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Disposing Sodium in Lake Lenore  

At the end of World War 2, the United States Army had an excess of metallic sodium left over from the war, which was used in the manufacture of incendiary bombs. The original plan was to sell off the surplus quantity, and when the material was advertised for sale it aroused the interest of several companies. But when the metal drums where the sodium was stored was inspected, it was found that the containers had deteriorated to such an extent that handling and shipping was extremely hazardous. So

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2021-07-26 19:46:00

The First Mars Rover  

In May 1971, the Soviet Union sent to Mars two robotic space probes launched within nine days of each other—Mars 2 and Mars 3. Neither space probes completed its mission. Mars 2 crash-landed on the planet and Mars 3 ceased transmissions less than two minutes after landing. Despite the failed mission, Mars 3 did achieve its one primary objective: it became the first space craft to make soft landing on Mars, carrying what would have been the first ever Mars rover. A 1972 Soviet stamp commemor...

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2021-07-23 20:01:00

Micrarium: The Museum of Microscopic Animals  

It is said that more than 95 percent of animal species are smaller than your thumb, yet the vast majority of the creatures that are displayed in museums across the world are vertebrates—dinosaur skeletons, dioramas of African savannah with lions, zebras and buffaloes, and taxidermied monkeys and birds. Big animals are impressive to look at, and their anatomy is easy to relate with that of our own—skeletons, eyes, and limbs. But focusing only on the invertebrates does not accurately represent...

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2021-07-22 13:25:00

Horse-Powered Locomotives  

Before steam locomotives became mainstream, railways were driven solely by muscle power, usually horses. These beasts of burden pulled wagons full of coal and ores from mines to the docks over fixed rails made of wood or iron. At one point, these so called wagonways had become the principal means of transporting coal from major collieries across Europe. In 1827, shortly after the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company was founded, the company ran a competition for horse-powered locomotives,

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2021-07-21 16:04:00

World's First 3D-Printed Steel Bridge  

A 12-meter long steel pedestrian bridge opened last week in Amsterdam. Unlike other steel bridges around the world, this was not forged in a furnace. It was 3D-printed. The first of its kind, the bridge was fabricated using stainless steel rods that was welded by robotic arms at the workshop of the Dutch technology company called MX3D, in collaboration with engineering firm Arup. It was designed by Dutch studio Joris Laarman Lab. The structure weighs 6 tons and needed six months to be 3D-printe

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2021-07-21 15:20:00

The Colors of Hormuz Island  

Off the Iranian coast in the Persian Gulf, about 8 km from the mainland, lies Hormuz Island, a small, teardrop shaped mound of rock salt, gypsum, and anhydrite. Its location in the middle of the strait of the same name as it pinches against the mainland allowed Hormuz Island to grow into a major trading port, which it remained for several centuries. But its heydays as a strategic outpost is long gone. Today, the island's biggest draw are not merchants but tourists. Photo: Lukas Bischoff | D...

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2021-07-20 13:06:00

Mercury 13: The Women Who Almost Became Astronauts  

If everything goes as planned, a few hours from now, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos would blast off into space aboard the suborbital space vehicle New Shepard developed by the billionaire's own spaceflight company Blue Origin. Accompanying Bezos will be aviator Wally Funk, who at the age of 82 years, would be the oldest person to ever fly to space. Funk had been waiting for this opportunity for six decades. Wally Funk was one of thirteen women who took part in a privately funded effort to test whe...

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2021-07-19 20:20:00

Japan's Acrobatic Noodle Delivery Cyclists  

These photographs taken in the middle of the 20th century on the streets of Tokyo show how food delivery looked like before the onslaught of modern services like Swiggy and Zomato. Riding on bicycles with one hand griping the bike's handlebar, these noodle delivery boys balanced towers of soba noodle bowls on their shoulders as they weaved in and out of traffic carrying dinners and breakfasts to their frequent customers. This service is called demae, which literally means "to go in front of...

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2021-07-17 10:47:00

The Wenlock Olympian Games That Inspired Modern Olympics  

The first modern Olympic Games was held in Athens in 1896, but it was the small British town of Much Wenlock in Shropshire where the Olympic flame was rekindled first. In 1850, a local doctor named William Penny Brookes, inspired by the Ancient Olympic Games, founded the Olympian Class "for the promotion of the moral, physical and intellectual improvement of the inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood of Wenlock and especially of the working classes." Brookes hoped to achieve that through...

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2021-07-15 12:35:00

Bharat Mata Temple: A Shrine Dedicated to Mother India  

The ancient city of Varanasi, in central India, draws pilgrims from all around the world. One of the most important religious hubs and the holiest among all Hindu cities, Varanasi has a wealth of sacred sites ranging from temples to forts to river banks, but one that often gets overlooked is a shrine dedicated to the country itself. The Bharat Mata Mandir (literally, Mother India Temple) located in Varanasi's Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith campus, was built by the university's founder a

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2021-07-14 13:01:00

46 BC: The 445-Day Year  

For the past four hundred years, much of the modern world has been using the Gregorian calendar. As we are all familiar, this calendar has 12 months, 365 days in a year and an extra day every leap year. Leap years occur every four years except for years that are exactly divisible by 100, unless they are also exactly divisible by 400. Introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 as a reform of the Julian calendar, the Gregorian calendar is universally accepted because it is regular and easy way to und

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2021-07-13 14:18:00

The Most Beautiful Sewage Plant  

Situated on the banks of River Thames, about 9 km east of Greenwich, is a two-story brick building housing one of the most beautiful Victorian-era sewage pumping station. Nicknamed "cathedral of the marshes" after the adjacent Erith Marshes, this magnificent building features spectacular ornamental cast ironwork. The exterior originally had a giant humbug-striped chimney, and its doorways were modeled after Norman cathedrals. The ornate interior of Crossness Pumping Station in London. Ph...

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2021-07-13 11:19:00

The Deepest Hand-Dug Well  

Sitting outside the Nuffield Hospital in Woodingdean, near Brighton and Hove, is a small, inconspicuous-looking covered well. But despite its unassuming appearance, Woodingdean Water Well holds the distinction of being the deepest hand-dug well in the world. At 390 meters, it is as deep as New York's Empire State Building is tall. Woodingean water well, located near the entrance of Nuffield Hospital. Photo: Yiorgos Stamoulis/Wikimedia Commons © Amusing Planet, 2021.

