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Museums: Cleopatra: The search for the last queen of Egypt

Cleopatra VII was the queen of Egypt. Even 2,000 years after her death, the last ruler of the great empire is still a focal point of worldwide fascination. Despite the number of movies and books that have centered on Cleopatra, most of her life and death remains a mystery. However, a new traveling exhibit called Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt, currently at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pa., aims to finally set the record straight on her life — and perhaps reveal her final resting place.

08 Sep 2010

Benchmarks: September 21, 1930: Alfred Wegener begins a fateful polar expedition

In September 1930, 15 polar explorers set out from their base camp at Kamarujuk on the west coast of Greenland. The team was carrying much-needed supplies 400 kilometers inland to two meteorologists waiting at a satellite camp at Eismitte at the center of the Greenland icecap. The team, consisting of German meteorologists Alfred Wegener and Fritz Loewe as well as 13 Greenlanders, traveled slowly, their dogsleds hindered by storms and frigid temperatures. All but Wegener, Loewe and one Greenlander, Rasmus Villumsen, were forced to turn back by the blizzards. At last, the three explorers managed to reach the icecap camp at the end of October.
 
03 Sep 2010

Benchmarks: August 1975: Geotimes magazine inspires name of rock formation: A Q&A with Tony Alabaster

In August 1975, an intriguing rock formation in Oman appeared on the cover of Geotimes magazine, EARTH magazine’s predecessor. This pillow lava — a type of rock that forms when hot molten basalt flows into water, such as happens in Hawaii, or erupts underwater — is one of the lowermost units of the now-famous Semail ophiolite sequence. Ophiolites, pieces of ancient oceanic crust and upper mantle later uplifted and exposed on land, were a hot geological topic in the 1970s, because they helped illuminate the process of seafloor spreading, a key puzzle piece supporting the then-revolutionary theories of continental drift and plate tectonics.
 
09 Aug 2010

Benchmarks: August 2, 1922: Marines invade Teapot Dome, deepen scandal

Early in the morning of Aug. 2, 1922, soldiers from the United States Marine Corps arrived at the train station in Casper, Wyo. They had been traveling for three days from the East Coast to reach an important government facility, officially designated the Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 3 (NPR-3), better known as Teapot Dome. Their orders, which President Warren Harding had approved only the week before, were to evict trespassers from a small oil claim in the northern end of the reserve. Following a quick breakfast, the soldiers proceeded north by car under the command of Capt. George K. Shuler. He had hand-picked the men, with whom he had fought in World War I.
 
02 Aug 2010

Benchmarks: July 11, 1997: Neanderthal DNA unraveled

On July 11, 1997, six scientists announced they had sequenced DNA from a Neanderthal fossil. It was the first time anyone had analyzed the genetics of an extinct hominin, and the findings gave paleoanthropologists a new perspective on Neanderthals’ place in the human family tree.
The team, led by Svante Pääbo, then at the University of Munich in Germany, recovered the DNA from an upper arm bone. The bone was part of a collection of fossils discovered in 1856. Quarrymen working in the Feldhofer Cave in Germany’s Neander Valley found 16 bone fragments — including a skullcap, ribs, arms, legs and part of a hip — from several different individuals. The bones resembled human bones, but there were some striking differences: The skull had pronounced brow ridges and a low, sloping forehead, and the limb bones were extraordinarily thick.
11 Jul 2010

Benchmarks: June 30, 1972: Timekeepers add first "leap second" to clocks

On June 30, 1972, at exactly 11:59 p.m. and 60 seconds, timekeepers did something most people only dream about: They added more time to the day.
 
30 Jun 2010

Gain some, lose some

Scientists now know that Earth’s rotation is very slowly decelerating, such that the length of the rotational day is about two milliseconds longer than the 86,400 seconds it was nearly two centuries ago. But that doesn’t mean Earth’s rotation is always slowing down. The tidal force of the moon acts to slow Earth’s rotation by taking away some of the planet’s energy. But other factors, such as the expansion and contraction of the atmosphere with the seasons, the churning of material within Earth’s core, and the rebounding of Earth’s surface as the weight of glaciers is removed, can sometimes act to speed up Earth’s rotation by redistributing its mass, thereby altering Earth’s moment of inertia and thus its speed of rotation.

30 Jun 2010

Benchmarks: May 18, 1952: Stonehenge's age solved with Carbon-14

Like sentinels standing guard over a millennia-old secret, the 8-meter-tall stones of Stonehenge rise above the rolling green hills of England’s Salisbury Plain. The origin, date and purpose of the arrangement of the giant standing stones, located about 145 kilometers west of London, have puzzled people for thousands of years. But in 1952, physical chemist Willard Libby, a professor at the University of Chicago in Illinois, finally provided a concrete answer to one of the site’s most enduring questions: when it was built. To do this, Libby used a brand-new geochemical technique that he had been developing based on the radioactive isotope carbon-14. Only a few years later, his work on this groundbreaking technique earned him a Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

18 May 2010

Nuclear Fallout

Willard Libby, who won a Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1960, was a prominent advocate of nuclear weapons testing, and worked on the Manhattan Project to help develop an atomic bomb during World War II. During the late 1950s, chemist Linus Pauling, a peace activist who won Nobel Prizes for both Chemistry and Peace, presented the United Nations with a petition signed by more than 11,000 scientists that called for an end to nuclear weapons testing. In particular, Pauling cited a 1958 speech on carbon-14 by Libby that suggested nuclear tests would produce large amounts of the radioactive isotope. 
 
18 May 2010

Benchmarks: April 1, 1877: Prospector begins search for Tombstone's silver

On April 1, 1877, Ed Schieffelin arrived at Fort Huachuca in southeastern Arizona. Schieffelin, a prospector who had tried his luck all across the West, came to the desert looking for untapped riches. The soldiers at the fort warned him that the only thing he’d find was his own tombstone. But by Aug. 1, Schieffelin found what he was looking for: silver. He named his first mining claim Tombstone.

22 Apr 2010

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