Category Archives: History

April 12: A Day in Space

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

April 12 is an important day in history, as least when it comes to space. There were 3 big space related events that all happened on the same day in different years.  The brilliant astronomer Galileo Galilei was convicted of heresy by the Catholic Church for saying the solar system is heliocentric, a.k.a. the Earth revolved around the Sun.  This meant that he was saying that the Earth was not the center of the universe, which was in direct contradiction to what the church believed.  The second big event was sending a human into space.  Yuri Gagarin was the first man (and human) ever to go into space.  And finally, the first NASA space shuttle was launched into space on April 12.

GALILEO

Galileo Galilei

In 1616, Galileo was called in by the Inquisition, not really to question what he was studying with his telescope, but to give him a warning. They were probably restating that the Catholic Church believed that the earth was the center of the universe, and that to state otherwise would get him in trouble.  He was allowed to continue to research, but not to publicly talk or publish about his heliocentric theory that was originated by Nicolaus Copernicus. However, in 1632, he published Dialogue on the Two World Systems, which compared the theory of earth-centric and heliocentric cosmological systems by three different scientists: one for an earth-centric cosmos, one for a heliocentric one and a third who was neutral. The side representing the sun-centered theory came out looking better and the Pope was not pleased.  On April 12 in 1633, Galileo was called in by the Holy Office so that he could be questioned with the hope that he would admit his guilt of heresy, but he never did.  He did confess that he was practicing his public speaking skills and perhaps went a little too far. In May, he was convicted of a strong suspicion of heresy, a lesser charge since he had made no confession.  Luckily for him, being such a public figure made it harder for more aggressive questioning by the Inquisition, as did his age and health.  Ultimately, his book was banned and he was sentenced to prison at home for the rest of his life.  Galileo’s science outlasted the Inquisition and we now recognize him as a famous scientist who helped make the theory that the earth revolved around the sun a scientific fact.

First Human in Space

Yuri Gagarin

In 1961, Yuri Gagarin was the first human to fly into space and orbit the earth aboard the Sputnik 1 (of course, less than a month later, the US sent up Alan Shepard).  Gagarin was a good choice for the USSR, being a test pilot and an industrial engineer.  The flight was eighty-nine minutes long, and reached an altitude of 187 miles.  According to history, he only made one communication with the ground control in Russia, stating that the flight was proceeding normally and that he was well.  He became an instant celebrity, just like Lindbergh was after he flew from New York to Paris.  He was given honors and streets were named after him all over Russia. The designer of the rocket was sent by Russia to Germany to study the V2 rocket the Nazis were using.  The United States captured the designer of the rocket, Wernher von Braun, but the Soviets captured paperwork and designs. And thus the Space Race began.

NASA Reaches Space

Space Shuttle Columbia

On April, 12, 1981, the Space Shuttle Columbia shot into orbit from the Kennedy Space Center.  It was the first space shuttle in history. The space shuttle was different from a rocket in that it landed like a plane instead of on the water, and it was the first reusable spacecraft.  It carried quite a few astronauts to space.  In February 2003, the Columbia burned up during re-entry over Texas in February 2003.  They found that a piece of foam insulation had broken off from one of the tanks and damaged the shuttle’s left wing.  That became part of the safety check in all future flights.  It made twenty-eight missions and was in space a little over 300 days.  Space shuttle Atlantis was the last shuttle to fly, landing in 2011.  For eight years, we have been ride sharing into space.  New frontiers are on the horizon from NASA or private companies.  It will be interesting to see what unfolds.

If you find this interesting, we’ll continue exploring the universe and space during our annual Summer Reading Program for Grown-Ups.  Take a look at some of our special events this summer:

  • An astronomy petting zoo on Thursday, May 23 – have you ever wanted to buy a telescope but didn’t know which one to get?  Come to his program and  narrow down your choices
  • On Tuesday, May 28, learn how real astronomy has found 13 astrological symbols.
  • On Saturday, June 15 we’ll be having a film festival of some of the best movies about space.  Stay tuned for titles!
  • On Saturday, July 20, we’ll be making a day of commemorating the 50th anniversary of NASA’s moon landing.  Movies, refreshments, lectures and more!!
  • On Tuesday, July 23, we’re offering a program about all the inventions NASA created for the space program that we use almost every day!
  • On Monday, July 15, come hear about how people in history used the stars and constellations.

Sources:

Advertisements

Women in Space and Their Firsts

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Valentina Tereshkova

This year marks the 50th anniversary of NASA’s moon landing.  As we start looking at the last fifty years of space exploration, we also want to celebrate the history of women in space as well.  According to NASA, by 2017 a total of 59 different women, including cosmonauts, astronauts, payload specialists, and foreign nationals, have flown in space. And seeing as history has recently provided us with a new first for women in space, let’s take a look at some of the previous ones. Granted, the history of women in space only reaches 50 years if we add in the accomplishments of the Soviet Union.

The first woman is space was a Russian.  Valentina Tereshkova was the pilot of the Vostok 6 on June 16, 1963 and she was 26 at the time of her flight.  She orbited the earth 48 times and manually brought the shop out of orbit.  She had been a textile worker and loved skydiving, which definitely helped her since the capsule was propelled into space by an intercontinental ballistic missile. (!)  And after returning to earth atmosphere, she ejected herself from the capsule and came down to earth using a parachute (her own parachute.)   Wow!

