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Amusing Planet - Amazing Places, Wonderful People, Weird Stuff

Haystacks of Rishikesh  

Haystacks are often constructed around a central pole, or a tree. Bales of hay are loosely arranged around the central structure to prevent accumulation of moisture and promote drying. The pole or the tree provides stability. In the holy town of Rishikesh, in the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India, villagers build haystacks not around trees but on top of them. Rishikesh is one of the wettest places in northern India with a mean annual rainfall of over 2,100 mm. This means that the grou

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2019-12-12 16:09:00

The Hellfire Club And Caves  

Throughout history men have formed clandestine clubs where rich young aristocrats met and indulged in drunken orgies, gambling and carousing. But few clubs have attained so much notoriety as the Hellfire Clubs established in Britain and Ireland in the 18th century. The original Hellfire Club was founded in London in 1718 by the Duke of Wharton, a licentious character who was said to lead two lives—one a "man of letters" and the other "a drunkard, a rioter, an infidel and a rake." The c...

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2019-12-11 10:33:00

Machine de Marly  

Water features form an impressive part of the gardens in the Palace of Versailles in Paris. There are fountains, cascading waterfalls, calm pools and grand canals. Close to the palace, by the two water parterres are a series of sculptures depicting wild animals in fight—a lion conquering a wild boar, a tiger subduing a bear and a bloodhound bringing down a stag. From the mouth of each of these animals water gushes into a basin. The Dragon Fountain, which is actually a python, is one of the old...

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2019-12-09 16:14:00

The Unbelievably Delicate Marble Sculptures at Cappella Sansevero  

In the late 16th century, the Duke of Torremaggiore, Giovan Francesco di Sangro, after a miraculous recovery from a serious illness, erected a chapel to thank the Virgin Mary in the gardens of his family home in the heart of Naples, Italy. This chapel, called "Cappella Sansevero de' Sangri", is today home to some of the most extraordinary pieces of art by leading Italian artists from the 18th century. Among these, in the center of the nave, there is a reclining figure of Christ, covered ...

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2019-12-07 15:45:00

Khuk Khi Kai, The Chicken Poop Prison  

Chicken poop has a strong and suffocating smell of ammonia that's hard to stand for more than a few minutes. The odor causes a variety of adverse reaction in humans ranging from vomiting, headache, and irritation to even stress and depression. Ammonia when it enters the body reacts with water to produce ammonium hydroxide, which is very corrosive and causes burning in the nose, throat and respiratory tract. Long-term exposure and inhalation of compounds released by chicken poop is harmful to h...

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2019-12-06 15:54:00

Medieval Book Curses  

In the days before the printing press, book-making was a very laborious process. Each and every book had to made by hand, starting with the preparation of parchment, to the writing, the illumination and finally to the binding. Often a number of scribes, usually monks, worked together in a manuscript carefully forming letters in beautiful calligraphy with ink-tipped feathers, accompanied by rich illustrations. They had to be careful not to make errors, while also making sure that the lines were s

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2019-12-05 16:09:00

Inuit Snow Goggles  

This man, wearing a pair of strange goggles is not trying to make a fashion statement. He is just getting ready for a trek across the frozen tundra. The Inuit, Yupik, and other Arctic peoples have been making and wearing such extremely primitive but nonetheless effective pieces of eye protection for thousands of years. These snow goggles are fashioned out of whatever material the remote Arctic offers. Driftwood, animal bones, walrus ivory, and caribou antlers are the most obvious choices. But

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2019-12-05 13:13:00

Abandoned Cars in Hawaii  

In Hawaii, it is easier to dump your old car by the side of the road than have it legally disposed—an attitude that's causing big headaches for the authorities. Every year, the state spends hundreds of thousands of tax payer's money to tow away abandoned vehicles and there are still an overwhelming number of them rotting in the fields and among the trees. Hawaii is full of transplants who are constantly moving on and off the islands. When people leave Hawaii for the mainland, they often le...

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2019-12-04 20:35:00

The Mosaics of Villa Romana del Casale  

Many Roman villas, private residences, as well as public buildings, were lavishly decorated with mosaic floors. Mosaics served as a symbol of wealth and status, and many powerful and wealthy Romans commissioned them to impress their guests, choosing themes that reflected their status. Some depicted scenes from everyday life, such as athletics playing and ladies bathing. Others were full of drama and violence—gladiator fights, hunts and exotic creatures from mythological episodes. Like any work...

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2019-12-03 16:55:00

The Pigeon Breeders of Cairo  

Perched on rooftops across Cairo, like water tanks on elevated platforms, are rickety wooden cages where Cairenes keep their pigeons. Pigeon keeping is a tradition that is older than Ancient Egypt. For thousands of years Egyptians have reared pigeons both for sport and for food. References to pigeon husbandry can be found in hieroglyphics and Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets from more than 5,000 years ago. Unlike in the US, where pigeons are considered little more than rats with wings, pigeon mea

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2019-12-02 16:11:00

Vladimir Lukyanov's Water Computer  

Early computers were mechanical machines built using gears and levers. These parts or components could be moved with precision and were connected to other components in a way that simulated the relationship between different variables in a mathematical equation. By moving a gear or pulling a lever, one can change these variables and the results of these actions can be viewed in another set of gears, whose newly acquired positions gave the answer the operator was seeking. In 1936, a Russian engi

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2019-11-27 21:00:00

Repurposing Old Industrial Sites As Public Parks  

The public park Landschaftspark in Duisburg-Meiderich, Germany. Image credit: mini_malist/Flickr Landschaftspark, or "landscape park", of Duisburg-Meiderich, Germany, was once an industrial site that was adapted and transformed into a stunning public park by the design firm Latz + Partner in the early 1990s. Attempt was made to preserve as much of the existing site as possible. Giant blast furnaces and loading bridges of the former coal and steel production plant still looms large above the...

