One of the lesser-known aspects of the Soviet Gulag was the brutal slave labor camps located in the mountains of Czechoslovakia following World War II, where prisoners were exploited in order to provide uranium for the Soviets’ nascent atomic warfare program.
Shortly after the end of World War II, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin – recognizing the advantage the US had with its possession of atomic weaponry – sent the Red Army to capture one of the few areas then known to possess material that could be used in the construction of atomic bombs.
The Ore Mountains, which then marked the border between Czechoslovakia and Germany, first gained fame in the late 15th century as the site of a major silver discovery, with the Bohemian town of Joachimsthal taking on special significance as a source of the metal.
Also discovered around this time was pitchblende, a radioactive, uranium-rich ore, which early miners discarded as a waste byproduct.
Only at the beginning of the 20th century was it learned that pitchblende was a valuable commodity in and of itself. Within pitchblende, a variety of uraninite, Marie Curie discovered the element radium, and until the First World War Joachimsthal pitchblende was the only known source of radium in the world.
Also found within pitchblende is uranium. Like other elements, uranium occurs in slightly differing forms known as isotopes. The most common form of uranium is U-238, which makes up more than 99 percent of natural uranium found in the Earth’s crust.
However, another uranium isotope, U-235, while it is makes up less than 1 percent of the Earth’s uranium, is important because under certain conditions it can readily be split, yielding a tremendous amount of energy.
In late 1945 Stalin pressured the Czechoslovak government to sign a confidential treaty that would give Moscow the rights to material from mine, according to Tom Zoellner’s outstanding 2009 work “Uranium.”
Fire ants are a major hazard in the Southern US. Whether you stumble onto a colony of these tiny stinging demons or simply stand too near a nest, you’ll likely end up with painful reminders of how appropriately these insects are named.
The mounds – which can approach a density of 1,000 per acre – are usually 1 to 3 inches tall and made of soft dirt, but can sometimes approach a full 12 inches in height. It’s not unusual for a medium-sized nest to hold tens of thousands of ants.
Among environments fire ants like to construct nests is along riverbanks and around ponds. As someone who likes to fish, I’ve discovered many a fire ant nest the hard way.
So, while I have a soft spot for most living things, it is with a child-like glee that, after a day of fishing, I will take occasion to carefully kick ant nests into the water when the opportunity presents itself.
The way I see it, anything that can harm me or my kids – along with any other living creature unfortunate enough to blunder along – is fair game. And if I can help cut down on these invasive pests, even better.
One thing that always caught my attention was how the ants, after being punted into the drink, would cling together. This is no accident, according to a recent study released by scientists from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.
When faced with a flood, ants use their own bodies to form a raft and rely on the buoyancy of the brood and the recovery ability of workers to minimize injury or death, according to the study, released earlier this week. In addition, the queen ant is placed in the middle and protected on all sides by the rafting ants.
More than six years after stumbling across a giant 9-foot barnacle-encrusted anchor in the muck of Puget Sound, Port Angeles, Wash., resident Doug Monk may shortly get confirmation whether his find is indeed one of the long-sought relics of European exploration in the Pacific Northwest.
Monk believes the anchor uncovered while diving for sea cucumbers in January 2008 belonged to a ship that accompanied Capt. George Vancouver’s famed exploration of Puget Sound in 1792.
Since his find, Monk and several others have sought to convince historians, scouring books and explorers’ journals, unearthing centuries-old patents and British court documents and even asking the government weather experts to recreate 18th-century currents, according to the Seattle Times.
They hope to have it tested by experts at Texas A&M University, according to the publication.
Though the anchor’s monetary value is undetermined, its exact location is being withheld to prevent looting, according to the Whidbey News-Times. The find was officially recorded with the Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation in 2009.
Vancouver’s exploration of Puget Sound was but a small but important part of a 4-1/2 year voyage which took him and his crew around the globe between 1791 and 1795.
If it’s true that fear of snakes is among the most common phobias known to humans – and personal experience would indicate this is the case among nearly every adult woman and most men – then the Greater Everglades Chamber of Commerce has some mighty big obstacles to overcome.
If confirmed, it would make it the largest snake ever captured in the famed wetlands region of Florida, which is noted for its wildlife, particularly reptiles.
The Burmese python is able to thrive in the Everglades because it’s an invasive species with no natural predators in the area.
“The number of pythons has skyrocketed, with more than 300 pythons being removed from the Everglades every year since 2007,” according to the online publication LiveScience. “Researchers don’t know their true numbers but estimate at least tens of thousands of the giant snakes inhabit the National Everglades Park.”
Tens of thousands?!? Even non-herpetophobes get creeped out by those numbers.
The snakes are wiping out native wildlife like bobcats, foxes and raccoons, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
David Boaz of the Cato Institute pulls excerpts from three books to demonstrate how different – and difficult – life was not too many generations ago.
