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Amusing Planet - Amazing Places, Wonderful People, Weird Stuff



The Soviet Census Debacle of 1937  

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

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2020-02-25 16:51:00



The World's Oldest Dock at Lothal  

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

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2020-02-25 12:25:00



The Doodles Hidden Inside Swiss Maps  

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

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2020-02-24 21:38:00



Where is Ground Zero in Nagasaki?  

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

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2020-02-24 15:54:00



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

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

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2020-02-22 11:17:00



The Pomological Watercolor Collection  

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

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2020-02-21 15:11:00



The Langweil Model of Prague  

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

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2020-02-20 21:15:00



The Great Hedge of India  

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

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2020-02-19 16:06:00



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

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

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2020-02-18 21:21:00



The Mysterious Sky Battle Over Nuremberg in 1561  

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

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2020-02-17 17:14:00



When Dead Whales Toured The Country  

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

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2020-02-14 16:16:00



Unaweep Canyon: The Canyon With Two Mouths  

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

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2020-02-14 12:15:00



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

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

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2020-02-12 20:29:00



Circus Maximus  

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

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2020-02-12 11:48:00



A Treasure Trove of Antique Car Accidents  

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

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2020-02-11 16:41:00



Cynthia, The Celebrity Mannequin  

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

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2020-02-10 16:17:00



London's Only Lighthouse  

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

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2020-02-10 11:04:00



The Tunnel of Eupalinos  

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

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2020-02-06 21:48:00



The Znamya Space Mirror  

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

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2020-02-05 22:05:00



Town Pounds  

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

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2020-02-05 17:00:00



Dilmun Burial Mounds  

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

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2020-02-04 16:10:00



That Time When Computer Memory Was Handwoven by Women  

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

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2020-02-03 21:14:00



The Murders Written in Stone  

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

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2020-02-01 12:29:00



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

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

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2020-01-31 12:00:00



The Beatles' Bumprints in Plymouth Hoe  

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

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2020-01-31 11:59:00



Brighton And Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway  

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

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2020-01-28 16:45:00



The Walnut Grove of Arslanbob  

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

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2020-01-28 16:32:00



Abu Hureyra, The Place Where Humans Became Farmers  

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

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2020-01-27 19:52:00



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

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

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2020-01-24 20:51:00



The Last German Surrender  

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

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2020-01-23 20:37:00



The Ghost Town of Gagnon, Quebec  

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

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2020-01-23 12:38:00



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

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

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2020-01-22 12:27:00



Stannard Rock Light: The Loneliest Place in The World  

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

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2020-01-21 15:47:00



The Skull Tower of Niš, Serbia  

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

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2020-01-20 13:19:00



The Locomotive That Walked: William Brunton's Steam Horse  

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

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2020-01-18 14:58:00



The Cottbus MiG-21 Crash of 1975  

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

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2020-01-16 22:19:00



The Sad Tale of The Dionne Quintuplets  

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

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2020-01-15 20:32:00



Autumn Harvest Drying in Huangling  

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

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2020-01-15 16:16:00



The Shipwreck That Gave Birth to South Africa  

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

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2020-01-13 21:21:00



Mödlareuth: The German Village Divided by The Cold War  

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

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2020-01-13 21:05:00



Bremer Loch: The Hole of Bremen  

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

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2020-01-11 11:24:00



Slovak Radio Building: The Inverted Pyramid  

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

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2020-01-10 19:27:00



The Radiological Incident in Lia, Georgia  

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

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2020-01-09 22:39:00



Attabad Lake: The Lake Created By a Disaster  

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

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2020-01-09 15:58:00



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

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

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2020-01-08 17:23:00



HMS Zubian: The Conjoined Ship  

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

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2020-01-08 15:58:00



HMS Porcupine: The Warship That Became Two  

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

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2020-01-07 16:44:00



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

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

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2020-01-06 19:21:00



Theremin: The Musical Instrument That You Can Play Without Touching  

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

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2020-01-04 16:07:00



The Abandoned Cryolite Mining Town of Ivittuut  

Near the southern tip of Greenland, lies the old mining town of Ivittuut, now a collection of ramshackle houses and sheds and scattered pieces of old machinery. Ivittuut was once the world's largest source of cryolite, an extremely rare mineral that was historically used in the extraction of aluminium from bauxite ore. Although cryolite has been found at other places on earth, Ivittuut was the only place where this mineral was extracted commercially. Cryolite was first discovered in Ivittuut ...

