First map to name America goes on display at Library of Congress

Visitors to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., have a rare opportunity to see the first map that used the name “America” for the New World.

The Library has the only surviving copy of the famous Waldseemüller map, created in 1507 by Martin Waldseemüller, a German cartographer living in France. The map was a major departure from earlier maps in that it relied less on the received wisdom of Classical geographers like Ptolemy and more on reports by the many explorers of the time.

Waldseemüller studied reports by Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci and decided Columbus was wrong in thinking he had reached India. Waldseemüller favored Vespucci’s theory that the lands they were exploring on the other side of the Atlantic were actually part of a previously unknown continent. Waldseemüller rewarded Vespucci by naming the continent after him. America is the feminized Latin form of Vespucci’s first name. All other continents had Latin feminine names, so it fit.

The map is not only correct about the New World, but also portrays other parts of the globe far more accurately than other maps of the time. It’s a fine work of art too, with detailed depictions of terrain and portraits of Ptolemy and Vespucci.The map is on display as part of the exhibition “Exploring the Early Americas.”


Climb aboard one of Christopher Columbus’s ships

Whether or not one thinks that Christopher Columbus’s voyage across the Atlantic to the Americas is a day to celebrate, the 1492 journey of the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria was an amazing feat.

Although Columbus and his men made it to the Bahamas on October 12– more then 500 years ago, it’s still possible to see what it would have been like to travel on one of these ships during the 15th century.

These days, life-size replicas of the Santa Maria, the Niña and the Pinta serve as floating museums. Although the Santa Maria is permanently located on the Scioto River in downtown Columbus, Ohio, the Niña–and most recently the Pinta, travel to various ports.

The Niña, built to commemorate 500 years of Columbus’s voyage, has been to 425 ports since its beginning. The Pinta, larger than the original version, was built in 2006 and also serves as a dockside charter that can be rented out for parties whenever it is docked.

Both of those ships are owned by the Columbus Foundation in the British Virgin Islands.

Tomorrow is the last day that the Pinta and the Niña will be in Huntington, West Virginia. On the 16th to the 20th, they’ll be in Marietta, Ohio and will finish off October in Steubenville, another Ohio river town.

For the schedule that includes the rest of the year, click here. The two ships will finish off the 2009 season in Pensacola, Florida.

As a note: The Santa Maria will be open until October 25th when it will close until April 2010.

Massive Cave Discovered in Vietnam

A massive cave discovered in a remote region of Vietnam has been explored for the first time, and is now believed to be amongst the largest in the world. With its main chamber stretching nearly 500 feet in length, and soaring to an unbelievable 650 feet in height.

The cavern is called Hang Son Doong, which means “mountain river cave” in Vietnamese, and was first discovered back in 1991, but was not explored until recently, when a 13-man spelunking team from the U.K. went inside for the first time. The team used a high tech laser to plumb the length and depth of the cavern, and based on preliminary results, they now believe that the cave reaches a height that is at least twice as tall as the largest previously known cave.

The expedition trekked six hours through the jungle to reach the cavern, then spent five days exploring it. In order to reach the massive main chamber. they had to rappel down into a side chamber, cross two underground rivers, and then negotiate several passages. Their cursory survey revealed that the cave system is more than 4 miles in length, but the team believes that there is much more yet to be discovered, and they’ll return later in the year to more thoroughly investigate its depths.

While this cave is genuinely an amazing find, and the height of its main chamber may be the largest yet discovered, it pales in comparison to a cave called Gua Nasib Bagus in Malayasia, whose main chamber streches 2300 feet in length. The king of caves remains Mammoth Cave system in Kentucky however, as it streches at least 365 miles in length, with more passages being discovered all the time.

[via the Outside Blog]

World’s biggest optical telescope in the making

A 30-meter, $1-billion optical telescope that’s in the making promises to bring our Universe 10-times closer. A dream come true for astronomers, it will allow for the study of earlier galaxies, and maybe even take us into the space beyond our solar system.

Headed by the California Institute of Technology, the telescope is called the Thirty-Meter-Telescope or TMT and word is that it will exceed the capabilities of its rival telescopes: the 24.5 meter giant Magellan Telescope, and the 42-meter Extremely Long Telescope; and it is the biggest news to hit astronomy since the launch of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in 1990.

Plans are for it to be located in Mexico, Chile or Hawaii; the design is to be finalized in 2009 and its completion is tapped for 2016.

Look how far we have come: Galileo’s handmade telescope in the 17th Century — which was not more than 2-meters in size — to this humongous thing that will further revolutionize our understanding of what has so far been beyond us.

I think the fact that we were able to turn something that was once used to peek into our neighbors backyard, into something that allows you to look beyond your planet, is fascinating and so underrated. The boons of science never fail to leave me in awe.

Breaking Ice With the North Pole

People who travel to dangerous corners of the world not only because they are adventurous and want to conquer a stubborn internal drive, but also because they want their expedition to count for something valuable to the world, never fail to astonish me.

The latest is endeavor is that of British explorer Pen Hadow who will walk 1200-miles journey to the North Pole whilst pulling a scientific sledge on the way that will measure the thickness of ice remaining in the Arctic Circle. Analysis of the measurements will tell us how long the snow will last us.

As you must know, the ice in the North Pole provides a protective shield that helps balance the Earth’s temperature. The more the ice melts, the more disruption will be caused to the world’s weather systems – hence the grave threat of global-warming.

The expedition is called the Vanco Arctic Survey and a team of 3 explorers (led by Hadow) will do it over a period of 100-120 days, beginning in February next year. Expert oceanographers, glaciologists, and meteorologists from the UK Met Office, Cambridge University and the US Navy will all be working with the team to help them accomplish this feat.

Probably the most ambitious, not to mention dangerous, expedition in the North Pole — the sheer curiosity, inspiration and blatantly adventurous desire of purposeful discovery with travel, always leaves me in utter awe.