture of ingredients whose recipe was lost to the world for more than a hundred years. The statue is close to two hundred years old, yet looks brand new with no visible signs of weathering on its surface. The fine details of its modelling still remain clear after centuries of exposure to the corrosive atmosphere ...

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2020-04-13 20:44:00

Rettungsbojen: The Floating Rescue Buoys of The Luftwaffe  

During World War 2, both the RAF and the Luftwaffe lost a large number of pilots at sea. The British used a couple of high speed boats that patrolled the English Channel and picked up downed pilots before they were overcome by the elements. The Germans used the Heinkel He 59 float planes that could land on water, in addition to boats. The German sea rescue service, or Seenotdienst, was more successful than the Allied effort. They had bases all along the coast of Denmark, Norway, Netherlands and

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2020-04-10 17:07:00

The Grain Race  

By the end of the 19th century, steam-powered vessels had almost completely replaced sailing ships in the commercial shipping business. But along the longer routes, such as from Australia to Europe around Cape Horn, a sailing ship was as efficient as a steam ship. This route, historically sailed by clipper ships and thus known as the "clipper route", offered captains the fastest circumnavigation of the world, and hence potentially the greatest rewards. Many grain, wool and gold clippers sail...

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2020-04-09 16:10:00

The Historic Meeting on Elbe River  

April 25, 1945, is a date few remember. But it was a significant day in the history of the world. On this day, American troops sweeping in from the west and the Red Army advancing from the east joined forces on the Elbe river, near Torgau, about 100 km south of Berlin. They shook hands, exchanged souvenirs and posed for photographs. The meeting was historic because it meant that they had successfully cut the Germany army in two. © Amusing Planet, 2020.

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2020-04-09 16:10:00

The Green-Haired Mary River Turtle  

The Mary River turtle lives exclusively in the waters of the Mary River in south-east Queensland, Australia. Despite being one of Australia's largest freshwater turtles, it gained scientific identification and classification less than thirty years ago. The Mary River turtle managed to avoid detection for so long possibly due to its extraordinary respiratory system that allows it to breath underwater, therefore seldom requiring to emerge out of the water for air. The turtle performs this unusua...

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2020-04-07 20:40:00

Operation Tat-Type: Why Some American Kids Got Tattooed With Blood-Type  

Photo: Hole in the Clouds The paranoia during the early years of the Cold War was so great that many American school children were made to wear dog tags, like soldiers wear around their necks, to enable identification of bodies in the aftermath of an atomic attack. Later, another bizarre initiative was promoted—tattoo children and young people with their blood-type. Blood-type tattoos was anticipated to save thousands of lives following an atomic bomb attack because this information could e...

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2020-04-06 19:17:00

The Caprivi Strip  

The country of Namibia has a sizeable landmass with an enviable coastline by the South Atlantic Ocean. Yet, a thin sliver of land, no more than 32 kilometers wide, protrude eastward for about 450 kilometers from the north-eastern corner of the country towards Zimbabwe, seeking something it doesn't have. This odd finger-like intrusion is called the Caprivi Strip, after German Chancellor Leo von Caprivi, who negotiated the acquisition of the land with the United Kingdom in 1890. © Amus...

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2020-04-03 12:59:00

Nyepi: Bali's Day of Silence  

Every year, towards the end of March, the entire island of Bali in Indonesia, goes into standstill. Flights are grounded, shops remain closed, streets are deserted of traffic and pedestrian. All residents lock themselves up in their houses and switch off their lights. There is no talking, no music, no entertainment. Some even stop eating. This day is called Nyepi, the "day of silence", where devout Hindus meditate and reflect. Balinese Hindu devotees carry an Ogoh-ogoh effigy during a pa...

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2020-04-03 11:19:00

Digitally Reconstructed Medieval Castles  

Europe is known for its magnificent castles and fortresses, but only a few survive in their original form. Since reconstructing them would be financially impossible and culturally abhorrent, a London-based creative agency named NeoMam Studios have decided to digitally restore them to their prime. Using old paintings, blueprints, and textual documents that describe the strongholds, the design team from NeoMam Studios have resuscitated over a dozen castles across Europe. The Poenari Castle in R

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2020-04-01 14:21:00

The Guillotine Haircut  

Women traditionally wore their hair long. So when did short hair become the vogue? Some say it became fashionable only about hundred years ago, but if we are to trace the history of cropped hair, it will take us to 18th-century France, just as the nation was coming out of turmoil of the Revolution. During the later years of the French Revolution, many fashionable young men and women of the upper and middle classes began to cut their hair short. It was called the Titus haircut, or coiffure à ...

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2020-03-30 16:04:00

Forgotten Jobs: Dog Whipper And Sluggard Waker  

Photo: Nelson Antoine/ In 16th-century England, stray dogs disrupting church service became such a big problem that many parishes employed "dog whippers", whose job was to shoo away dogs and prevent these animals from crowding around the church or attacking priests when he was handing out communion bread and wafers on church steps. The dog whipper carried a whip and a long pair of tongs using which he would grab a dog by its neck and physically remove him from the church g...