It must be just about impossible for a denizen of middle-class 21st-century America to imagine the toil and suffering that Catharine Martin [born 1800] and her counterparts underwent every day: living in crude houses – mere huts when they first settled in Illinois and elsewhere – slaving at open fires to prepare food for their families, and worst of all watching children fall ill and having nothing in their powers to help them: ‘Within a year of her marriage, with the fated fertility of women then, Catharine had her first baby, and named her Catharine Anne, after herself. They called her Sissie. This baby was followed by Charlotte Augusta in 1830 and Martha Olivia in 1831. When they were one, three, and five years old, all three little girls died in the space of a week or two.’ Catharine herself was ill but survived to write many years later: ‘When I got up, my house was empty, three little prattlers all gone, not one left.’
Having walked through many an older cemetery and seen family plots with several infant gravestones – sometimes a half-dozen or more – next to those of their parents, I can only wonder at the grief previous generations often had to endure, and their ability to do so.
Beginning in 1845, potato blight destroyed a significant proportion of Ireland potato crop, ultimately leading to the deaths of more than 1 million individuals and the emigration of another 1-million plus.
Many today place blame for the tragedy on the British government of the 1840s, namely its adherence to a combination of laissez-faire relief efforts, trade laws that curtailed importation of grains that would have helped offset dwindling potato stocks and a general indifference to the fate of poor Catholic Irish by ruling Protestant British.
But, as Stephen Davies of the Foundation for Economic Education points out, the underpinnings of the Irish Potato Famine began at least 150 years before Phytophthora infestans first began attacking Irish potato crops.
Following the defeat of England’s last Catholic king, James II, by Protestant forces led by William of Orange in the Glorious Revolution in the late 17th century, a series of “penal laws” were passed by the Irish Parliament, which was dominated by the Protestant minority who had supported William.
The first law, passed in 1695, took away the right of Catholics to bear arms, while another forbade Catholics to leave the island for education and prohibited them from teaching or running schools within Ireland.
“The most important, however, was the Act to Prevent the Further Growth of Popery (1704),” according to Davies. “This prevented Catholics from buying land or inheriting it from Protestants, or from leasing land for more than 31 years. At about this time the potato was introduced as a major crop. The combination of the legislation and the new crop was ultimately disastrous.”
How cold is it in the Canadian province of Manitoba? One news outlet compared the conditions to that of distant planet.
The Manitoba Museum reported temperatures in the capital city of Winnipeg were actually as bitter as the surface of Mars, according to the CBC.
According to the Curiosity Rover, the robotic rover exploring Mars as part of a NASA mission, the Red Planet reached a maximum temperature of -20 Fahrenheit on Tuesday, somewhat “warmer” than Winnipeg’s “high” of -24. With wind chill, the prairie capital felt more like -40 to -58, the CBC reported.
Those conditions can leave exposed skin frozen in less than five minutes.
And in the northern half of the province, in places like Thompson, Nelson House, Lynn Lake, Leaf Rapids and Churchill, the wind chill on Tuesday made it feel like -54 to -63.
It was so cold earlier this week that nine United Airlines flights, operating as United Express, flying both in and out of Winnipeg were cancelled on Monday. Three flights scheduled to leave Winnipeg Tuesday were also cancelled, according to the Winnipeg Free Press.
Long before Antiques Roadshow became a mainstay on American public broadcasting channels, it was popular on British television.
But in the 36 years the show has run on the BBC, it has never identified a more valuable painting than that first brought in by Father Jamie MacLeod in June.
The work, of a Renaissance official, was purchased by MacLeod for approximately $660 from an antiques shop in Cheshire, England.
After it caught the eye of Antiques Roadshow folks earlier this year, the painting was cleaned and restored, after which it was verified to be the work of Flemish master Anthony Van Dyke, and worth nearly $660,000. The pronouncement was made this past weekend on the program.
Van Dyck (1599-1641) served as court painter in England under King Charles I. The work is a portrait of a magistrate of Brussels and probably was made by Van Dyke in preparation for a 1634 work showing seven magistrates, according to the BBC.
The painting was authenticated by Van Dyck specialist Christopher Brown as a genuine piece by the Flemish artist.
MacLeod runs a retreat house in north Derbyshire. He told the BBC he wants to sell the painting and buy new church bells from the proceeds.
The above chart of the world’s biggest cities since 4000 BC, created by Business Insider, demonstrates, among other things, that urban growth has not always been steady and sure.
Consider that at around Year 1 of the Christian era, Rome was estimated to have had a population of 1 million while Chang’an, an ancient Chinese capital today known as Xi’an, boasted about 500,000 inhabitants.
Yet, within 600 years, the largest city in the west, by now Constantinople, had but 125,000 individuals, while the biggest in the east, although still Chang’an, was down to half its former size.
Clearly, urbanization was a fluid concept, influenced by disease, warfare and trade.
Another interesting takeaway is that while Rome may have been the largest city the world had ever known around the time of Christ, if you fast-forwarded 1500 years, Constantinople, then the largest city in the west, was a staggering 90 percent smaller than Rome had been at its height.
In fact, it would be more than 1800 years after Rome’s apex before another city in the west would again reach the 1 million level.