How to Ride a Pterosaur, According to Science

From the BBC: “Dur­ing the Late Cre­ta­ceous, winged pre­his­toric crea­tures called pterosaurs dom­i­nat­ed the air. They were the first ver­te­brates to mas­ter flight. They were not dinosaurs but close­ly relat­ed. Some were tiny, but some were the biggest crea­tures ever to have flown. We ask a ques­tion you’ve all been won­der­ing, could we ride one, and if so, how?” In the ani­ma­tion above, sci­ence pro­duc­er Pierange­lo Pirak explores some ideas Dr. Liz Mar­tin-Sil­ver­stone, a palaeon­tol­o­gist with a keen inter­est in bio­me­chan­ics. She runs the Palaeo­bi­ol­o­gy Lab­o­ra­to­ries, includ­ing the XTM Imag­ing Facil­i­ty for microCT scan­ning and imag­ing analy­sis, at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Bris­tol.

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via TheKidsShould­SeeThis

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Archae­ol­o­gists Dis­cov­er 200,000-Year-Old Hand & Foot­prints That Could Be the World’s Ear­li­est Cave Art

Ger­tie the Dinosaur: The Moth­er of all Car­toon Char­ac­ters (1914)

40,000-Year-Old Sym­bols Found in Caves World­wide May Be the Ear­li­est Writ­ten Lan­guage

Charles and Ray Eames’ Powers of Ten Updated to Reflect Our Modern Understanding of the Universe

We’ve expe­ri­enced some mind­blow­ing tech­no­log­i­cal advances in the years fol­low­ing design­ers Charles and Ray Eames’ 1977 film Pow­ers of Ten: A Film Deal­ing with the Rel­a­tive Size of Things in the Uni­verse and the Effect of Adding Anoth­er Zero.




And y’know, all sorts of inno­v­a­tive strides in the fields of med­i­cinecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, and envi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­i­ty.

In the above video for the BBC, par­ti­cle physi­cist Bri­an Cox pays trib­ute to the Eames’ cel­e­brat­ed eight-and-a-half-minute doc­u­men­tary short, and uses the dis­cov­er­ies of the last four-and-a-half decades to kick the can a bit fur­ther down the road.

The orig­i­nal film helped ordi­nary view­ers get a han­dle on the universe’s out­er edges by tele­scop­ing up and out from a one-meter view of a pic­nic blan­ket in a Chica­go park at the rate of one pow­er of ten every 10 sec­onds.

Start with some­thing every­body can under­stand, right?

At 100 (102) meters — slight­ly less than the total length of an Amer­i­can foot­ball field, the pic­nick­ers become part of the urban land­scape, shar­ing their space with cars, boats at anchor in Lake Michi­gan, and a shock­ing dearth of fel­low pic­nick­ers.

One more pow­er of 10 and the pick­nick­ers dis­ap­pear from view, eclipsed by Sol­dier Field, the Shedd Aquar­i­um, the Field Muse­um and oth­er long­stand­ing down­town Chica­go insti­tu­tions.

At 1024 meters — 100 mil­lion light years away from the start­ing pic­nic blan­ket, the Eames butted up against the lim­its of the observ­able uni­verse, at least as far as 1977 was con­cerned.

They reversed direc­tion, hurtling back down to earth by one pow­er of ten every two sec­onds. With­out paus­ing for so much as hand­ful of fruit or a slice of pie, they dove beneath the skin of a doz­ing picnicker’s hand, con­tin­u­ing their jour­ney on a cel­lu­lar, then sub-atom­ic lev­el, end­ing inside a pro­ton of a car­bon atom with­in a DNA mol­e­cule in a white blood cell.

It still man­ages to put the mind in a whirl.

Sit tight, though, because, as Pro­fes­sor Cox points out, “Over 40 years lat­er, we can show a bit more.”

2021 relo­cates the pic­nic blan­ket to a pic­turesque beach in Sici­ly, and for­goes the trip inside the human body in favor of Deep Space, though the method of trav­el remains the same — expo­nen­tial, by pow­ers of ten.

1013 meters finds us head­ing into inter­stel­lar space, on the heels of Voy­agers 1 and 2, the twin space­crafts launched the same year as the Eames’ Pow­ers of Ten — 1977.