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2020-03-28 13:00:00

Joseph Bell, The Real Sherlock Holmes  

An illustration of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson that appeared in a stamp printed in Alderney, circa 2009. Photo: Olga Popova/ The Ardlamont murder was an open and shut case. A young, wealthy aristocrat, Cecil Hambrough, was out hunting on the Ardlamont estate in Scotland with two associates—Alfred Monson, his tutor, and a mysterious third man named Edward Scott, who was identified only as a friend of Monson—when shots were heard. Estate workers saw Monson and Scott runni...

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2020-03-26 16:17:00

The Quarantine Quarters of Dubrovnik  

Social distancing and quarantine are not new concepts. During the Middle Ages, when Europe and Asia were devastated by deadly outbreaks of plague and small pox, physicians had no idea about viruses and bacteria, but they knew enough to isolate the infected to arrest the spread of the disease. The first official decree to introduce quarantine was by the Republic of Ragusa, now the city of Dubrovnik in southern Croatia. Located on the Adriatic coast, the Republic of Ragusa had an active port thr

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2020-03-25 12:16:00

Run Out of Toilet Paper? Use a Stick  

Hoarding toilet paper. Photo: DigitalMammoth/ Chances are, you've run out of toilet paper, unless you are the type who bought eight boxes of it. Since the coronavirus outbreak, toilet paper has become a commodity more precious than gold, with shelves that hold them emptying faster than those that stock milk. While researchers, psychologists and even economists are collectively scratching their heads over this bizarre behavior, we, on the other hand, have a practical solution...

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2020-03-25 10:00:00

Fatal Familial Insomnia: The Disease That Kills by Sleep Deprivation  

Everybody suffers from a little insomnia once in a while, but what if you were unable to sleep for months? Early studies conducted on dogs showed that the absence of sleep was fatal in a few days. In one brutal experiment conducted by a couple of Italian physiologists in the late 19th century, dogs were kept awake for two weeks by forcing them to walk, after which they died. Microscopic study of the dogs' brain cells showed degenerative changes in the brain's neurons. In 1964, an Americ...

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2020-03-22 21:56:00

How Coronavirus Emptied The World's Streets  

As millions of people around the world lock themselves indoors in order to prevent transmission of the dreaded coronavirus, the world outside looks eerily abandoned. The absence of humans and smoke belching vehicles is having a profound effect on the environment, not seen, perhaps, since the Industrial Age began. The atmosphere has become cleaner with significant drop in nitrogen dioxide pollution. The normally polluted waters of the canals of Venice have become so clear that one can see the bot

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2020-03-22 11:11:00

The Mulberry Harbours of Normandy  

When the sea goes out in Arromanches-les-Bains, a small village on the coast of Normandy in northwestern France, the large concrete pontoons that lie half submerged in the salty waters expose themselves in their entirety. These concrete structures played a significant role in the history of Europe, facilitating the landing of thousands of Allied troops and their equipment on the beaches of Normandy during Operation Overlord. Mulberry harbour ruins in Arromanches-les-Bains, Normandy, France. P

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2020-03-18 20:14:00

Barnacle Goose: The Bird That Was Believed to Grow on Trees  

In the days before it was realized that birds migrate, ancient scholars struggled to explain why some species of birds appeared and disappeared as the seasons changed. The idea that these little feathered creatures can travel thousands of miles in search of food and warmth was unimaginable. But the notion was not entirely an alien one. Greek writer Homer believed that cranes flew south in winter to fight the pygmies of Africa, a fable that's repeated by Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder. Ac...

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2020-03-17 12:45:00

The Kettle War  

Photo: B toy Anucha/ The Kettle War of 1784 was a quintessential David versus Goliath story. A formidable naval fleet of the Holy Roman Empire faces a lone battleship, underpowered and hopelessly outnumbered, yet comes back defeated. In the short battle, lasting less than a day, only a single shot was fired, and the only casualty was a soup kettle. © Amusing Planet, 2020.

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2020-03-13 20:39:00

The Earliest Depiction of Jesus Was a Mocking Tribute to Christianity  

In the Palatine museum in Rome there is a collection of ancient graffiti etched on slabs of marble and limestone that once defaced the walls of palaces and public buildings across the Roman Empire. Among these is one that historians call "Alexamenos graffito". It depicts a roughly drawn figure of a man with the head of an ass crucified on a cross. Next to the crucified figure is a smaller figure with one arm extended towards the former. Underneath the figures is a caption, written in equal...

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2020-03-12 16:36:00

The Hanging Cages of St. Lambert's Church in Münster  

If you crane your neck and look up while standing in front of St Lambert's Church in Münster, Germany, you can make out three iron cages hanging from the church's steeple, just above the clock face. The cages are empty, but five hundred years ago they held the mutilated, rotten corpses of three revolutionaries who led one of the most brutal Protestant revolutions in history. Photo: ptwo/Flickr © Amusing Planet, 2020.