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2021-07-10 12:02:00

Zheltuga: The Illegal Russian Gold Mining Town That Sprang Up in China  

In the spring of 1883, gold was discovered on a branch of the river Albazikha, in northern Heilongjiang province in China near the border with Russia, leading to both Chinese and Russian prospectors flocking to the area and creating a settlement on the right bank of River Amur. The settlement was named Zheltuga after the Shilka river, whose tributary is the Albazikha. The Shilka river eventually becomes Amur after its confluence with the Argun on the Russia-China border. © Amusing Plan

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2021-07-08 11:14:00

Why 1972 Was The Longest Year in History  

Some years seem longer than others, especially when you are passing through a bad phase in life such as being stuck at home because a pandemic is playing havoc around, but officially the longest year on record was 1972. It was longer than the average year by a whole two seconds. The two extra seconds were leap seconds added on June 30 and again on December 31 the same year. Photo: Pertusinas | © Amusing Planet, 2021.

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2021-07-07 15:01:00

The Oldest Orbiting Satellite  

When a satellite is launched into space it is not expected to last forever. The satellite carries on board a limited amount of fuel which will run out in a couple of years, or decades, or even months depending on how long the satellite was designed to remain operational. Eventually, its batteries will run out and its solar cells will degrade. Once the satellite stops responding to signals from operators on earth, or when it's fuel depletes, it will lose the ability to correct its orbit. The th...

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2021-07-05 12:04:00

The Accidental Bombing of Bezuidenhout  

At eight o'clock in the morning of 3 March 1945, the air-raid sirens were heard for the first time over Hague. A short while later a wave of bombers appeared over the horizon heading straight towards the city. But instead of bombing the city center, the formation veered to the east and released their bombs over the Bezuidenhout neighborhood. Wave after wave of bombers followed dropping their load on the peaceful city. "They have lost count. The earth trembles. Buildings and entire blocks co...

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2021-07-02 20:18:00

The Tiara of Saitapharnes  

For the better part of a decade, the widely celebrated and esteemed Louvre Museum of Paris proudly displayed a supposedly ancient tiara made of solid gold. Experts at the Louvre identified it as belonging to the Scythian king Saitapharnes who ruled sometime in the 3rd century BCE. An inscription on the tiara mentioning that it was a gift from Olbia, a Greek colony on the Black Sea coast, to King Saitaphernes left no doubt about the item's authenticity and great age. But later it became clear t...

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2021-07-01 13:08:00

Poena Cullei: The Worst Roman Punishment  

Throughout history Man has shown extraordinary imagination in inventing penalties and sentences for crimes committed by fellow man. The Romans in particular had an almost theatrical quality in the way these punishments were dolled out. One of the worst was reserved for parricide—the killing of a parent— in which the prisoner was placed in a sack with several live animals and thrown into the water: the poena cullei, or "penalty of the sack". © Amusing Planet, 2021.

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2021-06-30 16:43:00

Danila Tkachenko's Ghostly Photographs of Abandoned Soviet Military Sites  

In his series "Restricted Areas", Moscow-based visual artist Danila Tkachenko looks at the human impulse to use destructive technologies in order to build an utopia, which often leads to failure as documented by these abandoned sites that were once the embodiment of technological progress in the Soviet Union. Antenna built for interplanetary connection. The Soviet Union was planning to build bases on other planets, and prepared facilities for connection which were never used and are deser...

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2021-06-30 16:08:00

The Ksar of Ait Benhaddou  

A small but vibrant city high up on Atlas Mountains, Ouarzazate, in south-central Morocco, has long been called the "door to the desert". It is also called the "Hollywood of Africa" because of the large number of films that have been shot here and the surrounding desert. Since at least the sixties, Hollywood directors have come here whenever they needed to shoot a Biblical movie or a movie set in the Middle East. The Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Man Who Would Be King (1975), The Living...

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2021-06-28 12:13:00

That Time When The French Divided The Day Into 10 hours  

For centuries we have used the sexagesimal system of measuring time, where each day is divided into 24 hours, each hour into 60 minutes and each minute into 60 second. Why do we do this? Is it out of habit, or is there any inherent advantage of measuring time by base 60? The ancient Greeks were the first to introduce the concept of hour after Horae, the goddesses of the seasons and the natural portions of time. The number of Horae varied according to different sources, and while the most commo

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2021-06-25 10:24:00

The Lartigue Monorail of Listowel  

A small heritage market town called Listowel in County Kerry, Ireland, is home to one of the strangest monorail system ever built. Instead of lying flat on the ground, the single rail sits above the ground on a trestle held by supports on either side, each making an "A" shape. Specially-built carriages would sit astride the trestles like panniers on a camel's back. Indeed, it was camels that inspired French engineer Charles Lartigue to come up with this system. While in Algeria, Lartigue ...

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2021-06-24 10:26:00

Gympie-Gympie: The Stinging Plant Which Can Inflict Pain For Months  

Gympie-Gympie sounds adorable, but if you pay any attention to its scientific name Dendrocnide moroides, you would know its to be avoided. Dendrocnide is derived from the Ancient Greek word dendron, meaning "tree", and knídē, which means "stinging needle." Indeed, Dendrocnide moroides, with its soft and fuzzy heart shaped leaves, is believed to be Australia's most poisonous plant. The plant's fuzzy appearance is due to it being covered by thousand of small hair-like stingers which...

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2021-06-23 11:54:00

Dog on The Tuckerbox  

One of Australia's famous pioneer monuments is located in the small town of Gundagai about half way between Melbourne and Sydney. The monument constitutes a dog sitting on top of a tucker box, which is the Australian equivalent of a lunchbox, but larger. Erected in 1926, the memorial pays homage to the bullockies or bullock cart drivers who transported building materials and supplies to remote towns and settlements over great distances under great hardship. The statue was inspired by a doggere...

