In 1704, Isaac Newton Predicted That the World Will End in 2060

Newton Letter

We have become quite used to pro­nounce­ments of doom, from sci­en­tists pre­dict­ing the sixth mass extinc­tion due to the mea­sur­able effects of cli­mate change, and from reli­gion­ists declar­ing the apoc­a­lypse due to a sur­feit of sin. It’s almost impos­si­ble to imag­ine these two groups of peo­ple agree­ing on any­thing oth­er than the omi­nous por­tent of their respec­tive mes­sages. But in the ear­ly days of the sci­en­tif­ic revolution—the days of Shake­speare con­tem­po­rary Fran­cis Bacon, and lat­er 17th cen­tu­ry Descartes—it was not at all unusu­al to find both kinds of rea­son­ing, or unrea­son­ing, in the same per­son, along with beliefs in mag­ic, div­ina­tion, astrol­o­gy, etc.

Yet even in this mael­strom of het­ero­dox thought and prac­tices, Sir Isaac New­ton stood out as a par­tic­u­lar­ly odd co-exis­tence of eso­teric bib­li­cal prophe­cy, occult beliefs, and a rigid, for­mal math­e­mat­ics that not only adhered to the induc­tive sci­en­tif­ic method, but also expand­ed its poten­tial by apply­ing gen­er­al axioms to spe­cif­ic cas­es.

Yet many of Newton’s gen­er­al prin­ci­ples would seem total­ly inim­i­cal to the nat­u­ral­ism of most physi­cists today. As he was for­mu­lat­ing the prin­ci­ples of grav­i­ty and three laws of motion, for exam­ple, New­ton also sought the leg­endary Philosopher’s Stone and attempt­ed to turn met­al to gold. More­over, the devout­ly reli­gious New­ton wrote the­o­log­i­cal trea­tis­es inter­pret­ing Bib­li­cal prophe­cies and pre­dict­ing the end of the world. The date he arrived at? 2060.

NewtonPapers1AP_468x603

New­ton seems, writes sci­ence blog Anoth­er Pale Blue Dot, “as con­fi­dent of his pre­dic­tions in this realm as he was in the ratio­nal world of sci­ence.” In a 1704 let­ter exhib­it­ed at Jerusalem’s Hebrew Uni­ver­si­ty, above, New­ton describes his “rec­coning”:

So then the time times & half a time are 42 months or 1260 days or three years & an half, rec­coning twelve months to a yeare & 30 days to a month as was done in the Cal­en­dar of the prim­i­tive year. And the days of short lived Beasts being put for the years of lived [sic] king­doms, the peri­od of 1260 days, if dat­ed from the com­plete con­quest of the three kings A.C. 800, will end A.C. 2060. It may end lat­er, but I see no rea­son for its end­ing soon­er.

New­ton fur­ther demon­strates his con­fi­dence in the next sen­tence, writ­ing that his intent, “though not to assert” an answer, should in any event “put a stop the rash con­jec­tures of fan­ci­full men who are fre­quent­ly pre­dict­ing the time of the end.” Indeed. So how did he arrive at this num­ber? New­ton applied a rig­or­ous method, that is to be sure.

If you have the patience for exhaus­tive descrip­tion of how he worked out his pre­dic­tion using the Book of Daniel, you may read one here by his­to­ri­an of sci­ence Stephen Sno­be­len, who also points out how wide­spread the inter­est in Newton’s odd beliefs has become, reach­ing across every con­ti­nent, though schol­ars have known about this side of the Enlight­en­ment giant for a long time.

For a sense of the exact­ing, yet com­plete­ly bizarre fla­vor of Newton’s prophet­ic cal­cu­la­tions, see anoth­er New­ton let­ter at the of the post, tran­scribed below.

Prop. 1. The 2300 prophet­ick days did not com­mence before the rise of the lit­tle horn of the He Goat.

2 Those day [sic] did not com­mence a[f]ter the destruc­tion of Jerusalem & ye Tem­ple by the Romans A.[D.] 70.

3 The time times & half a time did not com­mence before the year 800 in wch the Popes suprema­cy com­menced

4 They did not com­mence after the re[ig]ne of Gre­go­ry the 7th. 1084

5 The 1290 days did not com­mence b[e]fore the year 842.

6 They did not com­mence after the reigne of Pope Greg. 7th. 1084

7 The dif­f­ence [sic] between the 1290 & 1335 days are a parts of the sev­en weeks.

There­fore the 2300 years do not end before ye year 2132 nor after 2370.

The time times & half time do n[o]t end before 2060 nor after [2344]

The 1290 days do not begin [this should read: end] before 2090 [New­ton might mean: 2132] nor after 1374 [sic; New­ton prob­a­bly means 2374]

The edi­to­r­i­al inser­tions are Pro­fes­sor Snobelen’s, who thinks the let­ter dates “from after 1705,” and that “the shaky hand­writ­ing sug­gests a date of com­po­si­tion late in Newton’s life.” What­ev­er the exact date, we see him much less cer­tain here; New­ton push­es around some oth­er dates—2344, 2090 (or 2132), 2374. All of them seem arbi­trary, but “giv­en the nice round­ness of the num­ber,” writes Moth­er­board, “and the fact that it appears in more than one let­ter,” 2060 has become his most mem­o­rable dat­ing for the apoc­a­lypse.