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2020-03-11 15:53:00

Cold War Era Bunkers Under Corsham  

The fear of nuclear apocalypse immediately after the end of the Second World War, caused many westerns countries to invest heavily on underground bunkers where important government officials, decision makers, as well as the general populace could hide should there be a Hiroshima-like attack over ground. In the United Kingdom, the panic-stricken government built hundreds of shelters across the island. They ranged in size from small tunnels to vast underground cities equipped with hospitals, cante

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2020-03-10 20:34:00

Sweating Sickness: The Forgotten Epidemic  

The Sleeping Beauty, by John Collier During medieval times, diseases were a constant threat to people's health, brought about by lack of hygiene and poor understanding of the nature of the illness. The myriad diseases that plagued and perplexed medieval physicians are well understood today, but one that remains a historical and medical mystery is the English sweating sickness. In the 15th and 16th centuries, a mysterious epidemic swept across Europe. Victims of the disease first came down ...

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2020-03-09 17:52:00

Celles, The Village That Didn't Drown  

In the late 1950s, residents of Celles, a small village in the Salagou valley in southern France, received notices for evacuation. Their neighborhood had been chosen by the authorities to become the site for a reservoir, which was to be built supposedly for their own benefit. This region has been traditionally known for its vineyards, but lately, the wine market was crashing and prices were dropping. The local government decided that the best way to ride out the crisis was for the farmers to d

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2020-03-09 12:43:00

Terrible National Pak Reviews Illustrated  

The wonderful thing about online reviews is that you will find both five-star and one-star reviews for the exact same product, and this includes America's most pristine and majestic natural wonders—the National Parks. Most of the bad reviews stem from people complaining about petty stuff. Some didn't like the watery coffee at the visitor center. Others couldn't find a parking spot. For others, the day was too hot or too cloudy. When designer Amber Share read these one-star reviews, she...

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2020-03-07 16:26:00

Bathysphere: The World's First Deep-Sea Exploration Vessel  

On the afternoon of September 22, 1932, listeners across America and the UK tuned their radio sets to an extraordinary live broadcast that was being transmitted from inside a small steel sphere hundreds of feet below the ocean's surface. Locked inside the sphere was naturalist William Beebe and inventor Otis Barton, who designed the device. Through a telephone system supplied by Bell Laboratories, Beebe described the wonderful marine life that swam past his tiny quartz window—"a school of ...

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2020-03-05 15:24:00

Scalae Gemoniae: The Stairs of Death  

Not too far from Tarpeian Rock, a cliff on Capitoline Hill in the center of Rome, where convicted criminals were once flung to their deaths, there stood another gruesome execution site. It was a flight of stairs leading from the Arx of Capitoline Hill down to the Roman Forum below. Near the stairs stood Mamertine Prison, where many of the criminals who met horrific deaths at the stairs were imprisoned. A section of the Gemonian stairs in Rome. Photo: RussieseO/ © Amusin

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2020-03-03 21:49:00

The Indian Perfume That Smells Like Rain  

Rainwater flows down a roof. Photo: Anna Nikonorova/ Love that musky, fresh smell of earth that permeates the air when the first rain of the monsoon hits the parched ground? It is known an petrichor, a pleasant cocktail of fragrant chemical compounds, some produced by plants, others produced by bacteria that live on the soil. These bacteria are the main contributors to the distinct earthly smell. When they die during periods of drought, they release a compound called geosmin w

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2020-03-02 20:20:00

The Newspaper That is Published Only on 29th February  

The French newspaper, La Bougie du Sapeur, has been publishing for the last 40 years. Yet, there has been only eleven issues so far. Why? Because it's published only on Leap Day, i.e., 29th of February. La Bougie du Sapeur began as a joke in 1980 between two friends, the polytechnician Jacques De Buisson and Christian Bailly, a press enthusiast and collector of old newspapers. The newspaper's name, literally "The Sapper's Candle", refers to a cartoon character created in the la...

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2020-03-02 11:39:00

Cornfield Bomber: The Fighter Plane That Landed Without Its Pilot  

One of the strangest aviation mishaps that ended happily happened on February 2, 1970. That morning, three F-106 Delta Darts took off from the Malmstrom Air Force Base near Great Falls, in Montana, the United States, on a routine training mission, when one of the F-106, piloted by Captain Gary Faust, entered into a flat spin—which happens when an aircraft stalls and rapidly loses altitude while spinning from wing to wing. Once an aircraft enters into flat spin, it is usually very difficult to ...

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2020-02-27 21:16:00

Wiebbe Hayes Stone Fort  

The Wallabi Group of islands in the Abrolhos archipelago, off the west coast of Australia, contains two distinct sets of islands. The eastern islands are made up of broken corals reefs and are barren with no fresh water. It was here on Beacon Island, where the survivors of the infamous shipwreck of the Batavia were marooned. The other set of the Wallabi Group—the western islands—are larger and are made up of large coral platforms. These islands host rich flora and fauna, such as the tammar w...

