Saturday, November 22, 2014

Brahma baby

"Hundreds are crying in the streets, hundreds of others are praying and setting up camp here. Some are even panicking and believe this is a sign of the end of the world. I have never seen anything like this in my whole career," says a police spokesperson in Baruipur, West Bengal State, India, about the throngs of pilgrims arriving to see a child born with 4 arms and 4 legs. Although the condition is due to an incompletely formed conjoined twin, it is viewed as divine. Because multiple limbs are common among Hindu deities, the parents have named him God Boy.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Cold crater

After ruling out that huge crater on the Yamal Peninsula in northern Siberia was not a hoax, the work of aliens from outer space, or the result of a meteorite or stray missile, a group of Russian scientists has descended into the recently formed hole to research it further. Igor Yeltsov of the Trofimuk Institute believes that the crater – along with 2 others – has resulted from global climate change: heating from above the surface due to unusually warm conditions, and from below due to geological fault lines, led to a huge release of gas hydrates that caused an eruption. Mission leader Vladimir Pushkarev of the Russian Centre of Arctic Exploration said, "They did radiolocation tests at a depth of 200 metres, took probes of ice, ground, gases, and air. Now they all went back to their institutes and labs and will work on the material. The next stage is processing of the gathered information." (FOLLOW LINK FOR MORE IMAGES)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Chopin's heart

The heart of Frederic Chopin has had a long journey (READ ABOUT IT HERE) since the death of the composer in 1849. At his request it was removed from his body, which was buried at Père Lachaise in Paris, and is now enshrined in a church in his native Poland. After it had been preserved in alcohol (possibly cognac) within a hermetically sealed crystal jar and encased in an urn made of mahogany and oak, it was smuggled into Warsaw by his sister. The organ was examined in 1945, when it was described as "incredibly large." A request by scientists in 2008 to test it and determine the musician's cause of death was denied by the Polish government. But in September, news broke that a group of 13 clergy and scholars clandestinely removed and examined the heart in the middle of a night in April 2014. The relic currently appears as an enlarged white lump submerged in an amber-colored fluid in a crystal jar. The team took hundreds of unreleased photographs, but were not allowed to take tissue samples. Poland's then culture minister Bogdan Zdrojewski was present and declares, "We in Poland often say that Chopin died longing for his homeland. Additional information which could possibly be gained about his death would not be enough of a reason to disturb Chopin's heart." Contradicting that remark is the official announcement by Poland that their native son's heart will be reinspected…but not for another 50 years.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Napoleon's hat

In the 1801 painting "Napoleon Crossing the Alps” (IMAGE HERE), Jacques Louis David depicts the French emperor in his trademark bicorn hat. He actually wore the 2-cornered, black felt hat sideways so that he could be recognized on the battlefield. Alexandre Giquello of the Osenat auction house in Fontainebleau, France, says of Napoleon, "He understood at that time that the symbol was powerful. On the battlefields, his enemies called him ‘The Bat’ because he has that silhouette with this hat.” During his 15-year reign, Napoleon reportedly went through about 120 hats, 19 of which of are still extant. One of these (PICTURED ABOVE), in the possession of Prince Albert II of Monaco, just sold at auction to an unnamed South Korean collector for $2.4 million (£1.5 million).

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


A hunter in Celje, Slovenia, shot a roe deer back in August. He targeted the animal because of its advanced age and because it apparently had a "spike," a single antler remaining after the other one had somehow been lost. But in fact the deer had an extremely rare type of antler deformity, likely caused by injury as the antlers were developing, resulting in its unicorn appearance. Ecologist Boštjan Pokorny, who verified the animal's authenticity, confirms, "In this species, only males grow antlers, which are bilateral and usually symmetrical bone structures that appear from two antler pedicles, i.e. extensions of the skull. However, in the case of this very untypical and interesting buck, both pedicles, which should be separated, grew up together in one large pedicle."