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2019-11-25 21:32:00

Bomb Crater Garden  

On September 20, 1940, just over a year after Hitler's army invaded Poland triggering a six-year war, a German airplane dropped a bomb over London as part of the Blitz. The target was the Westminster Cathedral. By good fortune, the airmen miscalculated the trajectory and the bomb missed the church. It fell in the square between the choir of the cathedral and Morphet Terrace, and exploded leaving a large crater. The crater was left intact until the following spring, when the caretaker of the ca...

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2019-11-25 15:44:00

Out of Place Ski Jumps  

Competitive skiing as a sport developed in Norway in the later part of the 19th century. Sondre Norheim, who is recognized as the "Father of Ski Jumping", won the first-ever ski jumping competition which was held in Høydalsmo in 1866. Later, Norheim migrated to the United States and started developing the sport in that country. By the 1920s, skiing had become a popular enough sport to be included in the 1924 Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France. The 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New Y...

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2019-11-22 21:16:00

Star Jelly: The Mysterious Phenomenon That Inspired 'The Blob'  

For hundreds of years, people have reported blobs of strange gelatinous substances on the ground that they presumed had fallen from the skies. Old texts dating as far back as the 14th century have described them as translucent or grayish-white slimy goo, that tended to evaporate shortly after having "fallen." The 13th century English physician, John of Gaddesden, mentions stella terrae (or "star of the earth") in his medical writings, describing it as "a certain mucilaginous substance ...

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2019-11-21 21:47:00

Hameau de la Reine: Marie Antoinette's Pretend Village  

Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France, is often portrayed as a frivolous, selfish, and immoral woman whose decadent lifestyle emptied the coffers of the national treasury. She was recklessly wasteful, indulging in excesses even at a time when the country was going through a period of acute financial crisis and the population was suffering. She wore flour wigs when her people went without bread, and dressed in indienne, a textile of Indian origin that was so popular that the Royal French Ord

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2019-11-20 21:23:00

Rod Stewart's Model Railway  

For the past 26 years British rock star Rod Stewart has been secretly building a massive model railway in the attic of his Los Angles home. The model spans 1,500 square feet and is based on the city of New York and Chicago as they were during the 1940s, the rock legend recently revealed in an interview with Railway Modeller magazine. Stewart has named his model the Grand Street and Three Rivers City. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-11-20 16:03:00

Richard Trevithick And The Steam Circus  

Twenty five years before Robert Stephenson decisively proved the superiority of steam locomotives over horse drawn carriages during the Rainhill Trials, a British inventor named Richard Trevithick built the first full-scale working railway steam locomotive. He used his locomotive to haul the first ever passengers over a distance of 10 miles in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales. A replica of Richard Trevithick's last locomotive, Catch Me Who Can, in Bridgenorth. Image credit: nigelmenzies/Flickr © ...

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2019-11-19 15:40:00

The Zeppelin Spy Basket  

One of the most perilous positions in the crew of a German Zeppelin during the First World War was that of the aerial lookout, whose job was to observe the ground for enemy position and bombing targets while dangling at the end of a long tether suspended from the belly of the aircraft. The lookout sat in an observation car called the spy gondola or spy basket that was lowered from the zeppelin through the cloud, while the zeppelin itself stayed shrouded within the cloud layer and out of enemy vi

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2019-11-18 21:29:00

Caligula's Pleasure Ships of Lake Nemi  

Two thousand years ago, the debauched Roman emperor Caligula ordered the construction of two large floating pleasure barges on the relatively small Lake Nemi so that he could indulge in many of the depravities attributed to him. Lake Nemi is a small, shallow crater lake in the Alban Hills, approximately 30 km southeast of Rome, that has long been a vacation getaway for Romans, and now Italians, from the intense summer heat. Emperor Caligula, like his predecessor Emperor Tiberius, liked to spend

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2019-11-15 15:33:00

Cinder Lake Crater Field: The Simulated Moon NASA Created to Train Astronauts  

Two Apollo 15 crew members, riding a Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) simulator, participate in geology training at the Cinder Lake crater field in Arizona. Before the Apollo astronauts set foot on the moon, they underwent a routine of rigorous training in order to prepare themselves for the mission. While much of the training took place inside classrooms, simulators and at testing facilities, NASA also gave the astronauts hands-on experience in geology and taught them how to collect geological spec

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2019-11-13 21:57:00

The Rainhill Trials  

Nearly two centuries ago, a small hamlet lying between Liverpool and Manchester became host to one of the strangest competitions ever held. The Liverpool and Manchester Railway had just completed laying the rails but they were unsure whether to use a self-propelled steam locomotive or a static winding engine to pull passenger wagons by cables. In the end they decided to hold a competition to find out whether a boiler on wheels was better than a boiler bolted to the floor. The idea was that if a

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2019-11-12 19:39:00

Communal Coffins And Burial Clubs  

The St John and All Saints Church in the town of Easingwold, in North Yorkshire, England, dates to the 13th century, or perhaps even earlier. It's a typical mediaeval-era English parish church with stone walls and slate roof and large Gothic three-light pointed windows. Inside the church is a 17th century communion table with 'gouty' legs and a curious addition—a coffin. The oak coffin in question is undeniably old, and dates back to the time when families who were too poor to afford...

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2019-11-12 10:35:00

The Last Victim of Smallpox  

In the summer of 1978, the World Health Organization stood on the brink of a remarkable achievement—smallpox, the disease that terrorized people for three thousand years and killed millions, had been eradicated through a rigorous mass vaccination program lasting 10 years. The last reported case of smallpox was in October the previous year, ten months ago. A 23-year-old cook named Ali Maow Maalin, working at a hospital in Merca, Somalia, had come down with the disease. Maalin was unvaccinated b...

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2019-11-09 14:49:00

Kongo Gumi: The 1,400-Year-Old Company  

Less than two months ago, the renowned British travel agency Thomas Cook laid off more than 21,000 employees the world over and liquidated its assets, bringing to an end an era that lasted 178 years. At the time they folded, the company was pulling in more than £9.5 billion in revenue per year and making a profit of £163 million—a hardly partly sum. In the past few years, we have seen many corporate behemoths—companies "too big to fail"—failing spectacularly. Lehman Brothers, Saab Au...