Sally Ride

Sally Ride became the first woman (and pilot) for the United States to fly in space. She chose space over a professional tennis career and went to space during space shuttle Challenger’s inaugural mission in 1983.  That’s a long time to wait for a woman to go to space!  Thankfully, Sally Ride was up to the challenge.

In 1984, Svetlana Savistkaya, was the first female to perform a spacewalk. She spent almost 4 hours cutting and welding metals outside the Salyut 7 space station.  She had a second record as well—this was her second mission, making her the first woman to go to space twice.

Mae Jemison was the first African American woman to go to space.  She had completed her medical degree and applied to NASA in 1983 and was asked to join in 1987, after serving in the Peace Corps.  She flew in 1992, working on bone cell research in space. She also holds 9 honorary doctorates!

Mae Jemison

Helen Patricia Sharman was the first woman to fly in space as a result of a newspaper ad for “Astronaut wanted – no experience necessary,” as well as the first British astronaut. The advertisement was for a private space programme called Project Juno, where a consortium was formed to raise money to pat the Soviet Union for a seat on a mission.  She stayed a week at Russia’s space station Mir in 1991.  She was also the first non-American, non-Soviet astronaut.

Chiaki Mukai, a physician, became the first Japanese woman to enter space as an astronaut with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency.  She had two trips, in 1994 and 1998, which made her the first Japanese woman to travel to space twice; she also helped support the deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Eileen Collins, a New York native, was a pilot at Vance Air Force Base before being assigned to the US Air Force Academy. In 1990, she was selected by NASA to become an astronaut, and became the first female Shuttle Pilot in 1995 on a mission that involved a rendezvous between Discovery and the Russian space station Mir.  She went on to become the first female commander of a US Spacecraft with Shuttle mission. She retired in 2006 after having completed four missions.

Chiaki Mukai

Anousheh Ansari is an Iranian-born American who had a background in aeronautical engineering and computer science.  She was able to train as a backup for the first spaceflight mission to the International Space Station (ISS), which was headed up by a private company.  In 2006, she was elevated to the prime crew, making her the first female space tourist.  She hopes to inspire everyone – especially young people, women, and young girls all over the world, and in Middle Eastern countries that do not provide women with the same opportunities as men – to not give up their dreams and to pursue them.

Karen Nyberg’s second mission was on the 50th anniversary of Valentina Tereskova’s first mission (2013).  Karen is considered the first American mother in space—(perhaps that might be mother of young children?) She is also training in deep-sea training and simulation exercise at the Aquarius underwater laboratory which hopes to prepare astronauts for missions to the moon and Mars.

Anousheh Ansari

Samantha Cristoforetti went to space in 2014 and returned to earth in 2015 and so is the most recent woman to have returned from space. She has a number of firsts, which is perfect for this list.  She is she the first Italian woman to have entered space as a part of the Futura mission to ISS. She also holds the record for longest single space flight by a woman–199 days and 16 hours–and the record for the longest uninterrupted flight by a European astronaut.

And finally, for the first time in history, an all female crew will perform a spacewalk at the International Space Station.  The crew will consist of astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch who will complete the walk on March 29, lead flight controller Jackie Kagey, and lead flight director Mary Lawrence.

P.S. – This year our Summer Reading Program theme is “A Universe of Stories” and we will be having programs about space, including movies and guest speakers and so much more.  Stay Tuned!!!


Further Reading:

  • Almost heaven: the story of women in space by Bettyann Holtzmann Kevles (629.45 KEV)
  • Galaxy girls: 50 amazing stories of women in space by Libby Jackson (YA 629.450092 JAC)
  • Hidden figures: the American dream and the untold story of the Black women mathematicians who helped win the space race by Margot Lee Shetterly (510.9252 SHE)
  • Rise of the rocket girls: the women who propelled us, from missiles to the moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt (269.4072 HOL)
  • Rocket girl: the story of Mary Sherman Morgan, America’s first female rocket scientist by George D. Morgan (B MORGAN)
  • The glass universe: how the ladies of the Harvard Observatory took the measure of the stars by Dava Sobel (522.1974 SOB)
  • When we left Earth: the NASA missions (DVD 629.45 WHE)
  • The Mercury 13: the untold story of thirteen American women and the dream of space flight by  Martha Ackmann (629.45 ACK)

Sources:

Quiet Heroism: the Legacy of Miep Gies, World War II Resister

By Shannon Owens, Reference Department

What constitutes a hero? Slaying dragons? Pulling children from burning buildings? Wheeling and dealing like James Bond to save the world from certain disaster? Certainly such dynamic situations come to mind immediately. There’s a particular brand of heroism, though, that is far less talked about and sadly, nearly always underrated: The quiet kind. The type of heroism that involves doing the right thing when nobody is watching. The type of heroism that may never be recognized and rarely offers the hero any personal benefit. The type of heroism that, if discovered, would spell certain death for the perpetrator.

Miep Gies, October 1980

Eight years ago on this day, we saw the final light extinguished from one such individual. At 100 years old, Miep Gies, the last living member of a small group that hid Anne Frank, passed away in the Netherlands. It’s difficult to overstate the courage it took this group (including Johannes Kleinman, Victor Kugler, Bep Voskuijl, Jan Gies and Johan Voskuijl) who risked their lives every day for over two years while the Franks were in hiding. The Frank family, along with Otto Frank’s business associate and his wife and son, and Gies’ dentist, were hidden in the Secret Annex.