Monday, November 17, 2014

Ratish renewal

Conservation architect Ratish Nanda, a native of New Delhi, is heading a massive project by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture to restore and revitalize a part of Delhi sandwiched between a busy railway station and a large urban slum without sanitation. The area had been inhabited continuously for 700 years and is the site of 50 historic monuments, including the heavily visited pilgrims site of 14th c. Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya and the tomb of the second Mughal emperor Humayun. With a team of more than 200 and an unspecified budget, Nanda has undertaken an evidence-based restoration of this part of Delhi focusing on its heritage and the culture of its residents. Included in the plan is an area of greenery larger than Central Park in the heart of the city that will open to all castes next year. This project is in direct contrast to other urban renewal projects in India where builders transplant Western ideas of architecture unsuccessfully, including tall glass and steel residential and office buildings. Nanda explains, "You walk across a modern Indian neighborhood, the windowpanes are so large that you can look through people's bedrooms from the streets. That's not how we live."

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Slaves to fashion

While today's fashionistas continue to risk their health balancing on high heels and slimming their waists with corsets, Victorians risked their lives to costume themselves in the most up-to-date colors. The first synthetic dye, created by William Henry Perkin in 1856, was mauve – and the woman who wore the shoes above would have been considered especially fashion-forward – but the dye was incredibly toxic, made with arsenic, picric acid, and other harmful chemicals. The chemicals were hazards for both the wearer and the maker, such as the mercury used by milliners that led to the proverb "mad as a hatter." A long-term exhibit focusing on the historic dangers of style has just opened at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto. Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century was organized by senior curator Elizabeth Semmelhack and fashion professor Alison Matthews David of Ryerson University. The exhibit is structured like a period showroom and Matthews David remarks, "You could just go through this beautiful Parisian shopping arcade and enjoy this spectacle of consumption, but if you read into it you find that the story behind it is not quite as pretty as the artifact."

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Yao thing

At 7' 6" (2.29 m), retired Chinese professional basketball player Yao Ming dwarfs this orphaned baby elephant. Yao has partnered with Animal Planet (appearing in a special that airs on November 18th) and conservation organization WildAid. He has already succeeded in decreasing consumption of shark fin soup in his home country. Now he is using his celebrity status to eliminate the economic incentive to poach elephants and rhinoceros by curtailing desire in Asia and worldwide for ivory objects and powdered rhino horn. Yao relates, "Before, it was more of a number for me…too abstract. When I visited Africa, it became very real to me. I developed a special connection with the animals that I met." And he qpoints out, "We all have to do our part, and I'm trying to do mine. These are not only amazing creatures; they also are an important part of Africa's ecosystem. It's tragic that these animals are among the last of their kind and are being killed for no good reason. People don't need ivory. It's a luxury item, one that is shameful to own once you know an elephant died for it. Same with rhino horn: people take it as medicine, but it’s as medically beneficial as chewing on your fingernails."

Friday, November 14, 2014

Fishermen's footprints

This image, which would otherwise be a beautiful piece of abstract art, is actually evidence of Stone Age activity in what is now Denmark. It contains two sets of ancient human footprints discovered during a construction project. Roughly 5,000 years ago, when the coastline was a series of inlets and rivers, a pair of fishermen repaired a post-and-wattle fish-trap that had been damaged in a storm. Archaeologist Terje Stafseth of the Museum Lolland-Falster believes these may be the first Stone Age footprints identified in Denmark.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Clinging and singing

Yesterday, the European Space Agency succeeded in in unprecedented decades-long mission to land a spacecraft on a comet. It took 10 years for the rocket to reach Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which is 4 billion miles (6.4 billion km) away, only 4.1 miles (6.7 km) wide, and is hurtling around the sun at speeds of up to 84,000 miles (135,000 km) per hour. After a bit of a glitchy landing, the probe is already sending back novel information about the universe. While the world applauds, the comet sings (LISTEN HERE).