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2019-11-07 21:18:00

The Historic Hanford Reactor That Made Plutonium For The Nagasaki Bomb  

Sitting squarely in the middle of the now decommissioned Hanford Site, a nuclear production complex on the Columbia River near Richland, Washington, is B Reactor—the world's first large-scale nuclear reactor ever built. For more than forty years, B Reactor, along with eight others, pumped out enough plutonium to build over sixty thousand nuclear weapons that comprises the majority of America's vast nuclear arsenal. B Reactor is one of the few facilities constructed during the secretive Man...

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2019-11-06 20:58:00

The Century Old 'Dream Mine' That's Yet to Produce Gold  

On the foothills of Wasatch Mountains, east of Salem, in the US state of Utah, is a mine waiting for a miracle. The mine was first excavated in 1894, and in the 125 years of its existence, it has produced not even the tiniest nugget of gold. Its seven thousand plus stockholders and supporters are hopeful. They believe that when the time is right, the mine will yield untold amount of gold and treasures enough to see the believers through the worst of times. The Dream Mine's ore processing mi

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2019-11-05 16:30:00

Bridges With Buildings—Part 2  

During the Middle Ages, it was common to have buildings built on top of bridges. These spaces were rented out to shopkeepers and merchants, and the money raised from the rent went towards the bridge's maintenance. Only a handful of such bridges exist today. In an earlier article, we saw four such bridges—Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy; Krämerbrücke in Erfurt, Germany; Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy; and Pulteney Bridge in Bath, England. In this installment, we have tracked down five more...

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2019-11-05 10:29:00

The Legend of The Lost Cement Mine  

Gold mining in California. Lithograph by Currier & Ives, 1871. Image courtesy: Everett Historical/ Hundreds of million years ago, a multitude of geological forces colluded to deposit billions of dollars worth of gold in the mountains of California. This gold was first discovered 170 years ago, and the rush that followed made (and broke) the fortunes of thousands of people. Gold was so abundant in California's gravel beds that early miners simply panned the rivers and strea...

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2019-11-01 15:53:00

Why Mediaeval Europeans Slept Inside Boxes  

For much of human history, privacy during bedtime was an alien concept. Many poor families lived in small houses, where there was only one or two rooms, the larger of which functioned as bedroom and living room both shared by every occupant of the house, including any guests. Even in large houses and palaces, it was not uncommon for servants to sleep in the same room as the master's. When King Henry V bedded Catherine of Valois, writes Bill Bryson in At Home, both his steward and chamberlain w...

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2019-10-31 19:27:00

The Berlin Candy Bomber  

Following the end of World War 2, Germany was broken up and divided among the Allies as one divides war booty. The western half was occupied by the United States, the United Kingdom and France, while the eastern half went to the Soviets. Berlin itself was divided into four zones, but it was completely surrounded by the Soviet-controlled Eastern Bloc. This allowed the Soviets to act as gatekeepers controlling the flow of goods and people in and out of the capital. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-10-30 15:13:00

That Time When Britain Had Its Own Rocket  

For a country as technological advanced as Great Britain, it sounds almost implausible when you say that the British do not have a space program. But fifty years ago, they almost did only to have the parliament throw it away, becoming the first, and so far, the only nation to develop satellite launch capability and then abandon it. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-10-29 16:40:00

The Abandoned Mansions of Bishops Avenue  

Bishops Avenue, in North London, dubbed the "Billionaire's Row" is one of the wealthiest streets in the world. The average value of a property here is around £5 million, but some of the more grander mansions cost many times more. The palatial Toprak Mansion, for instance, originally owned by the Turkish tycoon Halis Toprak, was bought by the President of Kazakhstan in 2008 for £50 million making it one of the most expensive houses in the world. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-10-29 16:27:00

The Submarine Sunk By Her Own Torpedo  

The U.S. Navy submarine USS Tang off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, December 1943. Photo credit: U.S. Navy Throughout the Second World War, American submarines were plagued by a variety of torpedo problems such as premature detonation and incorrect depth gauge. The most notorious of these was the tendency to circle back on the firing submarine. This is known as circular run. Early torpedoes were only straight-running, like bullets fired from a gun, but in the early 20th century before t

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2019-10-28 16:34:00

Soda Locomotives  

An interesting type of locomotive engine that found very brief and limited use in Europe, as well as in America, was the soda locomotive. A soda locomotive was essentially a steam locomotive, but instead of a firebox to burn coal and heat the boiler, it used chemical reaction to generate heat. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-10-28 16:34:00

The Crin­kle-Cran­kle Walls of Suffolk  

A crin­kle-cran­kle wall is an unusual type of garden wall found in the East Anglia region of east England, but popular mostly in the county of Suffolk. A crin­kle-cran­kle wall is wavy with al­ter­nating con­vex and con­cave curves like a sinusoid. While this might seem like an unnecessary wastage of bricks, it actually is not. A straight wall requires buttresses in order to make it stand, which can either be provided by a wide footing or supporting posts every f

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2019-10-25 12:06:00

Reindeer's Eyes Change Color With Seasons  

All animals, including humans, can adapt their eyes to the changing level of light. In dark conditions, muscles in the irises contract to dilate the pupils and allow more light into the eyes. When it's bright again, the irises widen and the pupils shrink. The same thing happens to reindeers. But when the arctic winter brings perpetual darkness for months on end, something more happens to reindeer's eyes causing them to change color. The arctic reindeer is the only mammal whose eyes shine a d...

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2019-10-25 12:05:00

White Volcanoes of Harrat Khaybar  

Of the millions of pilgrims that visit the holy city of Medina, in Saudi Arabia, every year to pray in the Prophet's Mosque, few people are aware that the city is build upon the basalt flows of a past volcano, with the now dormant volcano lying very close to the city. This volcanic field, known as Harrat Khaybar, contains some of the rarest examples of white volcanoes, so called because of their light colored rocks caused by the presence of a kind of alkali and silica-rich light blue-gray igne...

