Weird science facts, April 25-May 8

The Twitter #weirdscifacts from April 25 – May 8 are below the fold!

43. Apr 25:  The 1917 Halifax munitions ship blast (2.9 ktons) reportedly blew a number of people over a mile away, relatively unharmed! (source: Laura M. Mac Donald’s “Curse of the Narrows”, pp. 64-65.)  It is thought that they were launched horizontally by the blast wave, which outpaced them and reflected vertically on the surrounding hills, providing an updraft that gently lowered them to earth (albeit without most of their clothes).  The story of the Halifax disaster is amazing and horrifying — consider that the Hiroshima atomic bomb was a 13 kton explosion.

44. Apr 26: Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695) attempted to build an internal combustion engine using gunpowder (though he didn’t succeed).

45. Apr 27: Michael Faraday (1791-1867) wrote a letter to the London Times complaining about the foul condition of the Thames River.

46. Apr 28: Albert Michelson (1852-1931) was stung on the tongue by a bee just before meeting the German Kaiser (swearing was involved). From Dorothy Livingston Michelson’s biography of her father.

47. Apr 29: W.L. Bragg is the youngest Nobel laureate, winning the prize in 1915 at age 25.

48. Apr 30: Only one man of 30k survived in city of St. Pierre proper when volcano Mt. Pelee erupted in 1902 (he was in a prison cell). The town was destroyed almost instantaneously by a pyroclastic flow, which suffocated and burned almost everyone within.  Auguste Ciparis was a prisoner in a small cell with a single tiny window.  This cell protected him from the brunt of the blast, though he was still very badly burned.  One other man survived on the outskirts of the city, and a girl survived because she fled by boat ahead of the eruption.  Ciparis ended up touring with Barnum & Bailey circus because of his fame.

49. May 01: Sulfur hexafluoride is a gas heavy enough to hold in a fishtank and float an aluminum foil “boat” in.

50. May 02: 1903 Chemistry Nobel winner Arrhenius published a 1918 fanciful “scientific” speculation of life & atmosphere of Venus. Arrhenius’ book is titled The Destinies of the Stars, and includes some… mildly inaccurate impressions of the climate on Venus.  Arrhenius suggests that the average temperature is about 100° F, only low by about 800 degrees!  Ironically, Venus is so hot because of the greenhouse effect, which was first postulated by Arrhenius himself.

51. May 03: Mathematician Fourier (1768-1830) accompanied Napoleon on his trip to Egypt and was made an administrator of Lower Egypt. Fourier apparently gained many of his appointments and political power due to his early support of the French Revolution; he became friends with Napoleon and benefited from the connection.

52. May 04: In 1768, famed explorer James Cook traveled to Tahiti in large part to observe Venus and measure the Earth-Venus distance. Cook’s name is almost synonymous with exploration; it is rather surprising to note that his first trip was, in essence, primarily a scientific one.  He was also traveling to test new theories of how to prevent scurvy in sailors on long ocean voyages.

53. May 05: P. Zeeman (1865-1943) published a paper on the Aurora borealis in Nature — while still in high school.

54. May 06: A.A. Michelson (1852-1931) was subjected to a blackmail attempt by a maid who accused him of (in essence) sexual harassment. This also comes from Dorothy Livingston Michelson’s biography of her father.  Apparently the maid attempted to blackmail Michelson, who promptly notified the authorities.  Before things were done, though, the authorities actually arrested Michelson on the word of his blackmailer, though he was eventually completely exonerated.

55. May 07: Optical scientist Thomas Young (1773-1829) worked on translating the Rosetta Stone, making progress before Champollion. There is some debate as to how useful Young’s contributions to the understanding of hieroglyphics actually were!

56. May 08: Only 4 people were present the first time Christian Doppler (1803-1853) read his famous paper to a scientific society. My thesis advisor first learned of this fact, and likes to share it with his students — even if nobody shows up to your first graduate talk, that doesn’t mean your work won’t eventually have an impact!

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