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2020-02-26 21:29:00

The Soviet Census Debacle of 1937  

In 1937, the Soviet Union conducted its first population census in eleven years. Soviet leaders, especially Stalin, had great expectations on its outcome. He predicted that the population growth would be over 35 million citizens from the last census. Demographic figures from the census would illustrate how productive the Soviets were compared to the west, and project an image of a healthy, happy, and growing nation. In a speech he made to Soviet Party leaders in 1935, Stalin beamed: Everyb

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2020-02-25 16:51:00

The World's Oldest Dock at Lothal  

The dockyard at Lothal. Photo: DARSHAN KUMAR/ This large rectangular, water-filled structure may look like a reservoir, but is in fact an ancient dock, and one of the oldest in the world. It is located at the site of the ancient city of Lothal situated about 85 kilometers south of Ahmedabad, in the state of Gujarat, in India. Lothal is one of the few sites within the Indus Valley Civilization that is accessible from India. Lothal is believed to be at least 5,000 years old and

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2020-02-25 12:25:00

The Doodles Hidden Inside Swiss Maps  

For centuries mapmakers have been including small, deliberate flaws in their maps—a fake street, a fantasy town—imperceptible to anyone other that the creator, as a copyright trap to catch unauthorized duplication. But sometimes cartographers do it just for fun. A recently published story at Eye on Design brings to light an unspoken tradition among Swiss cartographers to hide small doodles inside Switzerland's official maps. There is a barely perceptible spider here, a fish there, a rec...

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2020-02-24 21:38:00

Where is Ground Zero in Nagasaki?  

On the morning of August 9, 1945, six B29 bombers took off from Mariana Islands, located more than 2,100 kilometers north of Tokyo. One of the aircrafts, Bockscar, was carrying the plutonium bomb, Fat Man. They were  headed for the ancient castle town of Kokura. When the planes arrived at Kokura, they found the city obscured by clouds and smoke. By a strange stroke of luck, Kokura's neighboring city, Yahata, was firebombed the night before, which destroyed more than one-fifth of the city'...

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2020-02-24 15:54:00

Hessy Levinsons Taft: The Jewish Woman Who Was Hitler's “Perfect Aryan Baby”  

Hessy Levinsons Taft, a retired chemistry professor at St. John's University, New York, has an amusing story to tell. When she was only 6 months old, her photograph was selected by the Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels to represent the "perfect Aryan baby". Her cherubic face with chubby cheeks and wide eyes graced the cover of a popular Nazi family magazine Sonne ins Haus or "Sun in the House", and she appeared on cards and posters across Nazi Germany. Unknown to Goebbels, Hes...

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2020-02-22 11:17:00

The Pomological Watercolor Collection  

Before the days of photography, documenting anything accurately was a task that could only be undertaken by an artist or a model maker. So, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture decided, in the late 19th century, that they needed to create a sort of national register of fruits and vegetables, they turned to one of the leading botanical artists of the time William Henry Prestele. In 1887, Prestele was appointed as the first artist for the newly created Division of Pomology. His task was to re

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2020-02-21 15:11:00

The Langweil Model of Prague  

At Prague's City Museum there is a large, unfinished paper and carboard model of Prague depicting how the ancient city appeared in the early 19th century. It was made nearly two hundred years ago by a talented Bohemian lithographer, librarian, painter, and model maker named Antonín Langweil, who devoted the last 11 years of his life to this unusual hobby. Photo: © Amusing Planet, 2020.

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2020-02-20 21:15:00

The Great Hedge of India  

Back in the 19th century, eastern India was separated from the west by an impenetrable belt of trees made up of mostly thorny plants such as the Indian plum and prickly pear, as well as bamboos and babool trees. They formed a man-made barrier, more than a thousand kilometers long, that snaked all the way from Layyah in Punjab (now in Pakistan) to Burhanpur, on the banks of Narmada. Photo: Richard Barnes/ © Amusing Planet, 2020.

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2020-02-19 16:06:00

Nicholas Senn: The Doctor Who Blew Hydrogen Gas Up His Patient's Asses  

Say, you get shot in the stomach. You go to a doctor. The doctor pulls down your pants and starts pumping hydrogen gas up your ass. Then he sets you on fire. Sounds familiar? No? Then you've been going to the wrong doctor. Let me introduce you to Dr. Nicholas Senn, an American surgeon and founder of the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States. He was the president of the American Medical Association in 1897-98 and the chief surgeon of the Sixth Army Corps during the Spanish...