Miep Gies was born on February 15, 1909 in Vienna, Austria to a working-class, Catholic family. At the age of eleven, several factors (recovery from tuberculosis, poor nutrition, rising costs of food due to shortages related to the fallout of World War I) led to Gies being sent to live in Amsterdam with a foster family. Despite the family’s modest income, coupled with five other children, Gies was loved and treated with unending compassion. In fact, she loved the Netherlands with absolute ferocity; she vowed to make Holland her permanent home.  In 1933, Miep went to work as secretary for Otto Frank, who ran a company that produced a substance used to make jam.

In May 1940, German forces invaded the Netherlands, making daily life exceedingly dangerous for the Jewish population.  In early July, the Frank family went into hiding in the attic apartment behind Otto’s business (accessible by a stairway hidden behind a bookcase). Miep’s moral integrity was the reason, when asked by Otto Frank if she was prepared to be responsible for a family in hiding, she was able to respond with a resounding affirmative. At a lecture in 1994, Gies addressed the audience: “I myself am just an ordinary woman. I simply had no choice…it is our human duty to help those who are in trouble…I could foresee many, many sleepless nights and a miserable life if I had refused to help the Franks. Yes, I have wept countless times when I thought of my dear friends. But still, I am happy that these are not tears of remorse for refusing to assist those in trouble.”

Floor Plans for the Secret Annex

Over two years, Miep provided food, clothing, books, supplies, and news from the outside world to the Frank family (this included procuring additional ration cards, at great personal risk). On August 4, 1944, Miep Gies was working at her desk, and looked up to suddenly find a Gestapo officer in front of her, with information verifying the hideout. Gies realized the arresting officer was Austrian, like herself, and she pointed this out, which very likely saved her life. The officer arrested the Franks, the Van Pels, Dr. Pfeffer, Johannes Kleinman, and Victor Kugler. After a time, Miep and Bep returned to the Annex to collect the loose papers and the contents of Anne’s diary (they hid these away for safekeeping without reading them).

Acting with surefire moxie, Miep hatched a plan to negotiate for the release of the Franks. She collected money from the employees of the company and went to the headquarters of Security Service to offer a bribe. At the office, she met the Austrian who had arrested those at the Annex and he waved her upstairs. She reached the landing, found a half open door, and walked in to a startling sight: a group of high ranking Nazi officers were surrounding a radio, listening to a BBC broadcast. Likely, they were too shocked to see her standing there to react, giving her time to hightail it out of Dodge before they could arrest her (and likely execute her as well).

After the war, Miep was devastated to learn that all of her friends, excepting Otto, had perished. She gave Anne’s diary to her father, telling him that it was the lasting legacy of his youngest daughter. To this point, Miep had not read the contents of the diary, and was relieved. If she had read the diary, she surely would have had to destroy it since it implicated all of the conspirators who safeguarded the Franks and their friends for years. Miep received several awards late in life, including the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Yad Vashem Medal and the Wallenberg Medal. In 1987, Gies published her memoir: “Anne Frank Remembered”. Here, she makes several comments referencing her legacy as a hero, maintaining that she only did what any decent human would: “I am not a hero. I stand at the end of the long, long line of good Dutch people who did what I did and more- much more- during those dark and terrible times years ago, but always like yesterday in the heart of those who bear witness. Never a day goes by that I do not think of what happened then.”

Many of us believe that if we found ourselves in a similar situation, we would act as Miep did. The reality is probably a little more complicated than that. Miep Gies stated over and over that she was no hero. I disagree emphatically: her actions gave hope where there was little, showed humanity in a time when humanity was utterly depleted, and showed strength, will, and belief in all that is good and that connects us to others. It is hard to find more heroism than that.

 


Sources:

Winter Solstice

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Winter Solstice Art

We all know that Christmas is on December 25, but do you know why?  It wasn’t necessarily because it was the date of the birth of Jesus (most biblical scholars think he was born in March, BTW).  The pagan winter solstice observances were bigger and more wide-spread, more popular and considered more important to most non-Christian cultures.  The Catholic church wanted to promote Christianity (and get rid of pagan religions) so the celebration of Christ’s Mass was chosen to be on December 25 and promoted as the birth of Christ.

The “sol” in Solstice is Latin for sun and the “stice” part comes from the Latin verb for standing still. We, in the modern age know about the solstices that happen twice a year and the equinoxes that occur twice a year as well (the equinoxes are when day and night are equal in length, which is what equinox means in Latin).  Cultures from the past weren’t aware of the reason for this phenomenon and so it took on a religious meaning.  The nights got longer and the days got shorter.  The longer nights got colder, generally, and plants died in the cold and dark.  Is it any wonder that older cultures created ceremonies to bring back the sun and the warmth and the growing season?  The northern pagans burned huge logs that last the midwinter celebrations, sometimes even saving a small last bit of the Yule log to burn in the next winter’s fire.  The ashes of the fire on the longest night became so special many claimed it had healing properties.  The livestock, cattle, pigs, chickens and other animals were often slaughtered around this time—they often would not make it through the harsh winter and much of the meat was preserved in salt. They had huge meals; sometimes it was the last of the vegetables as well as the meats, to celebrate the return of the sun.  Often the winter months brought famine to some parts of Europe.

A little history…

Saturnalia (1783) by Antoine Callet, showing his interpretation of what the Saturnalia might have looked like

Saturnalia was a Roman holiday, a festival that started off somber but became more and more raucous. In Scandinavia this festival was called Jul or Yule. The huge log burned to keep the long night lit became the Yule log.  (And in a roundabout way we now have a fabulous holiday desert called the Buc de Noel, which is shaped like a log.  It is made from chocolate cake, often decorated with marzipan mushrooms and covered in chocolate sauce.  Very decadent and it has been around for hundreds of years.)  Saturnalia was replaced with Christmas by the Catholic Church, to make it less pagan and to make it more solemn.  It took centuries, but Christmas eventually became so raucous that it was outlawed in the new world of America.

