The Leaning Tower of Pisa Just Got a Little Bit Straighter

Flickr/Neil Howard

Pisa’s famous bell tower has just lost a little bit of its lean, according to a new report by researchers. The Italian tower, which has been tilting perilously for more than 800 years, has straightened by 2.5cm (1 inch) since 2001 thanks to a massive restoration project.

The Tower of Pisa has been leaning to one side pretty much from the beginning-the tower took nearly two centuries to build and it was obvious from the start that things were a little off kilter.

By the early 1990s, the tower was leaning nearly 18 feet, and each year, the tower was tilting more and more, with the incline increasing by more than a millimeter (0.04 inches) a year. That might not sound like much, but experts feared the building could collapse all together.It has taken engineers years to stabilize the tower, which included digging tunnels under one side of the structure to give its foundation room to shift, and attaching steel cables to the tower to keep it upright. It worked, and the tower has been straightening as predicted. In fact, engineers say that theoretically, they could straighten the tower completely. That, however, is unlikely to happen. More than 6 million people visit Pisa each year lured by the sight of the leaning tower, so while locals are happy to see the building restored, they’re not eager to see it straightened anytime soon.

Venice Tests Flood Barriers

Engineers in Venice have successfully tested a new flood barrier that they hope will protect the city. The BBC reports that the first four flood barriers of a planned 78 were floated in the entrance of the city’s famous lagoon.

Venice suffers annual floods due to unusually high tides that threaten irreplaceable buildings and a destination essential to Italy’s tourism industry. It’s also sinking at a rate of one to two millimeters a year, Discovery Magazine reports.

The barrier isn’t complete and has already cost $7 billion. It will take another $800 million and two years more work before it can protect the city. While Italy is suffering badly from the global economic crisis, the government has promised to complete the project by 2016.

Human-Powered Helicopter Wins Award (VIDEO)


Oh Canada! First you gave us William Shatner, now you give us a human-powered helicopter.

A team of engineers called AeroVelo has won a $250,000 award for creating a human-powered helicopter that could fly three meters off the ground for 60 seconds while keeping the cockpit within a ten-square-meter area. The American Helicopter Society sponsored this Igor I. Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter Competition, and the prize money has been on offer for nearly 30 years.

Man-powering a helicopter is tough to do since humans don’t have strength to lift themselves off the ground without large rotors. Of course, large rotors are heavy, making it hard for a human to get the helicopter off the ground. This is the reason all those Renaissance-era experiments with birdlike flapping wings never worked. To cut down on weight, the team used super-light materials that are too delicate to be flown outdoors.

AeroVelo’s flight lasted 64.11 seconds, a world record, and reached up to 3.3 meters in altitude. As you can see from the video, drift was a problem with this and all other competitors, with the machine drifting up to 9.8 meters.

So will this be the new way to get to the hockey game? Probably not. The personal jetpack has been around for decades but never took off either. The Martin Jetpack company is trying to change that, although they haven’t yet made their jetpacks — which will probably cost in the six figures — commercially available yet. Popular Mechanics did an interesting article on why jet packs aren’t feasible.

The Golden Gate Bridge Celebrates Its 75th Anniversary With Lots Of Sparkle

Few American landmarks are as recognized, photographed and beloved as the Golden Gate Bridge, which celebrated its 75th anniversary this weekend with a full slate of free performances, festivals and fireworks displays around San Francisco and the Bay Area.

The weekend’s festivities were the highlight of a full year of celebrations, which included exhibits, lectures, performances, concerts and film screenings dedicated to the iconic landmark. One thing visitors shouldn’t expect is unrestricted pedestrian access; city officials learned their lesson from the bridge’s 50th anniversary celebrations, when more than 300,000 people crowded the main thoroughfare causing the center portion of the bridge to flatten out.

In appropriate fashion, the bridge also received a touch of “sparkle” for its 75th, in the form of a new art and science installation called Solar Beacon, which opened on Sunday. According to the Los Angeles Times, the installation involves a set of remote control mirrors positioned on top of the bridge’s towers, which have the capacity to reflect narrow beams of light across the San Francisco Bay. The installation will also be participatory; residents are invited to log onto Solar Beacon’s website and input a particular place and time, and the project will direct the light’s beam there.

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[flickr image above via Argent_G37S]

Stonehenge Replicas Pop Up Everywhere!

Stonehenge replicas, Snowhenge
Is this Stonehenge? No, it’s Snowhenge! It’s a 1/3-scale replica built at the MacKay Jaycees Family Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan. While it certainly wasn’t as hard to build as the original megalithic stone circle in England, it still involved working 1000 cubic feet of packed snow to make a circle more than six feet tall and thirty feet in diameter. The builders did such an accurate job that they preserved the original monument’s astronomical alignments.

Stonehenge is endlessly fascinating and has inspired people all over the world to create replicas. The most realistic looking is Foamhenge at Natural Bridge, Virginia. The “stones” are made out of painted styrofoam that have been sculpted in the exact shapes of the real Stonehenge.

There’s also the Maryhill Stonehenge, a full-sized concrete recreation of what Stonehenge used to look like in its heyday rather than the ruins we have now. Located in Maryhill, Washington, it was built as a monument to the dead of World War I. In Rolla, Missouri, students at the Missouri University of Science and Technology used water jets to sculpt a Stonehenge out of some 160 tons of granite. It was named one of the year’s Ten Outstanding Engineering Achievements by the National Society of Professional Engineers in 1985. Then there’s Carhenge, near Alliance, Nebraska, which is made out of, well. . .you know.

%Gallery-153665%Americans aren’t the only people making new Stonehenges. Despite having the original, the British have built numerous replicas. Even as far back as the early 19th century, gentlemen with too much money and not enough to do were building Stonehenges on their country estates. Contemporary British Artist Jeremy Deller has put a modern twist on an old tradition with his inflatable bouncy Stonehenge in honor of the 2012 Olympics. And then there’s Stonehenge Aotearoa in New Zealand, which has similar astronomical alignments to Stonehenge (solstices, equinoxes, etc.) but aligned for the Southern hemisphere.

For all the latest on Stonehenge replicas, check out Clonehenge, a blog dedicated to them. They have info about Citrus-henge, Woolhenge, and my personal favorite: Spamhenge! If you make your own replica, send them a photo and they’ll post it online with a rating of one to ten druids. And yes, they know the druids didn’t build Stonehenge.

This isn’t just a quirky blog, but a serious research project. Well, maybe not serious, but pretty meticulous in any case. They’ve documented 72 large permanent Stonehenge replicas from all over the world in addition to the ones made with cake, jelly, glass and medicine bottles.

[Photo courtesy MichiganArchaeologist]