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2020-02-18 21:21:00

The Mysterious Sky Battle Over Nuremberg in 1561  

Throughout history, many observers have reported seeing strange things in the sky. Some of these sightings were, in all probability, natural phenomenon or astronomical events, such as meteor showers and comets, or unusually shaped clouds mistaken for flying saucers. But what happened in the early morning sky over Nuremberg in Germany, in the 16th century, has baffled historians for the past four hundred years. © Amusing Planet, 2020.

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2020-02-17 17:14:00

When Dead Whales Toured The Country  

For almost three decades, from the 1950s though the 1970s, three gargantuan, smelly, whale carcasses toured the length and breadth of Europe. The three whales, named Goliath, Jonah and Hercules, were caught off the coast of Norway and were initially driven around Europe to promote the declining whaling industry after World War 2. Eventually, they were acquired by circus owners and showmen and exhibited as sideshow attractions. Before long, the whales had become an attraction in their own right.

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2020-02-14 16:16:00

Unaweep Canyon: The Canyon With Two Mouths  

Unaweep Canyon in western Colorado, the United States, is a large canyon that cuts across the Uncompahgre Plateau, a large uplift within the Colorado Plateau with an average elevation of nearly 3 kilometers. Unaweep Canyon is the only major canyon in the Colorado River drainage not occupied by a river. Instead, it is occupied by two small creeks, which flows, paradoxically, in opposite directions from a gentle divide within the canyon—the almost imperceptible Unaweep Divide. For this reason, U...

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2020-02-14 12:15:00

Anatoli Bugorski: The Man Who Stuck His Head Inside a Particle Accelerator  

Out of all places to stick your head into, a particle accelerator would rank among the worst. Yet, on that fateful day of 13 July 1978, thirty-six-years-old Russian scientist Anatoli Bugorski just had to. The particle accelerator he was working with at the Institute for High Energy Physics in Protvino, near Serpukhov, Russia, developed a problem. To see what's wrong, Bugorski put his head inside the channel through which an intensely powerful beam of proton shoots through. Unknown to Bugorski...

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2020-02-12 20:29:00

Circus Maximus  

The Colosseum was the Roman Empire's largest amphitheater, but it was not the largest stadium. That title belonged to Circus Maximus, situated just over half a kilometer southwest of the Colosseum. Circus Maximus was the first stadium the Romans built. The stadium was originally constructed in the 6th century BCE, but reached its final form only during the time of Julius Caesar in the middle of the 1st century BCE. Caesar extended the seating tiers to run all around the oval circuit, barring...

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2020-02-12 11:48:00

A Treasure Trove of Antique Car Accidents  

For four decades from 1917 through the late 1950s, Boston Herald-Traveler photographer Leslie Jones covered every major and minor events in and around the city of Boston, including the Great Molasses Flood of 1919 that killed twenty one people, and every storm and blizzard that made Bostonians miserable. He photographed newsmakers and celebrities, and sporting events, such as boxing, racing, sailing, and probably every Red Sox game and player for thirty years. One of his specialties was car acci

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2020-02-11 16:41:00

Cynthia, The Celebrity Mannequin  

The story of Pygmalion, from ancient Greek mythology, is well known. Pygmalion was a sculptor who fell in love with his own creation, which was an ivory statue carved in the shape of a beautiful woman. Pygmalion wished for the statue to become real so that she could be his bride. His wish was granted and they lived happily ever after. Something similar happened to Lester Gaba, an American soap sculptor, who was asked by a luxury department store to design a mannequin for their window displays.

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2020-02-10 16:17:00

London's Only Lighthouse  

On the north bank of River Thames, just across the iconic O2 arena (formerly known as the Millennium Dome), stands London's only lighthouse. It was built in 1866 for the purpose of testing new types of lamps and lighthouse technology, as well as training prospective lighthouse keepers. The hexagonal brick tower with a traditional light at the top was part of the training school and workshop facilities that operated on this wharf. Photo: Matt Brown/Flickr © Amusing Planet, 2020.

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2020-02-10 11:04:00

The Tunnel of Eupalinos  

Digging tunnels is probably among the most toughest engineering projects the ancient people undertook, because it required mastering several sophisticated fields of science including architecture, geodesy, hydraulics, and geology. This makes ancient tunnels fascinating subjects for study. The Tunnel of Eupalinos, on the Greek island of Samos, is one such example. Built in the 6th century BC, and first described by Herodotus, the Tunnel of Eupalinos was a major engineering milestone because it

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2020-02-06 21:48:00

The Znamya Space Mirror  

For a few hours just before dawn on the night of 4 February 1993, a giant spotlight, 5 kilometers in diameter, raced across Europe from west to east, before disappearing into the morning light of Byelorussia. Those who were on the beam's sweep reported seeing a momentary flash of pale silvery light. The spotlight came from a large reflector that was launched into orbit by the Russian Federal Space Agency, some three months earlier from Baikonur Cosmodrome. Called Znamya, which means "ban...