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2019-10-24 16:20:00

The Goiânia Radiological Accident  

A radiation therapy unit in a hospital. Photo credit: Thomas Hecker/ Radioactive isotopes have a very niche use in medicine, where they are used both in diagnosis as well as in treatment. The most widely used is radiotherapy, where a concentrated dose of radiation is directed towards a malignant tumor or group of cancerous cells to kill them. Sometimes tiny doses of radioactive materials called radiotracers are injected into the bloodstream of a patient, and the gamma rays they

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2019-10-23 20:30:00

Rotary Jails  

Some problems require ingenious solutions. The rotary jail was not one of them. Designed by two American engineers, William H. Brown and Benjamin F. Haugh, the system consisted of a cylindrical cell block divided into several sectors, each functioning as individual cells. This was surrounded by a circular iron cage with only one opening. The entire block was mounted on a central column such that it could be rotated while the cage remained stationary, allowing prisoners to enter or leave a cell o

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2019-10-22 10:45:00

Carl Wilhelm Scheele: The Unlucky Chemist  

You know Bad Luck Brian. Now let me tell you about Hard-Luck Scheele. Carl Wilhelm Scheele was born in 1742 in Stralsund, in present day Germany. His father was a well-known merchant, but Scheele chose to practice chemistry. At age 14, Scheele went to work with a pharmacist in Gothenburg, Sweden, where he first had hands-on experience with chemicals. The large variety of chemicals at his disposal excited him, and often after work, he experimented with them late into the night. The story goes tha

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2019-10-22 10:44:00

The Cavern of Lost Souls  

Just how difficult can it be to tow an old car to the junkyard to be dismantled, crushed and recycled? Too much, if you ask the council of Corris Uchaf in north Wales. For decades, residents of this small village have been dumping their unwanted vehicles, old television sets, refrigerators and other household items through a hole in the mountains. Photo credit: Robin Friend © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-10-19 20:26:00

Bayan Obo: The Chinese Mine That Makes All Gadgets Possible  

In the image above, captured by NASA's Terra satellite in June 2006, we see some deep scars in the desert—the result of nearly sixty years of mining. The area imaged lies in the west of Inner Mongolia, which is, despite its name, a part of China. The whole of Mongolia was once under Chinese occupation, but once the Qing dynasty fell in the early 20th century, Mongolia declared independence. A part of Mongolia was retained by China, which became Inner Mongolia. The rest, which is still refer...

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2019-10-17 19:31:00

A Natural Land Bridge on The Moon  

On the morning of July 29, 1953, John J. O'Neill, science editor of the New York Herald Tribune turned his telescope, a 4-inch refractor, towards the moon and began studying the western rim of Mare Crisium, a vast oval-shaped plain more than five hundred kilometers in diameter with a flat floor and a ring of wrinkle ridges around its boundaries. The low sun hit the region's lofty peaks and exaggerated their heights and at the same time created tiny islands of light in a black sea of shadow...

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2019-10-15 20:17:00

The World's First Skyscraper  

The word "skyscraper" was used to describe a tall building for the first time during the construction boom that rippled across many America cities in the late 19th century. But the idea of multi-storied buildings was hardly new. In the desert city of Shibam, in Yemen, there are mudbrick residential buildings as tall as ten stories, built in the 13th century. In San Gimignano, in Italy's Tuscany, there was once more than seventy towers, two hundred feet tall, all constructed before the 15th...

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2019-10-15 10:46:00

Port Arthur And The Convict Tramway  

In the middle of the 19th century, Tasman Peninsula, on the southeast coast of Tasmania, became home to one of Australia's most dreaded penal colony. The peninsula was selected as a penal settlement because it is geographically isolated from the rest of Tasmania, it being surrounded by water, which the administration rumored was infested by sharks. Its only connection to the mainland was a thirty-meter-wide isthmus known as Eaglehawk Neck that was fenced and heavily guarded by soldiers, mant

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2019-10-12 16:34:00

Disposable Ships  

Before the Industrial Revolution, the British shipbuilding industry was completely dependent on the countries around the Baltic Sea for timber and for other materials such as masts, tar and pitch needed to build ships. As a strong maritime nation, this frightful dependence on other countries for raw materials not only undermined Britain's defense, it also worsened the growing trade deficit Britain had with the entire Baltic region. Only a small percentage of Britain's demand for timber was f...

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2019-10-10 21:36:00

The Spiral Hives of Sugarbag Bees  

Not all bees sting. There are about five hundred bee species out of twenty thousand that have lost that ability, but they do exhibit other defensive behaviors like biting or showering intruders with a rain of wax, plant resin and mud. Larger predators are often engulfed by the sheer strength of their numbers. There are fourteen species of stingless bees that are native to Australia. Among these, the sugarbag bee or bush bee is particularly notable for the beautiful hives they make. Photo credi

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2019-10-10 10:22:00

Chinese Medicine Dolls  

For hundreds of years until the early 20th century, getting medical help for a Chinese woman was tricky. In those times the Chinese placed enormous importance to the chastity of a woman (many cultures still do), which meant that a woman couldn't show too much skin to a male who was other than her husband. This implied trouble as doctors were mostly men, and if a doctor couldn't get his female patients to undress so that she could be examined, a diagnosis and treatment was impossible. So a so...

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2019-10-08 16:39:00

Bouvet Island: The Uninhabited Island With Its Own Top-Level Internet Domain  

As far as islands go, Bouvet is pretty insignificant—a speck of rock located in the South Atlantic Ocean over 1,600 kilometers off the coast of Antarctica. It is the most remote island in the world. Its nearest inhabited neighbor is Tristan da Cunha, an isolated spot by itself, located 2,260 kilometers away. Bouvet Island is less than 50 square kilometers in size and is almost entirely covered by a glacier. But underneath that ice lies a fiery volcano that's still warm to the touch, so to s...

