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Amusing Planet - Amazing Places, Wonderful People, Weird Stuff

Mehrangarh Fort: Of Brick, Mortar & Death  

In Mehrangarh fort of Jodhpur, Rajasthan, murals lend insight into the infernal past of Hindu traditions. Its imprinted walls and resounding zenanas continue to tell legends of yore. One such element of conversation is the 15 handprints on the innermost gate of the fort, left by women that once inhabited the fort. Photo: Michael Foley/Flickr © Amusing Planet, 2022

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2022-05-19 11:35:00

The Great Comet of 1861  

The 19th century was a great time for sky watchers. Between 1811 and 1882 as many as eight great comets became visible from earth dazzling scientists and common man alike, and inspiring artists and composers. Probably the most beautiful one was Donati's Comet of 1858, which became the first to be successfully photographed. Three years later, another dramatic comet appeared in the sky. The Great Comet of 1861 was exceptional because it passed right across Earth's orbit, and for two days the...

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2022-05-18 10:02:00

Staglieno Cemetery: Where Death is Beautiful  

The cemetery of Staglieno represents more than the dead. It represents a confluence of movements that furthered the cause of the living. Cimitero monumentale di Staglieno—as it's called—sits on a quaint hillside in Staglieno district of Genoa, Italy, with beauty wrapping like a wreath of hope around the memory of death. A cemetery isn't what pops into mind when you think of a tourist destination, but this burial site has attracted visitors from around the world for its monumental sculp...

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2022-05-18 09:41:00

Lyveden New Bield  

Lyveden New Bield is an unfinished Elizabethan summer house located in the parish of Aldwincle in North Northamptonshire, England. The National Trust, which currently owns the building, calls it a 'building of exceptional interest' because of the religious symbolism in its architecture. Lyveden New Bield was constructed by Sir Thomas Tresham, who was a devout Catholic, which made him a threat to Queen Elizabeth I's Protestant belief. Tresham was frequently imprisoned for his beliefs an...

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2022-05-17 11:48:00

Historical Personalities Who Suffered Comically Horrific Deaths  

Death can come in many forms. For many it is usually mundane such as passing away due to old age or due to some illness. For some it is traumatic, such as involving in an automobile accident. And for a tiny few, death is so bizarre that it beggars disbelief. Yet, I can assure you that each of these stories below is true. © Amusing Planet, 2022

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2022-05-16 10:21:00

The All-Women Guard of The King of Siam  

"Exceedingly warlike." "Warrior queen, castle defender or besieger, pirate, or street duelist." "Chivalrous or cruel." These are only a few phrases that Jessica Salmonson uses to describe the female Amazons of world history. And once upon a time, an esoteric group of such fierce women pervaded over the Kingdom of Thailand. This group was the all-women bodyguard of the King of Siam. The establishment replaced 600 European mercenaries and Christian samurai troops in 1688, and was respo...

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2022-05-14 12:19:00

The Tomb of Bibi Jawindi  

The ancient city of Uch, founded by Alexander the Great, in Pakistan's Punjab province, is home to several funerary monuments and shrines dedicated to Muslim mystics, or sufis, from the 12th to the 15th centuries. One of the most beautiful is the Tomb of Bibi Jawindi. This octagonal tomb is embellished with extensive tile work, but is now in a dilapidated state. Photo: Saadnadeem/Wikimedia © Amusing Planet, 2022

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2022-05-13 11:24:00

Roman Dodecahedron: History's Mystery  

It is safe to say that there are secrets to the ancient Roman civilization that even a lifetime of scrutiny will not reveal to us. Yet historians and archaeologists continue their pursuit, discovering ever so often an artifact that is at once perplexing and revealing. One such object is the Roman dodecahedron. The hollow object is a bronze enigma with a decahedral shape of twelve flat pentagonal faces. Its presence in central Europe reveals nothing of its purpose. But there are a few hypotheses

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2022-05-13 10:13:00

The Mysteries of Nidhivan  

Every year millions set foot on Vrindavan with one motive: to witness Krishna's raasleela. This dance of coquetry has riddled the pages of Indian mythology for ages, and has lured people from around the world into the folds of Brajbhoomi, Krishna's land. While Mathura was where Krishna was born and Gokul where he was raised, it was Vrindavan that witnessed his youthful dalliance with gopis. A wooded corner of this dusty city continues to sing of the lovestruck mysteries of the lord even in t...

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2022-05-12 11:12:00

Natural Gas Extraction by Nuclear Explosion  

In the late 1950s, the United States of America launched a new kind of nuclear program called Project Plowshare aimed at finding ways to better utilize the tremendous energy released by nuclear bombs. Until then, nuclear energy meant only one thing—weapons. But scientists wanted to find whether nuclear energy could be used for peaceful purposes such as blasting a new harbor in Alaska, or digging a new canal through the Isthmus of Panama, and other such projects that involved moving large quant...

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2022-05-11 20:05:00

Vicuña: The World's Most Expensive Wool Comes From a Llama  

Deep within the Andes of Peru gallops an animal that's treasured across the world. It belongs to the family of Llamas but is called a Vicuña, identified by its slender 1.8mtr tall body and glistening mane. The coat of wool, sheer and soft and uncompromisingly warm, is sold more expensive than your finest cashmere. Stunned? The Vicuña's wool is warm enough to keep its body temperature comfortably regulated against the harsh Andean temperatures at 4,000mts; imagine the magic it would wield i...

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2022-05-11 11:33:00

A Thunderstorm Called Hector  

Nearly every afternoon, from September to March, a thunderstorm develops over the Tiwi Islands in Northern Australia. It happens so regularly that meteorologist refer to it by name—Hector. The cumulonimbus thundercloud appears at roughly 3 PM, and is said to be so reliable that one could set their clocks by him. Hector, also known as Hector the Convector, earned its name during the Second World War, when pilots and mariners in the region used the thundercloud's recurring position as a sort ...