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2020-02-05 22:05:00

Town Pounds  

Scattered across the English countryside and in many former British colonies, especially northeastern United States—an area historically known as New England—one can find small, rectangular areas bounded by stone walls with no visible structure inside. These are town pounds (or village pounds) where stray animals were imprisoned until they could be claimed by their owners. Like the village church, the pound was an indispensable part of mediaeval villages, especially in farming communities, w...

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2020-02-05 17:00:00

Dilmun Burial Mounds  

You can't get around Bahrain without spotting at least one burial mound. They appear like small conical hills, and they usually occur in groups—sometimes, hundreds of them together. The burial mounds date back to the period of the Dilmuns, who were an ancient Semitic-speaking culture in Arabia during the 3rd millennium BCE. Historical evidence suggest the Dilmun civilization were located in the Persian Gulf, on a trade route between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley Civilization, and was an ...

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2020-02-04 16:10:00

That Time When Computer Memory Was Handwoven by Women  

If you look at computer technology from yesteryears, they look comically primitive and bulky. One popular image frequently shared in social media sites show a large cupboard-sized box lifted on to the cargo bay of a Pan American Airways flight. The caption accompanying the image identifies the box as the IBM 305 RAMAC, the world's first commercial hard disk developed in 1957. It had a whooping capacity of only 5 megabytes. In the early days of computing, memory technology permitted a capaci...

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2020-02-03 21:14:00

The Murders Written in Stone  

The Ardwell House East Lodge sits right on the edge of A716 that runs along the east coast of the Rhins of Galloway, in southern Scotland. Located on the grounds of the 18th Century Ardwell House and Garden, this tiny cottage with great views across Luce Bay is billed by developers as "the perfect romantic getaway for couples", and it is, until you wander around the woods surrounding the lodge and come face-to-face with an old weathered rock with a single word chiseled across its face—MURD...

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2020-02-01 12:29:00

Peter's Café Sport: The Post Office in The Middle of The Atlantic  

The Azores in the North Atlantic is one of the most remote archipelago in the world. Situated about 1,500 km from the west coast of Portugal, their location almost mid-way between North America and Europe, makes them an ideal stopover for yachts crossing the Atlantic—and it has been that way for more than three hundred years ever since Jesuit missionaries began visiting the islands on their trips between Brazil and Asia. Today, thousands of sailors anchor in the port of Horta, on Faial Island,...

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2020-01-31 12:00:00

The Beatles' Bumprints in Plymouth Hoe  

The Chinese Theater in Hollywood Blvd is famous for its many footprints and handprints of celebrities set into concrete blocks, but where can you find bumprints? For that, you have to fly to the English coastal city of Plymouth, to the low limestone cliffs facing the English channel. It was here, in 1967, members of one of the most influential bands of our time sat on the grass to enjoy the cool ocean breeze. Photographer David Redfern, who was following the band like a hound as they were they w

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2020-01-31 11:59:00

Brighton And Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway  

Two children looking up at the car of the Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway. Photo: Hemmings Motor News For five years towards the end of the 19th century, there was a peculiar seashore attraction at Brighton, on England's south coast. It was an electric railway, and an extension of the already popular Volk's Electric Railway that runs on the seafront. Only this section ran underwater. Magnus Volk, the British railway engineer, attracted attention in Brighton when he...

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2020-01-28 16:45:00

The Walnut Grove of Arslanbob  

In the Djalalabad region of Southern Kyrgyzstan, at the foot of the Babash Ata Mountain, lies the village of Arslanbob surrounded by an enormous walnut grove—the world's largest. For centuries, this grove has been providing for the residents of this ancient village, now numbering some 13,000. Every autumn, nearly three thousand families that make up Arslanbob leave their homes and head into the mountains' south-facing slopes where walnut trees grow. For the next two months, this forest be...

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2020-01-28 16:32:00

Abu Hureyra, The Place Where Humans Became Farmers  

The transition from hunter-gatherer to farmer in humans probably began at the same time in several different places. But there is one in particular where archaeologists have found evidence of this transformation. That site is Abu Hureyra in modern Syria. Abu Hureyra is an ancient settlement on an artificial mound called a "tell", located in Syria on the south side of the Euphrates valley, about 120 km east of Aleppo. The tell is a massive accumulation of collapsed houses, debris, and prehis...

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2020-01-27 19:52:00

Scuttling at Scapa Flow: When The German Navy Sank its Own Ships  

The Armistice of 11 November 1918, that ended hostiles between the Allied and the Allies, left little for negotiation. The Germans were given a laundry list of terms to agree, but few promises were made by the Allied Supreme Commander, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, in return. One of the conditions of the Armistice was the complete demilitarization of Germany, and the surrender of military material to the Allied. Germany's U-boats should be surrendered immediately, the Allied powers decided, but the...