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2020-01-03 16:29:00



Tron: Scotland's Public Weighing Scales  

The tron at Stenton, East Lothian, Scotland. Image credit: Studio Karel/Shutterstock.com This is the village of Stenton, in East Lothian, Scotland—a small agricultural village made up of a couple of buildings and patches of farmlands. In the medieval period, the main produce of the village was grain, hides and wool, which were sold at the markets every week. The cross like arrangement seen in the image above marks the site where the markets were held up to the middle of the 19th century. ...

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2020-01-03 13:10:00



The Mathematical Bridge of Cambridge  

The Mathematical Bridge is a wooden footbridge across the River Cam, connecting the old and new parts of Queens' College in Cambridge. The bridge is much admired because of its intriguing design—it is constructed entirely out of straight timbers, but has an arched shape. In The History of the University of Cambridge, author Edmund Carter praises the bridge as "one of the most curious pieces of carpentry of this kind in England". The timbers of the bridge are "curiously joined toget...

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2020-01-02 16:49:00



The Meteorite That Changed The Course of Christianity  

For more than two centuries, Christianity suffered under the Roman Empire. Christians were arrested, tortured, mutilated, burned, and starved. Christian buildings and the homes of Christians were torn down and their sacred books burned. The religious persecutions came to an end when Emperor Constantine ascended the throne. Unlike his predecessors, the emperor was a great patron of the Church. He built an extraordinary number of basilicas around the length and breadth of the empire, granted privi

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2019-12-31 18:27:00



Why do People Spit on The Heart of Midlothian?  

Spitting on the streets is not quite gentlemanly behavior, but on the Royal Mile in Edinburg, it is almost a ritual. The object of contempt is an innocuous heart-shaped mosaic set in the cobble stones of the street, just to the west of St. Giles Kirk. Known as the Heart of Midlothian, the sign marks the spot where the infamous Old Tolbooth prison once stood. It was the place where the people of Edinburgh gathered for public hangings and spit at the door in disdain for those imprisoned inside.

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2019-12-31 12:18:00



The Christmas Lights Powered by an Electric Eel  

Visitors to the Tennessee Aquarium in downtown Chattanooga, the United States, are treated to a shocking Christmas attraction this December. An electric eel by the name of Miguel Wattson is powering a festively decorated Christmas tree near its tank. Every time Miguel Wattson releases a jolt of electricity, sensors in the tank pick up the signals, amplify it and feed it to the lights decorating the Christmas tree. Whenever you see the lights flicker, you know that Miguel Wattson is up to someth

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2019-12-30 23:56:00



The Ruins of Washburn A Mill, Minneapolis  

The tasteful ruins on the banks of the Mississippi River from which rises the Minneapolis' Mill City Museum serves as a reminder to the site's dramatic history. The site was the location of Minneapolis' largest industrial building and the largest mill in the world. The Washburn A Mill was built in 1874 by Cadwallader Washburn, a businessman from LaCrosse, Wisconsin. The building was seven story tall, and housed a flour mill powered by the flowing waters of the Mississippi River, which w...

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2019-12-28 12:56:00



Child Birth by Centrifugal Force  

In 1965, George and Charlotte Blonsky, a childless New York couple were granted patent for a peculiarly weird invention—an "Apparatus for Facilitating the Birth of a Child by Centrifugal Force". The apparatus consist of a turntable over which the pregnant and ready to delivery woman is laid, with her legs pointed outwards, and is strapped down. The table is then rotated at high speed. When a sufficient speed is reached, the baby slides out of the birth canal propelled by centrifugal forc...