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2022-05-10 15:24:00

Bera, The Indian Village Where Man and Leopards Live Together  

Along the sun-soaked Aravallis of Rajasthan thrives the leopard country of India. In and around Bera, a small village in Pali district, majestic looking cats roam with untamed freedom while locals keep their heads bowed in reverence. A perfect harmony exists around these villages, wherein leopards attract tourism and livelihood for the people and the people let them animals prey on their possessions. A leopard near a shrine in Bera. Photo: Shatrunjay Pratap © Amusing Planet, 2022

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2022-05-09 15:08:00

Did Abbas Ibn Firnas Make History's First Flight?  

Just outside Baghdad International Airport there is a statue of a man wearing a turban with feathered wings strapped over his arms, about to jump from a high pedestal. The statue is identified as Abbbas Ibn Firnas, the father of aviation. But who was Abbbas Ibn Firnas? The statue of Abbas ibn Firnas near Baghdad International Airport. Photo: BaghdadiHistory © Amusing Planet, 2022

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2022-05-09 10:26:00

1875: When Locusts Ruled Over America  

A species disappears from our planet about every 30 minutes. From climate crises to man's carelessness, there are endless factors that drive the living into a black hole of non-existence. Till date, the most extraordinary of these eliminations occurred in a family of tiny insects—the Rocky Mountain locusts which became in 1902 the only agricultural pests to face complete extinction. But this notorious species has continued to swarm the minds of farmers and entomologists long after their myst...

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2022-05-06 12:11:00

Franz Halder: The Only German to be Decorated by Both Hitler and Kennedy  

During the Third Riech, Hitler fortified his leadership atop bastions of war, invasion and politics. One of them though dared to traipse across party lines and contribute to both Nazi propoganda and the downfall of Hitler. Franz Halder played an instrumental piece in the working of the German Wehrmacht, but was also awarded accolades by the President of the United States. He served as chief of Hitler's army general staff from 1938 to 1942. During this time, he oversaw the victorious takeovers ...

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2022-05-05 19:05:00

The Peculiar Locks of Dindigul  

In India's Tamil Nadu, some 420km south of Chennai, sits Dindigul. In this city of over two million people, families have slept without a worry for centuries while thieves have been known to tiptoe in fear and desperation. This is the city that began creating unique locks on the request of Tipu Sultan in the 18th century, and has since then garnered a reputation for being the most skilled locksmith of India. A shopkeeper displays a wide variety of Dindigul locks. Photo: Kamala Thiagarajan/Atl...

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2022-05-05 14:57:00

The Neanderthals of Gorham's Cave  

Long before modern humans walked the earth, there lived in Europe another species off humans—the Neanderthals. It's unclear exactly when Neanderthals appeared on the scene. Estimates range from 300,000 years to as far back as 800,000 years ago. Their date of extinction is also uncertain. It's generally accepted that the Neanderthals went extinct about 40,000 years ago, but there are several isolated pockets around Europe where Neanderthals appeared to have survived for much longer. One suc...

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2022-05-04 15:19:00

America's Ugly 'Ugly Laws'  

In the 1880s, you could be fined for being ugly in public. Ordinances across the United States disallowed anyone who was "diseased, maimed, mutilated or in any way deformed so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object" for appearing in public places. These 'ugly laws' were as real as the American Civil War, and in fact came into circulation just as the war came knocking on the country's doorstep. And they were no joke either; the laws were not just about morning puffiness or acne brea...

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2022-05-04 10:14:00

Why The Soviet Union Advertised Products That Didn't Exist  

The purpose of commercials is to advertise products and drive sales, but in Soviet Russia under communism they served an altogether different and totally useless purpose. The Soviet Union was a planned economy where all industries were controlled by the state. There was no private sectors and no competition, and hence the tools that apply in a free market had no place in a state-controlled economy. Yet, consumer goods were still advertised on the television. © Amusing Planet, 2022

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2022-05-03 19:10:00

Ne Win: A Story of Power, Tyranny and Dolphin Blood  

Once upon a time, there was a man who bathed in dolphin blood. He believed it would keep him young and healthy while his Stalin-inspired regime retained liberation for the people of Burma. This man was born as Shu Maung or "apple of the eye", until in 1941 he was renamed Ne Win or the "radiant Sun" during his rise to a terrifically ruthless dictatorship. For the next 26 years, the name struck images of tyranny and violent extravagance among the people of Burma (also known as Myanmar). Th...

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2022-05-02 11:39:00

The Fish That Swims Upside Down  

Fishes are great swimmers, and this ability comes not from practice but from anatomy. Fishes have a slender body which they flex back and forth to cut through the water, and several fins that help them move, turn, stay upright, stop and so on. In addition, most fishes have an internal air sac called the swim bladder that allows them to control their buoyancy and orientation without having to continuously swim and thus expend energy. When fishes want to stay afloat, they gulp in air and inflate t

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2022-04-28 20:36:00

How a German Air Raid in Bari Helped Discover a Cure For Cancer  

On December 2, 1943, the Germans launched a surprise attack on a key Allied port in Bari, Italy, sinking more than 20 Allied merchant ships and killing more than 1,000 American and British servicemen and hundreds of civilians. Among the ships sunk was the SS John Harvey, an American Liberty ship carrying a secret cargo of mustard gas bombs. The deadly attack, which came to be dubbed as "the Little Pearl Harbor", released a toxic cloud of sulphur mustard vapor over the city and liquid mustard...

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2022-04-27 10:39:00

Uncombable Hair Syndrome   

In a world of 7.87 billion people, there are only about a 100 cases of Uncombable Hair Syndrome (UHS). It is commonly visible in children of three to 12 years of age, which is why its intriguing effects are usually visible only on adorable babies that take to modeling for social media, making us feel better about our own bad hair days. Their spikes are not because they gave a finger into the cartoonish light socket or because they managed to evade the morning combing. In fact, there's a lot be...