It’s impor­tant to note that New­ton didn’t believe the world would “end” in the sense of cease to exist or burn up in holy flames. His end times phi­los­o­phy resem­bles that of a sur­pris­ing num­ber of cur­rent day evan­gel­i­cals: Christ would return and reign for a mil­len­ni­um, the Jew­ish dias­po­ra would return to Israel and would, he wrote, set up “a flour­ish­ing and ever­last­ing King­dom.” We hear such state­ments often from tel­e­van­ge­lists, school boards, gov­er­nors, and pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates.

As many peo­ple have argued, despite Newton’s con­cep­tion of his sci­en­tif­ic work as a bul­wark against oth­er the­olo­gies, it ulti­mate­ly became a foun­da­tion for Deism and Nat­u­ral­ism, and has allowed sci­en­tists to make accu­rate pre­dic­tions for hun­dreds of years. 20th cen­tu­ry physics may have shown us a much more rad­i­cal­ly unsta­ble uni­verse than New­ton ever imag­ined, but his the­o­ries are, as Isaac Asi­mov would put it, “not so much wrong as incom­plete,” and still essen­tial to our under­stand­ing of cer­tain fun­da­men­tal phe­nom­e­na. But as fas­ci­nat­ing and curi­ous as Newton’s oth­er inter­ests may be, there’s no more rea­son to cred­it his prophet­ic cal­cu­la­tions than those of the Mil­lerites, Harold Camp­ing, or any oth­er apoc­a­lyp­tic dooms­day sect.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

M.I.T. Com­put­er Pro­gram Pre­dicts in 1973 That Civ­i­liza­tion Will End by 2040

Isaac New­ton Cre­ates a List of His 57 Sins (Cir­ca 1662)

Isaac New­ton Con­ceived of His Most Ground­break­ing Ideas Dur­ing the Great Plague of 1665

Videos Recre­ate Isaac Newton’s Neat Alche­my Exper­i­ments: Watch Sil­ver Get Turned Into Gold

The Icon­ic Design of the Dooms­day Clock Was Cre­at­ed 75 Years Ago: It Now Says We’re 100 Sec­onds to Mid­night

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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That Time When the Mediterranean Sea Dried Up & Disappeared: Animations Show How It Happened

We hear a great deal today about the poten­tial caus­es of ris­ing sea lev­els. At a cer­tain point, nat­ur­al curios­i­ty brings out the oppo­site ques­tion: what caus­es sea lev­els to fall? And for that mat­ter, can a body of water so large sim­ply van­ish entire­ly? Such a thing did hap­pen once, accord­ing to the PBS Eons video above. The sto­ry begins, from our per­spec­tive, with the dis­cov­ery about a decade ago of a giant rab­bit — or rather of the bones of a giant rab­bit, one “up to six times heav­ier than your aver­age cot­ton­tail” that “almost cer­tain­ly could­n’t hop.” This odd, long-gone spec­i­men was dubbed Nurala­gus rex: “the rab­bit king of Minor­ca,” the mod­ern-day island it ruled from about five mil­lion to three mil­lion years ago.

After liv­ing for long peri­ods of time on islands with­out nat­ur­al preda­tors, cer­tain species take on unusu­al pro­por­tions. “But how did the nor­mal-size ances­tor of Nurala­gus make it onto a Mediter­ranean island in the first place?” The answer is that Minor­ca was­n’t always an island. In fact, “mega-deposits” of salt under the floor of the Mediter­ranean sug­gest that, “at one point in his­to­ry, the Mediter­ranean Sea must have evap­o­rat­ed.” As often in our inves­ti­ga­tion of the nat­ur­al world, one strange big ques­tion leads to anoth­er even stranger and big­ger one. Geol­o­gists’ long and com­plex project of address­ing it has led them to posit a for­bid­ding-sound­ing event called the Messin­ian Salin­i­ty Cri­sis, or MSC.

MSC-explain­ing the­o­ries include a “glob­al cool­ing event” six mil­lion years ago whose cre­ation of glac­i­ers would have reduced the flow of water into the Mediter­ranean, and “tec­ton­ic events” that could have blocked off what we now know as the Strait of Gibral­tar. But the cause now best sup­port­ed by evi­dence involves a com­bi­na­tion of shifts in the Earth­’s crust and changes in its cli­mate — six­teen full cycles of them. “Dur­ing peri­ods of decreas­ing sea lev­el, the posi­tion and angle of the Earth changed with respect to the Sun, so there were peri­ods of low­er solar ener­gy, and oth­ers of high­er solar ener­gy, which increased evap­o­ra­tion rates in the Mediter­ranean. At the same time, an active­ly fold­ing and uplift­ing tec­ton­ic belt caused water input to decrease.”

The MSC seems to have last­ed for over 600,000 years. At its dri­est point, 5.6 mil­lion years ago, “exter­nal water sources were com­plete­ly cut off, and most of the water left behind in the Mediter­ranean basin was evap­o­rat­ing.” For sea crea­tures, the Mediter­ranean became unin­hab­it­able, but those that lived on dry land had a bit of a field day. These rel­a­tive­ly dry con­di­tions “allowed hip­pos, ele­phants, and oth­er megafau­na from Africa to walk and swim across the Mediter­ranean,” con­sti­tut­ing a great migra­tion that would have includ­ed the ances­tor of Nurala­gus rex. But when the sea lat­er filled back up — pos­si­bly due to a flood, as ani­mat­ed above — the rab­bit king of Minor­ca learned that, even on a geo­log­i­cal timescale, you can’t go home again.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Glob­al Warm­ing: A Free Course from UChica­go Explains Cli­mate Change