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2019-12-27 15:56:00



Corona Spy Satellite: The Humble Beginning of Satellite Espionage  

There is not a square-inch of earth that has not been photographed and mapped by satellites today. These spying eyes, flying hundreds of miles above the earth's surface are capable of imaging the entire earth many times over in a single day. Arriving at this level of technological brilliance was no small matter. Back in the 1950s, high-altitude surveillance was carried out using special reconnaissance aircraft capable of flying at ultra-high altitudes, in excess of 60,000 feet. For comparison...

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2019-12-24 16:55:00



Creepy Victorian Christmas Cards  

Victorian Christmas cards were a mixed bag of iconography, ranging from religious to everyday things. But one theme common in these seasonal greetings was humor, but not always of the kind we can appreciate today. A dead robin, a frog stabbing another, and Saint Nicholas stuffing a kid in a sack. The significance of these bizarre imagery is lost, but it is important to remember that the tradition of Christmas was still new, and its iconography had not fully developed. © Amusing Planet

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2019-12-24 15:06:00



The Australian Floating Hotel That Ended Up in North Korea  

For little more than a year in the late 1980s, a seven-story five-star hotel floated over John Brewer Reef, about 70 km off the coast of Townsville, in Queensland, Australia. It had two hundred rooms, discos, bars, a gym, a sauna, and two excellent restaurants, specializing in seafood. Outside the hotel, a tennis court floated. It was such a novel enterprise that many Townsville residents old enough to remember the hotel still have fond memories of it. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-12-23 16:01:00



The Termite Mounds of Okavango Delta  

The Okavango Delta is a place like nowhere else on earth. It's a vast swampy inland delta where a river disappears instead of emptying into an ocean. The Okavango River arises in the Angola highlands in the north, carrying rainwater from the mountains. It takes a couple of months for this water to reach the Kalahari, flooding the desert and turning it into a watery paradise that attracts all kinds of animals from kilometers around creating one of Africa's greatest concentrations of wildlife....

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2019-12-23 10:21:00



Sargasso Sea And Sargassum  

The Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic Ocean, near the Caribbean, is unlike any other sea in this planet. The boundaries of the sea are defined not by landmasses, but by four currents that swirl clockwise around the Bermuda forming a vast whirlpool called the North Atlantic gyre. The Sargasso Sea is part of this gyre. These ocean currents bring marine plants and debris from far away and deposit them into the gyre, yet the ocean water in the Sargasso Sea has a deep blue color and exceptional clar

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2019-12-21 10:25:00



Villa Girasole: The House That Rotates  

In the hills of northern Italy near Verona stands an L-shaped house called Villa Girasole, which means "sunflower" in Italian. And just like the flower after which it was named, Villa Girasole rotates on a large turntable following the sun across the sky. It's owner and architect, Angelo Invernizzi, designed it so that his house can soak in as much sunlight as possible to "maximize the health properties of the sun". © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-12-20 16:08:00



Britain's Hundred Million Pound Banknotes  

Scottish banknotes are weird. Although they are used all over Scotland and the rest of the UK, they are not legal tender, which means a shopkeeper can refuse to accept them and you can do nothing about it. Three Scottish banks are authorized to print bank notes in Scotland, yet none of them are central banks. This power to print banknotes was vested upon the private banks by the Bank Notes (Scotland) Act 1845, under the condition that the issuing banks deposit an equivalent sum in pound sterli

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2019-12-20 11:26:00



Australia's Rock And Ocean Pools  

A defining feature of the Australian coastline, particularly in New South Wales, are the rock pools—outdoor swimming pools carved out of the rocks at the ocean's edges. The waves regular crash into the pool filling and replenishing it with seawater. Rock pools or ocean pools began to appear in the 1800s, when the prudish Victorian-era people banned daytime swimming at the beach, causing wealthy individuals to build pools on the rocky surf coast. Others were build through community subscrip...

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2019-12-19 15:58:00



Seljavallalaug: Iceland's Hidden Swimming Pool  

Tucked in a narrow valley in South Iceland, a short hike away from the Ring Road that encircles the country, is an outdoor swimming—arguably, the most famous one in the country. It is nestled on the hillside, deep in the valley, surrounded by black volcanic sand and moss. The Seljavallalaug pool was built in 1923 as a place where children could learn swimming. Iceland, despite being a country of fishermen with a deep connection to the sea, swimming was not widely practiced back then. Today, ...