Hav­ing achieved their ini­tial objec­tive, the explo­ration of Jupiter and Sat­urn, these space­crafts’ mis­sion was expand­ed to Uranus, Nep­tune, and now, the out­er­most edge of the Sun’s domain. The data they, and oth­er explorato­ry crafts, have sent back allow Cox and oth­ers in the  sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty to take us beyond the Eames’ out­er­most lim­its:

At 1026 meters, we switch our view to microwave. We can now see the cur­rent lim­it of our vision. This light forms a wall all around us. The light and dark patch­es show dif­fer­ences in tem­per­a­ture by frac­tions of a degree, reveal­ing where mat­ter was begin­ning to clump togeth­er to form the first galax­ies short­ly after the Big Bang. This light is known as the cos­mic microwave back­ground radi­a­tion. 

1027 meters…1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Beyond this point, the nature of the Uni­verse is tru­ly unchart­ed and debat­ed. This light was emit­ted around 380,000 years after the Big Bang. Before this time, the Uni­verse was so hot that it was not trans­par­ent to light. Is there sim­ply more uni­verse out there, yet to be revealed? Or is this region still expand­ing, gen­er­at­ing more uni­verse, or even oth­er uni­vers­es with dif­fer­ent phys­i­cal prop­er­ties to our own? How will our under­stand­ing of the Uni­verse have changed by 2077? How many more pow­ers of ten are out there?

Accord­ing to NASA, the Voy­ager crafts have suf­fi­cient pow­er and fuel to keep their “cur­rent suite of sci­ence instru­ments on” for anoth­er four years, at least. By then, Voy­ager 1 will be about 13.8 bil­lion miles, and Voy­ager 2 some 11.4 bil­lion miles from the Sun:

In about 40,000 years, Voy­ager 1 will drift with­in 1.6 light-years (9.3 tril­lion miles) of AC+79 3888, a star in the con­stel­la­tion of Camelopardalis which is head­ing toward the con­stel­la­tion Ophi­uchus. In about 40,000 years, Voy­ager 2 will pass 1.7 light-years (9.7 tril­lion miles) from the star Ross 248 and in about 296,000 years, it will pass 4.3 light-years (25 tril­lion miles) from Sir­ius, the bright­est star in the sky. The Voy­agers are destined—perhaps eternally—to wan­der the Milky Way.

If this dizzy­ing infor­ma­tion makes you yearn for 1987’s sim­ple plea­sures, this Way­back Machine link includes a fun inter­ac­tive for the orig­i­nal Pow­ers of Ten. Click the “show text” option on an expo­nen­tial slid­er tool to con­sid­er the scale of each stop in his­toric and tan­gi­ble con­text.

via Aeon

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Carl Sagan’s “The Pale Blue Dot” Ani­mat­ed

Watch Pow­ers of Ten and Let Design­ers Charles & Ray Eames Take You on a Bril­liant Tour of the Uni­verse

Watch Oscar-Nom­i­nat­ed Doc­u­men­tary Uni­verse, the Film that Inspired the Visu­al Effects of Stan­ley Kubrick’s 2001 and Gave the HAL 9000 Com­put­er Its Voice (1960)

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.

Catherine the Great of Russia Sends a Letter Urging Her Fellow Russians to Get Inoculated Against Smallpox (1787)

I got my boost­er shot the oth­er week and through the mir­a­cles of mod­ern sci­ence I bare­ly knew a nee­dle was in me before the phar­ma­cist told me it was over. (I also didn’t feel any after effects, but your mileage may vary.) I men­tion this because before nee­dles, before injectable vac­cines, there was some­thing called var­i­o­la­tion.

Since ancient times, small­pox had a habit of dec­i­mat­ing pop­u­la­tions, dis­ap­pear­ing, and reap­pear­ing else­where for anoth­er out­break. It killed rulers and peas­ants alike. Symp­toms includ­ed fever, vom­it­ing, and most abhor­rent, a body cov­ered with flu­id-filled blis­ters. It could blind you, and it could kill you. In var­i­o­la­tion, a physi­cian would take the infec­tious flu­id from from a blis­ter or scab on an infect­ed per­son and rub it into scratch­es or cuts on a healthy patient’s skin. This would lead to a mild—but still par­tic­u­lar­ly unpleasant—case of small­pox, and inoc­u­late them against the virus.

But one can also see how the prac­tice of variolation—introducing a dilut­ed ver­sion of the virus in order for the immune sys­tem to do its work—points towards the sci­ence of vac­cines.