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2022-04-26 12:04:00

Rohonc Codex  

The Rohonc Codex is a 448-page illustrated manuscript book written by an unknown author in an unknown language that has baffled scholars and historians since it was discovered at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in mid 19th century. The codex is named after the Hungarian city of Rohonc, where it was kept until it was donated to the Academy in 1838 by Count Gusztav Batthyany from his Rohonc estate, along with 30,000 other books in his possession. The town is now called Rechnitz, is in Austria, c

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2022-04-25 15:24:00

Kugelpanzer: The Mysterious Nazi Ball Tank  

When the Soviet Union invaded Manchuria in 1945 after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the Red Army recovered a strange vehicle from the possession of the Japanese. It was a small armored vehicle in the shape of a circular drum with only enough room to hold a single person. Currently at the Kubinka Tank Museum in Kubinka, Moscow Oblast, the curious vehicle is referred to as the Kugelpanzer, and is the only known example of a ball tank. Photo: Morpheios Melas/Wikimedia © Amusing Planet,

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2022-04-25 11:21:00

Mike The Headless Chicken  

Once upon a time in 1945 there was a couple who owned a farm in Colorado. Lloyd Olsen would spend afternoons chopping off chicken heads, while his wife Clara would look over their cleaning. The two-person assembly line produced the same results everyday: some 50-60 chickens readied and delivered to the meat market. But on 10 September, normalcy of the routine broke when despite being beheaded by Lloyd, a chicken refused to die. As related by Troy Waters, the couple's great-grandson, the chic

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2022-04-23 11:44:00

Can Tapeworms Make You Beautiful?  

"The loveliness of a rival eats into a girl's heart like corrosion;" says The Ugly-girl Papers: Or, Hints for the Toilet. The Victorian era novel by SD Power may be chewed up and spit out by many of you, but there were large sections of the corset-wearing society back then that swore by its stringent standards of beauty. Even today, many might not know of the existence of the book, but societal discrimination and self judgement keeps them hunting for alternative ways to meet the prevalent ...

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2022-04-22 09:55:00

Deciphering Fragments of Egyptian Ceramics  

In February 2022, archaeologists discovered over 18,000 Egyptian ostraca in Athribis. The news was full of headlines about pottery fragments, and everyone knew what a big deal it was. But the road to such an awareness has been long. It has taken years to discover, analyse and understand the relevance of what ostraca are, and what they signify. Even today, historians and Egyptologists continue to approach the extant evidence to reiterate the cultural narratives they reveal. Here is what we know a

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2022-04-21 11:40:00

The Flying Santa of New England  

Every Christmas, the families of lighthouse keepers along the coast of New England receive presents from a flying Santa Claus, but the jolly old fellow doesn't come riding in a magical reindeer-drawn sledge but in a helicopter. The New England tradition of a "Flying Santa" delivering gifts to lonely and isolated lighthouse keepers and their families started over ninety years ago in 1929, when a Maine pilot named Captain William Wincapaw, started delivering gifts for his lighthouse keeper ...

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2022-04-21 10:16:00

The Lake of The Dead: Roopkund  

At a breathtaking altitude of 16,500ft, pristine waters of the Himalayas lay frozen to their depths for most part of the year. Come summer though, the dangerous torrents are unleashed from their icy shackles to reveal a riverbed of bones, flanked by a shore of skeletal remains camouflaged by nude shades of the rugged slope. This is Roopkund or the Skeleton Lake in Uttarakhand, India—straight out of figments of your wildest imagination, into true accounts of history. View of Roopkund from Juna...

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2022-04-20 11:43:00

Murchison Falls: Uganda's Most Powerful Waterfalls  

Murchison Falls, also referred to as Kabalega Falls, is located on the Nile River between Lake Kyoga and Lake Albert in Uganda. The waterfall is created when the entire Nile river, which is some 100 to 120 meters wide before the falls, is forced through a narrow gap in the rocks only 7 meters wide, creating one of the most violent waterfalls in Africa with a flow of more than 300 cubic meters of water per second. The huge masses of water that squeeze through the rocks create a constant roar and

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2022-04-20 10:32:00

The 17th Century Astronomer Who Designed The First Steam-Powered Vehicle in History  

On October 9, 1623 Ferdinand Verbiest was born in the town of Pittem (present-day Belgium). Of his early years it is only known that he studied humanities, philosophy and mathematics in Bruges, Cortrique and Louvain. On September 2, 1641 he entered the Society of Jesus, which sent him to Seville to study theology. In the Spanish city he was ordained a priest in 1655 at the age of 32. In Rome he completed his training by studying astronomy. Ferdinand wanted to be a missionary in Central America,

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2022-04-19 10:04:00

A Cannulated Cow Lives With a Hole in Its Stomach  

Imagine being able to look inside a cow. Call it curiosity, or the craving to reveal all of the world's truths, but the cannulated cow is man's experiment to discover what goes on in the digestive systems of a bovine, and how best its milk output can be increased to its maximum potential. In 1928, Arthur Frederick Schalk and RS Amadon of North Dakota Agricultural College became the first men to eagerly peep inside a cow with a porthole studded on its body. Since then, scientists and agricult...

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2022-04-18 19:47:00

The Hammersmith Ghost Murder Case  

In the winter of 1803, residents of Hammersmith, which at the time was a small village on the outskirts of London, was terrorized by a ghost. Most of who had seen the specter described it as a figure covered in a large white shroud. Others said it sometimes wore a calf skin wrapped around its body and had large glass-like eyes. The ghost instilled fear among the villagers because the specter was not a mere apparition but appeared to be full of malevolent intent. It attacked and harassed people

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2022-04-18 10:28:00

The Day BBC Had No News  

You could be idle, but the world is still unfolding. Even in hours of boredom within the four walls of our homes, we are aware of the tremendous developments taking place around the world at any given point. Today, there's a war banging at our doorstep, a global pandemic has tomorrow in its unpredictable clutches, and every hour despite such morbid details our people are progressing forward in little ways. Could you, in such an environment, imagine a day of no news? The BBC broadcasting house...