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2019-12-19 12:43:00



Fata Morgana Mirage  

The atmosphere plays unusual tricks with light in the polar regions, especially at sea, creating strange shapes like a looming island, a floating ship or a false wall of water to appear above the horizon. These mirages confounded early explorers. In 1818, when British explorer John Ross entered Lancaster Sound while seeking the Northwest Passage, he saw a mountain blocking his ship's course and decided to sail no further. Ross named the mountain range the Croker Mountains, but a later expediti...

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2019-12-18 19:55:00



Döllersheim: The Village That Hitler Destroyed to Crush a Rumor  

About one hundred km northwest of Vienna, in northern Austria, lies a small village called Döllersheim. Eighty years ago, this tiny Austrian village was wiped off the map by a certain German dictator with a comically short moustache in an attempt to erase the disreputable origins of his family. It was here, in Döllersheim, in the year 1837, that a woman named Maria Schicklgruber gave birth to an illegitimate child. That child was Alois Schicklgruber, the father of Adolf Hitler. The identity ...

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2019-12-18 13:14:00



The White Cliffs of Iturup Island  

Stretching from Hokkaido, Japan to Kamchatka, Russia, separating the Sea of Okhotsk from the north Pacific Ocean, are a string of volcanic islands called Kuril Islands. The archipelago belongs to Russia, but Japan claims the four southernmost islands, including the two largest ones—Iturup and Kunashir. Iturup was Japanese territory until the end of the Second World War in 1945, when Soviet forces took possession of all the Kurils and forced out Japanese residents. Japan has been trying to r...

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2019-12-18 11:12:00



China's Trackless Trains  

After two years of testing, a new futuristic train that runs on virtual tracks was launched for the first time in Yibin, in the province of Sichuan, China. Instead of steel tracks, these tram-bus-hybrid run over tracks painted on the asphalt in white. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-12-17 20:53:00



The Moon Villages of South Korea  

After the Korean War ended in 1953, many war refugees and other impoverished people moved to the rapidly developing urban centers and began squatting, often on hillsides. These downtrodden, gritty neighbourhoods came to be known as "moon villages" or daldongnae in Korean, signifying its high elevation and therefore closer proximity to and a better view of the moon. These villages are characterized by the utter lack of planning, with steep hills, winding alleys and small pockets of communal s...

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2019-12-17 15:53:00



The Elephant Bird  

Not too long ago, a gigantic, flightless bird roamed the island of Madagascar. It stood nearly 10 feet tall and weighed 700 kg. For centuries, their existence was like a folklore. Marco Polo mentioned hearing stories about them during his travels to the East as early as the 13th century. In the 17th century, Étienne de Flacourt, a French governor of Madagascar, mentioned "a large bird which haunts the Ampatres and lays eggs like the ostriches; so that the people of these places may not take...

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2019-12-12 21:45:00



Haystacks of Rishikesh  

Haystacks are often constructed around a central pole, or a tree. Bales of hay are loosely arranged around the central structure to prevent accumulation of moisture and promote drying. The pole or the tree provides stability. In the holy town of Rishikesh, in the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India, villagers build haystacks not around trees but on top of them. Rishikesh is one of the wettest places in northern India with a mean annual rainfall of over 2,100 mm. This means that the grou

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2019-12-12 16:09:00



The Hellfire Club And Caves  

Throughout history men have formed clandestine clubs where rich young aristocrats met and indulged in drunken orgies, gambling and carousing. But few clubs have attained so much notoriety as the Hellfire Clubs established in Britain and Ireland in the 18th century. The original Hellfire Club was founded in London in 1718 by the Duke of Wharton, a licentious character who was said to lead two lives—one a "man of letters" and the other "a drunkard, a rioter, an infidel and a rake." The c...

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2019-12-11 10:33:00



Machine de Marly  

Water features form an impressive part of the gardens in the Palace of Versailles in Paris. There are fountains, cascading waterfalls, calm pools and grand canals. Close to the palace, by the two water parterres are a series of sculptures depicting wild animals in fight—a lion conquering a wild boar, a tiger subduing a bear and a bloodhound bringing down a stag. From the mouth of each of these animals water gushes into a basin. The Dragon Fountain, which is actually a python, is one of the old...