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2021-06-22 12:30:00

The Anatomical Machines of Raimondo di Sangro  

Housed in glass cases in the basement of Sansevero Chapel in Naples, Italy, are two extraordinary exhibits. Called "anatomical machines", they are two skeletons, one belonging to a man and the other to women. Draped over their bones is an intricate maze of veins, arteries and capillaries that crawl all over the skeletons' legs, arms, skulls and ribs. For centuries it was rumored that the veins and arteries were real and the two figures were murdered to have their circulatory system preserv...

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2021-06-21 15:30:00

The Bell Cemeteries of World War 2  

Nearly every German family in every German town contributed something to the two World Wars. For many, it was their men. For others, it was precious metal. "I gave gold for iron" became the slogan of the collection campaign launched in 1914, in which the Germans were asked to donate materials essential to the war effort. The slogan has its origins in the War of the Sixth Coalition fought by the Kingdom of Prussia and its allies, in 1813-14, to achieve liberation of Germany from French occup...

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2021-06-18 12:10:00

One-Million-Liter Test Sphere  

Tucked away at a corner of Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland, dwarfed by buildings on three, sides stands a relic of Cold War—a humongous steel sphere 40 feet across with volume of 1 million liters. For most of its existence, the sphere remained hidden enclosed under a large wood and metal cube. But the timber has now disintegrated away revealing this extraordinary contraption with a sinister past. Fort Detrick was the center of the US biological weapons program from 1943 to 1969. Much of t...

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2021-06-17 16:35:00

How a Solar Storm Set Off Sea Mines During The Vietnam War  

Buried deep within the archives of the US Navy, lied a mystery that was only recently solved. On August 4, 1972, dozens of naval mines that the United States had planted in the sea off the port of Haiphong during the Vietnam war went off simultaneously and prematurely. The mines were magnetic sea mines that were designed to sense changes in the magnetic field due to the presence of a large object of iron, such as the hull of a ship. These mines can only be triggered by passing ships, but on this

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2021-06-16 20:15:00

The Flying Tanks of World War 2  

Dropping supplies including combat vehicles to troops on the ground was one of the biggest achievements of the military during World War 2. It allowed soldiers behind enemy lines to capture and hold important objectives until more heavily equipped friendly troops could arrive. Some tanks like the M22 Locust and later the American M551 Sheridan and the Russian BMD-3 were developed specifically for dropping by parachute from an airplane. The biggest problem with air-dropping vehicles was that th

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2021-06-15 15:32:00

The Bridge Built By Women  

When the Waterloo Bridge over River Thames opened in the December 1945, Deputy Prime Minister, Herbert Morrison spoke on its inauguration: The men who built Waterloo Bridge are fortunate men. They know that although their names may be forgotten, their work will be a pride and use to London for many generations to come. Although well-meaning, what Morrison failed to acknowledge was that a substantial number of workers who built the bridge were actually women. Waterloo Bridge in London.

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2021-06-14 11:57:00

The Degenerate Art Exhibition of 1937  

Not everybody gets modern art. From Andy Warhol's Soup Cans to a banana stuck to the wall, there are plenty of examples from the perplexing world of contemporary artwork that defies logic. While most people, when confronted by a piece of cubism or surrealism that's not to their taste, would simply shrug their shoulders and walk away, Hitler chose to destroy any art that he didn't like. Visitors look at works in the Degenerate Art exhibition in Munich, which opened on July 19,1937. Pict...

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2021-06-11 21:00:00

HMS Diamond Rock: The Stone Frigate  

South of Martinique, an island in the eastern Caribbean Sea, lies a small basalt island called Diamond Rock. With an imposing peak of 175 meters, the island is said to appear like a cut piece of the eponymous jewel during certain hours of the day. Despite being a mere rocky outcrop, Diamond Rock has quite a history. HMS Diamond Rock from Martinique. Photo: Marc Bruxelle | © Amusing Planet, 2021.

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2021-06-10 12:34:00

The Citadel of Bam: The World's Largest Mud Building  

Sometime between 579 and 323 BC during the Achaemenid Persian period, the Citadel of Bam (in Persian Arg-e Bam) was built in southeastern present-day Iran, a huge fortress made of clay that is considered to be the largest adobe building. It is located next to the city of the same name in the province of Kerman and near the border with Pakistan, and consists of a large fort that contains an inner citadel (although today the entire complex is called a citadel). Photo: Tatsiana Hendzel | Dream...

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2021-06-09 16:17:00

The Maharaja's Well  

We think that charity always flows from the richer nations to the poorer ones, but sometimes it also flows the other way. When Ireland was starving during the potato famine in the 1840s, the Choctaw Nation of American Indians, despite being impoverished themselves and living in extreme hardship, donated an equivalent of $170 to the troubled nation. More recently, in the aftermath of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the Masai tribe of Kenya sent 14 cows to the United States. Although the

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2021-06-08 12:00:00

Sears Mail-Order Homes  

What's the heaviest thing you can buy from Amazon? The internet says it's a 1,500-pound, 6-feet tall gun safe, but back when Sears was the go-to marketplace for everything mail-order, the American retail behemoth even sold houses. The buyer could choose from among hundreds of designs, pay in installments, and have the complete house shipped via railroad boxcars in separate piece of lumber, each numbered and carefully cut to fit its particular place in the house. All the buyer needed to do wa...

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2021-06-07 10:14:00

The Exiled Bell of Uglich  

When Ivan the Terrible died in 1584, he left behind two sons, neither of whom was suitable to carry forward their father's heirloom. One was Fyodor Ivanovich, who, growing up under the shadow of a terrible father and denied of motherly love, turned out to be shy and timid and sickly of health. He was the complete opposite of his father: a pious young man, fond of visiting churches and spending hours in prayer and contemplation. Ivan's other son, Dmitri Ivanovich, was a three-year-old infant....

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2021-06-03 14:50:00

Dulmial: The Village of World War Heroes  

A small Pakistani village located about 150 kilometers south of Islamabad is home to a proud monument—a 19th century cannon gifted by the British government in recognition of the village's contribution to the First World War. Nestled in the stony hills of Punjab's salt ranges, Dulmial is a village steeped in military history. Since its foundation some eight centuries ago, the village has provided the largest number of army men to the state. During the Great War, Dulmial sent 460 of its...

