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Why Astronomers Are Surprised By Supernova 1987A

The explosion of a supernova is a magnificent sight. It emits an incredible amount of energy as well as dust particles that would drift off into space. Supposedly, a supernova's blast waves should destroy everything in its path but a new observation by astronomers with SOFIA show the opposite.

The new study is based on observations of a nearby supernova explosion, called Supernova 1987A. When it was discovered in 1987, it was one of the brightest supernovae seen in 400 years! Due to its close proximity, astronomers have been able to monitor its impact on the surrounding environment continuously for the past 30 years.
SOFIA’s observations of the iconic supernova suggest dust may actually be forming in the wake of the powerful blast wave. These results are helping astronomers solve the mystery surrounding the abundance of dust in our galaxy.

(Image credit: ESA/NASA/Hubble)


How a Heart-Shaped Candy Box Came to Stand for Love

Flowers, cards, jewelry, and dinner out are standard romantic gifts, but nothing says Valentine's Day like assorted chocolates in a heart-shaped box. But why? Chocolates are appreciated by the receiver, but other treats would be, too. And how did a heart-shaped box become standard? Why do we even associate love with a shape that doesn't much resemble the heart, anyway?

This has not always been the case. Eric Jager, the author of The Book of the Heart and a medieval literature professor at UCLA, traces the link back to the 13th and 14th centuries. “[People at that time] thought of our hearts” — the physical ones — “as books of memory, a place where God’s commands are written, and [believed] feelings for the beloved were somehow written on your heart,” he told Time. There are stories about female saints, whose hearts, cut open after death, were literally inscribed with professions of love for God.

But then where did the shape come from? It’s not, one might note, quite similar to what human hearts look like, although, as cardiologist and medical illustrator Carlos Machado told Time, it isn’t all that different either. Really, he says, the shape is closer to a bird or reptile heart, which makes sense, given that the medieval study of anatomy was based on animal bodies rather than human ones.  

The story of the heart-shaped box of chocolates requires a separate history for the heart, the chocolates, the box, and Valentines day itself. These varying stories intersected in the mid-1800s, in a tale you can read at Vox.  -via Digg

(Image credit: Chrys Omori


A Lesson on Arctic Peoples: They're Not Called Eskimos

There are different people groups that inhabit the arctic regions of Canada, Siberia, Alaska, and Greenland. And none of them refer to themselves as "Eskimos". It's an outsider term which may be considered "racist" or "offensive". Rather the proper name for these people groups is "Inuit" though there are also various Arctic groups apart from the Inuits such as the Aleut, Nunavut, and Yupik. So where does the term "Eskimo" come from and why has it been used to refer to people who live in the Arctic regions? Read more on Popula.

(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)


It's the Thought That Counts

She said she wanted tulips for Valentines Day; he was sleepy and thought she said turnips. So Allan Harris of Hartford, Kentucky, went above and beyond the call of duty and made sure his wife Nina got a whole bucket of turnips as a token of his love, presented in a special Valentine bucket. Nina was confused at first, but appreciated Allan's efforts. She later received tulips as well, plus a balloon. -via Metafilter


Strato Lizzie, the Mascot Cat of the TWA Pilots at NYC’s LaGuardia Airport

Before Homeland Security, before discount airlines, before even World War II, commercial flying was very different from what we know today. A passenger without a ticket or even identification could be tolerated occasionally, especially if she had fur and whiskers. And that is the story of Strato Lizzie, born in 1940, just a year after LaGuardia Field was opened.    

Strato Lizzie acquired her wings and began her flying career in Los Angeles. According to the story, an American Airlines pilot found her as a kitten behind an ash can in an alleyway and turned her over to W.P. Spencer, a Civil Aeronautics Authority pilot.

Spencer flew the kitty to Kansas City, and then from there she flew to the new LaGuardia Field with a message from the chief of the Kansas City office: “The kitten apparently loves flying. Therefore, I am giving it a ride to New York and back.”
Strato Lizzie on her flight to LaGuardia AirfieldHere’s Strato Lizzie as a kitten on one of her first flights from Kansas City to New York with pilot Bronson White.

Poor Strato Lizzie was tossed around like a hot potato for a while, traveling from New York to Chicago and then back to Los Angeles. Finally, when she was about six months old, the pretty kitty was adopted by the TWA pilots at LaGuardia.

That was only the beginning of Strato Lizzie's adventures, which included cat shows, kittens, going missing, publicity, and over 100,000 miles of flights. Read her story at The Hatching Cat. -via Strange Company


Found: One Tiger, Owner Missing

Animal control officers, working on tips, found a tiger kept in the garage of an abandoned home in Houston on Monday. It is illegal to keep exotic pets in the city. The tiger was tranquilized and then transferred to the BARC Animal Shelter in its cage, which must have been the most exciting day at the Houston pound in recent memory. On Tuesday, the tiger had already found a home, and was shipped to the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, which is equipped to handle exotic animals, including big cats.

An anonymous tipster reported seeing the animal about a week ago, according to BARC.

The tipster said they were at the house to smoke marijuana and thought they were hallucinating when they first saw the tiger, according to police.

The tiger was found in a "rinky-dink" cage in the garage, which was not locked, police said. The garage was secured with a screwdriver and a nylon strap, according to police.

Police are investigating to find the owner of the property and the tiger. -Thanks, WTM!


Mary Owens: Abraham Lincoln's Accidental Fiancee

In 1833, Abraham Lincoln was a 24-year-old postmaster in New Salem, Illinois. His friend Elizabeth Abell introduced him to her sister, Mary Owens, who was visiting from Kentucky. Afterward, he remarked to Abell that if Owens were to return to Illinois, he'd marry her. It was most likely a throwaway line, but Abell told Owens, and she paid another visit to New Salem in 1836, considering herself therefore engaged. By then, Lincoln was not at all on board with the idea of marrying her. He wrote to another friend:

“I knew she was over-size, but she now appeared a fair match for Falstaff. I knew she was called an ‘old maid,’ and I felt no doubt of the truth of at least half of the appellation. But now, when I beheld her, I could not for my life avoid thinking of my mother. And this, not from withered features, for her skin was too full of fat to permit its contracting in to wrinkles; but from her want of teeth, weather-beaten appearance in general, and from a kind of notion that ran in my head, that nothing could have commenced at the size of infancy, and reached her present bulk in less than thirty-five or forty years; and, in short, I was not all pleased with her.”

To be clear, Owens was the same age as Lincoln. Lincoln was not so brutally honest with Owens, but neither did he diplomatically break off the "engagement." Instead, he corresponded with her about the dire circumstances she would find herself in if they married. His ruse worked so well that Lincoln himself suffered from the way the relationship ended. Read the story of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Owens at Atlas Obscura.


Rare Black Leopard Photographed in Africa

What we know as panthers, such as Bagheera from The Jungle Book, are big cats, usually jaguars or leopards, that have a gene mutation affecting color. While 11% of leopards have this melanism, most of them are in Asia (like Bagheera). You may be surprised to learn that the last confirmed evidence of a black leopard in Africa was in Ethiopia in 1909! That is, until now. Reports of a black leopard sighting in Kenya drew scientist Nick Pilfold of the San Diego Zoo to investigate. He took along a team of biologists and wildlife photographer Will Burrard-Lucas, who long dreamed of capturing images of a black panther.

"For me, no animal is shrouded in more mystery, no animal more elusive, and no animal more beautiful," he posted on his blog. "For many years, they remained the stuff of dreams and of farfetched stories told around the campfire at night. Nobody I knew had ever seen one in the wild and I never thought that I would either."

Burrard-Lucas said he shot the images at Laikipia Wilderness Camp using a Camtraptions Camera, which focuses on wildlife photography and footage. The cameras were placed near animal trails, and water sources such as pools and natural springs. They were left on 24 hours a day in most places but were only turned on at night in public places, according to the African Journal of Ecology.  

Read more about the mission to document the panther at CNN. See more pictures of the black leopard in Will Burrard-Lucas' Instagram gallery. -via The Root


Beer, The Divorce Alternative in 19th Century England

When your relationship has gone sour, we have a convenient legal device that provides for couples to go on their separate ways. That's divorce. However, a couple of centuries ago, divorce was illegal in different parts of the world, including England. Since couples had no way of splitting up without being chastised for it, they had to resort to other measures. Instead of going through a divorce procedure, men sold their wives for beer.

This wasn’t an unusual scene. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, English wives were “sold” for a variety of payments. Prices varied—“as low as a bullpup and a quarter of rum” all the way to “forty [British] pounds and a supper,” the North-Eastern Daily Gazette reported in 1887.
Half a gallon was the total sale price for a 26-year-old known as Mrs. Wells, purchased by a Mr. Clayton in 1876, as reported by The Sheffield Daily Telegraph. Clayton approached Mr. Wells, professed his love for the man’s wife, and asked if he could marry her. Wells shrugged—for the last two years, his wife had lived with Clayton, and he didn’t care what she did anymore. He told Clayton he could have her “for nowt” (or “nothing”), but Clayton insisted he name his price—he did not want her “so cheaply.” Wells countered with a half-gallon (four pints) of beer, and the three of them went off to the pub. After buying Wells his beer, Clayton also offered to adopt the Wells’s daughter—Mrs. Wells was rather attached to her—and when Mr. Wells accepted, Clayton bought him another pint. Mrs. Wells was so pleased with the arrangement that she purchased an additional half gallon of beer, which the three drank together.

(Image credit: George Cruikshank/Public Domain)


Lucas The Spider in I'm Starving

The last time we saw Lucas the Spider, it was right before Christmas, and he had made a new friend. The fly had one request:"Don't eat me!" Lucas wouldn't do that, but he does want to share food with his new buddy. In this video, they go over their choices of food available in the house. -via Tastefully Offensive


Accordion Repo Man

The weirdest job you ever had is no match for what Weird Al Yankovic used to do when he was young. But then, this is Weird Al, so being an accordion repo man may not have been his weirdest job. Still, it was weird enough for him to imagine Accordion Repo Man as an action hero in a movie. A very weird movie. -via Laughing Squid


The Emotional Vocal Map

People don't need words to vocalize emotions. Wordless sounds will do just fine in many cases. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, have catalogued these vocalizations that convey emotion.  

To start things off, the researchers asked 56 people, some professional actors and some not, to react to different emotional scenarios. From these reactions, the team recorded more than 2,000 vocal bursts. Next, they used Amazon Mechanical Turk, a website that enables you to outsource tasks you can’t relegate to computers, to recruit more than 1,000 people to listen to the recordings. As the recruits listened, the researchers had them rate the vocalizations based on the emotions and tone (positive or negative) they thought the clips conveyed.

Previous studies had pegged the number of emotions we can express with vocal bursts at around 13. But when the UC Berkeley team analyzed their results, they found there are at least 24 distinct ways that humans convey meaning without words.

You can read more about the research here. But what's really fun is to listen to those vocalizations in an interactive map. Moving your mouse over a colored spot will produce that vocalization, so sweeping across many will fill your speakers with emotional crowd noises. Have fun, but heed my advice and don't stay too long in one region without venturing to the others, because some of these vocalizations can make you feel things. -via Metafilter


The Phil Silvers Show (1955-1959)

The Phil Silvers Show, aka Bilko, aka You'll Never Get Rich, was one of the funniest programs found on television in the 1950's. The show centered around the antics of Army Master Sergeant Ernest Bilko, con man extraordinaire, who ran the motor pool at a small Kansas U.S. Army Camp. Bilko runs every money making scheme that he thinks he can pull off, and he is a gambling addict. The supporting cast is stellar, and this was another 'safe' program for the whole family. Indeed, my earliest memory of TV was of my father watching this program circa 1957 and laughing uproariously. And he was a tough audience, being a Marine Raider during WWII. From the IMDb:

It is my opinion that THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW (aka YOU'LL NEVER GET RICH) remains the single most underrated sitcom in television history and that Phil Silvers remains the most underrated comedian in that medium. This is really saying something because the series has indeed received great acclaim over the years. Even so, Silvers is just not given his proper due for creating the Bilko character. But it is Phil Silvers, his facial expressions, his bugle-call barking of orders, his complete manipulation of everyone on the base, and his wild schemes to make money that never seem to get old no matter how much you watch the episodes on video. The show is a great testament to the talents of Phil Silvers. With its complex plotlines and quickfire dialogue it's still a treat to watch Silvers's monumental character. The most oft-said line in the series must be "but, Sarge!" as Bilko launches into another diabolical and, ultimately, flawed scheme to make money and dodge work.

Youtube has many if not all of the episodes, three of which are embedded below. The episode The Court Martial of Harry Speakup is credited with the best ad-lib ever seen on television; see if you can spot it.


True West: Searching for the Familiar in Early Photos of L.A. and San Francisco

San Francisco's history has some startling touchstones that, lucky for us, were documented in photography, from the Gold Rush that brought people from all over the world to the San Francisco earthquake in 1906. Los Angeles had its own milestones during that time, growing from a beach paradise to a megalopolis. The photographers who documented those changes did not have an easy time of it. The California Historical Society has an exhibition open through March entitled Boomtowns: How Photography Shaped Los Angeles and San Francisco. The society's managing curator,  Erin Garcia, gives us some insight into how those photographs were made.

“I think the earliest and best example of Californians pushing the limits of photography is probably Carleton Watkins having a custom-made, cabinet-sized camera built to take with him to Yosemite in 1861,” Garcia says. “The literature suggests that he wanted his photographs to be hung on walls, to be framed and viewed like large paintings. There was no way to enlarge a photo at the time, so the way you got a bigger picture was to use a bigger negative. And to get a bigger negative you had to have a bigger camera, so Watkins used this gigantic custom-made camera with glass plates he had to haul all the way to Yosemite. It was just so absurd.”

Besides carrying unwieldy equipment out into the California wilderness, Watkins would have had to coat each massive glass plate with a sticky collodion solution and develop them in his darkroom tent. Watkins also captured panoramic shots of San Francisco; the resulting mammoth-plate albumen prints, at around 14 inches high by 20 inches wide, give firsthand viewers an impressive window into the period that can’t be replicated by copies online or in print.

Meanwhile, Muybridge was working to perfect complex panoramas and improve shutter speeds so he could stop motion entirely. “The technology that he pushed, it’s just absolutely incredible,” Garcia says. “We have a 360-degree panorama on view taken from the Mark Hopkins residence on Nob Hill. Muybridge had to figure out how to make a 360-degree view, which no one had really done, though there had been some attempts. It was a very tricky thing to do because you would have to divide the horizon into equal parts, and then, on the ground glass, which is showing you a picture upside down, you’d have to somehow get the horizon lines to align. You’d have to manage the sunlight, always keeping the sun at your back so that your camera’s not looking directly into the sun. It would’ve taken many hours, so it was an incredible logistical and technical accomplishment.”

Read more about the photographers who gave us images of the history of California at Collectors Weekly. Yes, there are plenty of pictures.


Lise Meitner Deserves A Nobel Prize

Nuclear physics, particularly fission, may not have been discovered without Lise Meitner, but history seems to have forgotten about her. Of course, we all know the history of sexism in all fields but science has probably been one of the most affected by it. Most of the discoveries made by female scientists have been attributed to their male contemporaries despite the idea originating from the women. The same was true for Meitner.

(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

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