Another rival to Christmas was the celebration of the birth of Mithra, a sun god whose birth was celebrated by Romans all over the empire on December 25. Emperor Aurelian established December 25 as the birthday of the “Invincible Sun” or Mithra in the third century as part of the Roman Winter Solstice celebrations. In 273, the Christian church selected this day to represent the birthday of Jesus, and by 336, this Roman feast day was Christianized.

In Scandinavia, Yule is celebrated when the dark half of the year starts to get shorter  and the days start lasting a little longer.  The sun’s rebirth was celebrated with much joy. From this day forward, the days would become longer. Bonfires were lit in the fields, and crops and trees were wished good health with toasts of spiced cider.   The ceremonial Yule log was the highlight of the Solstice festival. In accordance to tradition, the log must either have been harvested from the householder’s land, or given as a gift… it must never have been bought. Once dragged into the house and placed in the fireplace it was decorated in seasonal greenery, doused with cider or ale, and dusted with flour before set ablaze by a piece of last year’s log.

Mistletoe

Caroling, wassailing the trees, burning the Yule log, decorating the Yule tree, exchanging of presents, kissing under the mistletoe were all activities that are still part of our Christmas traditions that came from celebrating the solstice.  Even the foods that we associate with solstice celebrations are similar.  Cider, spiced cider, ginger tea, eggnog, fall fruits and other spiced breads and cookies.

Interested in celebrating the solstice?  Try some of these ideas to start your own traditions of celebrating the rebirth of the sun.

  • Many people make a winter solstice tree by hanging food to feed the animals when their food supplies have become scarce on the winter solstice.
  • Make sun and or star ornaments to hang on your Christmas Tree to symbolize the return of the sun’s light.
  • Some people celebrate by staying up all night on the night of the solstice to be awake to welcome back the light.
  • Many people choose to not use electricity on the night of the solstice and instead enjoy the darkest night of the year by candlelight. Some people carry this tradition through to Christmas Eve.  Consider inviting friends and family over for a candlelight feast!
  • Eat, drink, and be merry! You can find recipes for wassail online, either spiked or unspiked to serve with your meal.
  • You could burn a bigger log than normal in the fire place.  You can also find a Yule Log online and watch it burn on your computer.  There are even videos you could purchase to have a crackling fire on cold winter nights.
  • Yule Log by Nigella.

    If you don’t have one, consider making a cake Yule Log.  The Buche de Noel is stunning and delicious.  Try some of these recipes:

  • Consider writing down everything that you would like to release or change in the new year onto scraps of paper, then throw them in the fire or burn them carefully in a safe container.
  • You could also write down your intentions for the new year, similar to a resolution.

And just to throw this in, in the southern hemisphere, they celebrate the summer solstice.  Here are some of the things they do that you might want to incorporate in the summer or the winter.

In the past, people in the Southern hemisphere celebrated renewal, life, fertility, and the potential for a good harvest on the summer solstice.  Today, many people often celebrate the arrival of summer with outdoor feasts, singing, dancing, and bonfires.  You might want to bathe in sunlight; make a flower wreath to wear; start a garden or spend time tending your garden and celebrate rebirth and renewal; visit a local farm, have a festival and feast; throw a bonfire and dance; do yoga or meditation; get outside and connect with nature.

In other countries there are many traditions to celebrate the solstice.  Here are a few of the most interesting.  Revelers come to Hollabrunn, Austria to watch people dressed up like Krampus scare the crowd.  They dress to look like Krampus and carry soft whips that they use on the crowds.  Doesn’t sound like fun to me, though.

In Japan, they like to soak in hot baths outside with fruits tossed into the water that are believed to bring good health.  Often the zoos do the same thing for the animals (those that like water, that is.)  The macaques and hippos sure do like it!

In Korea, the meal to eat is red bean porridge.  It’s believed to keep the evil spirits away.


Further Reading:

  • Winter solstice by Rosemund Pilcher (F PIL)
  • Winter solstice by Elin Hildenbrand (F HIL)
  • Krampus: the Yule lord by Brom (F BRA)

Sources:

Grandfather Frost

by Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden

The Russians got used to not celebrating Christmas during the Soviet years; they celebrated New Year’s Day just like we celebrate Christmas.  Luckily for them there was a legendary figure who fit the bill as a Santa Claus figure to help celebrate New Year, and now also Christmas.  He’s known as Grandfather Frost (definitely not to be confused with Frosty the Snowman).  In Russian, he’s called Ded Moroz, “d’ed” being Grandfather, “moroz” being frost.  He is often accompanied by his granddaughter, the Snow Maiden.  In Russian Snegurochka (just FIY – sneg is the Russian word for snow.)  And truly these are not modern figures made to help celebrate (and sell) a modern Christmas holiday.  They are ancient mythological figures.