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2019-12-09 16:14:00



The Unbelievably Delicate Marble Sculptures at Cappella Sansevero  

In the late 16th century, the Duke of Torremaggiore, Giovan Francesco di Sangro, after a miraculous recovery from a serious illness, erected a chapel to thank the Virgin Mary in the gardens of his family home in the heart of Naples, Italy. This chapel, called "Cappella Sansevero de' Sangri", is today home to some of the most extraordinary pieces of art by leading Italian artists from the 18th century. Among these, in the center of the nave, there is a reclining figure of Christ, covered ...

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2019-12-07 15:45:00



Khuk Khi Kai, The Chicken Poop Prison  

Chicken poop has a strong and suffocating smell of ammonia that's hard to stand for more than a few minutes. The odor causes a variety of adverse reaction in humans ranging from vomiting, headache, and irritation to even stress and depression. Ammonia when it enters the body reacts with water to produce ammonium hydroxide, which is very corrosive and causes burning in the nose, throat and respiratory tract. Long-term exposure and inhalation of compounds released by chicken poop is harmful to h...

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2019-12-06 15:54:00



Medieval Book Curses  

In the days before the printing press, book-making was a very laborious process. Each and every book had to made by hand, starting with the preparation of parchment, to the writing, the illumination and finally to the binding. Often a number of scribes, usually monks, worked together in a manuscript carefully forming letters in beautiful calligraphy with ink-tipped feathers, accompanied by rich illustrations. They had to be careful not to make errors, while also making sure that the lines were s

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2019-12-05 16:09:00



Inuit Snow Goggles  

This man, wearing a pair of strange goggles is not trying to make a fashion statement. He is just getting ready for a trek across the frozen tundra. The Inuit, Yupik, and other Arctic peoples have been making and wearing such extremely primitive but nonetheless effective pieces of eye protection for thousands of years. These snow goggles are fashioned out of whatever material the remote Arctic offers. Driftwood, animal bones, walrus ivory, and caribou antlers are the most obvious choices. But

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2019-12-05 13:13:00



Abandoned Cars in Hawaii  

In Hawaii, it is easier to dump your old car by the side of the road than have it legally disposed—an attitude that's causing big headaches for the authorities. Every year, the state spends hundreds of thousands of tax payer's money to tow away abandoned vehicles and there are still an overwhelming number of them rotting in the fields and among the trees. Hawaii is full of transplants who are constantly moving on and off the islands. When people leave Hawaii for the mainland, they often le...

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2019-12-04 20:35:00



The Mosaics of Villa Romana del Casale  

Many Roman villas, private residences, as well as public buildings, were lavishly decorated with mosaic floors. Mosaics served as a symbol of wealth and status, and many powerful and wealthy Romans commissioned them to impress their guests, choosing themes that reflected their status. Some depicted scenes from everyday life, such as athletics playing and ladies bathing. Others were full of drama and violence—gladiator fights, hunts and exotic creatures from mythological episodes. Like any work...

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2019-12-03 16:55:00



The Pigeon Breeders of Cairo  

Perched on rooftops across Cairo, like water tanks on elevated platforms, are rickety wooden cages where Cairenes keep their pigeons. Pigeon keeping is a tradition that is older than Ancient Egypt. For thousands of years Egyptians have reared pigeons both for sport and for food. References to pigeon husbandry can be found in hieroglyphics and Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets from more than 5,000 years ago. Unlike in the US, where pigeons are considered little more than rats with wings, pigeon mea

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2019-12-02 16:11:00



Vladimir Lukyanov's Water Computer  

Early computers were mechanical machines built using gears and levers. These parts or components could be moved with precision and were connected to other components in a way that simulated the relationship between different variables in a mathematical equation. By moving a gear or pulling a lever, one can change these variables and the results of these actions can be viewed in another set of gears, whose newly acquired positions gave the answer the operator was seeking. In 1936, a Russian engi

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2019-11-27 21:00:00



Repurposing Old Industrial Sites As Public Parks  

The public park Landschaftspark in Duisburg-Meiderich, Germany. Image credit: mini_malist/Flickr Landschaftspark, or "landscape park", of Duisburg-Meiderich, Germany, was once an industrial site that was adapted and transformed into a stunning public park by the design firm Latz + Partner in the early 1990s. Attempt was made to preserve as much of the existing site as possible. Giant blast furnaces and loading bridges of the former coal and steel production plant still looms large above the...