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2020-01-24 20:51:00

The Last German Surrender  

The weather station where 11 German soldiers were trapped, forgotten by the fallen Nazis. Weather played an important role during the Second World War. It dictated the outcome of Naval battles and decided the routes of military convoys. Weather and visibility affected photographic reconnaissance and bombing raids. Much of D-day planning revolved around the weather, and the landing itself was delayed by 24 hours because of choppy seas. Weather information was so sensitive that it was transmitt

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2020-01-23 20:37:00

The Ghost Town of Gagnon, Quebec  

Gagnon, in Quebec, is a ghost town unlike any other. There are no abandoned buildings, or homes, or any visible infrastructure that would suggest past human habitation, save for a lonely stretch of road that cuts through this former settlement. Yet, less than four decades ago, Gagnon was thriving mining town with an airport, churches, schools, a town hall, an arena, a hospital, and a large commercial center, despite being isolated and accessible only by plane. A sign marking the site of the

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2020-01-23 12:38:00

The 6,000-Year-Old Eel Traps of Budj Bim  

The Gunditjmara people of southwestern Victoria, Australia, have been living in a region of roughly 7,000 square kilometers west of Hopkins River for thousands of years. Their long occupation is evident from the extent to which they created, manipulated and modified the landscape around them. The most culturally significant among them are the water channels, dams, weirs and traps these people built using volcanic rocks to trap, store and harvest eels—one of their major source of sustenance. Th...

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2020-01-22 12:27:00

Stannard Rock Light: The Loneliest Place in The World  

The life of a light housekeeper is always lonely, but for sixty years those who served the Stannard Rock Light in Lake Superior, it was extraordinarily so. Known as "the loneliest place in the world", the Stannard Rock Light is located in the northern half of Lake Superior, off Keweenaw Peninsula. The nearest land, Manitou Island, is situated about 40 km to the northwest, making it the most distant lighthouse in the United States, and probably the entire world. Photo: Lt. Kristopher Thorn...

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2020-01-21 15:47:00

The Skull Tower of Niš, Serbia  

In the city of Niš, in the heart of the Balkan Peninsula, stands a macabre monument to the Serbian resistance against the Ottoman's 400-year rule. But it was built not to celebrate or commemorate the heroic sacrifices of thousands of resistance fighters who lost their lives, but to strike fear in their very hearts. The Serbian Empire fell to the Ottomans in the late 14th century, but the writing was on the wall for a long time. The Empire was crumbling under Stefan Uroš V, whose indecisiv...

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2020-01-20 13:19:00

The Locomotive That Walked: William Brunton's Steam Horse  

Railway engineering has come a long way from Richard Trevithick's first steam locomotive to today's high speed Maglev trains. Throughout this long history spanning more than two hundred years, engineers have come up with all sorts of ideas. Some of these were groundbreaking. Others were implausible and wacky. William Brunton's Mechanical Traveller or Steam Horse falls into the second category. © Amusing Planet, 2020.

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2020-01-18 14:58:00

The Cottbus MiG-21 Crash of 1975  

On Schmellwitzer Street in Cottbus, in northeast Germany, stands an old five-story apartment building. High up on the face of the building, between the second and the third floor, one can still see the scars of an accident that happened nearly half a century ago. On January 14, 1975, thirty-three-year-old Major Peter Makowicka was on a training mission when the MiG-21 that he was flying encountered engine failure. The military control center at Cottbus Air Base ordered the pilot to eject and

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2020-01-16 22:19:00

The Sad Tale of The Dionne Quintuplets  

Nobody could have known, not even Elzire Dionne, that she was going to give birth to quintuplets. Already a mother of five, the shock of giving birth to five more baby girls—Annette, Émilie, Yvonne, Cecile and Marie—knocked her out for two hours. "What will I do with all them babies?" she reportedly screamed. Elzire suspected she was carrying twins, but the possibility of quintuplets didn't cross her mind. And why would it? Doctors say that the odds of naturally occurring quintuplet...

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2020-01-15 20:32:00

Autumn Harvest Drying in Huangling  

Huangling in Wuyuan County, in east China's Jiangxi Province, is a small picturesque village built on the hillside, surrounded by spectacular terraced rapeseed blossom fields. The village dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)—its long history visible in its Hui-style houses, featuring black roof tiles and white walls. Huangling's wonderous landscape captivates tourists from all over China and beyond, but it wasn't always like that. Less than twenty years ago, Huangling was dilap...

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2020-01-15 16:16:00

The Shipwreck That Gave Birth to South Africa  

On 16 January 1647, a fleet of three Dutch ships—the Nieuwe Haerlem, the Olifant and the Schiedam—left Batavia, which is now Jakarta, for the return voyage to The Netherlands. The ships were richly loaded with cargo from the East. En route, the ships encountered a storm and got separated from each other. Now alone, the Nieuwe Haerlem reached Table Bay, on 25 March 1647, where it became stranded on the shallow water. Because the cargo was precious, mostly spices, textile, Chinese porcelain a...