Grandfather Frost predates Christianity.  In the pagan days, before the Russian tsar sent out envoys to compare the various religions in the area and chose the Greek Orthodox Church (choosing to differentiate their own version as Russian Orthodox), the peasants worshiped nature.  Frost and snow were very important in their lives, so they made a name for the frost lord.  He is a winter wizard who brought the frost and snow and he could be helpful if treated nicely, but vindictive if treated badly. Winter was a powerful figure in Russia; just look at what happened to both Napoleon and Hitler…

Troika

Frost is considered to be around 2,500 years old.  He usually wears a long red wool or fur robe and boots, but no belt.  He has a long bushy beard and sometimes wears a wreath of holly and sometimes a hat similar to our Santa Claus.  He has also been shown wearing a crown.  And he has powers.  He often carries a staff which he might use for magic spells and to help him walk through the snow drifts.  He doesn’t travel down chimneys either, he comes in through the front door.  He travels around in a troika; that’s a carriage driven by three horses (troika means three in Russian…). Even though there are caribou in some parts of Russia, they are not widespread enough for the legend of flying reindeer.  Though his troikas have been known to fly as well.

In 2002, a tradition was started between Finland and Russia where Father Christmas (or Santa Claus) crossed the border to greet Ded Moroz.  They hand out gifts to all, the crowd of children dance and then they all go inside and have fun.  We know that this Santa Summit was still taking place in 2016. Perhaps it still is.

The Snow Maiden is not as old a character as Grandfather Frost.  She first appeared in a collection of folktales published in the 1860s by Alexander Afanasyev.  He eventually collected three volumes of Russian folktales.  No one knows if the story of the snow maiden goes back further, though, since he was the first to collect the stories.  In her tale, she longs to be able to love her foster parents but has no heart since she is made of snow.  She is granted a heart by her mother and father but melts away as she joins other children jumping over the fire.  Grandfather Frost is considered her grandfather and the two of them bring joy and beauty to the snowy Russian winter.

Ded Moroz house in Veliky Ustyug

In 1998, the Moscow Mayor proposed to officially make Veliky Ustyug the residence of Ded Moroz,   The residence, which is a resort promoted as his estate, is a major tourist attraction.  The town also has a post office there that answers children’s mail to Ded Moroz.  Between 2003 and 2010, the post office in Veliky Ustyug received nearly 2,000,000 letters from all over Russia and worldwide.  On January 7, 2008, Vladimir Putin visited the estate for the Russian Orthodox Christmas Eve celebration.

Santa Claus made some inroads in Russia during the 1990s, but Russia’s resurgence has brought a renewed emphasis on the basic Slavic character of Ded Moroz.  The Russian Federation has even sponsored classes about Ded Moroz every December. People playing Ded Moroz and Snegurochka now typically make appearances at children’s parties during the winter holiday season, distributing presents and fighting off the wicked witch, Baba Yaga, who children are told wants to steal their gifts.

In November and December 2010, Ded Moroz was even one of the candidates in the running for consideration as a mascot for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

 


Further Reading:
Read the rest of this entry

The Wacky World(s) of Quantum Theory

by Howard Shirley, Teen Department

“If you’re not shocked by quantum theory, you haven’t understood it.”—Niels Bohr, winner of the 1922 Nobel Prize in Physics.

“I think I can safely say nobody understands quantum mechanics.”—Richard Feynman, winner of the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics

The Universe is weird. And the closer you look, the weirder it gets.

How weird you say?

Well according to quantum theory:

  • We know stuff cannot appear out of nothing (The Law of Conservation of Matter and Energy), but stuff appears out of nothing all the time, but disappears before there is any time for it to be here, so it doesn’t violate the previous law.
  • A pure vacuum, empty of all matter, isn’t actually empty (see the above).
  • A thing in one place can be changed, and it instantly changes an identical thing in another place, no matter how far apart they are.
  • Things can move from one location to another without going through the space in between.
  • Things don’t exist as things in specific places but as the possibility of things in different places at once, until you look at them.

Now, all of that is about things that are very, very tiny (add a lot more “very, veries” to that). Things like electrons and photons and all the things that make up all the matter and energy in our Universe. But it’s also therefore about all the big things too—like stars and planets and black holes and even you and me.

Which means that all that little weirdness has some weird implications for the big things, like:

  • We might be living in a massive simulation, like a virtual world in a computer (don’t take the red pill!).
  • Nothing might exist unless someone observes it.
  • OR, everything might exist in all possible combinations of all possible events, all at the same time, but we only experience (and observe) one progression of these (while, presumably, infinite other “us”-es experience all the other versions).
  • We (and everything else) are all just parts of one big energy field that “ripples” back and forth through time.
  • We could exist alongside a completely invisible, undetectable world with invisible, undetectable living beings, all made out of “dark matter” and “dark energy.”

And none of the above is just another over-the-top Hollywood movie. It’s serious science, all stemming from the basics of quantum theory. And, yes, quantum theory isn’t just wild speculation, but one of the most robustly established concepts in modern science, going back to 1900, proven again and again by experimentation and practical application (you’re looking at one of those applications right now as you use an electronic device to read this blog; if quantum theory were wrong, your electronic device wouldn’t work).

Light photographed as both a particle and a wave by Fabrizio Carbone.

Quantum theory is based on the concept that energy, like matter, is divisible and isolatable into definable, self-contained bits, or quanta. Think of it as a long band of light, seen from a distance. The light looks like one continuous bar. But as you get closer, you can see that the bar is instead made of individual lights separated by gaps. We will call these lights “photons.” Each light in our analogy represents a single “packet” or “quanta” of energy, which cannot be any smaller, but is very much separated from each of the other photons, like particles. That may not be confusing, but what is confusing is that these photons behave both as if they each are individual particles and as if they each are also a continuous wave of energy, like our distant band of light. And if you observe them in one way, they will appear to be particles and not waves, and if you observe them in another way, they will appear to be waves and not particles. They are neither, and they are both, at the same time. And it is from this bit of weirdness that all the other weirdness of the quantum world arises.