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2021-06-02 21:47:00

The Great Sheep Panic of 1888  

Sheep are notoriously timid and nervous animal, and can get startled easily. But what mysterious provocation could have caused thousands of sheep to lose their mind at once has baffled scientists for years. The first widely recorded sheep panic occurred on the night of November 3, 1888, in Oxfordshire. Around eight o'clock, tens of thousands of sheep across an area of about 200 square miles, around the town of Reading, impulsively and simultaneously went berserk. They broke through their pens...

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2021-06-02 12:16:00

Britain's Secret Fuel Pipelines  

How do airline companies procure fuel for their fleet? In the UK at least, the fuel comes through pipelines delivered directly at the airport. This extensive network of pipelines and associated facilities such as storage depots and pumping station, together called the "Government Pipelines and Storage System" or GPSS, was a national secret until very recently. The idea to build pipelines for aviation fuel was put forward in 1936 as part of the planning for the Second World War, after the A...

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2021-06-01 16:09:00

Clarence E. Willard: The Man of Could Grow at Will  

In 1913, while in England, Clarence E. Willard had to renew his passport in order to travel, and most importantly, in order for him to return back to the United States where he was a resident. In order to complete the necessary paperwork, Clarence walked into the U.S. Embassy in London. He gave his name to the Embassy clerk Edward Hobson, and also filled in the necessary details needed for documentation, such as his age, place of birth, the color of his hair, his weight, etc. But when the clerk

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2021-05-31 15:36:00

Propeller Driven Railways  

A locomotive can derive power from many different sources. The earliest locomotives were driven by steam. Then came electric trains powered by galvanic cells. Later, onboard batteries were replaced by overhead lines. There are locomotives that run on internal combustion engines that drive the wheels of the locomotive directly using mechanical transmission like in automobiles, or use the rotational energy of the engines to generate electricity, which in turn run the traction motors. © A

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2021-05-28 11:01:00

The Ni'ihau Incident  

Ni'ihau is the smallest of the inhabited islands in the Hawaiian archipelago, privately owned since the 19th century and which would have no greater interest than to the tourist minority were it not for two very different reasons, separated by exactly half a century. The most recent of these occurred in 1992, when Ni'ihau became the location of shoot for the Steven Spielberg blockbuster Jurassic Park, making this tiny island the site of pilgrimage for the fans of the movie. But the most

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2021-05-26 16:09:00

The Richest Ancient Shipwreck  

In 1975, a fishing boat working in the southwestern sea of Korean peninsula, near the Shinan Islands, caught six pieces of Chinese ceramic wares in the net. This seemingly trivial incident led to the discovery of a 14th century shipwreck with a precious cargo of ceramic wares and other objects. Much of the ship's cargo was found to be intact that led researchers to describe the Shinan shipwreck as possibly "the richest ancient shipwreck yet discovered". Ceramic artifacts discovered fr...

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2021-05-26 10:53:00

The Air Conditioned Village  

Air conditioning is ubiquitous these days, but not too long ago cool air was considered a luxury available only in commercial businesses. This was to change in the 1950s, when the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) together with the University of Texas at Austin came up with a plan to determine whether it was economically feasible to bring central air conditioning to residential homes. Until then, the only air conditioning solution available for residential use were window units. On

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2021-05-25 12:57:00

Mr. Bean's Failed Assassination Attempt of The Queen  

The closest Mr. Bean came to killing the Queen was when he headbutts the head of the British Royal family. The Queen was hurt but survived, and Mr. Bean managed to slip away. But a hundred years ago, another Mr. Bean attempted on Queen Victoria's life and suffered a different fate. John William Bean was a real person, and unlike the delightful character played by Rowan Atkinson, the Victorian Mr.Bean was repulsive. Tuberculosis had devastated his spine leaving him hunched and dwarfed, no tall...

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2021-05-24 16:11:00

Why Apollo Astronauts Lobbed Grenades on The Moon  

The Apollo missions of the 1960s and 70s provided scientists with an exciting playground upon which to conduct experiments never performed in the history of humankind. They collected samples of rocks and soil, measured seismic data, took measurements of the lunar atmosphere and lunar crust. The high vantage point allowed astronauts to take photographs of celestial objects in spectral bands not seen from Earth. They played golf, drove a rover, conducted Galileo's famous hammer and feather exper...

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2021-05-21 21:34:00

Canal of the Pharaohs: The Forerunner to The Suez Canal  

The Suez Canal may be a marvel of modern engineering, but there is nothing modern about digging canals. Navigable waterways have been dug since ancient times, even across deserts in Northern Africa. The Suez Canal is only the most recent of these manmade waterways that once snaked their way across Egypt. Dug under the patronage of different Egyptian pharaohs under different time periods, they connected—unlike their modern version—the Red Sea with the Nile River. Canal of the Pharaohs. Ima...

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2021-05-20 11:54:00

Goodyear's Illuminated Tires  

In the late 1930s, a German chemist named Otto Bayer synthesized a new organic polymer called polyurethane. Over the decades polyurethane found many applications, especially in the automobile industry, where the soft, elastic polymer is used to manufacture high-resilience foam cushion for seats, headrests, armrests, as well as to line roof, dashboards and instrument panels. Bayer went so far as to exhibit an experimental car whose body was made entirely out of polyurethane. But it was legendary

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2021-05-19 14:44:00

Brennan's Gyro Monorail  

In the early 20th century, at least two different engineers working independently in different parts of the world, put forward a unique concept for a new railway. It was a monorail balancing on a single rail of wheels by the aid of gyroscopic forces. As a matter of fact, both engineers went further than mere propose—they each built a full-scale working prototype of their invention. Unfortunately, not one of them fledged into a full-blown railway. The gyro monorail was peculiar. Not only did i...

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2021-05-18 12:07:00

What Happened to Napoleon's Penis?  

The diminutive French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte lies buried in a crypt under the dome at Les Invalides, in Paris, sans many vital body parts, one being his penis. After the Little Corporal died on 5 May 1821, his autopsy was witnessed by no less than seventeen people, eight of them physicians, so it must been an act of extreme stealth, as the story goes, when Francesco Antommarchi, the lead doctor, snipped off the love appendage from its owner. Another theory is that the genitalia wa...

