An 1865 painting by Frederic Edwin Church, possibly inspired by the aurora of 1859.
On September 1, 1859, the sky erupted in color: “alternating great pillars, rolling cumuli shooting streamers, curdled and wisped and fleecy waves—rapidly changing its hue from red to orange, orange to yellow, and yellow to white, and back in the same order to brilliant red,” read a New York Times account. This was the aurora seen around the world.
Meanwhile, the telegraph operators were perplexed to find that the system suddenly failed. None of the lines worked, and telegraph paper spontaneously caught on fire. The aurora and disconnected telegraphs were both the working of the largest solar storm recorded in history.
The prosthetics sported by military veterans and others today are high-tech masterpieces, but they are the evolution of a simple, and age-old, idea. To illustrate that point, the BBC News Health site has gone through the London Science Museum’s wonderful archive of historical medical devices and put together a slideshow of prosthetics dating from seven centuries BCE to the mid-twentieth century. Our favorites: The factory work’s arm with four attachable hammers, the Egyptian toe prosthesis, and the gas-powered arms for a twelve-year-old boy.
We just won’t let Tycho Brahe be.
A colorful character and a father of modern astronomy, Brahe died in 1601 and was buried at Tyn Church near Prague’s Old Town Square. But the popular explanation for his expiration—a bladder infection—just doesn’t satisfy modern scientists seeking the truth about Tycho. So this week, Danish and Czech scientists (Brahe was Danish but died in Prague) got permission to exhume the long-dead stargazer to find evidence of his true cause of death.
His body has been exhumed before, in 1901. Tests on a sample of hair from his moustache, taken at that time, have been conducted as recently as the 1990s and indicated unusually high levels of mercury. Brahe was also an alchemist and some have suggested that he would have handled mercury and may have administered it to himself as medicine. Others have suggested he was poisoned. [BBC News]
Attention lovers of old-timey science: the good stuff keeps on coming. Last month, when Britain’s Royal Society released digital versions of some of its greatest scientific papers to celebrate its 350th anniversary, we brought you delightfully odd and gruesome samples from the library. Now the society has uploaded another batch of classic manuscripts, including a book containing an early account of Isaac Newton’s apple story, one of science’s most famous anecdotes.
A biography written by William Stukeley, one of Newton’s contemporaries, relates the apple story as Newton himself told it to Stukeley. The text of Stukeley’s Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton’s Life has long been available online, but the Royal Society opened up digital access to the handwritten manuscript itself Sunday [Scientific American]. In his 1752 book on Newton, Stukeley writes: