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Amusing Planet - Amazing Places, Wonderful People, Weird Stuff

How Two Families Escaped East Germany in a Homemade Hot Air Balloon  

At 2:40 a.m. on the morning of 15 September 1979, constables Walter Hamann and Rudolf Golkel of the Bavarian State Police were patrolling the country roads outside the West German town of Naila, about six miles from the East German border in Upper Franconia, when they spotted a faint flickering light moving slowly across the starry sky. Hamann and Golkel couldn't tell what it was, but they estimated that the light was some 5,000 feet high. As they watched, they saw the light descend to the g...

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2021-10-20 11:49:00

The First Photograph in History  

It doesn't look like much, but this is the world's first photograph, or rather, the oldest surviving photograph, or both. It was taken by French inventor Nicephore Niepce, using a camera obscura focused onto a pewter plate coated with a thin layer of Bitumen of Judea, a naturally occurring asphalt. Niepce exposed this plate through a lens to the buildings and surrounding countryside of his estate, Le Gras, in Saint-Loup-de-Varennes. The exposure is believed to have lasted at least eight...

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2021-10-18 14:37:00

Agent 355: The Mysterious Female Spy of The American Revolution  

Agent 355 sounds like a comic book character or the protagonist of a television series, but in reality it is the nickname of a real figure: a spy who acted during the American Revolution in favor of the rebels and who, therefore, could be considered one of the first people dedicated to that profession in the United States. The fact that her identity is not known for certain only adds to the historical interest of the matter, due to the theories that exist in this regard. The curious thing is th

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2021-10-08 11:39:00

Post Mortem Photography  

In the olden days before photography, people used to hire painters to create portraits of those who had recently died as a way to keep the memories of the deceased alive. The dead were generally laid out in their best clothes with a special headdress, and some sort of token in their hands. The painter worked as fast as possible, for he had to complete the portrait before the body started to stank. Many probably made a pencil sketch of the lying corpse, then went home and completed the painting

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2021-10-06 12:49:00

Itacolumite: The Flexible Rock  

Ever seen a piece of rock bend? Itacolumite is unique kind of sandstone that does when cut into thin strips. If a foot-long piece, a few centimeters thick, is supported at its ends it will gradually bend by its own weight. If it is then turned over it will straighten and bend in the opposite direction. Flakes a millimeter or two thick can be bent between the fingers and are said to give out a creaking sound. The rock was first discovered in Mt. Itacolumi, hence named Itacolumite, in Minas Gerai

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2021-10-06 11:08:00

Tripitaka Koreana  

The Tripiṭaka Koreana is the oldest surviving version of the Buddhist canon and the most complete collection of Buddhist texts, laws and treaties extant, engraved on approximately 80,000 woodblocks. It was made in the 13th century. The Tripiṭaka Koreana is engraved in Hanja script and contains more than 52 million characters, organized in over 1,496 titles and 6,568 volumes. Each wood block measures 24 centimeters in height and 70 centimeters in length. If they are stacked on top of another,...

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2021-10-04 20:08:00

The Chain Boats of Europe  

In his travelogue, A Tramp Abroad, Mark Twain describes an encounter with a curious boat on the River Neckar in Germany.  We ran forward to see the vessel. It proved to be a steamboat—for they had begun to run a steamer up the Neckar, for the first time in May. She was a tug, and one of a very peculiar build and aspect. I had often watched her from the hotel, and wondered how she propelled herself, for apparently she had no propeller or paddles. .... As she went grinding and...

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2021-10-02 10:18:00

Otto von Guericke's Magdeburg Hemisphere Experiment  

The Magdeburg Hemispheres is a classic physics experiment that demonstrates the incredible pressure the atmosphere around us exerts on our bodies and everything else. The apparatus of the experiment consist of two brass hemispheres that fit together to form an air-tight seal. One hemisphere has a tube that can be attached to a vacuum pump and a stop cock to seal it off. When the air is sucked out from inside the hemispheres, and the valve is closed, the two halves are held firmly together by t

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2021-09-30 12:21:00

Horatio Phillips's Extreme Multiplanes  

British engineer and aviator Sir George Cayley suggested, as early as 1843, that an airplane with multiple wings will generate more uplift and become airborne with less effort. Many aircrafts introduced during the early years of flight adopted this principle. A clear majority of aircrafts taking part in the Great War were biplanes. The Fokker Dr.I, made famous by the German ace fighter Manfred von Richthofen, had three wings and it was a great airplane. The success of the Fokker Dr.I triplane pe

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2021-09-28 15:09:00

Hackney Borough Disinfection Station  

When you came down with an infectious disease in the early 1900s in London, not only were you whisked away in a horse-drawn cart to the hospital, but the city seized your belongings and took them away to disinfect at the newly opened disinfecting station in Millfields Road, in the borough of Hackney. The Hackney Borough Disinfection Station was one of a kind. When it was opened in 1901, Hackney's medical officer of health proudly proclaimed: "With this station and shelter, I have no hesitat...

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2021-09-27 15:39:00

The Madaba Mosaic Map  

In 1884, an Orthodox Christian community that had recently moved to Madaba, a city in western Jordan, began the construction of a new Church of St. George. Under Ottoman law, a Christian church could only be built on the ruins of an older church, and this was done in this case. As workers cleared the ground over what had been the ancient church, there emerged the remains of a mosaic of a very peculiar kind. At that time it was common to find buried mosaic remains linked to the glorious Byzantine

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2021-09-24 12:26:00

The Soviet Moon Prank  

In December 1968, Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders, became the first men to fly around the moon and return to earth. But they were not the first earthling to do so. Only three months previously, the Soviets sent a Soyuz capsule to circle around the earth's natural satellite carrying a large number of living creatures. Among these were two Steppe tortoises, hundreds of Drosophila eggs, various plants, and different strains of bacteria. This was only the second time that a spacecra...

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2021-09-22 16:34:00

Viktor Belenko: The Pilot Who Stole a Secret Soviet Aircraft  

Lieutenant Viktor Ivanovich Belenko woke up early in the morning as he had done everyday for the past four weeks, to watch the approaching dawn and look out for signs that might reveal how the day would progress. The weather was magnificent, and from the very moment he saw the fiery disk of the rising sun, Belenko was certain that this would be the day. As a pilot with the 513th Fighter Regiment, 11th Air Army, of the Soviet Air Defence Forces, Belenko had flown countless missions and lived on

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2021-09-20 19:43:00

The World's Largest Log Cabin  

At the turn of the 20th century, the city of Portland, in Oregon, United States, was a major economic center, with a flourishing wheat and flour industry, an unparalleled timber industry, and a rapidly growing shipping port. Portland boasted of the largest flour mill on the Pacific coast. Its lumber industry was significant due to Oregon's vast forest of Douglas fir, western hemlock, red cedar, and big leaf maple trees. Portland's location at the Willamette's confluence with the Columbia...

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2021-09-16 18:39:00

Typhoid Mary: The Most Infamous Typhoid Carrier Who Ever Lived  

We have been hearing about "asymptomatic carrier" quite a lot in the past few months. It scares us to death that there are people carrying chronic diseases with no outward symptoms of the microbes within, spreading the deadly disease to unsuspecting, healthy individuals they come into contact with. But back in the early 1900s, the concept of "healthy carriers" of infection was entirely new to scientists, and this brings us to the story of Mary Mallon, the first known asymptomatic carrier...

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2021-09-14 12:40:00

The Lighthouse at The End of The World  

The San Juan de Salvamento lighthouse is located at the very end of the island of states, in Patagonia of Argentina, in the province of Tierra del Fuego. It is the oldest lighthouse in Argentina and the first to be built in southern waters. It has been nicknamed The Lighthouse at the End of the World, after the novel by Jules Verne that bears that title. The theme of the novel is survival in extreme circumstances, and the events depicted revolves around this isolated lighthouse. Faro de San J

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2021-09-09 13:48:00

The Pantai Remis Landslide  

Tin mining is one of the oldest industries in Malaysia, having been mined for centuries along the river banks. These mines were small and their methods primitive. Then in the early 1800s, large tin deposits were discovered in the Peninsula's west coast states of Perak and Selangor, and the industry developed into one of the major contributor to the Malaysian economy. At one point, Malaysia was the world's largest tin producer and supplied more than half of the world's tin until the mid...

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2021-09-08 12:52:00

The Great Meteor of 1783  

On the night of 18 August 1783, four gentlemen and their two lady companions were on the terrace of the Windsor Castle, enjoying the warm summer night after a fulfilling and sumptuous dinner, when their casual conversation was cut short by a descending light in the horizon. As the spectators turned their attention towards the bluish colored apparition, they saw the light streak across the north western sky, gradually increasing in brightness. And even as they watched, the light broke up into a b

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2021-09-06 15:33:00

The Great Vine of Hampton Court Palace  

The Great Vine of Hampton Court Palace, on the River Thames in London, is the largest and the oldest grave vine in the world, having being planted at the royal palace's conservatory in 1769, at the time when George III was the King of Great Britain and the American colonies were still under the British throne. The vine began as a small cutting that arrived from a mother-vine at Valentine's Mansion in Ilford, Essex. Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, the Chief Gardener, planted the vine in...