One sup­port­er of var­i­o­la­tion was Cather­ine the Great, as evi­denced by a let­ter in her hand pro­mot­ing it across Rus­sia from 1787. The let­ter just sold for $1.3 mil­lion, along­side a por­trait of the monarch by Dmit­ry Lev­it­sky.

Addressed to a gov­er­nor-gen­er­al, Cather­ine the Great instructs him to make var­i­o­la­tion avail­able to every­body in his province.

“Among the oth­er duties of the Wel­fare Boards in the Provinces entrust­ed to you,” she writes, “one of the most impor­tant should be the intro­duc­tion of inoc­u­la­tion against small­pox, which, as we know, caus­es great harm, espe­cial­ly among the ordi­nary peo­ple.” She fur­ther orders inoc­u­la­tion cen­ters be set up in con­vents and monas­ter­ies, fund­ed by town rev­enues to pay doc­tors.

Cather­ine had a per­son­al stake in all this. Her hus­band, Peter III caught the dis­ease before he became emper­or, and was left dis­fig­ured and scarred for life. When she got a chance to inoc­u­late her­self in 1768 she took it, call­ing in a Scot­tish doc­tor, Dr. Thomas Dims­dale, to per­form the var­i­o­la­tion. The pro­ce­dure took place in secret, with a horse at the ready in case the pro­ce­dure caused ter­ri­ble side effects and he had to hot foot it out of Rus­sia. That didn’t hap­pen, and after a brief con­va­les­cence, Cather­ine revealed what she had done to her coun­try­men.

“My objec­tive was, through my exam­ple, to save from death the mul­ti­tude of my sub­jects who, not know­ing the val­ue of this tech­nique, and fright­ened of it, were left in dan­ger.”

Yet, despite her own brav­ery, 20 years lat­er small­pox con­tin­ued to ram­page through Rus­sia, hence the let­ter.

Nine years lat­er in 1796, Dr. Edward Jen­ner found that the cow­pox virus—which only caused mild, cold-like symp­toms in humans—could inoc­u­late humans against small­pox. Despite ini­tial rejec­tions from the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty, his dis­cov­ery led to vac­ci­na­tion sup­plant­i­ng var­i­o­la­tion. And it’s the rea­son we now use the word “vaccine”—it comes from the Latin word for cow.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How the World’s First Anti-Vax Move­ment Start­ed with the First Vac­cine for Small­pox in 1796, and Spread Fears of Peo­ple Get­ting Turned into Half-Cow Babies

How Vac­cines Improved Our World In One Graph­ic

The His­to­ry of the Plague: Every Major Epi­dem­ic in an Ani­mat­ed Map

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the Notes from the Shed pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

Archaeologists Discover 200,000-Year-Old Hand & Footprints That Could Be the World’s Earliest Cave Art

Wet cement trig­gers a pri­mal impulse, par­tic­u­lar­ly in chil­dren.

It’s so tempt­ing to inscribe a pris­tine patch of side­walk with a last­ing impres­sion of one’s exis­tence.

Is the coast clear? Yes? Quick, grab a stick and write your name!

No stick?

Sink a hand or foot in, like a movie star…

…or, even more thrilling­ly, a child hominin on the High Tibetan Plateau, 169,000 to 226,000 years ago!

Per­haps one day your sur­face-mar­ring ges­ture will be con­ceived of as a great gift to sci­ence, and pos­si­bly art. (Try this line of rea­son­ing with the angry home­own­er or shop­keep­er who’s intent on mea­sur­ing your hand against the one now per­ma­nent­ly set into their new cement walk­way.)

Tell them how in 2018, pro­fes­sion­al ich­nol­o­gists doing field­work in Que­sang Hot Spring, some 80 km north­west of Lhasa, were over the moon to find five hand­prints and five foot­prints dat­ing to the Mid­dle Pleis­tocene near the base of a rocky promon­to­ry.

Researchers led by David Zhang of Guangzhou Uni­ver­si­ty attribute the hand­prints to a 12-year-old, and the foot­prints to a 7‑year-old.

In a recent arti­cle in Sci­ence Bul­letin, Zhang and his team con­clude that the children’s hand­i­work is not only delib­er­ate (as opposed to “imprint­ed dur­ing nor­mal loco­mo­tion or by the use of hands to sta­bi­lize motion”) but also “an ear­ly act of pari­etal art.”