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2019-11-25 21:32:00



Bomb Crater Garden  

On September 20, 1940, just over a year after Hitler's army invaded Poland triggering a six-year war, a German airplane dropped a bomb over London as part of the Blitz. The target was the Westminster Cathedral. By good fortune, the airmen miscalculated the trajectory and the bomb missed the church. It fell in the square between the choir of the cathedral and Morphet Terrace, and exploded leaving a large crater. The crater was left intact until the following spring, when the caretaker of the ca...

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2019-11-25 15:44:00



Out of Place Ski Jumps  

Competitive skiing as a sport developed in Norway in the later part of the 19th century. Sondre Norheim, who is recognized as the "Father of Ski Jumping", won the first-ever ski jumping competition which was held in Høydalsmo in 1866. Later, Norheim migrated to the United States and started developing the sport in that country. By the 1920s, skiing had become a popular enough sport to be included in the 1924 Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France. The 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New Y...

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2019-11-22 21:16:00



Star Jelly: The Mysterious Phenomenon That Inspired 'The Blob'  

For hundreds of years, people have reported blobs of strange gelatinous substances on the ground that they presumed had fallen from the skies. Old texts dating as far back as the 14th century have described them as translucent or grayish-white slimy goo, that tended to evaporate shortly after having "fallen." The 13th century English physician, John of Gaddesden, mentions stella terrae (or "star of the earth") in his medical writings, describing it as "a certain mucilaginous substance ...

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2019-11-21 21:47:00



Hameau de la Reine: Marie Antoinette's Pretend Village  

Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France, is often portrayed as a frivolous, selfish, and immoral woman whose decadent lifestyle emptied the coffers of the national treasury. She was recklessly wasteful, indulging in excesses even at a time when the country was going through a period of acute financial crisis and the population was suffering. She wore flour wigs when her people went without bread, and dressed in indienne, a textile of Indian origin that was so popular that the Royal French Ord

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2019-11-20 21:23:00



Rod Stewart's Model Railway  

For the past 26 years British rock star Rod Stewart has been secretly building a massive model railway in the attic of his Los Angles home. The model spans 1,500 square feet and is based on the city of New York and Chicago as they were during the 1940s, the rock legend recently revealed in an interview with Railway Modeller magazine. Stewart has named his model the Grand Street and Three Rivers City. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-11-20 16:03:00



Richard Trevithick And The Steam Circus  

Twenty five years before Robert Stephenson decisively proved the superiority of steam locomotives over horse drawn carriages during the Rainhill Trials, a British inventor named Richard Trevithick built the first full-scale working railway steam locomotive. He used his locomotive to haul the first ever passengers over a distance of 10 miles in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales. A replica of Richard Trevithick's last locomotive, Catch Me Who Can, in Bridgenorth. Image credit: nigelmenzies/Flickr © ...

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2019-11-19 15:40:00



The Zeppelin Spy Basket  

One of the most perilous positions in the crew of a German Zeppelin during the First World War was that of the aerial lookout, whose job was to observe the ground for enemy position and bombing targets while dangling at the end of a long tether suspended from the belly of the aircraft. The lookout sat in an observation car called the spy gondola or spy basket that was lowered from the zeppelin through the cloud, while the zeppelin itself stayed shrouded within the cloud layer and out of enemy vi

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2019-11-18 21:29:00



Caligula's Pleasure Ships of Lake Nemi  

Two thousand years ago, the debauched Roman emperor Caligula ordered the construction of two large floating pleasure barges on the relatively small Lake Nemi so that he could indulge in many of the depravities attributed to him. Lake Nemi is a small, shallow crater lake in the Alban Hills, approximately 30 km southeast of Rome, that has long been a vacation getaway for Romans, and now Italians, from the intense summer heat. Emperor Caligula, like his predecessor Emperor Tiberius, liked to spend

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2019-11-15 15:33:00



Cinder Lake Crater Field: The Simulated Moon NASA Created to Train Astronauts  

Two Apollo 15 crew members, riding a Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) simulator, participate in geology training at the Cinder Lake crater field in Arizona. Before the Apollo astronauts set foot on the moon, they underwent a routine of rigorous training in order to prepare themselves for the mission. While much of the training took place inside classrooms, simulators and at testing facilities, NASA also gave the astronauts hands-on experience in geology and taught them how to collect geological spec

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2019-11-13 21:57:00



The Rainhill Trials  

Nearly two centuries ago, a small hamlet lying between Liverpool and Manchester became host to one of the strangest competitions ever held. The Liverpool and Manchester Railway had just completed laying the rails but they were unsure whether to use a self-propelled steam locomotive or a static winding engine to pull passenger wagons by cables. In the end they decided to hold a competition to find out whether a boiler on wheels was better than a boiler bolted to the floor. The idea was that if a

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2019-11-12 19:39:00



Communal Coffins And Burial Clubs  

The St John and All Saints Church in the town of Easingwold, in North Yorkshire, England, dates to the 13th century, or perhaps even earlier. It's a typical mediaeval-era English parish church with stone walls and slate roof and large Gothic three-light pointed windows. Inside the church is a 17th century communion table with 'gouty' legs and a curious addition—a coffin. The oak coffin in question is undeniably old, and dates back to the time when families who were too poor to afford...

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2019-11-12 10:35:00



The Last Victim of Smallpox  

In the summer of 1978, the World Health Organization stood on the brink of a remarkable achievement—smallpox, the disease that terrorized people for three thousand years and killed millions, had been eradicated through a rigorous mass vaccination program lasting 10 years. The last reported case of smallpox was in October the previous year, ten months ago. A 23-year-old cook named Ali Maow Maalin, working at a hospital in Merca, Somalia, had come down with the disease. Maalin was unvaccinated b...

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2019-11-09 14:49:00



Kongo Gumi: The 1,400-Year-Old Company  

Less than two months ago, the renowned British travel agency Thomas Cook laid off more than 21,000 employees the world over and liquidated its assets, bringing to an end an era that lasted 178 years. At the time they folded, the company was pulling in more than £9.5 billion in revenue per year and making a profit of £163 million—a hardly partly sum. In the past few years, we have seen many corporate behemoths—companies "too big to fail"—failing spectacularly. Lehman Brothers, Saab Au...

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2019-11-07 21:18:00



The Historic Hanford Reactor That Made Plutonium For The Nagasaki Bomb  

Sitting squarely in the middle of the now decommissioned Hanford Site, a nuclear production complex on the Columbia River near Richland, Washington, is B Reactor—the world's first large-scale nuclear reactor ever built. For more than forty years, B Reactor, along with eight others, pumped out enough plutonium to build over sixty thousand nuclear weapons that comprises the majority of America's vast nuclear arsenal. B Reactor is one of the few facilities constructed during the secretive Man...

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2019-11-06 20:58:00



The Century Old 'Dream Mine' That's Yet to Produce Gold  

On the foothills of Wasatch Mountains, east of Salem, in the US state of Utah, is a mine waiting for a miracle. The mine was first excavated in 1894, and in the 125 years of its existence, it has produced not even the tiniest nugget of gold. Its seven thousand plus stockholders and supporters are hopeful. They believe that when the time is right, the mine will yield untold amount of gold and treasures enough to see the believers through the worst of times. The Dream Mine's ore processing mi

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2019-11-05 16:30:00



Bridges With Buildings—Part 2  

During the Middle Ages, it was common to have buildings built on top of bridges. These spaces were rented out to shopkeepers and merchants, and the money raised from the rent went towards the bridge's maintenance. Only a handful of such bridges exist today. In an earlier article, we saw four such bridges—Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy; Krämerbrücke in Erfurt, Germany; Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy; and Pulteney Bridge in Bath, England. In this installment, we have tracked down five more...

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2019-11-05 10:29:00






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