A Map Shows What Hap­pens When Our World Gets Four Degrees Warmer: The Col­orado Riv­er Dries Up, Antarc­ti­ca Urban­izes, Poly­ne­sia Van­ish­es

Why Civ­i­liza­tion Col­lapsed in 1177 BC: Watch Clas­si­cist Eric Cline’s Lec­ture That Has Already Gar­nered 5.5 Mil­lion Views

How Humans Domes­ti­cat­ed Cats (Twice)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Nikola Tesla’s Predictions for the 21st Century: The Rise of Smart Phones & Wireless, The Demise of Coffee & More (1926/35)

The fate of the vision­ary is to be for­ev­er out­side of his or her time. Such was the life of Niko­la Tes­la, who dreamed the future while his oppor­tunis­tic rival Thomas Edi­son seized the moment. Even now the name Tes­la con­jures seem­ing­ly wild­ly imprac­ti­cal ven­tures, too advanced, too expen­sive, or far too ele­gant in design for mass pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion. No one bet­ter than David Bowie, the pop artist of pos­si­bil­i­ty, could embody Tes­la’s air of mag­is­te­r­i­al high seri­ous­ness on the screen. And few were bet­ter suit­ed than Tes­la him­self, per­haps, to extrap­o­late from his time to ours and see the tech­no­log­i­cal future clear­ly.

Of course, this image of Tes­la as a lone, hero­ic, and even some­what trag­ic fig­ure who fell vic­tim to Edis­on’s designs is a bit of a roman­tic exag­ger­a­tion. As even the edi­tor of a 1935 fea­ture inter­view piece in the now-defunct Lib­er­ty mag­a­zine wrote, Tes­la and Edi­son may have been rivals in the “bat­tle between alter­nat­ing and direct cur­rent…. Oth­er­wise the two men were mere­ly oppo­sites. Edi­son had a genius for prac­ti­cal inven­tions imme­di­ate­ly applic­a­ble. Tes­la, whose inven­tions were far ahead of the time, aroused antag­o­nisms which delayed the fruition of his ideas for years.” One can in some respects see why Tes­la “aroused antag­o­nisms.” He may have been a genius, but he was not a peo­ple per­son, and some of his views, though maybe char­ac­ter­is­tic of the times, are down­right unset­tling.

libertymagazine9february1935page5

In the lengthy Lib­er­ty essay, “as told to George Sylvester Viereck” (a poet and Nazi sym­pa­thiz­er who also inter­viewed Hitler), Tes­la him­self makes the pro­nounce­ment, “It seems that I have always been ahead of my time.” He then goes on to enu­mer­ate some of the ways he has been proven right, and con­fi­dent­ly lists the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the future as he sees it. No one likes a know-it-all, but Tes­la refused to com­pro­mise or ingra­ti­ate him­self, though he suf­fered for it pro­fes­sion­al­ly. And he was, in many cas­es, right. Many of his 1935 pre­dic­tions in Lib­er­ty are still too far off to mea­sure, and some of them will seem out­landish, or crim­i­nal, to us today. But some still seem plau­si­ble, and a few advis­able if we are to make it anoth­er 100 years as a species. Tes­la’s pre­dic­tions include the fol­low­ing, which he intro­duces with the dis­claimer that “fore­cast­ing is per­ilous. No man can look very far into the future.”

  • “Bud­dhism and Chris­tian­i­ty… will be the reli­gion of the human race in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry.”
  • “The year 2100 will see eugen­ics uni­ver­sal­ly estab­lished.” Tes­la went on to com­ment, “no one who is not a desir­able par­ent should be per­mit­ted to pro­duce prog­e­ny. A cen­tu­ry from now it will no more occur to a nor­mal per­son to mate with a per­son eugeni­cal­ly unfit than to mar­ry a habit­u­al crim­i­nal.”
  • “Hygiene, phys­i­cal cul­ture will be rec­og­nized branch­es of edu­ca­tion and gov­ern­ment. The Sec­re­tary of Hygiene or Phys­i­cal Cul­ture will be far more impor­tant in the cab­i­net of the Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States who holds office in the year 2025 than the Sec­re­tary of War.” Along with per­son­al hygiene, Tes­la includ­ed “pol­lu­tion” as a social ill in need of reg­u­la­tion.
  • “I am con­vinced that with­in a cen­tu­ry cof­fee, tea, and tobac­co will be no longer in vogue. Alco­hol, how­ev­er, will still be used. It is not a stim­u­lant but a ver­i­ta­ble elixir of life.”
  • “There will be enough wheat and wheat prod­ucts to feed the entire world, includ­ing the teem­ing mil­lions of Chi­na and India.” (Tes­la did not fore­see the anti-gluten mania of the 21st cen­tu­ry.)
  • “Long before the next cen­tu­ry dawns, sys­tem­at­ic refor­esta­tion and the sci­en­tif­ic man­age­ment of nat­ur­al resources will have made an end of all dev­as­tat­ing droughts, for­est fires, and floods. The uni­ver­sal uti­liza­tion of water pow­er and its long-dis­tance trans­mis­sion will sup­ply every house­hold with cheap pow­er.” Along with this opti­mistic pre­dic­tion, Tes­la fore­saw that “the strug­gle for exis­tence being less­ened, there should be devel­op­ment along ide­al rather than mate­r­i­al lines.”