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2022-04-16 10:21:00

Burana Tower, Kyrgyzstan  

Set against the backdrop of lofty, snow-covered peaks of the Kyrgyz Ala-Too mountain range in northern Kyrgyzstan, stands a tall isolated minaret. A thousand years ago what is now a deserted valley was once the ancient city of Balasagun, founded by the Karakhanids in the 9th century, and the Burana tower was part of a mosque. Balasagun was a flourishing city of the Karakhanid Dynasty with a citadel, mausoleums, mosque, church, and a bath-house, until it was destroyed by the Mongols in 1218. The

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2022-04-16 10:19:00

Reverse Waterfalls: When Water Flies Up  

Every monsoon, the Indian subcontinent turns into a land of natural marvel. Cascading waterfalls, dense greenscapes and the smell of earth take over life and seep into the mind's eye as ever-lasting impressions of beauty and wonder. One such awe-striking monsoon phenomenon is the reverse waterfall that takes place along the western ghats of the country. In seeming defiance of laws of physics, the flow of water takes an upwards course against the pull of gravity. Reverse waterfall in Visapur, ...

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2022-04-15 15:18:00

The Ruins of Sutro Baths  

Within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, just north of Ocean Beach, in San Francisco, you can still find the ruins of what was once the largest indoor swimming pool in the world—the magnificent Sutro Baths. The baths were built by wealthy entrepreneur and San Francisco mayor Adolph Sutro as an addition to his dramatically perched Cliff House, located on the edge of a cliff, overlooking Ocean Beach. A postcard of Sutro Baths, circa 1896. © Amusing Planet, 2022

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2022-04-15 15:17:00

In The Gambia, Votes Are Cast With Marbles  

Along the smiling coast of Africa, nature abounds and all sorts of sights, smells and sounds reveal the beauty of harmonious living. One of these is the sound of marbles clinking against metal containers—a unique expression of democratic choice in the Gambia. In this west African country, votes are not cast by the push of a button or the filling of a ballot, but by the dropping of a marble in favour of the preferred political party. Polling officials show the marbles that are used to cast vot...

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2022-04-13 10:44:00

The Ripple Rock Explosion  

Between Vancouver Island and the Discovery Islands in British Columbia, lies a narrow body of water called Seymour Narrows, which is part of larger strait called Discovery Passage. The Discovery Passage is frequently used by vessels, including cruise ships and freighters, because it enables them to avoid some of the bad weather in the open ocean. The Seymour Narrows, however, has its own hazards. It is very narrow and is known for strong tidal currents. And right in the middle of the strait, bel

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2022-04-12 10:38:00

The Oldest Name in The World  

Humans have been calling each other by names probably for hundreds of thousands of years ever since the first human beings evolved from Homo heidelbergensis and emigrated out of Africa. We don't know what these early names sounded like because there was no method to record sounds. Writing would not be invented until very late in human history—about 5,500 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia. The Sumerians were the first to develop a script to record information. Known as cuneiform, it used a com...

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2022-04-11 10:15:00

Antarctic Oases  

Antarctica is one of the most inhospitable places in this earth, with all-year-round freezing temperatures, violent katabatic winds and ice that covers almost the entire continent. But there are regions where the southernmost continent is free of ice cover. These regions are termed "oases" or "dry valleys" because of the comparatively favorable conditions that prevail here for the development of life. Their areas range from several dozen to several thousand square kilometers. Here are so...

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2022-04-11 10:06:00

The Abandoned Village of Kuldhara  

Some 30 kilometres from Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, a dusty track meanders towards the abandoned town of Kuldhara. Deserted land of scanty vegetation straddles this road in silence, and a mirage rises from its surface under the unrelenting sun. Despite the arid land and the sultry heat, there is much that has attracted tourists to this secluded village. There is mystery and legend here, and enough room for the imagination to fly and the heart to feel scared. Photo: Pierre Doyen/Flickr © Amusing

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2022-04-08 11:00:00

How The Soviet Union Tried to Abolish Weekends  

About a hundred years ago in August 1929, the Soviet Union moved to alter the most fundamental tool of daily functioning: the calendar. An industrial revolution had already set the stage for radical reforms in labour, each of which were fuelled by the need for faster economic growth and infrastructural development. Stalin's government was pushing its proletariat to achieve new and steadier goals with a renewed vigour. Flowing in this momentum of socialist progress, a Bolshevik economist, Yuri ...

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2022-04-07 11:22:00

The Mysterious Phaistos Disc  

The Phaistos Disc is an enigmatic disk of fired clay discovered in the Minoan palace of Phaistos on the Greek island of Crete, possibly dating to the middle or late Minoan Bronze Age (second millennium BC). The disc is about 15 cm in diameter and covered on both sides with a spiral of stamped symbols. The purpose and the meaning of these symbols have been the source of much fascination and dispute among scholars for the past hundred years. The side A of the disc of Phaistos, as displayed in t

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2022-04-07 11:08:00

Razia Sultan: Delhi's First And Only Female Emperor  

Tales of female courage and prudence, power and fortitude run long in the pages of Mughal history. Women who were daughters, who were begums and concubines, led development and won politics from behind the purdah, taking charge under their sultan's pervasive reign to transform cities and develop military strength. But one out of them, the exceptional Jalâlat-ud-Dîn Raziyâ, altered history by taking over the reins right at the forefront, becoming the first and only woman to rule over the Mug...

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2022-04-06 10:25:00

The Corpse of Elmer McCurdy  

What happens to our bodies when we die? Some are buried with grandeur in oakwood caskets, some cremated on holy pyres of amber flames. But the homeless, unfamiliar and the strange often remain unclaimed, left to wander the streets in death as in life. One such orphaned vagabond was Elmer McCurdy, the ghost of whose life came back to haunt the living some 60 years after his death. He was a man who crawled through a desultory career in his life, but gained fame and prosperity in death. This was be

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2022-04-06 09:47:00

The Bat Libraries of Portugal  

Bibliophiles aren't the only ones that love hanging out in the library. Given the chance bats too would love to roost there and eat the bugs and bookworms that feast on old manuscripts. That's exactly how generations of bats have been keeping safe the prized collection in two Portuguese libraries—the Mafra Palace Library in Mafra and the Biblioteca Joanina in Coimbra. The Biblioteca Joanina. Photo: xiquinhosilva/Wikimedia © Amusing Planet, 2022

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2022-04-05 12:44:00

The 1866 Transatlantic Communications Cable  

Much of today's lightning speed communication that happens between computer terminals or between mobile phones located in different continents is possible due to a network of communication cables that lie across the seabed. These submarine communication cables made of copper and fiber-optics are responsible for carrying nearly the entirety of all intercontinental communications traffic. They represent a major technological revolution, but these cables are not a new technology. In fact, the fir...

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2022-04-04 09:53:00

The Lake Peigneur Drilling Disaster  

Near the northern tip of Vermilion Bay in the US state of Louisiana, lies a small saltwater lake called Peigneur. Although pretty modest by surface area (about 1,100 acres), the lake is 200 feet deep, making Peigneur the deepest lake in the state. However, just over forty years ago, Lake Peigneur was an unremarkable body of water just ten foot deep, until an unusual man-made disaster on November 20, 1980 changed the lake and the surrounding land forever. Lake Peigneur © Amusing Planet

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2022-04-04 09:49:00

The Pacific Island Where Prince Philip is God  

At the other end of the sea from where Queen Elizabeth sits on her throne in England, photos of her husband holding a unique club rest safely under the supervision of two tribal villages. These are Yakel and Yaohnanen, settlements in the Vanuatu archipelago of the south Pacific where the Duke of Edinburgh has been worshiped as god for decades. Photo: Roman Kalyakin/Flickr © Amusing Planet, 2022

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2022-03-31 12:00:00

The Great Conservatory of Chatsworth  

Before Joseph Paxton built the magnificent edifice of glass and iron, the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851, he built an enormous greenhouse—the Great Conservatory, or Stove—on the grounds of Chatsworth House in the Derbyshire Dales. While building the Great Conservatory, Paxton perfected many of the techniques that he would later employ to build the Crystal Palace. © Amusing Planet, 2022

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2022-03-31 10:33:00

Can You Solve The Shugborough Code?  

From the Caesar Shift of ancient times to a Nazi coding device called the Enigma Machine, the world before us left its mark in keys and codes for us to follow. But did you know that one of the most famous and yet unsolved codes was not carved into some precious plaque or locked in some high tech machinery, but engraved in a paradisiacal mansion in England? Shugborough Estate. Photo: Bs0u10e0/Flickr Amidst garden landscapes and architectural curiosities of the Shugborough Estate in Staffordshire

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2022-03-30 12:29:00

Scribonius Longus, The Roman Physician Who Used Electricity as a Treatment  

Scribonius Longus (Latin Scribonius Largus ) was a 1st century AD Roman physician who served at the court of Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD) and reportedly accompanied the Roman army in the conquest of Britain. He is famous for having written a pharmacopoeia (list of recipes) that was used in Europe until the 17th century, and also for being the first known to have used electricity as a remedy. However, his life is a mystery. A Roman physician in a painting by John William Waterhouse (1877). &#

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2022-03-29 11:17:00

Alberto Santos-Dumont: The Brazilian Aviation Pioneer  

The Wright brothers are generally considered to be the inventors of flight, but in Brazil, it is their son of the soil Alberto Santos-Dumont who is widely celebrated as the "father of aviation". But why is that so? The flight of the Santos-Dumont 14-bis on the cover of Le Petit Journal, 25 November 1906. © Amusing Planet, 2022

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2022-03-28 11:32:00

The Mysterious Legacy of The Poe Toaster  

The macabre attraction of Edgar Allen Poe and his works has reached far and wide over centuries. But the Poe Toaster is a testament to just how deep it runs in the veins of his followers. The Poe Toaster was an anonymous entity that started the mysterious annual tradition of toasting Edgar Allan Poe at his grave on his birthday, with a bottle of cognac and three red roses. Shrouded in his own element of suspense, the toaster attracted vast attention over the years, keeping people peeking at the

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2022-03-25 13:13:00

The Battle of The Eclipse  

Picture this: two raging kings have been at war for five years now. Lives have been lost, battles have been fought, and in the current moment, their armies are locking horns in active aggression. Suddenly, the sky that was till now filled with the clanking of armor and spurting of blood, turns into a blanket of darkness as a solar eclipse pervades the horizon. As day turns into night within minutes, soldiers on both sides drop their axes and spears, watching stunned as the play of nature oversha

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2022-03-25 12:41:00

'Meldeman Plan': The First Siege of Vienna  

One of the oldest topographical maps of Vienna is the so-called "Meldeman-Plan'' published by the Austrian painter and printer Nikolaus Meldemann that shows a vivid picture of the city during its first siege by the Ottoman army in 1529. The siege of Vienna in 1529 was the first attempt by the Ottoman Empire to capture the city. Suleiman the Magnificent, sultan of the Ottomans, attacked the city with over 100,000 men, while the defenders, led by Niklas Graf Salm, numbered no more than 21,00...

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2022-03-24 14:55:00

The Miraculous Survival of Phineas Gage  

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Except in the case of Phineas Gage, who became a lot of things but strong after an accident that ought to have killed him in 1848. The man survived the passing of an iron rod through his skull, hence becoming a legendary curiosity in medical sciences and a celebrity among the common population, albeit an irritable one. © Amusing Planet, 2022

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2022-03-23 10:21:00

Did an Ancient Persian Queen Suffer From Breast Cancer?  

In Histories, written in the 5th century BC, the Greek historian Herodotus tells the story of Atossa, the queen of Persia, who was struck by an unusual illness. Atossa was the daughter of Cyrus the Great, and wife of Darius I, the legendary Achaemenid emperor who ruled over a vast stretch of land from Lydia on the Mediterranean Sea to Babylonia on the Persian Gulf. Atossa was troubled by a bleeding lump in her breast, "which broke and spread further." Atossa was embarrassed of her ailment, a...

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2022-03-23 10:16:00

What the Megaliths of Jharkhand Reveal About Tribal India  

In 2016, a cluster of over 300 megaliths were discovered under a maze of shrubs and garbage near Ranchi. The tombstones of Yamuna Nagar had existed there since the Neolithic Age around 1AD, but the modern-day colony that sat above it had remained oblivious to the ancient treasure for years. The stones became the second largest megalithic site of Jharkhand. Amidst quarried lands and dusty air riddled with the smell of charcoal, lay thousands of prehistoric megalithic structures that spread across

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2022-03-22 10:57:00

Joice Heth: The Hoax That Launched P.T. Barnum as a Showman  

Phineas Taylor Barnum, the "greatest showman" on earth was still making a modest living as the owner of a grocery store in 1835 when his path crossed with that of a certain Mr. Coley Bartram, who would provide Barnum with a foray into the lucrative world of showmanship. Bartram informed Barnum of a spectacular "exhibit" that he had recently sold to Mr. R. W. Lindsay. The "exhibit" was an elderly African American woman named Joice Heth, who was supposedly 161 years old and had been th...