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2019-10-07 13:05:00

An Incredible Move: The Indiana Bell Telephone Building  

The relocation of the headquarter building of Indiana Bell Telephone Company in Indianapolis remains one of the most fascinating moves in the history of structure relocation. The headquarters of Indiana Bell, a subsidiary of AT&T serving the US state of Indiana, was housed inside an 8-story, 11,000-ton building built in 1907. In 1929, the phone company decided they needed a larger building, but they couldn't just demolish the old building because it was providing an essential service to th...

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2019-10-05 11:40:00

Shadwell Forgeries: How Two Illiterates Fooled Victorian Archeologists  

During the middle of the 19th century, London's antiquarian market was flooded by the sudden arrival of a large number of supposedly mediaeval leaden artifacts of unknown origin. Questions about the authenticity of the items were raised, but the general consensus was that they were real. The objects were eventually revealed to be forgeries made by two lowly criminals with no background in either history or archaeology. In fact, they were illiterates. As expected, their products were also inept...

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2019-10-02 20:56:00

Megapode Egg Fields  

Most birds incubate their eggs with body heat, but not megapodes, a chicken-sized bird with heavy body, short rounded wings and large, strong, four-​toed feet. Birds in this family bury their eggs in soil and incubate them using natural heat sources. Depending on the species and its location, megapodes may lay their eggs in burrows dug in sun-warmed beaches, or geothermally active areas, or they may build large incubation mounds and fill them with organic matter such as leaves, and derive heat...

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2019-10-01 20:20:00

Fist Fights on Venetian Bridges  

Throughout the Middle Ages and the early Modern Period, Venice was divided into many administrative districts and rival factions, who displayed incredible unrestrain when it came to getting at each other's throat. Armed raids on another's territory were common, and as if these violent interludes were not enough, these gangs mutually decided that it would be nice to meet once in a while in a public place and sort out their differences with fists and sticks. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-09-30 16:01:00

Fatberg: The Fatty Monster of The Sewer  

Blockages in sewers are pretty common in cities across the globe. But how large a congealed mass of filth has to be before it gets its own name? In 2013, after a 15 ton mass of wet wipes, condoms, sanitary products, and other trash that people shouldn't flush down their toilets was removed from a London sewer under Kingston upon Thames, a new term was born—fatberg. A worker cradles a fatberg in her arms in a London sewer. Photo credit: Adrian Dennis/AFP © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-09-28 10:18:00

Fanny Burney's Gruesome Mastectomy  

In the days before anesthesia, the prospect of having to go under the knife was far more horrific than the affliction the procedure was supposed to cure. Without the means to render the patient unconscious, surgeons administered opium or liquor in a vain attempt to numb the pain, but many patients mercifully passed out halfway through the process. Anybody who didn't had to endure the physical pain as well as the mental trauma of watching their own operation. Even if the patient did survive the...

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2019-09-26 16:11:00

Russia's Circular Warships  

In the latter half of the 19th century, ships began to transition from wood to iron and many engineers thought the time was ripe to experiment new forms. John Elder, a Scottish shipbuilder, advocated that making a ship wider in the beam would allow it to carry heavier and more powerful guns. Such a design would also have a shallower draft and only a moderate increase in power would be required to match the speed of a normal ship. The concept greatly interested Andrei Alexandrovich Popov, a rear

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2019-09-26 16:11:00

The French Chateau With The World's Largest Private Collection of Warplanes  

Among the rolling hills of Burgundy's wine country, surrounded by vineyards and forested land, stands a 14th-century castle belonging to Michel Pont, an avid collector of anything that moves fast—racing cars, motorcycles and even fighter jets. He has turned his castle in the French commune of Savigny-lès-Beaune into a vast museum with over 250 motorcycles, 30 racing cars and an impressive collection of nearly 80 warplanes and helicopters— the world's largest private collection. Airp...

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2019-09-25 22:06:00

The Ottoman Sultans Who Were Raised in Cages  

Topkapi Palace from across the Bosporus, Istanbul. Photo credit: Faraways/ Situated in the heart of Istanbul and visible from across the Bosporus, is the Topkapi Palace, an enormous complex that once served as the royal residence and administrative headquarters of the Ottoman sultans. A major part of this complex was dedicated to the Imperial Harem where the females of the royal family lived including the sultan's mother, his wives and concubines, their children and the servan...

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2019-09-23 21:45:00

Gloria Ramirez: The Toxic Lady  

Do you have people in your lives that you can't stand? A co-worker perhaps, or a family member, or a grumpy neighbor. You may call them "toxic", but there was a lady who was so noxious that people couldn't literally stand her. Her name was Gloria Ramirez. On the evening of February 19, 1994, Gloria Ramirez, 31-year-old mother of two, was wheeled into the emergency department of Riverside General Hospital in Riverside, California. Ramirez, a patient with terminal cervical cancer, was comp...

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2019-09-20 20:51:00

The Museum That Collects Houses  

The Weald and Downland Living Museum in Singleton, West Sussex. Photo credit: Anguskirk/Flickr In the village of Singleton, in West Sussex, there is an unusual museum dedicated to historic buildings—not reproductions, but real ones. Spread over 40 acres, the Weald and Downland Living Museum (formerly Weald and Downland Open Air Museum) showcases over 50 historic buildings, dating from the 10th century to the 19th century, that have been rescued from demolition. Each building has been carefu...

