Taxonomy term

benchmarks

The first dinner in a beast

Surprisingly, there is precedence for eating dinner in the body of a massive beast. In February 1802, Rembrandt Peale, an early American painter best known for his portraits of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, invited 12 friends and family to dine under the rib cage of a mammoth, which had recently been erected in his father’s museum in Philadelphia.
 
03 Dec 2010

Benchmarks: November 27, 1873: Red River logjam removed for good

Throughout the 1800s, America’s eastern and southeastern coastal rivers acted as highways for shipping. Generally winding with shallow slopes, the rivers could be plied easily by barges and steamboats, but one particular water body — the main channel of the Red River that runs from Arkansas through Louisiana — thwarted the plans of shippers for much of the 19th century. A massive entanglement of logs, stumps and branches, known as the Great Raft, blocked the Red from Fulton, Ark, to about Shreveport, La. But on Nov. 27, 1873, after more than 40 years of trying, the raft was destroyed and boats could travel unimpeded down the main channel of the Red River.
 
05 Nov 2010

Benchmarks: October 13, 1947: A disaster with Project Cirrus

Two days after clipping Cuba and Florida, a hurricane was drifting out into the Atlantic. All predictions had it remaining at sea without further landfall, making it the perfect test subject for the newly minted Project Cirrus, a U.S. government- backed project bent on discovering a way to disable deadly hurricanes. The researchers planned to seed the hurricane’s clouds with dry ice, hoping that the ice would interact with the clouds and disrupt the cyclone’s internal structure, thus weakening it. So on Oct. 13, 1947, a plane flew over the storm and dumped 80 kilograms of dry ice into the storm’s swirling clouds.
 
04 Oct 2010

From science to science fiction

Project Cirrus may have flopped in the meteorology world, but its research left an indelible impression on the literary world.
 
04 Oct 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

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