Tes­la goes on to pre­dict the elim­i­na­tion of war, “by mak­ing every nation, weak or strong, able to defend itself,” after which war chests would be divert­ed to fund­ing edu­ca­tion and research. He then describes—in rather fan­tas­ti­cal-sound­ing terms—an appa­ra­tus that “projects par­ti­cles” and trans­mits ener­gy, enabling not only a rev­o­lu­tion in defense tech­nol­o­gy, but “undreamed of results in tele­vi­sion.” Tes­la diag­noses his time as one in which “we suf­fer from the derange­ment of our civ­i­liza­tion because we have not yet com­plete­ly adjust­ed our­selves to the machine age.” The solu­tion, he asserts—along with most futur­ists, then and now—“does not lie in destroy­ing but in mas­ter­ing the machine.” As an exam­ple of such mas­tery, Tes­la describes the future of “automa­tons” tak­ing over human labor and the cre­ation of “a think­ing machine.”

Matt Novak at the Smith­son­ian has ana­lyzed many of Tes­la’s claims, inter­pret­ing his pre­dic­tions about “hygiene and phys­i­cal cul­ture” as a fore­shad­ow­ing of the EPA and dis­cussing Tes­la’s work in robot­ics (“Today,” Tes­la pro­claimed, “the robot is an accept­ed fact”). The Lib­er­ty arti­cle was not the first time Tes­la had made large-scale, pub­lic pre­dic­tions about the cen­tu­ry to come and beyond. In 1926, Tes­la gave an inter­view to Col­lier’s mag­a­zine in which he more or less accu­rate­ly fore­saw smart­phones and wire­less tele­pho­ny and com­put­ing:

When wire­less is per­fect­ly applied the whole earth will be con­vert­ed into a huge brain, which in fact it is…. We shall be able to com­mu­ni­cate with one anoth­er instant­ly, irre­spec­tive of dis­tance. Not only this, but through tele­vi­sion and tele­pho­ny we shall see and hear one anoth­er as per­fect­ly as though were face to face, despite inter­ven­ing dis­tances of thou­sands of miles; and the instru­ments through which we shall be able to do this will be amaz­ing­ly sim­ple com­pared with our present tele­phone. A man will be able to car­ry one in his vest pock­et. 

Tel­sa also made some odd pre­dic­tions about fuel-less pas­sen­ger fly­ing machines “free from any lim­i­ta­tions of the present air­planes and diri­gi­bles” and spout­ed more of the scary stuff about eugen­ics that had come to obsess him late in life. Addi­tion­al­ly, Tes­la saw chang­ing gen­der rela­tions as the pre­cur­sor of a com­ing matri­archy. This was not a devel­op­ment he char­ac­ter­ized in pos­i­tive terms. For Tes­la, fem­i­nism would “end in a new sex order, with the female as supe­ri­or.” (As Novak notes, Tes­la’s mis­giv­ings about fem­i­nism have made him a hero to the so-called “men’s rights” move­ment.) While he ful­ly grant­ed that women could and would match and sur­pass men in every field, he warned that “the acqui­si­tion of new fields of endeav­or by women, their grad­ual usurpa­tion of lead­er­ship, will dull and final­ly dis­si­pate fem­i­nine sen­si­bil­i­ties, will choke the mater­nal instinct, so that mar­riage and moth­er­hood may become abhor­rent and human civ­i­liza­tion draw clos­er and clos­er to the per­fect civ­i­liza­tion of the bee.”

It seems to me that a “bee civ­i­liza­tion” would appeal to a eugeni­cist, except, I sup­pose, Tes­la feared becom­ing a drone. Although he saw the devel­op­ment as inevitable, he still sounds to me like any num­ber of cur­rent politi­cians who argue that soci­ety should con­tin­ue to sup­press and dis­crim­i­nate against women for their own good and the good of “civ­i­liza­tion.” Tes­la may be an out­sider hero for geek cul­ture every­where, but his social atti­tudes give me the creeps. While I’ve per­son­al­ly always liked the vision of a world in which robots do most the work and we spend most of our mon­ey on edu­ca­tion, when it comes to the elim­i­na­tion of war, I’m less san­guine about par­ti­cle rays and more sym­pa­thet­ic to the words of Ivor Cut­ler.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

via Smith­son­ian/Pale­o­fu­ture

Relat­ed Con­tent:

In 1953, a Tele­phone-Com­pa­ny Exec­u­tive Pre­dicts the Rise of Mod­ern Smart­phones and Video Calls

Jules Verne Accu­rate­ly Pre­dicts What the 20th Cen­tu­ry Will Look Like in His Lost Nov­el, Paris in the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry (1863)

In 1922, a Nov­el­ist Pre­dicts What the World Will Look Like in 2022: Wire­less Tele­phones, 8‑Hour Flights to Europe & More

In 1900, Ladies’ Home Jour­nal Pub­lish­es 28 Pre­dic­tions for the Year 2000

Philip K. Dick Makes Off-the-Wall Pre­dic­tions for the Future: Mars Colonies, Alien Virus­es & More (1981)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Space Sex is Serious Business: A Hilarious Short Animation Addresses Serious Questions About Human Reproduction in Space

Back in the late 80s, there was a rumor float­ing around that Earth Girls Are Easy.

40 some years of sci­en­tif­ic and social advance­ment have shift­ed the con­ver­sa­tion­al focus.

We’re just now begin­ning to under­stand that Space Sex is Seri­ous Busi­ness.

Par­tic­u­lar­ly if SpaceX CEO Elon Musk achieves his goal of estab­lish­ing a per­ma­nent human pres­ence on Mars.