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2022-03-22 10:50:00

The Whipping Tom of 1681  

The streets of London have witnessed some of the strangest men come and go over the years. From commoners like Theodore Hook, who halted the functioning of the city over a bet in 1810, to the London Monster of 1790 roaming around with blades strapped to his knees, every nook of the English capital was pervaded by episodes of the uncanny. But way earlier than these wanton destructors, Londoners were haunted by a colossal sight of terror that bordered the supernatural: Whipping Tom of 1681. In the

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2022-03-21 10:01:00

The Mystery of The Campden Wonder  

The year was 1660. In south west England's Gloucestershire sat a small town called Chipping Campden—a single street rotting under soot and layers of history. The town was not one to make the front page news, but in that year, a tragic mystery unfolded in one of its ruinous houses that changed everything from the perspectives of its neighbours to the law of its land. Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire. Photo: Colin Park/Wikimedia © Amusing Planet, 2022

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2022-03-19 10:28:00

How Dusko Popov Inspired James Bond  

In Into the Lion's Mouth: The True Story of Dusko Popov, author Larry Loftis calls Dusko Popov a showman. He's the stuff of movies, with ample cunning and lacking conscience, the qualities of being debonair among the ladies and villainous among the villains and stone cold eyes that spare no one and nothing. Is that why this British double agent inspired Ian Flemming to create James Bond? Photo: ClaraDon/Flickr Who Was Dusko Popov? Born to Milorad Popov in Titel, Serbia, Dusan 'Dusko' Popov ...

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2022-03-16 10:02:00

Henry Ford's Soybean Car  

You might blame Henry Ford and his hugely popular T-model for sparking our insatiable passion for cars and the environmental degradation it has brought, but did you know that Ford once tried to build a biodegradable car? Henry Ford was born in a farm and spent his childhood working on his father's farm. Although he despised farm work as a child, in the middle ages he became fascinated with the notion of merging farming with industry. Ford had a long-standing interest in plastics developed fro...

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2022-03-15 10:18:00

The Lying Stones of Adam Beringer  

Fossils prove the existence of life at its peak, but in Dr Adam Beringer's case, they wrote nothing but demise. Almost 300 years ago, he discovered a set of plant and animal fossils near Würzburg in southern Germany that crafted the end of his thriving career. These fossils came to be known as Lügensteine or the 'Lying Stones' that caused one of the greatest paleontology frauds in the history of the world. But what makes this deception legendary, apart from a host of moral lessons and co...

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2022-03-14 11:15:00

Jenny: The Orangutan That Helped Darwin Evolve His Theory  

If you visit the Darwin Archive at Cambridge University Library (DAR 191) today, you will find notes on orangutans recorded by Charles Darwin that are labelled as "man" and not "orangutans". These were notes compiled during careful observations of the species in the months of 1838, within the tamed confines of the Zoological Gardens of England. One of them, dressed in human clothes and drinking tea between her fits of passion, was Jenny. Darwin;s observations of the animal went on to sha...

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2022-03-10 20:20:00

Treaty of Kadesh: The World's First Peace Treaty  

On the walls of the Temple of Karnak near Luxor, Egypt, and on the temple of Pharaoh Ramesses II in Thebes, are engravings that describe a great battle against the "Great King of Khatti" and a peace treaty that was forged with them. The hieroglyphics, which were known since antiquity, was first translated by Jean-François Champollion in the early 19th century, triggering a renewed interest among westerns in Ancient Egypt. In 1858, it was identified that the Great King of Khatti were the Hit...

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2022-03-10 10:11:00

The Sculpted Rocks of Rothéneuf  

In 1879 in a small town in the south-east of France called Châteauneuf-de-Galaure, a postman began the construction of a fantastic palace, which took 33 years to complete and which today bears his name, Palais Cheval. Some 15 years later, at the other end of the country on the coast of Brittany, a priest known as Father Foure began the creation of an equally fantastic set of seaside sculptures, earning him the nickname of the Breton Cheval. Photo: Gilles San Martin/Wikimedia © Amus...

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2022-03-09 19:41:00

Ambergris: The Highly Sought-After 'Whale Vomit'  

The sea washes up all kinds of strange stuff, from carcasses of whales and squids to fossils and ancient shipwrecks. But nothing is as precious as ambergris, a hard, resin-like substance with a light gray or yellow tinge and having a pleasant aroma. For thousands of years, ambergris was staple in perfumes. The Ancient Egyptians burned the substance as incense, and modern Egyptians smoke it in cigarettes. Ambergris was also used to flavor food and drink. A serving of eggs and ambergris was repo

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2022-03-08 11:40:00

Thomas Midgley Jr.: The One-Man Environmental Disaster  

The unnatural warming of the Earth's atmosphere in the past century or two can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution when humans began burning copious amount of fossil fuel releasing a staggering amount of carbon dioxide into the air. But a small part of the climate catastrophe can also be traced back to two dangerous inventions—leaded gasoline and chlorofluorocarbons, both created by the same man, Thomas Midgley Jr. Photo: Bronwyn8/Getty Images © Amusing Planet, 2022

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2022-03-04 16:45:00

The Field of Cloth of Gold  

Situated just ten miles south of Calais, Balinghem is an unremarkable little village, but five hundred years ago this quiet countryside played host to one of the most spectacular meetings in history—between rivals King Henry VIII of England and King Francis I of France. For a period of 18-days, the two greatest monarchs and their vast entourage took part in a grand festival of banquets, tournaments, masquerades and religious services. The gathering was so magnificent and the display of wealth ...