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2021-05-17 16:57:00

The Underwater Mine of Silver Islet  

The small rocky reef at the tip of the Sibley Peninsula in northwestern Ontario, Canada, is rich in silver, but mining this precious metal is a nightmare. Much of the silver is located below the surface of Lake Superior, and anybody who has ever lived on the shores of this great lake knows that it is incredibly unpredictable and extremely dangerous. Extracting silver from beneath the lake would require building a wall to keep water away and pumps would have to be kept running continuously to cle

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2021-05-14 12:31:00

Anschlussdenkmal: The Forbidden Nazi Memorial  

The Anschlussdenkmal, or Anschluss Monument, in the Austrian town of Oberschützen, is a Nazi monument erected to commemorate the bloodless coup of 1938 by which Austria was annexed into Nazi Germany. The monument was designed by Styrian architect Rudolf Hofer and was made to appear like a temple with pillared arcades. A two-meter high gilded imperial eagle stood inside the rectangular structure on a high pedestal on which were engraved the Nazi inscription Ein Volk! Ein Reich! Ein Führer! (One...

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2021-05-13 19:44:00

Pilâtre de Rozier And The World's First Aviation Accident  

In 1783, French professor Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier created history by becoming the first man to fly in a balloon untethered. Two years later, he made history yet again by becoming the first person to die in an air crash. Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier was born in Metz, a city in northeastern France, to a tavern keeper and his wife. On the recommendation of one Viollet, a friend of his father, Rozier was enrolled at the Royal College of Saint Louis, a school run by the Benedictines, ...

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2021-05-12 16:22:00

How Ancient Romans Kept Time  

That days have 24 hours is a long-established convention, which is also related to the rotational motion of the Earth. Pliny the Elder expressed it as a fact that left no room for doubt: The world thus formed is not at rest, but rotates eternally with indescribable speed, each revolution occupying the space of 24 hours: sunrise and sunset leave no room for doubt. If the sound of this vast, incessantly revolving mass is of enormous volume and therefore beyond the capacity of our ears to perce

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2021-05-11 11:57:00

Gnomonic Blocks, or Multi-faceted Sundials  

In the park of the Abbey of Epau, in Yvre-l'Evêque in France, you can admire a curious monument in the shape of an obelisk. Built by the Benedictine monk Bedos de Celles between 1631 and 1640, the sculpture consists of four sides, perfectly symmetrical, and oriented along the cardinal directions, with several curious protrusions and shapes. Each of these shapes has a purpose: they are sundials, a total of thirty in all. Sundial of the Groirie in Yvre-l'Evêque. Photo: Selbymay/Wiki...

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2021-05-10 23:21:00

The Great Seal Bug: How The Soviets Spied The US For 7 Years Via a Children's Gift  

In 1946, a group of Soviet school children from the Young Pioneer organization presented to the American ambassador to the Soviet Union, William Harriman, a carved wooden replica of the Great Seal of the United States, as a token of appreciation, amity, and solidarity for their alliance in the Second World War, and as promise of continuance of this friendship. The seemingly harmless gift was hung in the study of the ambassador's Moscow residence, where it stayed for seven years until it was

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2021-05-07 13:01:00

Fonthill Abbey And Its Eccentric Creators  

At Fonthill Gifford in Wiltshire, England, where now stands a small four-story tower with an attached two-story wing, there once stood one of the most extraordinary houses ever built. The Fonthill Abbey was a house built at a fantastic scale. The central tower rose to a dizzying height of 280 feet, the tallest ever put on a private house. The front doors were 30 feet high and windows were taller still at 50 feet. The curtains that hung from the four arches in the central room were 80 feet long.

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2021-05-05 11:19:00

Le Jamais Contente: The First Car To Go 100kmph  

Imagine a metal cylinder less than 4 meters long, on four wheels, with the driver mounted on top like one rides a horse. No seat belts, no roll cage, or any modern safety measures, hurtling down the road at 100 kmph. That's Le Jamais Contente, literally "The Never Satisfied"—an electric vehicle and the world's first road vehicle to go over 100 kilometers per hour. The feat was accomplished by the fearless Belgian driver Camille Jenatzy. The date: April 29, 1899. Camille Jenatzy in J...

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2021-05-04 15:07:00

The Duck-less Statue of Sir Nigel Gresley  

There is a bronze statue of British railway engineer Sir Nigel Gresley towering over passengers as they pass through London King's Cross railway station. Sir Gresley was the engineer behind the Flying Scotsman, the first steam locomotive to break the 100 mph barrier and the famous Mallard, that still holds the record for being the fastest steam locomotive in the world. Sir Nigel Gresley might not be as admired as Isambard Kingdom Brunel, but his contribution to the development of the steam l

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2021-05-03 16:48:00

Women And Children Last: The Infamous Sinking of La Bourgogne  

The sinking of the French ocean liner SS La Bourgogne on the morning of 4 July 1898 was one of the most disgraceful of disasters in maritime history due to the cowardly and criminal behavior of the crew. Instead of the heroic sacrifice that has often been the shining moment in such a terrible tragedy, the crew of the steamer "fought like demons for the few lifeboats and rafts", drawing out their knives and threatening passengers with it. Out went for a toss "Women and children first!", f...

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2021-04-30 10:12:00

High Arctic Relocation: When The Canadian Govt Forcibly Relocated Inuit to Claim Sovereignty in The High Arctic  

In the summer of 1953, the Canadian government uprooted seven Inuit families from their homes in Northern Quebec, and dropped them high in the arctic, some 2,000 km away, with the promise of better living and hunting opportunities, and with the assurance that if things didn't work out, they could return home after two years. But promises were broken. For decades, the relocated Inuit families suffered immense hardship, fighting extreme cold, hunger and sickness, yet unable to escape because the...

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2021-04-28 21:18:00

Nazi Amphitheaters  

Near the summit of a large wooded hill overlooking the town of Heidelberg in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, stands an open-air theater called a Thingstätte. Built during the Nazi rule for performances, public meetings and propaganda presentation, the Heidelberg Thingstätte was Hitler's attempt to emulate the theatrical culture of the ancient Greeks, a civilization that the Nazis looked up to, by building amphitheaters across the Third Reich. About 400 were planned, but only about 40 were built...