Sure­ly at some point in their long trav­els to and res­i­dence on Mars, those pio­neers would get down to busi­ness in much the same way that rats, fruit flies, par­a­sitic wasps, and Japan­ese rice fish have while under obser­va­tion on pri­or space expe­di­tions.

Mean­while, we’re seri­ous­ly lack­ing in human data.

A pair of human astro­nauts, Jan Davis and Mark Lee, made his­to­ry in 1992 as the first mar­ried cou­ple to enter space togeth­er, but NASA insist­ed their rela­tions remained strict­ly pro­fes­sion­al for the dura­tion, and that a shut­tle’s crew com­part­ment is too small for the sort of antics a nasty-mind­ed pub­lic kept ask­ing about.

In an inter­view with Mens Health, Colonel Mike Mul­lane, a vet­er­an of three space mis­sions, con­firmed that a space­craft’s lay­out does­n’t favor romance:

The only pri­va­cy would have been in the air lock, but every­body would know what you were doing. You’re not out there doing a space­walk. There’s no rea­son to be in there.

Short­ly after Davis and Lee returned to earth, NASA for­mal­ized an unspo­ken rule pro­hibit­ing hus­bands and wives from ven­tur­ing into space togeth­er. It did lit­tle to squelch pub­lic inter­est in space sex.

One won­ders if NASA’s rule has been rewrit­ten in accor­dance with the times. Air lock aside, might same sex cou­ples remain free to swing what het­ero-nor­ma­tive mar­rieds (arguably) can­not?

This is but one of hun­dreds of space sex ques­tions beg­ging fur­ther con­sid­er­a­tion.

Some of the most seri­ous are raised in Tom McCarten’s wit­ty col­lage ani­ma­tion for FiveThir­tyEight, above.

Name­ly how dam­ag­ing will cos­mic radi­a­tion and micro­grav­i­ty prove to human repro­duc­tion? As more humans toy with the pos­si­bil­i­ty of leav­ing Earth, this ques­tion feels less and less hypo­thet­i­cal.

Mag­gie Koerth-Bak­er, who researched and nar­rates the ani­mat­ed short, notes that Musk por­trayed the risks of radi­a­tion as minor dur­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion at the 67th Inter­na­tion­al Astro­nau­ti­cal Con­gress in Guadala­jara, Mex­i­co, and breathed not a peep as to the effects of micro­grav­i­ty.

Yet sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies of non-human space trav­el­ers doc­u­ment a host of repro­duc­tive issues includ­ing low­ered libido, atyp­i­cal hor­mone lev­els, ovu­la­to­ry dys­func­tion, mis­car­riages, and fetal muta­tions.

On its web­page, NASA pro­vides some infor­ma­tion about the Repro­duc­tion, Devel­op­ment, and Sex Dif­fer­ences Lab­o­ra­to­ry of its Space Bio­sciences Research Branch, but remains mum on top­ics of press­ing con­cern to, say, stu­dents in a typ­i­cal mid­dle school sex ed class.

Like achiev­ing and main­tain­ing erec­tions in micro­grav­i­ty.

In Phys­i­ol­o­gy News Mag­a­zine, Dr. Adam Watkins, asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of Repro­duc­tive and Devel­op­men­tal Phys­i­ol­o­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Not­ting­ham, sug­gests that inter­nal and exter­nal atmos­pher­ic changes would make such things, par­don the pun, hard:

First­ly, just stay­ing in close con­tact with each oth­er under zero grav­i­ty is hard. Sec­ond­ly, as astro­nauts expe­ri­ence low­er blood pres­sure while in space, main­tain­ing erec­tions and arousal are more prob­lem­at­ic than here on Earth. 

The excep­tion­al­ly forth­right Col Mul­lane has some con­tra­dic­to­ry first hand expe­ri­ence that should come as a relief to all humankind:

A cou­ple of times, I would wake up from sleep peri­ods and I had a bon­er that I could have drilled through kryp­tonite.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Free Online Astron­o­my Cours­es

Watch Fam­i­ly Plan­ning, Walt Disney’s 1967 Sex Ed Pro­duc­tion, Star­ring Don­ald Duck

The Sto­ry Of Men­stru­a­tion: Watch Walt Disney’s Sex Ed Film from 1946

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Watch a Human White Blood Cell Chase Bacteria Through a Field of Red Blood Cells

Watch above a clas­sic movie made by David Rogers at Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­si­ty in the 1950s. It shows “a neu­trophil (a type of white blood cell) chas­ing a bac­teri­um through a field of red blood cells in a blood smear. After pur­su­ing the bac­teri­um around sev­er­al red blood cells, the neu­trophil final­ly catch­es up to and engulfs its prey. In the human body, these cells are an impor­tant first line of defense against bac­te­r­i­al infec­tion. The speed of rapid move­ments such as cell crawl­ing can be most eas­i­ly mea­sured by the method of direct obser­va­tion.” This com­fort­ing video comes cour­tesy of the estate of David Rogers, Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­si­ty.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Bac­te­ria Become Resis­tant to Antibi­otics in a Mat­ter of Days: A Quick, Stop-Motion Film

An Artis­tic Por­trait of Stephen Fry Made From His Own Bac­te­ria

How a Virus Invades Your Body: An Eye-Pop­ping, Ani­mat­ed Look

New Study Finds That Humans Are 33,000 Years Older Than We Thought

pho­to by Céline Vidal

“Where’re you from?” one char­ac­ter asks anoth­er on the Fire­sign The­atre’s clas­sic 1969 album How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Any­where at All. “Nairo­bi, ma’am,” the oth­er replies. “Isn’t every­body?” Like most of the count­less mul­ti-lay­ered gags on their albums, this one makes a cul­tur­al ref­er­ence, pre­sum­ably to the dis­cov­er­ies made by famed pale­oan­thro­pol­o­gists Louis and Mary Leakey over the pre­vi­ous 20 years. Their dis­cov­ery of fos­sils in Kenya and else­where did much to advance the the­sis that humankind evolved in Africa, and that the process was hap­pen­ing more than 1.75 mil­lion years before.