The Ura­ni­um dat­ing of the traver­tine which received the kids’ hands and feet while still soft is grounds for excite­ment, mov­ing the dial on the ear­li­est known occu­pa­tion (or vis­i­ta­tion) of the Tibetan Plateau much fur­ther back than pre­vi­ous­ly believed — from 90,000–120,000 years ago to 169,000–226,000 years ago.

That’s a lot of food for thought, evo­lu­tion­ar­i­ly speak­ing. As Zhang told TIME mag­a­zine, “you’re simul­ta­ne­ous­ly deal­ing with a harsh envi­ron­ment, less oxy­gen, and at the same time, cre­at­ing this.”

Zhang is stead­fast that “this” is the world’s old­est pari­etal art — out­pac­ing a Nean­derthal artist’s red-pig­ment­ed hand sten­cil in Spain’s Cave of Mal­travieso by more than 100,000 years.

Oth­er sci­en­tists are not so sure.

Anthro­pol­o­gist Paul Taçon, direc­tor of Grif­fith University’s Place, Evo­lu­tion and Rock Art Her­itage Unit, thinks it’s too big of “a stretch” to describe the impres­sions as art, sug­gest­ing that they could be chalked up to a range of activ­i­ties.

Nick Bar­ton, Pro­fes­sor of Pale­olith­ic Arche­ol­o­gy at Oxford won­ders if the traces, inten­tion­al­ly placed though they may be, are less art than child’s play. (Team Wet Cement!)

Zhang coun­ters that such argu­ments are pred­i­cat­ed on mod­ern notions of what con­sti­tutes art, dri­ving his point home with an appro­pri­ate­ly stone-aged metaphor:

When you use stone tools to dig some­thing in the present day, we can­not say that that is tech­nol­o­gy. But if ancient peo­ple use that, that’s tech­nol­o­gy.

Cor­nell University’s Thomas Urban, who co-authored the Sci­ence Bul­letin arti­cle with Zhang and a host of oth­er researchers shares his col­leagues aver­sion’ to def­i­n­i­tions shaped by a mod­ern lens:

Dif­fer­ent camps have spe­cif­ic def­i­n­i­tions of art that pri­or­i­tize var­i­ous cri­te­ria, but I would like to tran­scend that and say there can be lim­i­ta­tions imposed by these strict cat­e­gories that might inhib­it us from think­ing more broad­ly about cre­ative behav­ior. I think we can make a sol­id case that this is not util­i­tar­i­an behav­ior. There’s some­thing play­ful, cre­ative, pos­si­bly sym­bol­ic about this. This gets at a very fun­da­men­tal ques­tion of what it actu­al­ly means to be human.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties

Was a 32,000-Year-Old Cave Paint­ing the Ear­li­est Form of Cin­e­ma?

Hear a Pre­his­toric Conch Shell Musi­cal Instru­ment Played for the First Time in 18,000 Years

40,000-Year-Old Sym­bols Found in Caves World­wide May Be the Ear­li­est Writ­ten Lan­guage

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

How the World’s First Anti-Vax Movement Started with the First Vaccine for Smallpox in 1796, and Spread Fears of People Getting Turned into Half-Cow Babies

A car­toon from a Decem­ber 1894 anti-vac­ci­na­tion pub­li­ca­tion (Cour­tesy of The His­tor­i­cal Med­ical Library of The Col­lege of Physi­cians of Philadel­phia)

For well over a cen­tu­ry peo­ple have queued up to get vac­ci­nat­ed against polio, small­pox, measles, mumps, rubel­la, the flu or oth­er epi­dem­ic dis­eases. And they have done so because they were man­dat­ed by schools, work­places, armed forces, and oth­er insti­tu­tions com­mit­ted to using sci­ence to fight dis­ease. As a result, dead­ly viral epi­demics began to dis­ap­pear in the devel­oped world. Indeed, the vast major­i­ty of peo­ple now protest­ing manda­to­ry vac­ci­na­tions were them­selves vac­ci­nat­ed (by man­date) against polio, small­pox, measles, mumps, rubel­la, etc., and hard­ly any of them have con­tract­ed those once-com­mon dis­eases. The his­tor­i­cal argu­ment for vac­cines may not be the most sci­en­tif­ic (the sci­ence is read­i­ly avail­able online). But his­to­ry can act as a reli­able guide for under­stand­ing pat­terns of human behav­ior.