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2021-04-27 20:27:00

The World's Loudest Plane Was So Loud It Caused Seizures  

The aviation industry's transition from propellers to jet engines saw the emergence of a new kind of engine called the turboprop. A turboprop engine is a turbine engine but instead of generating thrust from exhaust, the engine drives a propeller. In 1955, the US Air Force developed an experimental aircraft called the XF-84H, manufactured by Republic Aviation. The purpose of the XF-84H was to determine whether it was possible for a fighter airplane to ditch the catapult and takeoff from a car...

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2021-04-23 16:02:00

Istanbul's Cast Iron Church  

Although it looks like stone, the Bulgarian St. Stephen Church with its richly ornamented façade on the shores of the Golden Horn in Istanbul, Turkey, is made of iron. It was cast in Vienna, floated down the Danube and across the Black Sea on barges, and bolted together here in Istanbul in 1871. It is possibly the largest prefabricated cast iron structure in the world. The Bulgarian St. Stephen Church in Istanbul is the largest prefabricated cast iron structure in the world. Photo: Daphnusia...

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2021-04-21 21:39:00

Sarah Jacob: The Girl Who Starved to Death to Prove Herself  

There have been quite a few cases where people claimed to have survived without food. These people call themselves "breatharians" for they purportedly live on air and light alone. Breatharianism is a hoax, and it is impossible to believe in anything otherwise. The human body needs nourishment to survive, and many practitioners of breatharianism secretly eat food. Others have died attempting to follow a food-free lifestyle. One of the most fascinating and tragic of these cases date back to th...

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2021-04-19 23:04:00

Russia's Hand-Tossed Satellites  

On November 3, 1997, cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov and Anatoly Solovyov were spacewalking outside the Mir space station to remove an old solar panel that was to be replaced three days later during another outing. The solar panel was retracted on command, removed from the Kvant module, and stowed on the exterior of the core module. Before returning inside, Vinogradov took hold of a small satellite named Sputnik 40 and waited until the station had oriented itself to give a clear view of the satellite

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2021-04-16 23:30:00

Anatomical Theaters  

Since ancient times, the primary way to teach and learn anatomy have been to dissect human cadavers. Generations of surgeons have learned and mastered the craft, first by watching live surgeries, and then practicing specific skills such as suturing on animals. The standard practice in medical schools is to stand some feet away from the operating table, while making sure not to get in the way of the surgeons, the assistants and the instruments. Some colleges and institutions have special observat

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2021-04-14 15:16:00

Elephant of The Bastille  

Between 1814 and 1846, there stood a colossal plaster elephant in the heart of Paris, at the site of the former Bastille prison. For much of this time it presented a sorry spectacle. One tusk had fallen off, and the other was reduced to a powdery stump. Its body was black from rain and soot, and large cavities had opened in its torso where rodents, stray cats and vagrants took shelter. The plinth was overgrown by dandelions and thistles. This was not the sight Napoleon Bonaparte had intended w...

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2021-04-12 15:22:00

Why The Soviet Union Lied About Yuri Gagarin's Historic Space Flight  

Exactly sixty years ago, on April 12, 1961, Vostok 1 took off from Baikonur Cosmodrome taking along cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on the first ever human spaceflight. The flight's mission was to reach the upper atmosphere, make one orbit around the earth, then come back to earth for a safe landing. Despite an initial delay due to the hatch not closing properly, the launch countdown proceeded as planned and Gagarin was able to take off on a craft that few trusted. Half of all Soviet launches till dat...

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2021-04-08 15:58:00

The Chapati Movement of 1857  

The year was 1857. A storm was brewing in British-occupied India. There was growing resentment among the Indians against the rule of the East India Company, and the social reforms the British were trying to push onto the indigenous people. The taxes angered them, the loss of lands incensed them. The sepoys or Indian soldiers were growing restless over the social divide among their ranks on the basis of caste. There was also concern that the Company was trying to impose Christianity on the popula

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2021-04-07 11:36:00

King's Holly: The 43,600 Year Old Plant  

Lomatia tasmanica, commonly known as King's lomatia or King's Holly, is an unusual plant. It bears flowers, yet produces neither fruit nor seeds. The King's holly propagates by dropping a branch, and letting the fallen branch take root and grow into a new plant. Unsurprisingly, all existing members of Lomatia tasmanica, numbering just 300 plants, are found within a narrow corridor of land just over one kilometer in length. Because the reproduction is vegetative, all the plants in this co...

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2021-04-06 13:15:00

Zwentendorf, The Nuclear Power Plant That Was Never Turned On  

The Zwentendorf Nuclear Power Plant, located on the bank of the Danube River, about 20 miles northwest of Vienna, is Austria's only nuclear power plant. It was completed in 1978, loaded with fuel, and ready to start up. But then, the country decided that it didn't trust nuclear energy anymore, and the project was mothballed. It is the only completely finished nuclear reactor that never went online. Photo: Isaak/Flickr © Amusing Planet, 2021.

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2021-04-02 11:34:00

How Rubber Ducks Are Helping Scientists Chart The Oceans  

In early January 1992, the container ship Evergreen Ever Laurel departed Hong Kong for Washington. Among the millions of things that Ever Laurel was carrying was a consignment of plastic children's bath toys manufactured in China for the Japanese toy company The First Years Inc. Four days later, on 10 January 1992, the freighter ran into a storm in the North Pacific. Hurricane-force winds and waves thirty-six feet tall rocked the 28,900-ton ship from side to side. Under the strain of the pitch...