Like all sci­en­tif­ic break­throughs, the Leakeys’ work only prompt­ed more ques­tions — or rather, cre­at­ed more oppor­tu­ni­ties for refin­ing and adding detail to the rel­e­vant body of knowl­edge. Sub­se­quent digs all over Africa have pro­duced fur­ther evi­dence of how far our species and its pre­de­ces­sors go back, and where exact­ly the evo­lu­tion­ary progress hap­pened.

Just this month, Nature pub­lished a new paper on the “age of the old­est known Homo sapi­ens from east­ern Africa.” These new find­ings about known fos­sils, orig­i­nal­ly dis­cov­ered in south­west­ern Ethiopia in 1967, sug­gest that the time has come for anoth­er revi­sion of the long pre-his­to­ry of human­i­ty.

pho­to by Céline Vidal

The paper’s authors, writes Reuters’ Will Dun­ham, “used the geo­chem­i­cal fin­ger­prints of a thick lay­er of ash found above the sed­i­ments con­tain­ing the fos­sils to ascer­tain that it result­ed from an erup­tion that spewed vol­canic fall­out over a wide swathe of Ethiopia rough­ly 233,000 years ago.” These fos­sils “include a rather com­plete cra­nial vault and low­er jaw, some ver­te­brae and parts of the arms and legs.” After their ini­tial dis­cov­ery by the late Richard Leakey, son of Louis and Mary (and a man gen­uine­ly from Nairo­bi, born and raised), the fos­sils buried by this pre­his­toric Vesu­vius were pre­vi­ous­ly believed to be “no more than about 200,000 years old.”

Dun­ham quotes the paper’s lead author, Uni­ver­si­ty of Cam­bridge vol­ca­nol­o­gist Celine Vidal, as say­ing this dis­cov­ery aligns with “the most recent sci­en­tif­ic mod­els of human evo­lu­tion plac­ing the emer­gence of Homo sapi­ens some­time between 350,000 to 200,000 years ago.” Though Vidal and her team’s analy­sis of the ash’s geo­chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion has deter­mined the min­i­mum age of Omo I, as these fos­sils are known, the max­i­mum age remains an open ques­tion. Or at least, it awaits the efforts of researchers to date the “ash lay­er below the sed­i­ment con­tain­ing the fos­sils” and ren­der a more pre­cise esti­mate. And when that’s estab­lished, it will then, ide­al­ly, become mate­r­i­al for the next big absur­dist com­e­dy troupe.

via Hyper­al­ler­gic

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Where Did Human Beings Come From? 7 Mil­lion Years of Human Evo­lu­tion Visu­al­ized in Six Min­utes

Richard Dawkins Explains Why There Was Nev­er a First Human Being

How Humans Migrat­ed Across The Globe Over 200,000 Years: An Ani­mat­ed Look

Archae­ol­o­gists Dis­cov­er the World’s First “Art Stu­dio” Cre­at­ed in an Ethiopi­an Cave 43,000 Years Ago

The Life & Dis­cov­er­ies of Mary Leakey Cel­e­brat­ed in an Endear­ing Cutout Ani­ma­tion

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

A New Album of Goth-Folk Songs Inspired by the Life of Marie Curie

After sev­er­al years of writ­ing and per­form­ing songs influ­enced by such sources as authors Edward Gorey and Ray­mond Chan­dler, film­mak­er Tim Bur­ton, and mur­der bal­lads in the Amer­i­can folk tra­di­tion, Ellia Bisker and Jef­frey Mor­ris, known col­lec­tive­ly as Charm­ing Dis­as­ter, began cast­ing around for a sin­gle, exist­ing nar­ra­tive that could sus­tain an album’s worth of orig­i­nal tunes.

An encounter with Lau­ren Red­nis­s’s graph­ic nov­el Radioac­tive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fall­out spurred them to look more deeply at the Nobel Prize-win­ning sci­en­tist and her pio­neer­ing dis­cov­er­ies.

The result is Our Lady of Radi­um, a nine song explo­ration of Curie’s life and work.

The crowd­fund­ed album, record­ed dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, is so exhaus­tive­ly researched that the accom­pa­ny­ing illus­trat­ed book­let includes a bib­li­og­ra­phy with titles rang­ing from David I. Harvie’s tech­ni­cal­ly dense Dead­ly Sun­shine: The His­to­ry and Fatal Lega­cy of Radi­um to Deb­o­rah Blum’s The Poi­son­er’s Hand­book, described by The New York Observ­er as “a vicious, page-turn­ing sto­ry that reads more like Ray­mond Chan­dler than Madame Curie.”

A chap­ter in the The Poi­son­er’s Hand­book intro­duced Bisker and Mor­ris to the Radi­um Girls, young work­ers whose pro­longed expo­sure to radi­um-based paint in ear­ly 20th-cen­tu­ry clock fac­to­ries had hor­rif­ic con­se­quences.