In 1796, Scot­tish physi­cian Edward Jen­ner dis­cov­ered how an injec­tion of cow­pox-infect­ed human bio­log­i­cal mate­r­i­al could make humans immune to small­pox. For the next 100 years after this break­through, resis­tance to inoc­u­la­tion grew into “an enor­mous mass move­ment,” says Yale his­to­ri­an of med­i­cine Frank Snow­den. “There was a rejec­tion of vac­ci­na­tion on polit­i­cal grounds that it was wide­ly con­sid­ered as anoth­er form of tyran­ny.”

Fears that injec­tions of cow­pox would turn peo­ple into mutants with cow-like growths were sat­i­rized as ear­ly as 1802 by car­toon­ist James Gilray (below). While the anti-vac­ci­na­tion move­ment may seem rel­a­tive­ly new, the resis­tance, refusal, and denial­ism are as old as vac­ci­na­tions to infec­tious dis­ease in the West.

Image via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

“In the ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry, British peo­ple final­ly had access to the first vac­cine in his­to­ry, one that promised to pro­tect them from small­pox, among the dead­liest dis­eases in the era,” writes Jess McHugh at The Wash­ing­ton Post. Small­pox killed around 4,000 peo­ple a year in the UK and left hun­dreds more dis­fig­ured or blind­ed. Nonethe­less, “many Britons were skep­ti­cal of the vac­cine.… The side effects they dread­ed were far more ter­ri­fy­ing: blind­ness, deaf­ness, ulcers, a grue­some skin con­di­tion called ‘cow­pox mange’ — even sprout­ing hoofs and horns.” Giv­ing a per­son one dis­ease to fright­en off anoth­er one prob­a­bly seemed just as absurd a notion as turn­ing into a human/cow hybrid.

Jen­ner’s method, called var­i­o­la­tion, was out­lawed in 1840 as safer vac­ci­na­tions replaced it. By 1867, all British chil­dren up to age 14 were required by law to be vac­ci­nat­ed against small­pox. Wide­spread out­rage result­ed, even among promi­nent physi­cians and sci­en­tists, and con­tin­ued for decades. “Every day the vac­ci­na­tion laws remain in force,” wrote sci­en­tist Alfred Rus­sel Wal­lace in 1898, “par­ents are being pun­ished, infants are being killed.” In fact, it was small­pox claim­ing lives, “more than 400,000 lives per year through­out the 19th cen­tu­ry, accord­ing to the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion,” writes Eliz­a­beth Earl at The Atlantic“Epi­dem­ic dis­ease was a fact of life at the time.” And so it is again. Covid has killed almost 800,000 peo­ple in the U.S. alone over the past two years.


Then as now, med­ical quack­ery played its part in vac­cine refusal — in this case a much larg­er part. “Nev­er was the lie of ‘the good old days’ more clear than in med­i­cine,” Greig Wat­son writes at BBC News. “The 1841 UK cen­sus sug­gest­ed a third of doc­tors were unqual­i­fied.” Com­mon caus­es of ill­ness in an 1848 med­ical text­book includ­ed “wet feet,” “pas­sion­ate fear or rage,” and “dis­eased par­ents.” Among the many fiery lec­tures, car­i­ca­tures, and pam­phlets issued by oppo­nents of vac­ci­na­tion, one 1805 tract by William Row­ley, a mem­ber of the Roy­al Col­lege of Physi­cians, alleged that the injec­tion of cow­pox could mar an entire blood­line. “Who would mar­ry into any fam­i­ly, at the risk of their off­spring hav­ing filthy beast­ly dis­eases?” it asked hys­ter­i­cal­ly.

Then, as now, reli­gion was a moti­vat­ing fac­tor. “One can see it in bib­li­cal terms as human beings cre­at­ed in the image of God,” says Snow­den. “The vac­ci­na­tion move­ment inject­ing into human bod­ies this mate­r­i­al from an infe­ri­or ani­mal was seen as irre­li­gious, blas­phe­mous and med­ical­ly wrong.” Grant­ed, those who vol­un­teered to get vac­ci­nat­ed had to place their faith in the insti­tu­tions of sci­ence and gov­ern­ment. After med­ical scan­dals of the recent past like the Tuskegee exper­i­ments or Thalido­mide, that can be a big ask. In the 19th cen­tu­ry, says med­ical his­to­ri­an Kristin Hussey, “peo­ple were ask­ing ques­tions about rights, espe­cial­ly work­ing-class rights. There was a sense the upper class were try­ing to take advan­tage, a feel­ing of dis­trust.”

