A depiction of the world engraved on an ostrich egg in 1504 may be the oldest depiction of the Americas, the Washington Post reports. The globe, which was purchased by an anonymous collector at the 2012 London Map Fair, shows the rough outline of South America, along with bits of the Caribbean and North America as small islands.
Created just twelve years after Columbus’ first voyage and in the early days of Europe’s Age of Discovery, it shows many parts of the world that had only recently been visited by Europeans, such as Japan. These regions are rather vague, while areas closer to home such as Europe and North Africa are fairly accurate.
A detailed study of the globe has been published in The Portolan, the journal of the Washington Map Society. One thing that emerged from the study was that the ostrich egg globe was used as the mold for a copper globe dated to 1510. The Hunt-Lenox globe is kept in the New York Public Library and was the previous record holder for the earliest depiction of the New World.
Actually the globe is made from two ostrich eggs. Discover Magazine notes that the rounded bottom halves of two eggs were used to make a more globular globe, but it’s still a bit too elliptical. The globe’s history is unclear but stylistic clues hint at an Italian origin. It may have been created for an Italian noble family by an artist associated with Leonardo da Vinci.
Scientists in Florence are examining the bones of a 16th century nun they think served as the model for the Mona Lisa.
Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo was the wife of a wealthy merchant and is rumored to have been the model for Leonardo da Vinci’s famous portrait. She was a famed beauty in her time and lived across the street from the famous artist and inventor. When her husband died she became a nun at the convent of San Orsula in Florence, where she died and was buried in 1542.
A team of scientists went looking for her in a crypt under the convent. DNA in the bones they found is now being compared with samples taken from the Gherardini family tomb in hopes of finding a match. The next step will be facial reconstruction to see what the woman looked like in life. Perhaps they’ll find the mystery to her enigmatic smile.
Facial reconstruction and DNA analysis have already been done for the remains of King Richard III, found last year under an English parking lot. Researchers are also examining the possible remains of King Alfred the Great.
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.
A hundred and twenty years ago, Norwegian scientist Fridtjof Nansen started a journey that made him one of the greatest explorers of all time. He set out to purposely get his ship frozen in the polar ice.
The reason? To study polar currents. His ship, the Fram, was purpose-built for the task. It needed to be; many crews had perished in the far north when their ships got frozen and then crushed by ice. The Fram spent three years stuck in the ice as the crew studied currents, took soundings and gathered a host of other scientific data that researchers are still sifting through. Not content with this adventure, Nansen set off on skis in a failed bid to be the first to the North Pole.
Nansen (1861-1930) was fascinated with the world of the Arctic. He was the first to ski across Greenland in 1888 and wrote about his adventures in The First Crossing of Greenland. This was the first of many exciting travel books he’d write. His most famous is Farthest North, his account of the Fram expedition. Nansen went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his work helping refugees after World War I, including the many victims of the Armenian Genocide. His ship is preserved at The Fram Museum in Oslo.
Now researchers at the Norwegian Polar Institute want to get their own ship frozen in the ice. They’re hoping to take an old Arctic research vessel that’s slated for the scrapyard and get it stuck in the ice during the winter of 2014-15.
They plan on studying the conditions of the ice, conditions that have changed markedly in the past few years. With the warming of the poles, most ice is only a year old, instead of being several years old like the ice that Nansen studied. This young ice is thinner, more saline, and has different reflective properties than older ice. Such a study may yield important data on how the Arctic is changing due to global warming.
You can read more about Nansen and the proposed project in an excellent two-part series on Science Nordic.
It’s getting to be that time of year again. People are heading to the beaches, especially around the Mediterranean.
Now choosing one has been made easier by a new interactive website by the European Environment Agency. The agency has released its 2012 figures for water quality of 23,511 “bathing waters.” The website has them broken down by country and region. While most are beaches, popular inland swimming areas such as lakes are also included.
Some countries do better than others. Cyprus may be in economic doldrums, but 100% of their beaches have clean water. Slovenia, the subject of an upcoming series here on Gadling, gets equally high praise for its narrow strip of shoreline.
Scientists examined samples of water over several months in 2012, looking for evidence of pollution. It turns out 93 percent of sites had at least the minimum standard set by the European Union. The worst countries were Belgium, with 12 percent substandard swimming areas, and The Netherlands, with 7 percent.