It’s heady stuff, but it’s also a lot of fun. If you’re intrigued, come in and search for some of our titles on quantum physics. And don’t worry—they’re written for the layman to understand. So you don’t have to be either Niels Bohr or Richard Feynman to appreciate all that weirdness (but you probably will still be shocked).

*Howard Shirley is the Teen Library Assistant. And no, he doesn’t claim to understand quantum theory, but still enjoys being shocked by it.*

Sources:

  • Rocket Science for the Rest of Us by Ben Gilliland (YA 520 GIL)
  • Quantifying Matter by Joseph A. Angelo, Jr. (YA 530 ANG)
  • The New Encyclopedia of Science: 1 Matter and Energy by John O.E. Clark (YA 503 NEW vol.1)

The One and Only Flight of the Spruce Goose

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

On November 2, 1947 the Hughes H-4 Hercules drifted out of its hanger in Long Beach Harbor at the end of a tow rope pulled by a small boat. The authorities had cleared the water so the massive flying boat could do some taxi tests. Hughes, taking a break from congressional testimony over his government contracts (including the $18 million one for the H-4), decided it was time to get the massive plane out and see how she handled on the water. He invited the press and even the members of the committee he was testifying in front of. The politicos didn’t show, but the press did. The first run was a leisurely 40 knots, the second a much more brisk 90 knots. The plane lined up for a third run; Howard Hughes himself at the controls. The eight propellers spun up to speed. The plane lurched forward. Speed increased, and increased, and increased, and then it happened. The eight story tall Hercules took to the air.

To understand what a momentous event this was you need to understand three factors; the times, the plane, and the man.

The Time:

The early days of America’s involvement in the Second World War were costly, and America hadn’t even declared itself at war. Tons of ships and materials were being sent to the bottom of the Atlantic every month by German U-boats. We needed a way to move a lot of cargo weight a great distance, and to do it quickly. While the ship building industry began to ramp up production to an unequaled pace, some people looked to the skies to transport more. Seaplanes were used far more prevalently than they are now and were far from being a primarily private aviation phenomenon. Military and commercial carriers had sizable seaplanes, carrying upwards of seventy people.

The Man:

Howard Hughes was a man who thought big. He was brash and arrogant, but also pioneering and adventurous. He was born into privilege, but longed for meaning. He sought that in everything from business, to engineering, to Hollywood to flight. He had the arms of the most beautiful women in the world and the envy of the masses, but he longed for the respect of the powerful.

The Plane:

At the intersection of America’s need and Hughes’ ego was the Hercules. The largest seaplane ever built. A wooden gamble for the Hughes Aircraft Company. A five year project that cost millions of dollars, personal relationships, and congressional intervention.

The call for a new seaplane went out and amongst the bidders was an audacious project. A plane that could carry multiple tanks, hundreds of troops or huge amounts of supplies. It was so crazy it took Hughes himself to sell the project. By this time it was 1942 and the United States was no longer a sideline player in World War Two. This new design of Hughes’s could revolutionize troop deployment and materiel transport. Best of all, it would be easy on the precious commodities of metal and rubber. The Hughes H-4 Hercules would be made of wood. The press thought it was a huge mistake. The Flying Lumberyard and The Spruce Goose were the mocking names the media gave to what they saw as a colossal waste of money and time. Hughes hated the derisive nicknames, especially the Spruce Goose (especially because it was made mostly of birch).  

It wasn’t actually Hughes’s brainchild alone. Henry J. Kaiser, a builder of Liberty Ships, came up with the initial idea of a flying cargo ship.  Kaiser knew very well that he knew more about hydrodynamics than aerodynamics and that to pull off his enormous plan he would need to get an aircraft builder to help. Hughes was just the man. The problems began to pile up almost immediately. Building a plane mostly from wood solved some of the problem but there were still restrictions on strategic wartime materials like aluminum. The other problem was the partnership. Kaiser was from an industry that ran its production up to unheard of levels during the war. Hughes insisted on perfection over punctuality. The frustrations caused Kaiser to pull his support from the project and caused a rift between the two men from then on. It took sixteen months to go from approval to production start.

Five years after the initial approval, in 1947, Hughes still hadn’t gotten his magnum opus off the ground. The Senate Investigating Committee was looking into the project with a very skeptical eye. The war it was supposed to have helped fight had been over for more than two years. Hughes vowed to the committee that he would prove the plane was not a failure or he would “probably leave this country and never come back.” He left the hearings during a recess, went home and flew the plane on what was supposed to have been a taxi test. It reaches an altitude of seventy feet and was aloft for a single mile. This was all Hughes needed to feel that he had vindicated himself. The plane was moved back to its hanger, kept air ready by a crew of 300 employees, then cut to 50 in 1962 and finally just left in its hanger in 1976 after Hughes died.

The plane remains. You could go and see it in Long Beach, California for many years as it passed from one hand to the next several years until it was finally moved to its current home at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in Oregon. It’s on display for all to come and marvel at the folly and the genius and the audacity of one man’s need to be better than everybody else, and it still has the largest wingspan ever created.