The deep dis­trust of insti­tu­tions now seems intractable and ful­ly endem­ic in our cur­rent polit­i­cal cli­mate, and much of it may be ful­ly war­rant­ed. But no virus has evolved — since the time of the Jen­ner’s first small­pox inoc­u­la­tion — to care about our pol­i­tics, reli­gious beliefs, or feel­ings about author­i­ty or indi­vid­ual rights. With­out wide­spread vac­ci­na­tion, virus­es are more than hap­py to exploit our lack of immu­ni­ty, and they do so with­out pity or com­punc­tion.

via Wash­ing­ton Post

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Dying in the Name of Vac­cine Free­dom

How Vac­cines Improved Our World In One Graph­ic

How Do Vac­cines (Includ­ing the COVID-19 Vac­cines) Work?: Watch Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tions

Elvis Pres­ley Gets the Polio Vac­cine on The Ed Sul­li­van Show, Per­suad­ing Mil­lions to Get Vac­ci­nat­ed (1956)

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

A Fascinating 3D Animation Shows the Depths of the Ocean

Deep sea explo­ration and the sci­ence of oceanog­ra­phy began 150 years ago when British sur­vey ship HMS Chal­lenger set off from Portsmouth with 181 miles of rope. The Roy­al Soci­ety tasked the expe­di­tion, among oth­er things, with “investigat[ing] the phys­i­cal con­di­tions of the deep sea… in regard to depth, tem­per­a­ture cir­cu­la­tion, spe­cif­ic grav­i­ty and pen­e­tra­tion of light.” It was the first such voy­age of its kind.

To accom­plish its objec­tives, Chal­lenger swapped all but two of its guns for spe­cial­ized equip­ment, includ­ing — as assis­tant ship’s stew­ard Joseph Matkin described in a let­ter home — “thou­sands of small air tight bot­tles and lit­tle box­es about the size of Valen­tine box­es packed in Iron Tanks for keep­ing spec­i­mens in, insects, but­ter­flies, moss­es, plants, etc… a pho­to­graph­ic room on the main deck, also a dis­sect­ing room for carv­ing up Bears, Whales, etc.”

Find­ings from the four-year voy­age totaled almost thir­ty-thou­sand pages when pub­lished in a report. But the Chal­lenger’s most famous lega­cy may be its dis­cov­ery of the Mar­i­ana Trench. The ship record­ed a sound­ing of 4,475 fath­oms (26,850 ft.) in a south­ern part of the trench sub­se­quent­ly called Chal­lenger Deep, and now known as the deep­est part of the ocean and the “low­est point on Earth.” The most recent sound­ings using advanced sonar have mea­sured its depth at some­where between 35,768 to 36,037 feet, or almost 7 miles (11 kilo­me­ters).

Chal­lenger Deep is so deep that if Ever­est were sub­merged into its depths, the moun­tain’s peak would still be rough­ly a mile and a half under­wa­ter. In 1960, a manned crew of two descend­ed into the trench. Dozens of remote oper­at­ed vehi­cles (ROVs) have explored its depths since, but it would­n’t be until 2012 that anoth­er human made the 2.5 hour descent, when Avatar and The Abyss direc­tor James Cameron financed his own expe­di­tion. Then in 2019, explor­er Vic­tor Vescoso made the jour­ney, set­ting the Guin­ness world record for deep­est manned sub­ma­rine dive when he reached the East­ern Pool, a depres­sion with­in Chal­lenger Deep. Just last year, he best­ed the record with his mis­sion spe­cial­ist John Rost, explor­ing the East­ern Pool for over four hours.

Last year’s descent brings the total num­ber of peo­ple to vis­it Chal­lenger Deep to five. How can the rest of us wrap our heads around a point so deep beneath us it can swal­low up Mount Ever­est? The beau­ti­ful­ly detailed, 3D ani­ma­tion at the top of the post does a great job of con­vey­ing the rel­a­tive depths of oceans, seas, and major lakes, show­ing under­sea tun­nels and ship­wrecks along the way, with man­made objects like the Eif­fel Tow­er (which marks, with­in a few meters, the deep­est scu­ba dive) and Burj Khal­i­fa placed at inter­vals for scale.