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2022-03-03 20:53:00

The Turf Mazes of Britain  

Turf mazes are labyrinths made by cutting a convoluted path in an area of short grass or lawn, and were once a common feature of the English countryside. Hundreds of these were known to exist across northern Europe. Now fewer than twelve survive, including eight in Britain. The mazes were created by cutting grooves in an area of turf to leave a continuous path of grass, like a very long rope, neatly arranged to fill the area. In some turf labyrinths, the groove cut in the turf is turned into a

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2022-03-01 20:33:00

Tarrare: The Man Who Ate Too Much  

If gluttony is a sin, then perhaps the worst offender was a man named Tarrare who lived in 18th century France. He had such an insatiable appetite that he would eat anything to suppress his hunger, even live cats and rotten corpses. He could devour his entire body weight worth of beef in a single day, and still be hungry. Nobody remembers what Tarrare's real name was, but everybody called him Tarrare. It is believed that his nickname was derived from the popular French expression "Bom-bom t...

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2022-02-25 20:17:00

Mensur And Bragging Scars  

This is Otto Skorzeny, often regarded as Hitler's deadliest general. An Obersturmbannführer (lieutenant colonel) in the SS during World War II, Skorzeny gained fame in 1943 for his daring rescue of Benito Mussolini from the Abruzzi mountains where he had been imprisoned. The scar you see on his cheek, however, was not received during this audacious mission, nor was it inflicted upon his person when he led an SS unit to the Budapest royal palace and arrested the Hungarian leader Miklos Horth...

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2022-02-24 12:08:00

Giuseppe Fieschi's Infernal Machine  

On July 28, 1835, Giuseppe Marco Fieschi positioned himself in front of an open window on the third floor of N. 50 Boulevard du Temple in Paris. Overlooking the window was a street that King Louis-Philippe of France was expected to pass through as he went for his annual review of the Paris National Guard. Fieschi intended to assassinate the King, and to make sure he had a high degree of success, he designed one of the most infernal guns in history. Giuseppe Fieschi's infernal machine at t

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2022-02-23 11:50:00

The Eagle Made Out of Lincoln's Hair  

In a small dimly lit back room of the Onondaga Historical Association in Syracuse, New York, is a unique and priceless treasure—a civil-war era decorative eagle made entirely out of hair contributed by leading politicians and their wives, most notably President Abraham Lincoln and First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. The artifact came about when the US Sanitary Commission, a volunteer agency working for the health of Union soldiers during the war, needed money for its efforts and reached out to Pres...

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2022-02-22 20:14:00

The Clink: England's Oldest Prison  

The oldest prison in England and the country's most notorious was owned not by the reigning monarch but the Bishop of Winchester. Now why would a bishop, a man of god, you may ask, would need a prison for? To keep heretics, of course. In later years, "Clink", as the prison was called, was used to imprison debtors as well as any miscreants. Its name is thought to have derived from the sound metal makes when the prison's doors were bolted close, or from the rattling of the chains the pri...

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2022-02-22 15:08:00

The First Airmail Was Delivered During The Siege of Paris  

When Prussian forces had Paris under siege during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, the beleaguered Parisians had only one hope to get messages out—balloons. The balloon named Louis Blanc, piloted by Eugène Farcot, takes off on 12 October 1870. © Amusing Planet, 2022

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2022-02-21 11:46:00

Thomas Harriot: The Scientific Genius Who Eschewed Fame  

Four hundred years ago, on July 2 1621, a remarkable Englishman named Thomas Harriot died in London. He left behind some 8,000 pages of scientific research, but it is only in recent decades that scholars have uncovered their treasures. And what they show is that Harriot independently made many significant discoveries now attributed to other, more famous scientists. Some scholars have called him "the English Galileo" and "the greatest British mathematical scientist before Newton". Yet H...

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2022-02-18 21:36:00

Ashford v Thornton: The Last Challenge to Trial by Battle  

Many personal disputes in the past have been settled by one-to-one combat. When a crime was committed, or a complainant accused a person of a crime and there were no witnesses or a confession, the court allowed the two parties to legally settle their difference with a duel. The winner of the fight was proclaimed to be right. This archaic law remained in use throughout the European Middle Ages, gradually falling out of favor in the course of the 16th century. The medieval method of trial by battl

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2022-02-16 12:26:00

The Donkey Wheel of Carisbrooke Castle  

After King Charles I of England surrendered to Scottish forces following his defeat in the English Civil War (1642-1651), he was captured and imprisoned at the Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight, where he remained for fourteen months. By the end of 1648, the Parliamentarian New Model Army had consolidated its control over England, and Charles was tried, convicted, and executed for high treason in January 1649. The place of his imprisonment, the Carisbrooke Castle, still stands and is a po...

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2022-02-15 16:54:00

The Pneumatic Clocks of Paris  

When French-born but London-based civil and electrical engineer, Jules Albert Berly, traveled to Paris for the 1881 International Exposition of Electricity, he saw many wonderous exhibits such as incandescent lamps, the Theâtrophone, the electric tramway, Graham Bell's telephone, an electrical distribution network, an electric boat and many more fascinating cutting-edge technology of the time. But the thing that captivated him the most did not run on electricity. It ran on air. Berly was en...

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2022-02-14 20:49:00

Wood Gas Vehicles: Cars That Run on Firewood  

In the early 19th century, in addition to coal and natural gas, a new kind of fuel became available to people. It was called synthetic gas (or syngas) and was available in many different forms such as coal gas, wood gas and water gas. Synthetic gas is produced by converting biomass or other carbon-containing materials, such as wood and coal, into a gaseous product by subjecting them to heat in oxygen-deprived environment. The resulting gas contains a mixture hydrogen, carbon monoxide and methane

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2022-02-11 21:29:00

The Great Meteor Procession of 1913  

On the night of February 9, 1913, inhabitants of a large portion of the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada witnessed a meteoric spectacle that has been described by astronomers as one "without parallel". As it was a cloudy winter night, most people were likely indoors and didn't see anything. But a few lucky individuals with clearer conditions noticed that around 9 PM, a procession of 40 to 60 bright fireballs appeared in the dark sky moving slowly "with peculiar, majest...

