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One hundred years after the extinction of the passenger pigeon, the nation’s top bird science and conservation groups have come together to publish The State […]
The post “The State of the Birds” assesses health of nation’s birds appeared first on Smithsonian Insider.
After Marcia Wallace passed away last month, “The Simpsons” lost one of its characters, the 4th grade teacher Edna Krabappel, whose voice Wallace had provided for years. Mrs. Krabappel probably spent more time cynically cackling in the classroom than teaching math—but she wasn’t the only source of math lessons on the best cartoon television series ever to run. Several writers for The Simpsons, including Al Jean, J. Stewart Burns, Jeff Westbrook, and David X. Cohen, completed degrees in math and physics before they turned to screenwriting, Wired reports. And, ever faithful to their academic roots, those writers have found numerous ways to sneak in mini math lessons in various Simpsons episodes over the years, thanks to a variety of nerdy, clueless and informative characters.
A new book, The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets, takes a deep dive into the math, physics and astronomy specifics of the show, but here are just a few examples, courtesy of Wired:
- “Treehouse of Horror VI: Homer 3″ (1995): Homer gets sucked into the third dimension, giving viewers a lesson on depth.
- “The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace” (1998): Homer’s notes include formulas for the then-elusive Higgs boson, the density of the universe and the geometry of donuts.
- “They Saved Lisa’s Brain” (1999): Physicist Stephen Hawking compliments Homer’s donut-shaped universe theory–a serious hypothesis among astronomers.
- “Bye Bye Nerdie” (2001): Professor Frink parrots a real-life proposal from 1897 to round Pi down to 3.
- “Bart the Genius” (1990): Bart has nightmares about the the trains-traveling-at-different-speeds question.
- “Marge in Chains” (1993): A convenience store owner can recite π to its 40,000th digit.
- “Bart the Genius” (1990): Bart struggles to understand why the answer to the calculus problem y = (r3)/3 is worthy of interest.
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Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” is iconic—but it's also mysterious. Why is the stressed-out subject screaming, anyway? A Norwegian scientist has an intriguing new theory, reports the BBC’s Jonathan Amos: Perhaps the scream was inspired by an atmospheric phenomenon called mother-of-pearl clouds.
The rare clouds got their nickname from the abalone shells they resemble. Also known as nacreous or polar stratospheric clouds, they’re iridescent and pretty unusual. They form in northerly latitudes during the winter when the dry stratosphere cools down.
Normally, the stratosphere is so dry that it can’t sustain clouds, but when temperatures get beneath about 108 degrees below zero, all of the scant moisture in the air gets chilly enough to form ice crystals. When the sun hits the perfect place along the horizon, those ice crystals reflect its rays, causing a shimmering, pearly effect.
Helene Muri, a meteorologist and cloud expert, recently gave a talk at this year's European Geosciences Union General Assembly about how the wavy mother-of-pearl clouds could be portrayed in Munch’s painting. “As an artist, they no doubt could have made an impression on him,” she tells Amos.The clouds form in icy temperatures and can be viewed only at certain latitudes and times of day. (Wikimedia Commons)
Though the sky in "The Scream" is outlandish, the painting is widely believed to be autobiographical. Munch himself struggled with tragedy and fragile health that scholars believe could have informed the painting’s colors and themes. In a poem in his diary, Munch recalls the sky turning “blood red” after he felt “a wave of sadness” while walking with some friends. He put a similar poem on the frame of one of his versions of the painting.
That description has prompted other scientists to use natural phenomena to explain the origin of the painting. In 2004, physicists theorized that the clouds were created when Krakatoa erupted in Indonesia—an event that caused spectacular sunsets throughout Europe. But it’s tricky to ascribe a particular date, time, or event to a piece of art, especially since painting is by nature so subjective.
It turns out that mother-of-pearl clouds have a dark side: As Nathan Case explains for The Conversation, they cause the ozone layer to further break down by stoking a reaction that produces free radicals, which can destroy atmospheric ozone. That’s something to scream about—but until scientists invent artistic time machines, their theories about the weather events that precipitated history’s greatest paintings will remain mere suppositions.