By the time the ani­ma­tion — cre­at­ed by Meta­Ball­Stu­dios’ Alvaro Gra­cia Mon­toya– sub­merges us ful­ly (with boom­ing, echo­ing musi­cal accom­pa­ni­ment) in the Mar­i­ana Trench, we may feel that we have had a lit­tle taste of the awe that lies at the deep­est ocean depths.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

A Rad­i­cal Map Puts the Oceans–Not Land–at the Cen­ter of Plan­et Earth (1942)

What the Earth Would Look Like If We Drained the Water from the Oceans

Cli­mate Change Gets Strik­ing­ly Visu­al­ized by a Scot­tish Art Instal­la­tion

Film­mak­er James Cameron Going 36,000 Feet Under the Sea

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

Isaac Asimov Predicts the Future on The David Letterman Show (1980)

In 1980, Newsweek pub­lished a can­tan­ker­ous and sad­ly on-the-nose diag­no­sis of the Unit­ed States’ “cult of igno­rance” — writ­ten by one Isaac Asi­mov, “pro­fes­sor of bio­chem­istry at Boston Uni­ver­si­ty School of Med­i­cine” and “author of 212 books, most of them on var­i­ous sci­en­tif­ic sub­jects for the gen­er­al pub­lic.” Giv­en this intim­i­dat­ing biog­ra­phy, and the fact that Asi­mov believed that “hard­ly any­one can read” in the U.S., we might expect the sci­ence fic­tion leg­end want­ed noth­ing to do with tele­vi­sion. We would be wrong.

Asi­mov seemed to love TV. In 1987, for exam­ple, the four-time Hugo win­ner wrote a humor­ous­ly crit­i­cal take­down of ALF for TV Guide. And he was a con­sum­mate TV enter­tain­er, mak­ing his first major TV appear­ance on John­ny Carson’s Tonight Show in 1968, appear­ing four times on The Mike Dou­glas Show in the next few years, and giv­ing his final tele­vi­sion inter­views to Dick Cavett in a two-part series in 1989. The same year he wrote about America’s cult of igno­rance, he appeared on The David Let­ter­man show to crack wise with the biggest wiseass on TV. Asi­mov held his own and then some.

“Asi­mov, six­ty in this video, proves him­self a nat­ur­al come­di­an,” writes the Melville House blog; “Let­ter­man, thir­ty-three, can bare­ly keep up.” Sure­ly Asimov’s ban­ter had noth­ing to do with The David Let­ter­man Show’s can­cel­la­tion three days lat­er. (Let­ter­man was back on the air for eleven sea­sons two years lat­er.) Their inter­view ranges wide­ly from pop cul­ture (Asi­mov con­fess­es his appre­ci­a­tion for both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back) to “the future of med­i­cine, space explo­ration, hope for mankind, and much more,” Vic Sage writes at Pop Cul­ture Retro­ra­ma.

Asimov’s dry deliv­ery — honed dur­ing his Eng­lish-and-Yid­dish-speak­ing Brook­lyn child­hood — is delight­ful. But the writer, teacher, and sci­en­tist hasn’t only come on TV to crack jokes, pro­mote a book, and flaunt his mut­ton­chops. He wants to edu­cate his fel­low Amer­i­cans about the state of the future. (His Newsweek bio was out­dat­ed. As Let­ter­man says, his appear­ance marked the pub­li­ca­tion of his 221st book.) Like Hari Sel­don, the hero of his 1951 nov­el Foun­da­tion, Asi­mov felt con­fi­dent in his abil­i­ty to pre­dict the course of human progress (or regress, as the case may be).

He also felt con­fi­dent answer­ing ques­tions about what to do with out­er space, and where to “put more men,” as Let­ter­man says. His rec­om­men­da­tion to build “fac­to­ries” may strike us as a banal fore­run­ner of Jeff Bezos’ even more banal plans for office parks in space. Asi­mov boasts of the vision he had of “pock­et com­put­ers” in 1950 — hard­ly a real­i­ty in 1980. Dave com­plains about how com­pli­cat­ed com­put­ers are, and Asi­mov accu­rate­ly pre­dicts that as tech­nol­o­gy catch­es up, they will get sim­pler to use. “But these are lit­tle things,” he says. “I nev­er tried to pre­dict. I just tried to write sto­ries to pay my way through col­lege.” He must have paid it sev­er­al times over, and he seemed to get more right than he got wrong. See more of Asi­mov’s pre­dic­tions in the links below.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Isaac Asi­mov Pre­dicts the Future of Civilization–and Rec­om­mends Ways to Ensure That It Sur­vives (1978)

Free: Isaac Asimov’s Epic Foun­da­tion Tril­o­gy Dra­ma­tized in Clas­sic Audio

Isaac Asi­mov Pre­dicts in 1964 What the World Will Look Like Today

Isaac Asi­mov Laments the “Cult of Igno­rance” in the Unit­ed States (1980)

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

A Brilliant Demonstration of Magnets & the Promise of Levitating Trains (1975)

For a brief time in the 1980s, it seemed like trains pow­ered by maglev — mag­net­ic lev­i­ta­tion — might just solve trans­porta­tion prob­lems every­where, maybe even replac­ing air trav­el, there­by elim­i­nat­ing one of the most vex­ing sources of car­bon emis­sions. Maglev trains don’t use fuel; they don’t require very much pow­er by com­par­i­son with oth­er sources of high speed trav­el; they don’t pro­duce emis­sions; they’re qui­et, require less main­te­nance than oth­er trains, and can trav­el at speeds of 300 mph and more. In fact, the fastest maglev train to date, unveiled this past sum­mer in Qing­dao, Chi­na, can reach speeds of up to 373 miles per hour (600 kph).

So, why isn’t the plan­et criss-crossed by maglev trains? asks Dave Hall at The Guardian, cit­ing the fact that the first maglev train was launched in the UK in 1984, after which Ger­many, Japan, and Chi­na fol­lowed suit. It seems to come down, as such things do, to “polit­i­cal will.” With­out sig­nif­i­cant com­mit­ment from gov­ern­ments to reshape the trans­porta­tion infra­struc­ture of their coun­tries, maglev trains remain a dream, the mono­rails of the future that nev­er mate­ri­al­ize. Even in Chi­na, where gov­ern­ment man­date can insti­tute mass changes at will, the devel­op­ment of maglev trains has not meant their deploy­ment. The new train could, the­o­ret­i­cal­ly, fer­ry trav­el­ers between Shang­hai to Bei­jing in 2.5 hours… if it had the track.

Per­haps some­day the world will catch up with maglev trains, an idea over a cen­tu­ry old. (The first patents for maglev tech­nol­o­gy were filed by a French-born Amer­i­can engi­neer named Emile Bachelet in the 1910s.) Until then, the rest of us can edu­cate our­selves on the tech­nol­o­gy of trains that use mag­net­ic lev­i­ta­tion with the 1975 video les­son above from British engi­neer and pro­fes­sor Eric Laith­waite (Impe­r­i­al Col­lege Lon­don), who “decon­structs the fas­ci­nat­ing physics at work behind his plans for a maglev trains, which he first mod­elled in the 1940s and per­fect­ed in the 1970s,” notes Aeon. “Well-regard­ed in his time as both a lec­tur­er and an engi­neer, Laith­waite presents a series of demon­stra­tions that build, step by step, until he final­ly unveils a small maglev train mod­el.”

Laithwaite’s small-scale demon­stra­tion would even­tu­al­ly cul­mi­nate in the first com­mer­cial maglev train almost a decade lat­er at Birm­ing­ham Air­port. Here, he begins where sci­ence begins, with an admis­sion of igno­rance. “Per­ma­nent mag­nets are dif­fi­cult things to under­stand,” he says. “In fact, if we’re absolute­ly hon­est with our­selves, we don’t under­stand them.” The good pro­fes­sor then briskly moves on to demon­strate what he does know — enough to build a lev­i­tat­ing train. Learn much more about the his­to­ry and tech­nol­o­gy of maglev trains at How Stuff Works, and keep your eyes on the North­east Maglev project, a devel­op­ing Super­con­duct­ing Maglev train that promis­es trav­el between New York and Wash­ing­ton, DC in one hour flat.

via Aeon

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

The Fly­ing Train: A 1902 Film Cap­tures a Futur­is­tic Ride on a Sus­pend­ed Rail­way in Ger­many

In 1900, a Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Had to Cre­ate an Enor­mous 1,400-Pound Cam­era to Take a Pic­ture of an Entire Train

Free Online Physics Cours­es 

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

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