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2022-02-10 22:42:00

The Pyramid of Cestius  

Although we associate pyramids with Ancient Egypt, these four-sided structures with a tapering top are found all over the world, built by many different cultures, such as the ancient Kushite rulers of Nubia and the Andean cultures of South America. The Romans also built pyramids, and one of the best examples is located in Rome itself. The Pyramid of Cestius was built for Gaius Cestius Epulo, a politician, praetor and priest, whose wish was to be buried in a tomb built in the style of the Egypti

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2022-02-10 12:26:00

Kīpuka: A Different Kind of Volcanic Island  

Sometimes when a volcano erupts and the subsequent lava flows engulf the mountain slope and the surrounding terrain, some pieces of the land, due to their elevation, are spared by destruction. These patches of land left undevastated by lava then become islands of sort for plants, animals and birds alike to take refugee in an otherwise inhospitable environment. They are called kīpuka, a word that originated from the Hawaiian language and means a "hole" or "opening". Photo: Andrew Rich...

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2022-02-08 19:56:00

Acta Diurna: The First Roman Newspaper  

According to Cicero, from the beginning of Roman history the Pontifex Maximus compiled on a white table the most important events that had occurred in Rome during the year, as well as the names of the consuls and other magistrates of the Republic, and placed it in a public place where everyone could read it. These records were called Annales Maximi and were compiled annually until, for reasons that Cicero does not explain, they ceased to be made in the year 131 BC. From that year onwards the an

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2022-02-07 19:34:00

How to Color The World  

In addition to classifying thousands of animals and plants, early naturalists faced an enormous challenge: accurately describing their colors. Antonio Martinez Ron describes how 18th and 19th century botanical illustrators addressed this essential problem. In the spring of 2016, during a series of visits to the Royal Botanical Garden in Madrid to learn about its archives and write about its wonderful herbarium , Esther García Guillen showed me a small notebook that they jealously guard in th...

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2022-02-04 12:18:00

Weighing The Mayor of High Wycombe  

Every year at the Annual Meeting of the Charter Trustees of the town of High Wycombe, in Buckinghamshire, England, a new mayor is elected. The mayor and his officers are then subjected to a strange initiation ritual. A large brass scale is brought in and the mayor in traditional garb is weighed in full view of the public and his or her weight recorded. One year later, when he leaves office to make way for the new mayor, the mayor is weighed again. If he was found to have gained weight, it was p

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2022-02-03 21:22:00

The 477-Mile Lightning Bolt  

How far can a lightning bolt travel? Awfully far, as revealed by the World Meteorological Organization recently. In a press release published on February 1, 2022, the WMO certifies that they have a new record-holder. A notoriously long flash of lightning stretching 477 miles across three states in southern US was observed by a NOAA satellite during a storm in April 29, 2020. I have no idea why it took almost two years to recognize that. Perhaps no body looked at the data until recently. Anyway

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2022-02-03 13:52:00

Inflated Bullock Skin Boats  

In the early 1900s, American school teacher, traveler, and photographer, James Ricalton, went to India and traveled extensively throughout the subcontinent, documenting and recording the lives, culture and customs of the natives through photography. Once, while visiting some remote villages in the hills of Punjab in the lower Himalayas, he came across an unusual sight, which he captured in his stereoscopic camera. Only the left hand side of the image is reproduced here below. © Amusing

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2022-02-02 15:37:00

How a Finnish Polka Song Defeated The Mighty Red Army  

Three months after Hitler invaded Poland triggering a series of nasty and costly wars across the world, the Soviet Union took the opportunity to invade Finland to settle some longstanding political issues, mostly to take land from Finland to use it as a buffer between the newly christened city of Leningrad and the rising power of Nazi Germany. The Finnish fought hard in freezing temperatures and repelled Soviet attacks for two months, inflicting substantial losses on the invaders initially. But

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2022-02-01 20:49:00

Operation Epsilon: When Allied Forces Locked Ten German Scientists Together in a House  

Near the end of World War 2, the Allied forces arrested ten German scientists who were thought to have worked on Nazi Germany's nuclear program and housed them together at a bugged country house called Farm Hall in Godmanchester, near Cambridge, England. For six months from July 1945 to January 1946, a team of operators listened to and recorded their conversation in the hope that the scientists would divulge information that would help the Allied determine whether Germany had worked out the

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2022-01-31 15:54:00

The Nazi Gold of Merkers Mine  

When the advancing Third Army of the United States marched into the captured German town of Merkers-Kieselbach towards the end of World War 2, they received a tipoff from two women that a disused salt mine near Merkers contained gold stored by the Germans, along with other treasures. The piece of information was quickly relayed to the higher command and the story was soon confirmed and collaborated by other witnesses. Later that month, Generals Eisenhower and Patton themselves traveled to the mi

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2022-01-28 10:58:00

Ancient Board Games  

Playing games is a great way to socialize with friends and pass time in an enjoyable way. Humans recognized this a long time ago before there was the Nintendo or the PlayStation. In the absence of video games, ancient humans played with sticks, bones and pebbles, until someone invented the dice and with it came board games. Games soon became pastimes of the royalty and the elite, and some games became common features of court culture. Games also became important cultural and social bonding event

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2022-01-25 22:44:00

Juliane Koepcke: The Girl Who Fell From an Airplane And Survived The Rainforest  

Juliane Koepcke was seventeen and desperate to get home. She had just graduated from high school in Lima, and was returning to her home in the biological research station of Panguana, that her parents founded, deep in the Amazonian forest about 150 km south of Pucallpa. She had been living in Panguana, on and off, for three years with her mother, Maria, and her father, Hans-Wilhelm Koepcke, both zoologists. Their flight was on Christmas eve of 1971, and the plane was already seven hours late. I

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2022-01-24 21:49:00

The Kopp–Etchells Effect  

When American war correspondent and photographer Michael Yon went accompanying US soldiers to Afghanistan in 2009, and began photographing the troops and their equipment there, he noticed an unusual phenomenon. Whenever a helicopter was taking off or descending and there was lots of sand in the air, the blades of the rotors began to glow like "distant galaxies". "The halos spark, glitter and veritably crackle, but in still photos the halos appear more like intricate orbital bands," Mich...

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2022-01-24 12:45:00

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