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2021-09-06 14:46:00

Why The Romans Punished Dogs And Honored Geese  

On a warm summer day in August in ancient Rome, a brilliantly decorated litter is carried solemnly in the direction of Circus Maximum. Its occupant is neither a senator nor a highborn lady, but upon arrival at his destination he is revealed to be a humble goose, and he had arrived at the venue, now seated on a luxurious purple cushion, to watch the crucifixion of some dogs. This macabre ritual, called supplicia canum (or "punishment of the dogs") is celebrated to commemorate the anniversary...

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2021-09-03 12:41:00

Ida Lewis: The Bravest Woman in America  

In the Newport harbor in Rhode Island, America's smallest state, stands a small, squat lighthouse named after Ida Lewis, the fearless lighthouse keeper who manned this outpost for more than fifty years. During this period Ida Lewis was known to have saved countless lives from drowning. Ida Lewis was born in 1842 in Newport, Rhode Island, the second oldest of four children of Captain Hosea Lewis of the Revenue-Marine. She was first brought to Lime Rock in 1854, when her father was made the lig...

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2021-09-02 12:45:00

Paper Railway Wheels  

Paper has multitude of uses—from the newspaper that we read in the morning to the teabags that infuses our morning cup, from the toilet paper in our bathroom to the decorative wallpaper that brightens our bedroom, this versatile material is used in innumerable number of ways. And for a brief period in the late 19th century, they were also used for making wheels for railways. Conventional wisdom says that all load bearing structural components should be made of sturdy materials such as wood o...

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2021-08-31 15:06:00

Daniel Lambert: England's Most Famous Fat Man  

For most of human history, mankind struggled with food scarcity. The poor and the working class were seldom well fed, and only the wealthy and the prosperous could afford to get their bellies full every time they ate. Obesity reigned only among the upper echelons of society. So when a commoner in 18th century England started to get morbidly fat, not only he became an anomaly but a curious attraction as well. Portrait of Daniel Lambert by Benjamin Marshall. © Amusing Planet, 2021.

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2021-08-26 19:59:00

Mansa Musa: The Richest Man in History  

In 1324, Mansa Musa, the legendary ruler of the vast West African empire of Mali, set off for a pilgrimage to Mecca. Like many other devout Muslim rulers before him and after, Musa did not travel alone. He brought along with him one of the largest caravans ever to cross the Sahara—a traveling entourage of 60,000 men, including 12,000 servants, 8,000 courtiers and one hundred camels, each loaded with sacks of pure gold, while the slaves carried more gold in the form of bars, nuggets and staffs....

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2021-08-25 12:00:00

Tzompantli: The Gruesome Skull Racks of The Aztecs  

When Spanish explorers first arrived in Mexico in the early 16th century and made contact with the Aztecs, they were taken aback by the culture's grisly rituals and the constant bloodshed. The Aztec people believed in the continual need for regular offering of human blood to keep their deities appeased, and to meet this need, the Aztecs sacrificed thousands of people. To obtain victims for sacrifice, the Aztecs frequently waged war with other tribes, and captured victims alive for use in ritua...

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2021-08-23 21:10:00

Chicago River: The River That Runs Backward  

From the mid to the late-19th century, Chicago was in the midst of a period of rapid growth, and as the city grew it placed enormous strain on the region's natural resources. One of the biggest challenges the city faced was waste management. Like most growing cities of the period, residents viewed rivers as open-air sewers and dumped raw, untreated sewage and other pollutants directly into the river. Human waste and rotting carcasses of dead animals floated downstream into Lake Michigan, which...

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2021-08-18 11:08:00

Ascension Island's Remarkable Ecological Transformation  

In the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean, thousands of miles from practically anywhere, lies an isolated volcanic island called Ascension. Two hundreds years ago, Ascension was a desert island with little appeal for passing ships except to collect giant green turtles and birds to eat as they sailed on to other regions. Today, its peaks are covered by lush green forests. This amazing transformation is the result of a remarkable ecological experiment conducted by noted British botanist Joseph Hoo

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2021-08-16 13:03:00

Mount Tambora And The Year Without a Summer  

Volcanic eruptions can change the planet's climate. During major eruptions, huge amount of volcanic ash are released into the upper atmosphere which form a veil-like covering preventing sun's rays and heat from reaching earth. Additionally, volcanic gases like sulphur dioxide has a cooling effect, opposite to that of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. When Mount Tambora erupted in 1815 on the island of Sumbawa in present-day Indonesia, it ejected an estimated 120 million tons of sulphur...

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2021-08-12 12:40:00

The World's Largest Sailing Ship  

On December 14, 1907, a large sailing ship wrecked off the coast of Annet, in the Isles of Scilly, killing all but two of her eighteen crew and causing the world's first large marine oil spill. The ship involved in the accident, Thomas W. Lawson, was an incredible ship. Thomas W. Lawson was the world's largest pure sailing ship, i.e. without an auxiliary engine, and the only seven-masted schooner. She was built by the eponymous copper baron Thomas W. Lawson for the sole purpose of showing t...