Sources:

  • Biplanes, Triplanes and Seaplanes, Sharpe, Michael YA 629.13334 SHA
  • Flight 100 Years of Aviation, Grant, R.G. 629.13009 GRA
  • Howard Hughes His Life and Madness, Bartlett, Donald and Steele, James B Hughes
  • Howard Hughes The Secret Life, Higham, Charles B Hughes
  • Jane’s Encylopedia of Aviation, Taylor, Michael J. H. ed., R 629.13 JAN
  • The Timechart History of Aviation, Lowe & B. Hould Publishers, 629.13009 TIM
  • Time Magazine (Vol. 50 No. 19) November 10 1947 p27
  • Hughes H-4 Hercules (Spruce Goose) at Military Factory https://www.militaryfactory.com/aircraft/detail.asp?aircraft_id=349#specs

It’s the great TURNIP, Charlie Brown!

IMG_9370

Taken by Rebecca Tischler, Reference Librarian

By Rebecca Tischler, Reference Librarian

We all love It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, but were you aware that the first Jack O’Lanterns were carved out of turnips?

Did you know that the horrifying mask worn by Michael Myers in the Halloween movie was actually a William Shatner Star Trek mask?

Halloween is the second highest grossing commercial holiday after Christmas. The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts Halloween spending this year—including candy, costumes, and decorations—will hit $7.4 billion.   Candy will account for more than $2 billion of that amount and a quarter of all candy bought in the U.S. is for Halloween.

But what are the origins of this creepy holiday? Here’s what we do know about the history of Halloween: it wasn’t created by the Candy Companies, although they’ve certainly profited, nor was it created by the toilet paper companies (though I do wonder how much money they make with all the teepeeing).

The history of Halloween is a rather vague and confusing tale, mainly because no one can seem to agree on how Halloween evolved from a harvest pagan New Year celebration, to the candy gorging and anything goes costumes of today. One thing that everyone seems to agree on, even though there has never been a proven connection, is that modern Halloween begins with the Celtic festival of Samhain (although, they don’t know much about that either).

samhain_scarecrow_2_by_belisarius2930-d4es8y7Scholars are pretty sure that Samhain was an annual celebration of the end of the harvest months to honor the Celtic deities (as well little green leprechauns and tricky fairies). It was also a time to gather resources and slaughter livestock (or maybe they were sacrifices – who knows) in preparation for the upcoming winter months. Some say it was the Celtic New Year. It was also believed that this was the day that the veil between the dead and living was thinnest, and the dead could cross over. They would celebrate this day with bonfires, food laid out for the dead, and costumes to blend with the spirits. Strangely enough, they’re not sure whether these actions were to honor and welcome the dead or to ward off the visiting spirits. Either way, the dead were a big part of the pagan festival.

The second part of Halloween’s history that seems to be agreed on is the attempted Christianization of a pagan celebration. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III assigned the Christian feast, All Saints Day, to November 1, as a day was to honor all Christian saints and martyrs. It is generally believed that this edict was meant to cause All Saints Day to replace Samhain. However, instead of killing off the pagan traditions, these two celebrations combined to create All-Hallows Eve. The holiday was no longer about the Celtic deities, or about the Christian Saints. The previously celebrated supernatural creatures were now thought to be evil and the main focus of the holiday was about the wandering dead.

Bonaire_Holloween The third fact that seems to be agreed upon is that trick-or-treating came from another two practices that eventually combined. The first is “mumming”, a medieval practice where people would disguise themselves and go door-to-door asking for food in exchange for “tricks” (basically they were putting on shows and clowning around).  The second is the practice of leaving out food and offerings for the dead in order to gain favor with them, which is believed to be part of the original Samhain tradition. So basically, we give kids candy in exchange for entertainment, and to satisfy the little goblins that knock on our door.

 


Sources:

Columbus Day: A Study in Machiavellian Philosophy

By Shannon Owens, Reference Department

We can all recite the poem: “In fourteen hundred ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue”…I know, I know, I can see your eyes rolling from here.  Christopher Columbus, born in Genoa (like the salami) Italy, is frequently credited with “discovering” the New World (aka: The Americas). This is a rather dubious claim, given that Viking explorer, Leif Erikson, landed in Newfoundland and Labrador a good 500 years before Columbus went about destroying indigenous Caribbean culture (I digress). It’s impossible to say why Columbus remains ingrained in our history books and general psyche, whilst Erikson is relegated to a footnote, but I would hazard a guess here: American culture is profoundly impacted by Western European culture, whereas Nordic culture remains a mystery. It certainly wouldn’t be the only factor, but I imagine this is not insignificant.

Nevertheless, it’s worthwhile to take a closer look at the man who gives us parades, bank holidays, time off from work, and downright incredible retail sales (I’m eyeing a pair of gorgeous boots being sold at a fifty percent markdown as we speak, so kudos, Cristobol)! Mr. Columbus was a marine entrepreneur (read: seaman) who was obsessed with finding a western route to China, India, and the spice and gold islands of Asia.  Here’s where we run into another common misconception:  Lore suggests that the entire world thought the world was flat at this time and Columbus was the renegade willing to challenge this idea. Nearly all educated Europeans knew the Earth was round. This wasn’t even a recent revelation. Around the sixth century BC, Greek mathematician, Pythagoras, theorized that the Earth was round, and about two centuries later Aristotle concurred with his findings. So, no, Columbus’ crew was not terrified that they’d fall off the edge of the world (despite what Washington Irving would have you believe).

