Ming the Clam: the 507-year-old clam that explained climate change

It wasn’t just any clam. Ming the Clam was 507 years old. For his whole life, he lived on the bottom of the Norwegian Sea and, while on earth the years passed, the world, inevitably, changed. Great empires rose and fell again into the dust, the Industrial Revolution transformed human society, and two world wars claimed millions of lives. In 2006, a team of British scientists was engaged in a mission of assessment off the coast of Iceland, within a study to discover the effects of climate change. Ming was…

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How to seduce a turkey: a bizarre sex experiments of the 1960s

Two men lurking over the pen. Meanwhile a large, male turkey walked in a circle, readying his mating dance, waiting for the right moment. The moment arrived and, clueless and giddy, the animal excitedly fluffed his feathers and approached his object of desire: the severed head of a taxidermied, female turkey, mounted on a stick. It was the early 1960s, and Dr. Martin Schein and Dr. Edward Hale were working hard at Pennsylvania State University to find out what makes domestic turkeys literally…interested in sex. They began with a taxidermically…

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Why we owe food regulation to a 19th-Century chemist who poisoned his colleagues

Try to imagine twelve fine young men sat around a fine dinner table with a fine white tablecloth and fine silver settings, with their bow ties rested at their chins as they delicately brought forkfuls of more or less delicious foods to their mouths. Well, although each morsel laced with formaldehyde and benzoate, while borax tablets that polished off the meal. These heroes were the so-called “Poison Squad”: for five years, beginning in 1902, their nightly meals came from a government-run kitchen, where they ingested common (and previously untested) food…

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Tunguska Event: the mystery that puzzled scientists for almost 100 years

A huge mysterious blast rocked eastern Siberia on this day, June 30, 1908, leaving millions of trees lying on the ground, mostly pointing in the same direction, over an area of many kilometres. The reports describe a fireball in the sky, like a second sun, and a series of explosions “with a frightful sound,” followed by shaking of the ground as “the earth seemed to get opened wide, and everything would fall in the abyss.” The indigenous Evenks and Yakuts believed a god or shaman sent the fireball to destroy…

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Do cicadas know mathematics?

You know what 2020 is missing? An invasion of trillions of screaming cicadas after 17 years underground! Yes, seriously. 2020 is the year of “Brood IX”, a horde of more than 1.5 million cicadas that have been waiting underground for their big moment to emerge in some US areas and it has already started. But before you start wondering if 2020 is really the end of the world, then rest assured this curious event is actually pretty normal. Magicicada is the genus of the 13-year and 17-year periodical cicadas of…

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#April 10, 1633: The day bananas made their debut in England

Among scientists, Thomas Johnson is known as “the father of British field botany”. But, more confidentially, he is celebrated as the first man to sell bananas in England. Born in 1600, he established his scientific credentials in his “Herball” tome, with 2,000 pages and 2,900 illustrations listing plants, where they grew and their medicinal properties. It remained the accepted and trusted text in its field for over 200 years. Historical records show that in 1626 Johnson had established an apothecary business in central London and it was here, on this…

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The “anomalous” burial of a child in a 5th century Umbrian cemetery

Lugnano in Teverina is a small village, located in the region of central Italy Umbria, surrounded by green hills that descend towards the valley of the Tiber river. At the beginning of the first century AD, on one of these hills, an unknown man, probably a wealthy Roman, built his villa (a complex of over 1800 square meters), which however was already in ruins around the third century. For some unknown reason, around the middle of the 15th century, when the western Roman empire was very close to its end,…

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536 AD: the never-ending winter of the worst year in history

If you ask medieval historian Michael McCormick of the University of Harvard what year was the worst to be alive, and he’s got an answer. Not 1349, when the Black Death wiped out half of Europe, and not 1918, when “spanish” flu killed 50 million to 100 million people. It happened to everyone, sooner or later, to hope that a particularly difficult year will come to an end, hoping that the next one will reserve better days. But what was, objectively, the worst year in human history? It seems impossible…

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Edward Leedskalnin and the mysteries of Coral Castle

Coral Castle is one of the most visited places in Florida and is the most modern monolithic complex in the world, made with calcareous oolite. Commonly mistakenly believed to be made of coral, it is made with oolite, a sedimentary rock composed of small spherical grains of concentrically layered carbonate that may include localized concentrations of fossil shells and coral. Castle’s story is very interesting, still today shrouded in mystery. It all began in 1923 when Edward Leedskalnin, at the age of thirty-eight, moved to Florida in search of a…

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Kola Superdeep Borehole: 12 Km towards the Earth’s core

Someone said that the human beings knows more about certain distant galaxies than it does about the ground that lies beneath its very feet. In fact, while it took the popular Voyager 1 satellite 26 years to exit our Solar System, relaying measurements to Earth from 16.5 billion km away, it took about the same amount of time for humanity to penetrate a just 12 km into the Earth’s surface! Since the dawn of literature, the mystery that hides beneath the earth’s crust has been examined by illustrious poets, writers…

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Point Nemo: the most remote place on Earth, and Space Vehicles cemetery

People often vaguely refer to “the middle of nowhere,” but as it turns out, scientists have actually figured out precisely where that point is. Point Nemo, the most remote location on Earth, is so far removed from civilization that the closest humans to that location at any given time are likely to be astronauts! The Nemo Point – The red circle indicates the distance to the nearest islands: Submerged in the depths of the Pacific Ocean lies the ancient city of R’lyeh, where it sleeps a sleep similar to the…

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“Sokushinbutsu”: the self-mummification ritual and the myth of non-death

Although the Japanese climate is not exactly conducive to mummification, somehow a group of Buddhist monks from the Shingon sect discovered a way to mummify themselves through rigorous ascetic training in the shadow of a particularly sacred peak in the mountainous northern prefecture of Yamagata. If for Christians the death represents the moment of transition towards eternal life, which should be much better than the brief earthly existence, for Buddhists life and death chase each other in an eternal cycle of reincarnation, from which it is possible to go out…

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21 grams: the experiment that measured the weight of the Soul

It was 1901, and Duncan MacDougall, a physician from Haverhill, Massachusetts, thought of measuring the weight of the soul, intrinsically proving its existence. According to him, at the moment of passing away the human body would lose the weight of its soul, free to migrate to other places than our mortal remains. MacDougall, who wished to scientifically determine if a soul had weight, identified six patients in nursing homes whose deaths were imminent. MacDougall recorded their weight during the hospitalization, and when the patients looked like they were close to…

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Tacoma Narrows Bridge: the most popular non-fatal engineering disaster in U.S. history~

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge at the time was the third-longest suspension bridge behind the Golden Gate Bridge and the George Washington Bridge, and was opened on July 1, 1940. A little more than four months later, on November 7, it collapsed into Puget Sound, the complex estuarine system of interconnected marine waterways and basins along the northwestern coast of the U.S. state of Washington. The Narrows Bridge, which spanned the Tacoma Narrows strait between Tacoma and the Kitsap Peninsula in Washington State, not far from Thornewood Castle of Lakewood and…

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The cyanometer that measure the blueness of the sky in Ljubljana centre

Cyanometers have been color-coding the sky since the late 18th century, however Martin Bricelj Baraga’s sculpture adds a really modern twist. Located in the center of Ljubljana, Slovenia, the monolithic structure blends art and science, measuring the blueness of the sky looking really stunning. Not only does cyanometer periodically capture images of the sky and measure them against the 53-shade color wheel toward the top of the structure, it uses the data to imitate it, changing color to blend in with the sky. Day and night, cloudy or bright, its…

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