In La Porte v. Unit­ed States Radi­um Cor­po­ra­tion (1935) pros­e­cu­tors detailed the con­di­tions under which the lumi­nous dials of inex­pen­sive watch faces were pro­duced:

Each girl pro­cured a tray con­tain­ing twen­ty-four watch dials and the mate­r­i­al to be used to paint the numer­als upon them so that they would appear lumi­nous. The mate­r­i­al was a pow­der, of about the con­sis­ten­cy of cos­met­ic pow­der, and con­sist­ed of phos­pho­res­cent zinc sul­phide mixed with radi­um sulphate…The pow­der was poured from the vial into a small porce­lain cru­cible, about the size of a thim­ble. A quan­ti­ty of gum ara­bic, as an adhe­sive, and a thin­ner of water were then added, and this was stirred with a small glass rod until a paint­like sub­stance result­ed. In the course of a work­ing week each girl paint­ed the dials con­tained on twen­ty-two to forty-four such trays, depend­ing upon the speed with which she worked, and used a vial of pow­der for each tray. When the paint-like sub­stance was pro­duced a girl would employ it in paint­ing the fig­ures on a watch dial. There were four­teen numer­als, the fig­ure six being omit­ted. In the paint­ing each girl used a very fine brush of camel’s hair con­tain­ing about thir­ty hairs. In order to obtain the fine lines which the work required, a girl would place the bris­tles in her mouth, and by the action of her tongue and lips bring the bris­tles to a fine point. The brush was then dipped into the paint, the fig­ures paint­ed upon the dial until more paint was required or until the paint on the brush dried and hard­ened, when the brush was dipped into a small cru­cible of water. This water remained in the cru­cible with­out change for a day or per­haps two days. The brush would then be repoint­ed in the mouth and dipped into the paint or even repoint­ed in such man­ner after being dipped into the paint itself, in a con­tin­u­ous process.

The band found them­selves haunt­ed by the Radi­um Girls’ sto­ry:

Part­ly it’s that it seemed like a real­ly good job — it was clean work, it was less phys­i­cal­ly tax­ing and paid bet­ter than fac­to­ry or mill jobs, the work­ing envi­ron­ment was nice — and the work­ers were all young women. They were excit­ed about this sweet gig, and then it betrayed them, poi­son­ing them and cut­ting their lives short in a hor­ri­ble way. 

There were all these details we learned that we could­n’t stop think­ing about. Like the fact that radi­um gets tak­en up by bone, which then starts to dis­in­te­grate because radi­um isn’t as hard as cal­ci­um. The Radi­um Girls’ jaw bones were crum­bling away, because they (were instruct­ed) to use their lips to point the brush­es when paint­ing watch faces with radi­um-based paint. 

The radi­um they absorbed was irra­di­at­ing them from inside, from with­in their own bones. 

Radi­um decays into radon, and it was even­tu­al­ly dis­cov­ered that the radi­um girls were exhal­ing radon gas. They could expose a pho­to­graph­ic plate by breath­ing on it. Those images—the bones and the breath—stuck with us in par­tic­u­lar.

Fel­low musi­cian, Omer Gal, of the “the­atri­cal freak folk musi­cal menagerie” Cook­ie Tongue, height­ens the sense of dread in his chill­ing stop-motion ani­ma­tion for Our Lady of Radi­um’s first music video, above. There’s no ques­tion that a trag­ic fate awaits the crum­bling, uncom­pre­hend­ing lit­tle work­er.

Before their phys­i­cal symp­toms start­ed to man­i­fest, the Radi­um Girls believed what they had been told — that the radi­um-based paint they used on the time­pieces’ faces and hands posed no threat to their well being.

Com­pound­ing the prob­lem, the paint’s glow-in-the-dark prop­er­ties proved irre­sistible to high-spir­it­ed teens, as the niece of Mar­garet “Peg” Looney — 17 when she start­ed work at the Illi­nois Radi­um Dial Com­pa­ny (now a Super­fund Site) — recount­ed to NPR:

I can remem­ber my fam­i­ly talk­ing about my aunt bring­ing home the lit­tle vials (of radi­um paint.) They would go into their bed­room with the lights off and paint their fin­ger­nails, their eye­lids, their lips and then they’d laugh at each oth­er because they glowed in the dark.

Looney died at 24, hav­ing suf­fered from ane­mia, debil­i­tat­ing hip pain, and the loss of teeth and bits of her jaw. Although her fam­i­ly har­bored sus­pi­cions as to the cause of her bewil­der­ing decline, no attor­ney would take their case. They lat­er learned that the Illi­nois Radi­um Dial Com­pa­ny had arranged for med­ical tests to be per­formed on work­ers, with­out truth­ful­ly advis­ing them of the results.

Even­tu­al­ly, the mount­ing death toll made the con­nec­tion between work­ers’ health and the work­place impos­si­ble to ignore. Law­suits such as La Porte v. Unit­ed States Radi­um Cor­po­ra­tion led to improved indus­tri­al safe­ty reg­u­la­tions and oth­er labor reforms.

Too late, Charm­ing Dis­as­ter notes, for the Radi­um Girls them­selves:

(Our song) Radi­um Girls is ded­i­cat­ed to the young women who were unwit­ting­ly poi­soned by their work and who were ignored and maligned in seek­ing jus­tice. Their plight led to laws and safe­guards that even­tu­al­ly became the occu­pa­tion­al safe­ty pro­tec­tions we have today. Of course that is still a bat­tle that’s being fought, but it start­ed with them. We want­ed to pay trib­ute to these young women, hon­or their mem­o­ry, and give them a voice.  