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2021-04-01 11:12:00

The Remote Swedish Town That Drives The Automobile Industry  

Every car goes through a battery of tests before they are rolled out into the market. Some of these tests include driving in extreme conditions such as in ice and freezing temperatures. Arjeplog, an icy outpost located about 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle in Sweden, is where many European and Asian automobile manufacturers conduct their tests. The region has lots of lakes, whose frozen surface provides an idea test bed for automakers and suppliers to see how their cars react to the brutal w

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2021-03-30 16:01:00

Hunley: The Submarine That Wouldn't Come Up  

On 17 February 1864, the Confederate submarine CSS Hunley attacked and sank a 1,240-ton United States Navy ship, the USS Housatonic, and entered history books as the first combat submarine to sink a warship. Shortly after, the Hunley itself sank and disappeared from existence. But it wasn't the first time the submarine had sunk. 1864 painting of H. L. Hunley by Conrad Wise Chapman. Photo: Wikimedia Commons © Amusing Planet, 2021.

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2021-03-26 20:23:00

Copenhagen's Potato Row  

In the heart of Copenhagen, not far from the harbor, are a series of closely laid streets with houses smashed together like rows of potato plants in a field. Officially it is the Farimagsgade district, but the Danes call it Kartoffelrækkerne, literally "potato row". The term has another origin: this land, before it became an estate, was an actual potato field. The potato rows were built in the 1870s and 1880s by the Workers' Building Association to provide cheap and hygienic accommoda...

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2021-03-26 11:18:00

The Mercy Dogs of World War 1  

Dogs have accompanied men to war since ancient times, as scouts, sentries, trackers and messengers. But the most unique role they ever played was that of the "mercy dog" in World War 1, seeking out wounded soldiers in no man's land where medics can't reach them, comforting the mortally wounded and offering companionship and respite to those dying for their country. French medical dog tracks down a wounded man. Postcard, 1914. Photo: Frankfurter Allgemeine © Amusing Planet, 2021...

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2021-03-23 15:31:00

DC-X: The Rocket That Beat SpaceX by 20 Years  

Twenty years before modern spaceflight companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin began designing rockets that launch and land vertically, the DC-X had already done it. Manufactured by McDonnell Douglas, the DC-X, short for Delta Clipper Experimental, was a single stage reusable rocket that was conceived to demonstrate the vertical takeoff and vertical land capability that was previously only possible in the realms of science fiction. Indeed, the DC-X looked something straight from the future. An e

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2021-03-19 12:30:00

Maliwawa Figures: A Rock Art Style Like No Other  

Western Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, has a remarkable range and number of rock art sites, rivalling that of Europe, southern Africa and various parts of Asia. Several thousand sites have been documented and each year new discoveries are made by various research teams working closely with local Aboriginal communities. Today, in the journal Australian Archaeology, we and colleagues introduce an important previously undescribed rock art style. Consisting of large human figures and animals, the

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2021-03-18 18:45:00

The Disease That Turns Muscles Into Bones  

Behind a glass enclosure at the Mutter Museum of The College of Physicians in Philadelphia is a terrifying exhibit—two human skeletons. Their bones appear to have melted and fused together. One of the skeletons has its back covered by sheets of bone, locking the spine to the skull, and the skull to the jaw. Additional ribbons of bone join the spine to the limbs, and immobilize the shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, and jaw. The upper arms are welded to the ribcage, and the pelvis is fused to the ...

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2021-03-17 15:34:00

Guarapari's Radioactive Beaches  

About 50 km south of Vitória, the state capital of Espírito Santo, in southeastern Brazil, lies the coastal town of Guarapari, a popular tourist destination. Know for its sandy white beaches, Guarapari is a popular holiday escape for holiday makers from the landlocked Minas Gerais state as well as people from Vitória and Vila Velha. While Brazil has a long coastline and hundreds of miles of beaches, Guarapari is one of very few places where the sand is naturally radioactive. Praia dos Padr...

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2021-03-16 21:09:00

Heroic War Pigeons  

World War One, and to some extent, the Second World War, was a strange blend of archaic and modern technology. The First World War, in particular, saw many technological innovations such as machine guns, grenades, submarines, warplanes and tanks, and despite the advances in radio and communications technology, many field commanders preferred to use carrier pigeons to convey important messages. Radio sets were too heavy to carry into battle, and field telephone lines snapped easily. With a homing

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2021-03-15 20:11:00

When California Was Thought To Be An Island  

If California were a country its economy would be the fifth largest in the world. Yet the tech boom is not the starkest way California has ever stood apart from its neighbours. That would surely be the maps depicting it as an island, entire of itself. Map of California as an island, by Joan Vinckeboons, ca. 1650 The intriguing story of how the maps came to be deserves a little mapping itself. In the 1530s Spanish explorers led by Hernan Cortes encountered the strip of land we now know as ...

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2021-03-12 12:26:00

How a Failed Dam Legalized Marrying The Dead  

Sitting low among the hills, just north of the city of Frejus, in southern France, not far from the French Riviera coast, are the broken remains of the Malpasset Dam. This river barrier, completed in 1954, was built to regulate the flow of the Reyran River, and store water for agriculture and domestic use. The Reyran River is very irregular. It remains completely dry for most of the year including the hot summer months, but in winter and spring, this 27-km-long river becomes a raging torrent. A

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2021-03-10 13:01:00

The Octagon Houses of Orson Fowler  

Orson Fowler wanted to design the best house, but he detested the traditional boxy shapes. Too many right angles, he thought. In his mind, the circle was the most natural shape, but since a circular house was difficult to construct out of wood, he made a compromise—the octagon. Fowler started a craze for eight-sided houses, that lasted throughout the second half of the 19th century, with the publication of his book, The Octagon House: A Home for All, in 1848. "The octagon form is more beaut...

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2021-03-09 15:11:00

Conrad Haas: The 16th Century Rocket Pioneer  

In 1961, a professor at the University of Bucharest, made a surprising discovery in the archives of the city of Sibiu, in Romania. It was a manuscript around 450 pages long filled with drawings and technical data on artillery, ballistics and detailed descriptions of multistage rockets. What's fascinating about the discovery was that the documents were created in the mid-16th century—four hundred years before the first practical multi-stage rocket took flight from the White Sands Proving Grou...

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2021-03-05 23:11:00

Dazzle Camouflage: Hiding in Plain Sight  

Unlike a submarine that can lurk beneath the waves, or an artillery tank that can camouflage itself among trees and the surrounding terrain, there is no hiding for a smoke-belching ship in the open waters of an ocean. So how does one go about camouflaging a ship during wartime? That was the question that troubled Britain during World War 1. Germany's U-boats were creating havoc in the Atlantic sinking merchant ships in alarming numbers. Ideas that were proposed included covering them with mi...