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2019-09-20 14:50:00

The Mountain Where Space Junk Litters  

The Altai Mountains in Central Asia is exceedingly beautiful with snow-capped peaks, rich pine forests and valleys studded with stunning alpine lakes and glaciers. The region is sparsely inhabited by various ethnic tribes, who lead a quiet and contented life herding sheep and buffaloes, raising bees, and growing grains and leguminous plants. But their peace is routinely shattered by debris from rocket parts that fall from the sky. Villagers collecting scrap from a crashed spacecraft, surrounded

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2019-09-19 11:10:00

Gabon's Ancient Nuclear Reactor  

The nuclear age might have begun in America, but it was in Gabon where the world's first fission reaction started. Gabon is one of the richest country in Sub-Saharan Africa, with a per capita income four times that of its neighbors. Its economy is dominated by oil, followed by timber and manganese exports. For a brief period, Gabon also exported uranium, the precious raw material used in nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons. The mines have dried up today, but nearly two billion years ago t...

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2019-09-16 11:59:00

Meteor Burst Communication  

Everyday billions of space rocks crash into the earth's atmosphere and disintegrate before they reach the ground. This produces two main effects—one we can see with our eyes, the other we cannot. The effect which we can see—provided the meteor is large enough—is the actual breaking up of the rock as it slams against the air, heats the air molecules and the heat melts the rock. As it burns and falls through the atmosphere, the meteor leaves a trail of glowing particles in its wake which w...

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2019-09-13 11:32:00

The Editor of Encyclopædia Britannica Once Wrote a Guidebook to Edinburg's Prostitutes  

In the late 18th century, tourists seeking carnal pleasure in Scotland's capital city Edinburgh had a handy guidebook to start with. It detailed the names, ages and specialties of sixty-six of Edinburgh's foremost working girls and where to find them. Unlike the infamous Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies—an annual directory of London prostitutes—that ran for four decades, the Ranger's Impartial List of Ladies of Pleasure was published only once, in 1775. Although the book was pu...

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2019-09-11 11:36:00

The Ancient Egg Hatcheries of Egypt  

Chickens that are raised in farms are almost never hatched by their mothers. Instead, they are hatched using artificial heat in large electric ovens called incubators, where hundreds and sometimes thousands of eggs could be hatched at the same time. Electric incubators are a modern invention, but the practice of artificial incubation itself is thousands of years old. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-09-10 10:53:00

The Moscow Cathedral That Was Once a Swimming Pool  

The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour near Moskva river, Moscow. Photo credit: Valeri Potapova/ On the northern bank of the Moskva River, in Moscow, there stands one of the tallest Orthodox Christian church in the world—the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Two churches had stood here, one after the other, for the greater part of the last 150 years. In the intervening period, there was an enormous swimming pool in this place, the largest in the Soviet Union. © Amusing Pla...

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2019-09-07 13:13:00

Where Do The World's Oceans Meet?  

Two huge ocean waves clashing. Photo credit: David There are five oceans on earth, and all of them are connected with each other to form a continuous body of water. Historically, there were only four oceans, namely Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Arctic. In the year 2000, the International Hydrographic Organization decided to carve out a new ocean surrounding the least populated continent at the bottom of the earth—Antarctica—based on the evidence that ...

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2019-09-06 11:47:00

The Ancient Chinese Earthquake Detector That's Puzzling Modern Researchers  

In the year 132 CE, a brilliant Chinese astronomer, mathematician and engineer named Zhang Heng presented to the Han court an impressive invention—the world's first seismoscope. A seismoscope is an instrument that indicates the shaking of the earth during an earthquake. It should not be confused with a seismometer or a seismograph that also records the movement. In essence, any hanging pendulum or a delicately balanced object that can topple at the slightest disturbance will function as a s...

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2019-09-05 12:34:00

The Wonderful Art of Missing Pet Posters  

"Have you scene [sic] my CAT?", pleaded a crude hand-made poster. Underneath it was a sketch of the missing cat, apparently drawn by a child. It looked like a fish with legs. "DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN", screamed another poster. The accompanied image of the missing black poodle was a big featureless blotch of black, as if somebody had accidently knocked over the ink pot while making the poster. The illustrations in these missing pet posters, made by people with little artistic skills, a...

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2019-09-04 20:18:00

Monadnock Building: The Last Brick Skyscraper  

In a city full of high-rises, a sixteen story skyscraper might not seem like much, but the Monadnock Building standing in the south Loop area of Chicago, between the Chicago River and Lake Michigan, is an edifice to behold. The Monadnock Building was built during a period when bricks were the building material of choice. Bricks are easy to manufacture, they are cheap and versatile. There was one problem, however, with bricks—they are very heavy. If you make a building too tall with bricks, it ...

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2019-09-02 22:00:00

Punkah: The Hand Operated Ceiling Fans of Colonial India  

When the British first came to India, they had to adapt themselves to a lot of unfamiliar things, such as the climate, the blood sucking mosquitos, the spicy food, the language. But the one thing they couldn't get used to was the heat. Summer in India begins from April and lasts until October. In the north and in the west, the summer arrives early. In this part of India, April and May are usually the hottest months after which the monsoon helps keep temperatures down. In eastern India and in t...

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2019-09-02 22:00:00

Britain's Last Remaining World War One Memorial Tank  

After the end of the First World War, many British towns received gifts from the National War Savings Committee as recognition for the community's efforts in fundraising. These gifts were unusual—decommissioned tanks. Tanks were first rolled out in 1916, during the First World War. Almost immediately they caught the public's imagination. People were fascinated by this new piece of military hardware. Its robust construction and seemingly impenetrable armor gave them a feeling of invincibil...

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2019-08-31 15:33:00

Flying Aircraft Carriers  

Germany's mixed success with Zeppelins during the First World War convinced the British and the Americans to take a closer look at these flying behemoths. Although airships turned out to be poor bombers because of their lack of maneuverability, the Navy was interested in exploring their other capabilities. The British wanted to connect their great empire with airship routes. For this purpose they constructed two large helium-filled airships. One made a successful trip to Canada and back, but w...

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2019-08-29 20:08:00

The Other Anne Franks: 10 Holocaust Diaries You Haven't Read  

Anne Frank wasn't the only teenager who lost her childhood to war. Thousands of children and teenagers across Europe found their freedoms curtailed, their innocence lost, and their lives torn apart when the Second World War broke out. Probably hundreds of them kept diaries where they documented their everyday lives, their sufferings, their hopes. Only a few dozens of these secret diaries have been discovered after the war ended, and fewer still actually got published. The Dairy of Anne Frank i...