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2021-08-11 15:56:00

The World's First Automatic Machine Gun  

In an article in Nature in 1885, the renowned science journal published a description of a new type of gun developed by the well-known American inventor Hiram Stevens Maxim. "This gun is a completely new departure," the article states. "It takes the cartridges out of the box in which they were originally packed, puts them into the barrel, fires them, and expels the empty cartridges, using, for this purpose, energy derived from the recoil of the barrel. Of course it is necessary to put the...

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2021-08-09 15:34:00

Afghanistan's War Rugs  

Turkmen weavers in northern Afghanistan have been weaving rugs for thousands of years. This heavy textile, made for a wide variety of utilitarian and symbolic purposes, is traditionally decorated with classical folk motifs, but in recent times many modern designs have found their way into the traditional medium, such as replicas of Picasso paintings or stylized American flags. But the most curious influence on Afghan rug design has been violence. © Amusing Planet, 2021.

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2021-08-06 11:35:00

Whiffling: The Art of Flying Upside Down  

This image of a goose flying upside down captured by photographer Vincent Cornelissen has created a buzz online. In the viral photo, the goose is seen with its body upside down, with its neck twisted so that the head is the right way up. Many people are wondering if such a thing is even possible. © Amusing Planet, 2021.

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2021-08-05 12:26:00

The Fabled Diamonds of Golconda  

Before the discovery of the diamond mines in Brazil and South Africa in the early 18th century, India was the sole supplier of the world's diamonds, and much of its diamonds were mined in a small geographic area called Golconda in the present-day states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Located not far from Hyderabad, Golconda with its elaborate fort was the early capital city of the Qutb Shahi dynasty established in the early 16th century. Because of the presence of diamonds in the area, Gol...

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2021-08-04 09:47:00

Bobbie, The Wonder Dog Who Walked 2,500 Miles to Home  

In August 1923, Bobbie—an average-looking collie puppy—accompanied his owners, the Braizer family, on a cross-country summer road trip from their home in Silverton, Oregon, to Wolcott, Indiana, where they were visiting some relatives. While filling up gas at a station in Wolcott, Bobbie was chased away by some street dogs. The family waited for Bobbie to return, but he did not. They placed ads on newspapers and after a week of intense searching, the Brazier family gave up hope. Heartbroken, ...

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2021-08-03 12:22:00

The Arrow Stork  

Many birds fly extraordinarily great distances in search of warmer climate, food and favorable breeding grounds, a seasonal phenomenon we now know as migration. But to early scholars such a notion was inconceivable—how can a bird weighing only a couple of hundred grams survive the hardships of intercontinental travel over lofty mountains and vast oceans to distant lands with no apparent means of navigation, and then fly all the way back? Yet, scholars struggled to explain why some species of b...

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2021-08-02 14:50:00

Moving a Courthouse by Rail  

Perhaps the strangest thing to be ever moved by rail was a house—more precisely, the courthouse at Hemingford, which was at the time the county seat of Box Butte County, Nebraska. The courthouse was relocated to Alliance which had seized the position of the county seat from Hemingford. © Amusing Planet, 2021.

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2021-08-02 12:30:00

The World's Oldest Operating Company is 1,400 Years Old  

Kongō Gumi Co., Ltd., a Japanese company that was then acquired by Takamatsu Construction Group, for which it continued to operate as a subsidiary, went bankrupt in 2006. This would be of little consequence, beyond the peculiar activity to which it is dedicated (construction and maintenance of Buddhist temples), were it not for the fact that Kongō Gumi is-or was-the oldest company in operation: at the time of its liquidation it was one thousand four hundred and twenty-eight years old. Kong...

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2021-07-30 15:58:00

Fire Grenades: Victorian Fire Extinguishers  

An early form of fire extinguisher popular in the late 1800s was the fire grenade. The grenade resembled a regular glass bottle or a modern electric bulb, but larger, and filled with salt water. They were kept in wall-mounted metal brackets in Victorian homes, or any place handy, from where they could be quickly grabbed and thrown at the base of the fire. The glass bulb shattered on contact and the water contained inside helped to extinguish the flames. Salt water was chosen instead of plain wat

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2021-07-28 15:55:00

The Blowing Up Of Hell Gate  

As ships from across the Atlantic sail up East River and into Manhattan, they pass through a narrow tidal strait called Hell Gate situated between Queens and Ward's Island. Tides from the Long Island Sound, New York Harbor and the Harlem River meet here, making this mile-long stretch of water very treacherous to navigation with giant whirlpools and hidden underwater reef. Historians estimate that about one in 50 ships trying to run the gauntlet of Hell Gate was either damaged or sunk in the 18...

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2021-07-27 12:52:00

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

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