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2021-03-04 23:12:00

Pisonia: The Tree That Kills Birds  

An overwhelming majority of plants depend upon birds and insects for seed dispersal. Plants attract pollinators by releasing aromatic compounds into the air, or by producing sweet nectar that birds and insects feed upon. Species of the Pisonia plant are no different. They entice small birds to build nests on its branches, and when the birds brush against these seed-laden branches, the Pisonia's sticky seeds get stuck to the birds' feathers. After some time the seeds fall off, ideally when th...

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2021-03-03 15:05:00

The Lakeview Gusher: The Mother of Oil Spills  

In the early days of oil drilling, when tools were basic and technology was lacking, every new oil well sunk into the ground ran the risk of a blowout. A blowout occurs when a high-pressure pocket of crude oil or natural gas is breached causing the oil or gas to shoot up the well and exit with an explosive force and create a "gusher". Before the invention of blowout preventers, gushers were seen as natural consequences of oil drilling, an icon of oil exploration, and a symbol of new-found we...

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2021-03-01 22:59:00

The Pumps That Keep Germany Dry  

The Ruhr valley in North Rhine-Westphalia was once Germany's industrial heartland producing coal and steel, the two very essential raw materials of industrialization itself. Coal was mined here for at least four hundred years, usually from shallow drift mines along the Ruhr river. But with the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, the demand for coal and steel increased and the deeper-lying coal seams were reached out for the first time. Within a matter of decades, Ruhr's c...

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2021-03-01 14:50:00

Boot Scrapers  

In the days before automobiles, when streets were meant for horses and their carts mostly, walking through mud and excrement was an unavoidable part of life in the cities. However, what was unacceptable then, and is still now, is treading into homes with muddy boots. But a simple doormat was not enough to get rid of the filth that stuck to ones shoes. What was needed was a shoe scraper. These were made of cast iron or wrought iron and were attached at the entrances of many decent homes, churches

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2021-02-27 21:26:00

Hitler's Monster Railway  

Hitler's megalomaniac plans for Germany included a monumental new railway. This railway was supposed to connect the most important cities in Greater Germany with trains 7 meters high, carrying up to 4,000 passengers, at speeds of 200 kilometers per hour. Breitspurbahn, or broad-gauge railway in German, was typical of every project the small-mustached sociopath had ever dreamed of—massive in scope and cost. The origin of this dream can be traced back to the 1930s when Adolf Hitler asked the ...

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2021-02-24 17:18:00

The Great Smog of 1952  

Londoners are no stranger to the cold, but on the morning of December 5, 1952, the sting of winter was felt worse than ever. The cold had the British capital on a grip for weeks, and that morning a temperature inversion had caused the chilled and stagnant air to get trapped close to the ground, causing temperature to drop even further. As the city began to wake up, coal fireplaces were lighted in homes and businesses across the city to take the chill out of the morning air. Smoke from these he

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2021-02-22 16:44:00

Johann Josef Loschmidt And Avogadro's Number  

Johann Josef Loschmidt is a name that might not ring many bells, yet everyone who took chemistry in junior college had surely come across Loschmidt's groundbreaking contribution to science. Loschmidt calculated the exact number of elementary units (atoms or molecules) that one mole of a substance contains—a number that bears the name of an Italian scientist, which is unfortunate, because even this celebrated Italian scientist didn't know its value. That number is Avogadro's number, or ...

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2021-02-19 13:22:00

The Mad World of Hat Making  

Hat-making in the 18th and 19th centuries was a hazardous business, because it involved the use of many chemicals, one of which was the toxic substance mercury. Working in poorly ventilated rooms, hat-makers breathed in so much mercury fumes that a good number of them were driven out of their wits by mercury-induced brain damage. Mercury poisoning among hat-makers is widely believed to be the origin of the proverbial saying "mad as a hatter". Even the character of the Hatter in Lewis Carroll...

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2021-02-17 19:27:00

The Ingenuity of The 'Ha-Ha'  

What's in a wall but a simple structure to keep intruders out, you might say. But a surprising amount of thought goes behind the construction of some. One example is the crinkle-crankle wall, popular in the county of Suffolk, in east England. The alternating curves of the crinkle-crankle wall prevents the wall from toppling over without the need for buttressing. Another unusual wall is the quirkily named "Ha-Ha" that's found in many 18th century country estates around Britain. Photo: ...

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2021-02-16 21:08:00

Flettner Rotor: Sailing Ships Without Sails  

In 1926, a 2,000-ton steel-hulled schooner named Buckau made an extraordinary crossing across the Atlantic. Although the Buckau was technically a sailing ship, it had no sails—at least, not conventional ones. Rather than thin masts and billowing sheets of white, the Buckau had two huge cylinders that rose from its deck and spun. By a physical phenomenon called the Magnus Effect, the spinning poles generated a propulsive force that carried the ship forward. It's the same force that footballe...

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2021-02-15 12:24:00

Citizens! During Shelling This Side of The Street is The Most Dangerous  

The city of Saint Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities in Russia and in eastern Europe, with a great ensemble of historic buildings, gilded palaces, and baroque bridges and churches. Founded by Peter the Great as a "window to Europe" Saint Petersburg's has a very cosmopolitan character, unique among Russian cities, but behind all the gilt and glory lurks a darker past, going back by less than eighty years, when Hitler had the city bombed, besieged and starved during the Second Wo...

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2021-02-12 22:07:00

The Curious Tale of The Laocoön And His Sons' Missing Arm  

The story of Laocoön, the Trojan priest who was attacked and killed along with his two sons by giant serpents for attempting to expose the ruse of the Trojan Horse, is well-known in Greek mythology. Laocoön's tragic tale has been retold by numerous Greek poets such as Apollodorus and Quintus Smyrnaeus. The latter gave a detailed description of Laocoön's grisly fate in his epic poem Posthomerica. Laocoön was also mentioned by the famous Greek tragedian Sophocles, and by the Roman poet V...

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2021-02-11 11:00:00

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