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2019-08-28 15:19:00

Jack The Baboon Signalman  

During the later part of the 19th century, travellers entering Uitenhage railway station, near Port Elizabeth, in South Africa, frequently saw a baboon working the levers at the signal box. His name was Jack, and he was a lawfully employed signalman for the Cape Government Railways. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-08-26 21:29:00

Letters Q, W, And X Were Once Illegal in Turkey  

An alternative spelling for taxi in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo credit: Jürgen Luger/Flickr In 1928, the Turkish government decided to change their alphabets. The old Turkish writing system used the Arabic script, which was so foreign in appearance that it was extremely difficult to master. Many foreigners who had lived in Turkey for years and could speak Turkish fluently still couldn't spell or read street signs. Young children took longer to learn to read the Turkish language compared to other...

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2019-08-26 21:29:00

The Citrus Gardens of Pantelleria  

Located halfway between Sicily and Tunisia's coastline, lies a small speck of an island called Pantelleria. Pantelleria has a typical Mediterranean climate with dry and hot summers and mild winters, with very little rainfall, that makes agriculture difficult. Yet, Pantelleria's inhabitants are mostly farmers and not fishermen, thanks to the resourceful islanders who have developed a unique method for cultivating crops they desire—capers, oranges and Zibibbo, a grape from which a sweet win...

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2019-08-23 11:59:00

Fishing With Sulphuric Fire  

Many fishes are attracted towards light just as moths and flying ants are—a behavior that fishermen around the world exploit to bring them together and keep them in one place until they could be caught. Most fishes that are caught using light are pelagic fish, such as herring, mackerel, sprat, anchovy, and sardine. These fishes spend most of their time swimming near the surface of the water, making them easy to prey upon. In earlier times, fishermen used oil lamps or flaming torches. Modern fi...

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2019-08-22 16:32:00

Harris's List: The 18th Century Guide Book to London's Prostitutes  

For nearly four decades, from 1757 to 1795, an anonymous publisher in Covent Garden printed and published a small pocketbook-sized annual directory of prostitutes working in Georgian London. The crudely printed little booklet, which originally cost two shillings and sixpence each, carried a description of each lady, including her appearance, her personality, her sexual specialties and the price she charged. Published under the title "Harris's List of Covent Garden ladies", or "Harris'...

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2019-08-21 21:11:00

Monet's Pond: The Pond Where Art Comes to Life  

In the woods just outside Seki City, in Japan's Gifu Prefecture, is a small Shinto shrine that stands at the foot of a sloping hill overlooking a small rectangular pond and the valley below. Nemichi Shine consist of a single wooden building and is pretty unremarkable. But the pond is spectacular. Until a few years ago this anonymous pond was totally unknown in Japan. But now a large number of visitors come here to see the lilies bloom and the koi fishes swim. The pond's popularity is due to ...

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2019-08-21 15:38:00

Mizuko Kuyo: The Japanese Ritual of Mourning The Unborn  

Losing a child can be very painful, even if that child is yet to be born. In fact, many parents who experienced miscarriages feel the pain is deeper because there is very little to acknowledge the loss. There is no body, so no funeral, and no ritual to cleanse the grief or placate the disturbed souls. In cultures across the world, mourning rites and rituals are often elaborate, but only for deaths, not for lost motherhoods. But things are different in Japan, where there is a traditional Buddhist

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2019-08-20 21:44:00

The German Hair Force: The Military's Failed Experiment With Long Hair  

Like every other country, the German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, have strict rules on grooming. The Bundeswehr decrees that soldiers and officers should cut their hair short, such that they do not cover their ears or eyes. The hair is not allowed to touch their uniform or shirt color. Female soldiers can keep long hair as long as they are tied into a neat knot or braided. Soldiers with short cropped hair stand in formation. Photo credit: withGod/ © Amusing Planet, 2019

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2019-08-20 11:18:00

The Clay Licks of Amazon Rainforest  

Macaws and parrots of the Amazon rainforest have developed a particular taste for clay. They collect in large numbers on exposed river banks to peck at the dirt, creating a dazzling spectacle that entertains thousands of onlookers. Red-and-Green Macaw at a clay lick in the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest. Photo credit: jorgeluizpsjr/ © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-08-19 15:14:00

The Chrysler Air Raid Siren Was So Powerful it Could Induce Rain  

The Chrysler Air Raid Siren was the size of a car. It measured twelve feet long and six feet high, and weighed an estimated 3 short tons. The gigantic siren was powered by a 180 horsepower eight-cylinder gasoline engine, that drove a two-stage air compressor and a rotary chopper. The compressor pushed 2,610 cubic feet of air a minute, at nearly 7 PSI, through a rotating chopper that sliced the air into pulses to create sound. The compressed air exited through six giant horns with a velocity of 4

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2019-08-17 15:22:00

How Mediaeval Husbands Chastised Wives Who Talked Too Much  

By putting a muzzle on them, of course. Known as Scold's bridle, these devices of torture and public humiliation were used mostly in England and Scotland during the 16th and the 17th centuries. "Scold" is an archaic word that means a woman who nags or grumbles constantly, a woman who "disturbed their neighbours' peace with gossiping, 'chiding and scoulding' or unruly behaviour", according to the British Library. Women who ran afoul with the neighbours, defied their husbands an...

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2019-08-17 15:19:00

Vivipary or Why My Tomatoes Are Mutating?  