Pre­order Charm­ing Disaster’s Our Lady of Radi­um here.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Marie Curie’s Research Papers Are Still Radioac­tive 100+ Years Lat­er

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to the Life & Work of Marie Curie, the First Female Nobel Lau­re­ate

Marie Curie Became the First Woman to Win a Nobel Prize, the First Per­son to Win Twice, and the Only Per­son in His­to­ry to Win in Two Dif­fer­ent Sci­ences

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

How to Decode NASA’s Message to Aliens

When NASA spent close to a bil­lion dol­lars on the Voy­ager pro­gram, launch­ing a pair of probes from Cape Canaver­al in 1977, its pri­ma­ry pur­pose was not to find intel­li­gent extra-ter­res­tri­al life. The pro­gram grew out of ambi­tions for a “Grand Tour”: four robot­ic probes that would vis­it all the plan­ets in the out­er solar sys­tem, tak­ing advan­tage of a 175-year align­ment of Jupiter and Sat­urn. A down­sized ver­sion pro­duced Voy­ager 1 and 2, each craft “a minia­ture mar­vel,” writes the Attic. “Weigh­ing less than a Volk­swa­gen, each had 65,000 parts. Six thrusters pow­ered by plu­to­ni­um. Three gyro­scopes. Assort­ed instru­ments to mea­sure grav­i­ty, radi­a­tion, mag­net­ic fields, and more. Design and assem­bly took years.”

Since reach­ing Jupiter in 1979, the two probes have sent back aston­ish­ing images from the great gas giants and the very edges of the solar sys­tem. “By 2030, Voy­ager 1 and 2 will cease com­mu­ni­ca­tions for good,” says Cory Zap­at­ka in the Verge Sci­ence video above, “and while they won’t be able to beam infor­ma­tion back to Earth, they’re going to con­tin­ue sail­ing through space at almost 60,000 kilo­me­ters per hour,” reach­ing inter­stel­lar unknowns their mak­ers will nev­er see. Voy­ager 1 was only sup­posed to last 10 years. In 2012, it left the solar sys­tem, to drift, along with its twin, “end­less­ly among the stars of our galaxy,” Tim­o­thy Fer­ris writes in The New York­er, “unless some­one or some­thing encoun­ters them some­day.”

As deep space detri­tus, the probes will make excel­lent car­ri­ers for an inter­stel­lar mes­sage in a bot­tle, the Voy­ager team rea­soned. The idea prompt­ed the cre­ation of the Gold­en Record, an LP fit­ted to each probe con­tain­ing a mes­sage from human­i­ty to the cos­mos. “Etched in cop­per, plat­ed with gold, and sealed in alu­minum cas­es, the records are expect­ed to remain intel­li­gi­ble for more than a bil­lion years, mak­ing them the longest-last­ing objects ever craft­ed by human hands.” Pro­duced by Fer­ris and over­seen by Carl Sagan and a team includ­ing his future wife, Ann Druyan, the Gold­en Record includes the work of Mozart, Chuck Berry, folk music from around the world, the sounds of waves and whales, and one of the most uni­ver­sal of human sounds, laugh­ter (like­ly that of Sagan him­self).

The Gold­en Record also includes 115 images, etched into its very sur­face. No, they are not dig­i­tal files. “There are no jpegs or tifs includ­ed on it,” says Zap­at­ka. After all, “The Voyager’s com­put­er sys­tems were only 69 kilo­bytes large, bare­ly enough for one image, let alone 115.” These are ana­log still pho­tographs and dia­grams that must be recon­struct­ed with math­e­mat­i­cal for­mu­lae extract­ed from elec­tron­ic tones. The process starts with the dia­grams on the record’s cov­er — sim­ple icons that con­tain an incred­i­ble den­si­ty of infor­ma­tion. We begin with two cir­cles joined by a line. They are hydro­gen atoms, the most plen­ti­ful gas in the uni­verse, under­go­ing a change that occurs spon­ta­neous­ly once every 10 mil­lion years.

Dur­ing this rare occur­rence, the hydro­gen atoms emit ener­gy at wave­lengths of 21 cen­time­ters. This mea­sure­ment is used as “a con­stant for all the oth­er sym­bols on the record.” That’s an awful lot of back­ground knowl­edge required to deci­pher what look to the sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly untrained eye like a pair of tiny eyes behind a pair of odd eye­glass­es. But for space­far­ing aliens, “how hard could that be?” says Bill Nye above in an abridged descrip­tion of how to decode the Gold­en Record. We may nev­er, in a bil­lion years, know if any extra-ter­res­tri­al species ever finds the record and makes the attempt. But the Gold­en Record has become as much an object of fas­ci­na­tion for humans as it is a greet­ing from Earth to the galaxy. Learn more from NASA here about the images encod­ed on the Gold­en Record and order your own repro­duc­tion (on LP or CD) here.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Carl Sagan Sent Music & Pho­tos Into Space So That Aliens Could Under­stand Human Civ­i­liza­tion (Even After We’re Gone)

NASA Lets You Down­load Free Posters Cel­e­brat­ing the 40th Anniver­sary of the Voy­ager Mis­sions

Carl Sagan Warns Con­gress about Cli­mate Change (1985)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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