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


In this instance, B.O. stands for book odor rather than body odor, but you will learn that the two can be synonymous. The strangely intoxicating aroma that haunts libraries and used bookstores has been studied by chemists because it can indicate the "health" of antique books. The website Compound Interest notes that "benzaldehyde adds an almond-like scent; vanillin adds a vanilla-like scent; ethyl benzene and toluene impart sweet odours; and 2-ethyl hexanol has a ‘slightly floral’ contribution. Scientists are less able to generalize about "new book smell" because of the hundreds of compounds that can be used during the manufacture of the paper, in the inks used to print the book, and in the adhesives used in the book-binding process. But if, in fact, you want to smell like a newly printed tome, you are in luck. Wallpaper* magazine commissioned master perfumer Geza Schoen to create a fragrance based on the smell of books. The descriptive copy about the scent (AVAILABLE HERE) reads, "This is an opportunity to celebrate all the glorious sensuality of books....The idea is that it should relax you, like when you read a book, to a level of meditation and concentration. Paper Passion has evolved into something quite beautiful and unique. To wear the smell of a book is something very chic. Books are players in the intellectual world, but also in the world of luxury. "

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Frozen bison

A team of international researchers led by Natalia Serduk of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow have just completed a necropsy of the most complete frozen mummy of the extinct steppe bison. The bison (ABOVE, MORE PHOTOS HERE) was discovered by Yukagir tribesmen in the Yana-Indigirka Lowland of eastern Siberia. It had died at the end of the last Ice Age, 9,300 years ago, and its excellent preservation allows anatomical comparison with modern and extinct species of bison and cattle. The lack of fat around its abdomen indicates possible starvation. This bison is one of only four of this species found in the world, and one of only two preserved in their frozen state. Paleontologist Olga Potapova of the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs in South Dakota, U.S., explains, "The next steps to be done include further examination of the bison's gross anatomy, and other detailed studies on its histology, parasites, and bones and teeth. We expect that the results of these studies will reveal not only the cause of death of this particular specimen, but also might shed light on the species behavior and causes of its extinction."

Monday, November 10, 2014

A stretch

Next month, Discovery Channel will be airing "Eaten Alive" (TRAILER HERE) featuring naturalist and wildlife filmmaker Paul Rosolie in a special protective suit being swallowed whole by a giant anaconda. While the snake species can grow up to 29' (8.8 m) in length and 12" (34 cm) in diameter, there is much speculation about how this will play out in the program, and the curious among us will surely be falling for the ratings ploy and tuning in on December 7th. Rosolie will be slathered in pig's blood to make himself more appealing to the snake, and indicates he has to go head first, but there is no mention of how he will be removed and whether the snake will survive the process. Although Rosolie says that he would never hurt an animal, PETA is not convinced: "Not only does this publicity stunt sound far-fetched, it would also be lethal for the snake. Shame on this pseudo 'wildlife expert' for tormenting and likely killing an animal for a thrill, and shame on the Discovery Channel for giving him the incentive to do it."

Friday, November 7, 2014

Pushing Cushing

When 94-year-old Delafield, Wisconsin, resident Margaret Zerwekh found herself living on property once owned by the family of 1st Lt. Alonzo Cushing (IMAGE ABOVE), she spent the next several decades lobbying to have him awarded the nation's highest military honor. Cushing fought bravely in the Civil War, was wounded several times during the Battle of Gettysburg, and died on the battlefield at the age of 22 on July 3, 1863. Her efforts – which included pushing Congress to pass legislation suspending the time limit by which a person can posthumously be awarded the Medal of Honor – have only just been rewarded. After pointing out Zerwekh's determination and persistence, President Obama joked during the ceremony, "And what’s more, she even managed to bring Republicans and Democrats together to make this happen. Margaret, we may call on you again sometime in the next several months."

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Bitty blue marble

In the unique perspective of this photograph taken last month from just outside lunar orbit by China’s lunar test probe, Chang’e 5TI, our planet looks miniscule compared to the moon. In fact, the moon is only 27% the size of the earth and has only about 2% of its volume (MORE HERE).

HALLOWEEN-Click for captions