Sometimes a seed will start developing and germinate while they are still inside their parent, the fruit. The seed first breaks through the seed coat and then out of the fruit wall while still attached to the parent plant. This condition is known as vivipary, and it gives the affected fruit a creepy and alien look. Vivipary in tomato. Photo credit: Kathy Clark/ © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-08-16 11:02:00

The Radioactive Energy Drink That Kills  

Ebenezer Byers was a well known American socialite, son of industrialist Alexander Byers. In his youth Eben showed promising talent at sports, finishing runner-up at the US Amateur Golf Tournament in 1902 and 1903, before becoming champion in 1906. Eben eventually became the chairman at his father's steel and wrought iron company, while continuing to pursue sports into his late forties. Eben travelled frequently around the US to watch teams play. In 1927, while returning on a chartered train f...

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2019-08-15 10:42:00

Project Isabela: How Goats Helped Eliminate Goats From The Galapagos  

The Galapagos Islands, off the west coast of Ecuador, are a treasure trove of unique ecological specimens. The islands' extreme isolation and favorable climate owning to its location on the equator have allowed a number of species to evolve peculiar characteristics suitable to their environment. The iguana, for instance, is a land-dwelling reptile. But those on the islands of Galapagos have learned how to swim and can now forage for food in the sea. Equally perplexing are the flightless cormor...

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2019-08-13 21:13:00

The Giraffes of Dabous  

In northern Niger, about half-way between the towns of Agadez and Arlit, and a few miles west of the tar road connecting these two places lies a stony outcrop at the top of which is an exceptionally detailed petroglyph of two life-sized giraffes. This region, known as Dabous, is home to a large number of prehistoric carvings depicting cattle and wild animals, hinting to a period of time when Africa was much wetter than it is today with lush vegetation, trees and lakes, that allowed these animals

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2019-08-13 10:24:00

Tomb of Cyrus: The World's Oldest Earthquake Resistant Structure  

Natural calamites like floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes have always been considered "acts of god", yet for centuries our ancestors have refused to bow down to the wrath of the higher beings. Dikes were used to protect homes from floods, and shelters themselves were an act of defiance against the natural elements. Historical and archeological research have revealed that ancient civilizations also had sound knowledge of building earthquake-resistant structures. The tomb of Cyrus the Great...

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2019-08-10 13:17:00

Lake Titicaca's 150-year Old Steamship That Runs on Dung  

The BAP Puno. Photo credit: Peruvian Navy. Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America, is situated high up in the Andes on the borders of Peru and Bolivia. The water body occupies a deep valley in the mountains some 190 kilometers long and 80 kilometers across at its widest point. Located at an elevation of over 3,800 meters, Lake Titicaca carries the distinction of being the highest navigable lake in the world because of all the commercial vessels that ply between the Peruvian and Bolivi

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2019-08-09 19:40:00

Republic of Cospaia: The Italian Hamlet That Became an Independent State For Four Centuries Due to Surveying Error  

Nuzzled next to Tuscany, in northern Umbria, lies a small Italian village called Cospaia. For nearly four centuries, this territory of just over three square kilometers was an independent republic, without any government, or laws, or taxes, or anything that makes a nation. This peculiar political situation arose during Renaissance, which makes it even more remarkable for at that time Italy was a mismatch of Papal states, family estates, and foreign kingdoms, embroiled in petty vendettas and trad

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2019-08-08 15:43:00

Jakarta's Rooftop Villages  

Rooftops make great gardens, especially in dense urban environments where every available space has been utilized for living and for commercial purposes. In many cities around North America, Asia and in Europe too, where outdoor space is scarce, architects and builders are turning rooftops into playgrounds with swimming pools and vegetable gardens. But in Jakarta, Indonesia, one developer has converted the rooftop of a shopping mall into an entire suburb of sorts with tiny homes, paved streets,

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2019-08-06 21:44:00

The Vitrified Forts of Scotland  

Throughout the Bronze and the Iron Ages, Europeans have constructed hilltop forts and enclosures made of stone. About two hundred examples of these show signs of intense heat damage. These stone walls were burned at such high temperature that the rocks have partially melted and fused with each other. They are known as vitrified forts, and for the past 250 years they have been a source of mystery for archeologists. At first, the vitrification was thought to be scars from past battles, except for

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2019-08-05 20:28:00

The 40-Foot Studebaker President  

Few companies escaped the Stock Market Crash of 1929 that plunged the United States and much of the western world into an abyss of economic recession. One of the worst hit was the automobile industry—because obviously it was hard to sell cars to people who were out of work. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-08-05 11:30:00

The Bridge of Breasts  

At one point in the distant past, Venice had a busy red light district in the very commercial heart of the city—the Rialto area. Prostitution was not only legal but the city actively encouraged it, because these working women, who were known throughout Europe for their wit, charm and elegance, drove a swarm of men—important and powerful men of their day such as bankers, princes and merchants—to Venice driving trade in the city. The city also used prostitution to keep in check all drunk yo...

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2019-08-05 09:57:00

Prague's Streets Paved With Jewish Gravestones  

Millions of people walking through the beautiful cobbled streets in the Czech capital Prague are unaware that they are treading upon old gravestones looted from forgotten Jewish cemeteries. They look like normal paving stones and indistinguishable from the rest, because the smooth, polished side of the granite block—the one that carries the inscription—is always laid face down. Photo credit: BBC © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-08-02 21:24:00

Project A119: The Secret Plan to Nuke The Moon  

Long before the United States President John F. Kennedy delivered the inspiring "We choose to go to the Moon" speech in front of a large crowd that had gathered at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas, the United States Air Force had already made its decision—they were going to the moon. The only difference was the choice of payload. While President Kennedy envisioned Americans walking on the lunar surface, the bigwigs of the US Air Force fantasized a large mushroom cloud, one that would ...

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2019-08-01 16:07:00

Barge Haulers on The Volga  

Before the era of steam engines, the process of moving a boat or a barge up a river was extremely difficult. The usual method was to tow them using beasts of burden, such as horses or mules, along a towpath on the banks of a river or canal. Sometimes a team of human pullers did the job when animals were not available. During the time of the Russian Empire, barges loaded with cargo were often towed up the Volga and its tributaries with the help of laborers known as burlaki. The work was grueling

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2019-07-31 21:38:00

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