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Down to Earth With: Planetary geologist James W. Head III

In the late 1960s, as James W. Head III was finishing his graduate degree in geology at Brown University in Providence, R.I., he decided one day to take a look at a college placement annual, a phone book-like publication that listed prospective employers according to the types of jobs they had available. When Head looked up geology in the index, he saw several consecutive pages of related listings, as well as one separate page number. Curious about the outlier, Head flipped to it — and never looked back. Covering that entire page was a photo of the moon, a D.C.-area phone number, and a single line of text: “Our job is to think our way to the moon and back.”

29 Mar 2017

Geomedia: Radio: "The Infinite Monkey Cage" takes listeners to the edge of the universe and beyond

“Science is not about finding the right answer, it’s finding the least wrong answers,” quips physician and science writer Ben Goldacre, a guest on “The Infinite Monkey Cage,” a BBC radio show and podcast that casts an irreverent eye on big scientific questions. Goldacre was commenting on the definition of science, but this philosophy — that science is a constantly evolving pursuit, in which all ideas are valid until data and time prove them wrong — is also the refreshing and approachable premise of this witty show.

22 Mar 2017

Benchmarks: March 11–13, 1888: The Great Blizzard of 1888 Paralyzes New York City

On Tuesday, March 13, 1888, the streets of New York City were nearly unrecognizable. What had been well-lit homes and storefronts, bustling with shoppers, families, workers and businessmen just two days before, now looked like a frozen battlefield, pummeled by a blizzard whose force had taken the city by surprise. The streets were clogged with deep snow and debris from signs, broken wires, downed poles, trees, and carts that had been abandoned as people fled to shelter. The few people who were out stumbled through deep snow drifts, fighting against a brutal icy wind; some never made it to safety.

11 Mar 2017

Down to Earth With: Cave scientist and paleoclimatologist Kathleen Johnson

Paleoclimatologist Kathleen Johnson has some advice for anyone interested in tropical cave science: befriend experienced cave guides and beware of venomous snakes, ubiquitous bats and Frisbee-sized spiders.

24 Feb 2017

Geomedia: Film: Exploring Florida's aquifers with filmmaker Tom Fitz

Filmmaker Tom Fitz describes the first time he found himself sitting, alone, more than 20 meters below Earth’s surface and about 300 meters into an underwater cave: He was waiting in position to film a sequence of divers swimming through a narrow passageway as their lights illuminated the chamber for his new, yet to be named, documentary. “I was suddenly in absolute, complete black,” Fitz says. “The kind of darkness that we rarely experience.”

20 Feb 2017

Down to Earth With: Mountain biking geologist Kurt Refsnider

Growing up in Minnesota, Kurt Refsnider spent a lot of time exploring old clay and limestone quarries along the Minnesota River, where he collected marine fossils. While on a camping trip with his family at age 8, he visited the Burgess Shale in Banff, Canada, and learned about the exquisitely preserved soft-body fossils of Precambrian marine fauna. The experience initially made him want to become a paleontologist. But as he grew up, the glacial landscapes of the upper Midwest drew his attention and he decided to study geology instead.

09 Feb 2017

Benchmarks: February 5, 1931 and February 20, 1935: Antarctic firsts for women

We can only guess what Caroline Mikkelsen was thinking on Feb. 20, 1935, as she sipped her coffee, resting on a rocky hillside surrounded by the noise and stink of thousands of Adélie penguins. Minutes before, she had become the first woman to set foot in Antarctica and had helped hoist the Norwegian flag into place atop a rock cairn, claiming Norway’s influence in the land. Was she thrilled? Proud? Did she care about the significance of her presence there? We don’t know — little was recorded about the event; and most of what was recorded was lost for decades, resigning the episode, for a time, to footnote status amid the annals of a continent shrouded in mystery and a culture of polar exploration enraptured by the heroic and masculine deeds of the male explorers who had come before.

05 Feb 2017

A mysterious first

Women sailed around the sub-Antarctic islands well before Caroline Mikkelsen or Ingrid Christensen’s journeys, usually accompanying their sailor husbands. Maori navigators are known to have traveled these waters for centuries. 

05 Feb 2017

Benchmarks: January 31, 1961: Ham the chimpanzee, first hominid in space

Early on the morning of Jan. 31, 1961, a chimpanzee named Ham, outfitted in a diaper, waterproof pants and a space suit, was sealed into a capsule and loaded onto a Mercury-Redstone 2 spacecraft in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Six hours later, Ham the Chimp, named after Holloman Aeromedical Research Laboratory at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, N.M., where he was trained, became the first hominid to travel into space.

31 Jan 2017

Geomedia: Music: The sounds of the sea

At the ocean’s edge, the crash of waves against the shore is a familiar sound. It might be rhythmic, but it’s not particularly melodious. There are, however, a few spots around the world where the tides, waves and wind make actual music, thanks to acoustic man-made structures that use the movements of seawater to produce sound. Currently, three of these so-called tidal organs have been built, one each in Croatia, England and the United States.

13 Jan 2017

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