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2020-01-13 21:21:00

Mödlareuth: The German Village Divided by The Cold War  

The village of Mödlareuth in south Germany, straddles the border between the two federal states of Bavaria and Thuringia. For more than 140 years, this border, which manifests itself in the form a small stream, made little difference to the daily life of the local populace. There was just one school and one restaurant, both on Thuringia, and the villagers went to the same church in the neighboring Bavarian municipality of Töpen. © Amusing Planet, 2020.

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2020-01-13 21:05:00

Bremer Loch: The Hole of Bremen  

Image credit: dcabrerizo/Flickr There is an unusual donation box installed beneath the streets in front of the State Parliament building in Germany's northern city of Bremen. It appears like a circular, bronze manhole cover, but in the center of the lid, there is a small slit for people to drop coins or paper money. In return, the donation box plays a musical thank you from one of Bremen's four famous musicians—a donkey, a dog, a cat and a rooster. © Amusing Planet, 2020.

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2020-01-11 11:24:00

Slovak Radio Building: The Inverted Pyramid  

Some call it ugly. Others defend it for its architectural features. Whichever faction you side with, you can't deny that it is an exceptional building. The Slovak Radio Building, standing in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, was constructed in the shape of an inverted pyramid. It stands 80 meters tall, if you measure it to the tip of the antenna on its roof. Since 1983, the year the building was completed, it has housed the headquarters of Slovakia's national public-service radio, Sloven...

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2020-01-10 19:27:00

The Radiological Incident in Lia, Georgia  

On a cold December day in 2001, three men took their truck and drove 50 kilometers east from their village Lia in order to collect firewood. The village of Lia is located in the district of Tsalenjhikha, approximately 320 km north-west of Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Late in the afternoon, after the sun had gone down, the men discovered two curious objects. Lying in the forest path were two metallic cylinders. Around them, the snow had thawed up to a radius of approximately 1 meter, and the

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2020-01-09 22:39:00

Attabad Lake: The Lake Created By a Disaster  

The stunning blue colors of this beautiful lake, nestled among the peaks of the Karakoram mountain range in northern Pakistan, belies its violent origin. In January 2010, a massive landslide possibly triggered by an earthquake came crashing down the mountains and buried the village of Attabad, in Hunza Valley, in the Gilgit Baltistan region, about 760km away from Islamabad. Rocks and soil dammed the the Hunza River's drainage area which quickly filled to maximum depth and created a new lake, ...

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2020-01-09 15:58:00

Karl Patterson Schmidt: The Herpetologist Who Documented His Own Death For Science  

Karl Patterson Schmidt was an eminent American herpetologist—one who studies amphibians and reptiles. He worked for the American Museum of Natural History in New York and then for the Field Museum in Chicago, during which he made several expedition to Central and South America to collect specimens for the museum. He was also the president of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. During his long scientific career, Schmidt handled countless deadly snakes. But in 1957, he mad...

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2020-01-08 17:23:00

HMS Zubian: The Conjoined Ship  

It is not unusual for navies to cannibalize ships decommissioned or rendered unserviceable by accidents for parts, but rarely an entire new ship was created by welding together the ends of two ships. In 1909, the Royal Navy launched two Tribal-class destroyers named HMS Zulu and HMS Nubian. The Tribal-class destroyers were powered by steam turbines and used oil-fuel rather than coal in their boilers. These ships had high fuel consumption, which shortened their ranges severely limiting their rad

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2020-01-08 15:58:00

HMS Porcupine: The Warship That Became Two  

In 1939, the British Royal Navy ordered Vickers-Armstrongs on the River Tyne to build a new P-class destroyer named HMS Porcupine. The ship was delivered in June 1941, but it wasn't until the summers of 1942, that HMS Porcupine was placed in active service. On December 9, 1942, HMS Porcupine was escorting the depot ship HMS Maidstone from Gibraltar to Algiers, when it encountered a German U-boat northeast of Oran. The U-boat fired four torpedoes at Maidstone and missed, but one hit Porcupine...

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2020-01-07 16:44:00

Glass Flowers And Sea Creatures: Leopold And Rudolf Blaschka's Ultra Realistic Glass Models  

A glass flower at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. It is nearly impossible to preserve a dead specimen in a pristine manner. Large vertebrates can be taxidermied, but invertebrates such as sea anemones and jellyfishes when sealed in a jar of alcohol or formaldehyde, lose their color and shape, eventually becoming little more than colorless blobs of floating jelly. Preserving botanical specimens also poses a challenge. Flowers were traditionally pressed between two sheets of papers unt

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2020-01-06 19:21:00

Theremin: The Musical Instrument That You Can Play Without Touching  

The theremin is probably the world's strangest and spookiest musical instrument ever made. It has no keys, no strings, just two metal rods that you don't even touch. You just move your hands in the air around the device, and an eerie quivering, disembodied voice, like that of an opera singer, emerge from the instrument. The theremin was an accident. In 1919, the young Russian physicist Lev Sergeyevich Termen, or Leon Theremin, as he is known in the west, was working on a high-frequency o...

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2020-01-04 16:07:00

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