Columbus was barely successful finding anybody who would fund this venture. It took nearly a decade to find a backer (monarchies in England, Portugal, and France had all refused) and Spain was not an easy mark, either. In fact, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand had once declined before changing their minds in the eleventh hour.  Still, Columbus was granted his fleet and crew, comprised of three ships: the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria (two of which actually had different names…Spain was an extremely Catholic country and named all their ships after saints…Pinta was a nickname translated as  “the painted one” and the Nina was actually the Santa Clara). This joint venture could prove mutually beneficial: Isabella and Ferdinand could gain power while exporting Catholicism to locals and Columbus’ contract guaranteed him ten percent of any riches he found and a noble title.

On October 12th, the expedition reached land (probably Watling Island in the Bahamas). Later that month, Columbus sighted Cuba (which he thought was China) and finally in December, the expedition landed on Hispaniola (Columbus surmised that this must be Japan). Here, he established a settlement of 39 men, and went about his business, terrorizing the locals (the Taino people, though Columbus referred to them as Indians). In March of 1493, he left the settlement and returned to Spain. Nearly six months later, he returned to Hispaniola to find the settlement destroyed. To this day, nobody knows exactly what happened.  Columbus traveled island to island, and since he couldn’t seem to find the riches he had boasted of to his patrons, he sent Isabella 500 slaves instead. This was downright horrifying to the Queen, who believed these people were now Spanish citizens, and she swiftly rebuked Columbus for his monstrous actions.

Christopher Columbus landing in Santo Domingo

In 1498, Columbus embarked on his third journey to the New World. First, he visited Trinidad and then South America before returning to the settlement in Hispaniola (which he had left his two brothers in charge of this time).  Once again, it was decimated, but this time it was by the colonists themselves who had revolted against their leaders. It would seem that brutality and mismanagement run in the family.  Spain sent new governorship and Columbus returned to Europe in in chains, arrested for the goings on.  By 1502, Columbus had been cleared of most charges (although stripped of noble titles he had received previously) and the Spanish monarchy funded one last trip to the New World. It was an unmitigated disaster. Columbus made it all the way to Panama and then promptly abandoned four ships when they came under attack by natives. Columbus returned, bereft, to Spain, where he died in 1506.

It would seem that the man’s lasting legacy was one of abuse, brutality and ultimately, felony.  He enslaved locals and introduced diseases that decimated the remaining indigenous populations. Other European countries hopped on the colonial bandwagon, which created environment change along with the borderline theft of local natural resources. He is blamed, not unfairly, for biological warfare. Interestingly, the phrase “Columbian Exchange” is used by historians to describe the exchange of plants, animals, and goods between the East and West. On the other hand, advocates could make the point that his legacy underlines the importance and history of the Age of Exploration. It’s globalization in its earliest form. Obviously, his actions cannot all be discounted as negative. Perhaps his lasting legacy is a cautionary tale on the grandest scale.

 


Sources:

Jack London: The Traveling Outdoorsman

By Allan Cross, Reference Department

Jack London

It now seems intuitive that Jack London would dream of living in a rustic setting. As a journalist, writer, and public speaker, London knew both renown and controversy. His output established him as a man of adventure, who expressed his beliefs with drive and vehemence. On January 12, 1876, London was born John Griffith Chaney in San Francisco, California. His mother bore him out of wedlock and later changed his last name to that of his stepfather, John London, but from his earliest years, they referred to the boy as “Jack.”

The adolescent Jack London thrived on curiosity, which transcended the bounds of his blue-collar upbringing. Hours spent at libraries developed the young London’s mind, while instilling in him another desire: to travel. By the age of 17, he had gone on a sealing voyage in the Pacific. The trip was a professional catastrophe, but London and his shipmates returned home alive. The budding scribe jotted down his maritime story and used it to win a local writing contest. So began Jack London’s method of drawing themes from Mother Nature.

As he matured, London’s exploration only increased. After spending some time on the East Coast, he returned to California and attended UC Berkeley. London did not graduate, instead heading to the Yukon at the time of the Klondike Gold Rush. This period in Canada supplied material for his novel, The Call of the Wild.

Jack London’s cabin in the Yukon

After the success of Call of the Wild, London was in demand and had made a fair amount of money. His innate ruggedness led him to avoid urban life. Like Thoreau before him, London sought out a countryside retreat, finding one of his own in Sonoma County, California. Here he purchased a ranch and lived in a small cottage, while conceiving plans to build an estate, Wolf House, on the property.

Though he no longer stood destitute, London still identified with the problems of working people. He didn’t hide his leftist views. London gave many lectures critical of capitalism. He also penned combative works that took on the upper class. London stayed always a fighter for the underdog. He never lost interest in travel, going as a newspaperman to cover the Russo-Japanese War of 1904.

London married twice. He and his second wife, Charmian, once made a grand escape across the Pacific. Their destinations included Hawaii, Samoa, Fiji, and Australia. Unfortunately, London’s heavy drinking and extreme pursuits took their toll, forcing him to back off from seafaring. London returned to Sonoma County, where he resumed construction of Wolf House.

In the year 1913, an accidental fire destroyed the still incomplete Wolf House. London was aging fast and construction of the estate never restarted. The end of that dream disappointed him, but London’s intrepid fervor remained. He continued to explore, in spite of his doctors’ advice. Nature kept providing London with a foundation for stories, though at a growing personal cost.

Jack London’s gravesite

On November 22, 1916, Jack London passed away of kidney disease at the age of 40. His ranch has since become part of the Jack London State Historic Park. London’s cottage, a quantity of his belongings, and the shell of Wolf House remain preserved there. By reviewing London’s life, one might better understand the task of all writers: to hit upon the balance of careful refinement and unfettered inspiration.


Sources:

 

(All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

%d bloggers like this: