A thousand years ago, huge pyramids and earthen mounds stood where East St. Louis sprawls today in Southern Illinois. This majestic urban architecture towered over the swampy Mississippi River floodplains, blotting out the region's tiny villages. Beginning in the late 900s, word about the city spread throughout the southeast. Thousands of people visited for feasts and rituals, lured by the promise of a new kind of civilization. Many decided to stay.
At the city's apex in 1100, the population exploded to as many as 30 thousand people. It was the largest pre-Columbian city in what became the United States, bigger than London or Paris at the time. Its colorful wooden homes and monuments rose along the eastern side of the Mississippi, eventually spreading across the river to St. Louis. One particularly magnificent structure, known today as Monk’s Mound, marked the center of downtown. It towered 30 meters over an enormous central plaza and had three dramatic ascending levels, each covered in ceremonial buildings. Standing on the highest level, a person speaking loudly could be heard all the way across the Grand Plaza below. Flanking Monk’s Mound to the west was a circle of tall wooden poles, dubbed Woodhenge, that marked the solstices.
Source: Finding North America’s lost medieval city | Ars Technica
When we think about Native American culture in North America, we rarely think about cities, because by the time Europeans arrived there weren't any. But that wasn't always the case. This is a really amazing long read by someone who joined a dig this year on one of these great lost cities. A city that was built over multiple times, and reinvented.
Sit back, dive in, and let your imagination full grasp what it would have been like 1000 years ago in America.
What’s the connection between the Beatles’ George Harrison, boxing legend Muhammad Ali, and Chrysler cars? The Highway Hi-Fi: a vinyl record player that just happened to be the world’s first in-car music system. It appeared 60 years ago this spring, in 1956, and should have been a smash hit. It was innovatory, a major talking point, arrived as the car market was booming as never before, and it came with much press hype. It also had the backing of a leading motor manufacturer. What could possibly go wrong?
Source: Forgotten audio formats: The Highway Hi-Fi | Ars Technica
It's a fascinating story, made even more so because basically proprietary formats and copyright tangles killed it so quickly.
Today, reportedly, is the 45th anniversary of the famous exploding whale. The event was documented in this KATU television report, in 1970: The announcer summarized, firsthand, the fallout: "However, everyone on the scene was covered with small particle of dead whale." Now, people have built an entire business, or at least a web site, on…
Source: Exploding-whale day: the 45th anniversary
The Exploding whale video was the first video I ever watched on the internet, some 20 years ago. It perfectly captures many elements of what the internet is. A thing that's educational, bizarre, a bit gross, and a cultural flash point all at once.
Embedded in the story of Hōkūle’a and the culture that created her is the story of a 2000-year-old relationship with special islands and the sea. It is a story that was almost lost, and was close to extinction. But ultimately it is a story of survival, rediscovery, and the restoration of pri…
Source: The Story of Hōkūleʻa
This I learned from an episode of the Commonwealth Club: there is a boat, sailing around the world, without instruments (no sextants / clocks). They are using traditional Polynesian navigation which is about wave patterns, cloud patterns, and animals at sea.
Yesterday I was listening to an episode of the Common Wealth Club on the B612 foundation. They are fund raising $200M to build a space telescope to detect and track all the asteroids that are big enough to destroy a city.
All of that is really interesting, and a very cool effort. However in doing research this morning I learned another amazing fact.
Ball Aerospace is the private company that will build the telescope. They built the Kepler space telescope for NASA, and are doing the James Web space telescope as well. I'd heard of them, but until google this morning, I'd never seen their logo. Which I know... from all the canning jars my mom used when I was a kid.
1956, Ball formed Ball Brothers Research Corporation to produce goods and services for the aerospace sector. This was converted to a wholly owned subsidiary, Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., in 1995.
Who knew that one of the top aerospace companies has it's origins in making glass jars. Not I, until today.
This wikipedia page is just great, and includes such hits as:
Makes you think in a slightly longer time frame than what's for dinner on Tuesday.
Ever wonder where Groundhog day comes from? Notice that it's about 1/2 way to Spring?
We are now halfway between the Winter Solstice (December 21) and the Vernal or Spring Equinox (March 20). It's called a cross-quarter day is known as Imbolc (or some variation of that spelling) in the Celtic world It's also a modern Neopagan celebration and part of the Wheel of the Year.
Imbolc is most commonly celebrated on February 2 (same as Groundhog Day and Candlemas on the Christian calendar) but it actually occurs, according to the position of the Sun on the ecliptic, at 11:20 pm EST on Thursday, February 3 this year.
This cross-quarter day has been known since antiquity - a 5,000 year-old Neolithic passage tomb at the Hill of Tara in County Meath, Ireland has an alignment with sunrise on Imbolc. The word Imbolc comes from the Celtic i mbolg or "in the belly" referring to pregnant ewes who soon give birth to spring lambs. It was viewed as the start of spring (even though snow may yet be on the ground), a time for weather prognostication, and to watch for animals emerging from their winter dens (sound familiar? Groundhog Day has its roots in similar Germanic pagan beliefs).
Read the rest over at Hudson Valley Geologist.
We used to think Pluto was all on it's lonesome out in it's far away orbit. It turns out, we just got lucky in finding it, and it's part of a class of objects, now called Trans Neptunian objects. As more and more objects got discovered in the Kuiper belt it became pretty clear that there were good odds we'd find something larger than Pluto. In 2005 we did, it's now called Eris.
When I was in high school (circa 1990), an extraordinary number of bridges in Vermont were crumbling, all at the same time. This is because they were all built in 1928 - 1929, and 60 years was apparently the lifespan of those materials given the upkeep and conditions. The reason all the bridges were built in such a short window of time was the great flood of 1927, which washed away over 1200 bridges in the state.
The Vermont Historical Society has this incredible video on the event, which is really something to behold (embedded below).
Ars Technica has a great article on the history of the telescope. But there was something entirely non astronomy related that struck me:
In 1608, Hans Lipperhey in the Netherlands applied for a patent on a pair of lenses, one with a much shorter focal length than the other, arranged in a tube. He called it a "spyglass" as it allowed the observation of greatly distant events from a secluded retreat—Lipperhey noted that counting coins from afar was a suitable use. The patent was denied because the device was so very easily constructed.
The big breakthrough came when Galileo was informed of Lipperhey's failure to secure a patent. He was certainly aware of the Venetian prowess in lens grinding, as well as work in optics that Kepler had done. Galileo decided to make such a device for himself, inspired by a mixture of Renaissance gung-ho and a desire to make his name. Presumably, he reasoned that a device able to magnify distant objects would also minimize the uncertainty in their position, providing an improved version of the wall quadrant.
That's a frightening thought, and one I hadn't known before. Had that patent been granted, we may never have had the revolution in science in 1609, because Galileo wouldn't have jumped into the telescope manufacturing business. That work is what sealed the fate of the geocentric solar system, and became a great leap forward for all physical sciences.