life support system kept Laika alive until the oxygen ran out a few days later. On April 14, 1958 Sputnik 2 fell into the atmosphere and burned up. The Soviet Sputnik program sent more than a dozen dogs into space. The last Sputnik dog was Chernushka (Blackie), whose successful flight in March, 1961 preceded Yuri Gagarin's manned orbital flight the following month.
The history of dogs in space
A Fact about Sputnik 1

How was food served before plates were invented?
Plates for serving food were not used in Europe until the fifteenth century. Before that, food was usually served on thick, hollowed-out slabs of stale bread called trenchers, which were specially baked and allowed to harden so they could hold more food without falling apart. The food's juices would soak into the bread, and after the meal the soggy trenchers might be fed to the dogs or offered to poor peasants waiting outside for leftovers. The evolution of modern plates began when trenchers were carved out of wood, sometimes with special compartments for spices and condiments. For a while, wooden trenchers were used as supports for bread trenchers. Wooden trenchers were later replaced by clay or ceramic plates, which did not rot under long use.
A great site for medieval cookery
How to set a medieval table
More Facts about food and eating
http://www.cool-fact.com/archive/1999/01/04.html http://www.cool-fact.com/archive/1999/12/15.html

How did "qwerty" keyboards become standard?
Almost every alphabetic keyboard in the world has the letters in an arrangement called "qwerty," after the first six letters in the top row. There are several popular myths about the origin of today's standard keyboard arrangement. Some say it was deliberately designed to slow down typists. What is the truth? When inventor C. L. Sholes built his first typewriters in 1868, he arranged the keys in alphabetical order. But the clumsy mechanical linkages inside the machine could tangle if certain pairs of keys were struck quickly. The "qwerty" arrangement fixed the tangling problem by separating the internal links for frequently paired letters, making the machines more reliable. After a historic typing contest (see today's Person Of The Day, linked below), "qwerty" became the standard way to arrange the keys.
More about the real history of the "qwerty" keyboard  http://home.earthlink.net/~dcrehr/whyqwert.html
Reason Magazine article about market myths, including the origins of "qwerty" and its most popular modern competitor, the Dvorak keyboard arrangement  http://www.reason.com/9606/Fe.QWERTY.html
Today's Person Of The Day was the first person to master touch typing http://www.LearningKingdom.com/person/archive/2000/02/11.html

Why are U.S. stock prices quoted in eighths?
In the eighteenth century, the U.S. dollar's value was pegged to the value of the Spanish silver dollar, which was divided into eight parts rather than the 100 parts (pennies) into which the dollar was divided. When the U.S. stock market opened at the end of the century, prices were based on the Spanish dollar, and they were divided into eighths accordingly. The practice has remained until today, but now the U.S. stock market is finally preparing to switch to a decimal system. Buying and selling stocks is a complex, risky art, and the rules change as the world becomes ever more connected.
Here are two resource centers with useful information for beginners and experts
http://www.e-analytics.com/fp16.htm http://invest-faq.com/
More  Facts about money
Two Words about money

What causes muscles to cramp?
Almost everyone has experienced a muscle cramp. The muscle becomes contracted and rigid, and is usually quite painful. The contracted muscle gets locked into a self-sustaining knot, which can last for hours or days. Many muscle cramps are associated with exercise. These cramps are often due to a depletion or imbalance of salts in the muscle tissue, especially calcium, sodium, and potassium, which are lost in our sweat. A buildup of lactic acid, one of the byproducts of heavy exercise, also can contribute to the cramping. Such cramps can often be relieved by drinking "electrolyte" drinks that restore the salt balance. If you get a cramp, it may be helpful to move the muscle into its least extended (shortest) position and massage it very gently. Eat something with sodium and potassium (like a banana) and wait for the cramp to ease.
More about muscle cramps  http://www.covenanthealth.com/features/health/sports/spor3206.htm
Tips for safe exercise, and advice for various sports injuries
Today's Word is charley horse, one name for a severe cramp http://www.cool-word.com/archive/2000/02/15.html
More Facts about muscles

How does the Earth lose water?
Every day, more than 1,000 gallons of water are lost into space from the top of Earth's atmosphere. Most of the water is lost near the magnetic poles, where charged particles from the Sun split water molecules into electrically charged hydrogen and oxygen ions. The charged ions move in paths that follow the lines of Earth's magnetic field. Since that field points straight up near the poles, they can escape there. The amount lost can be much larger during solar storms when the solar wind becomes more powerful. If Earth had no magnetic field, the amount lost would be far greater and the oceans would have evaporated millions of years ago. Scientists suspect that a similar mechanism might have removed water from the atmospheres of Mars and Venus, both very dry planets today.
How Earth's magnetic field protects the atmosphere (and us!)
The Polar spacecraft measures the "auroral fountain" of ions
Facts about auroras, also produced by streams of charged particles

Where did guinea pigs come from?
In spite of their name, guinea pigs did not originate in Guinea, nor are they pigs. They are rodents, in the same order as mice and hamsters. Guinea pigs (Cavia porcellus) were first domesticated 9000-6000 years ago by the ancient Incas of Peru, who used them for food, as personal pets, and for religious sacrifices. Their natural range originally extended up and down the Andes mountain chain, along South America's west coast. Guinea pigs are social herbivores (plant eaters), adapted to roughly the same ecological niche as rabbits. Their gnawing front teeth (incisors) are self-sharpening and continue to grow throughout the animal's life.
More about guinea pigs
How did they get the name? To find out, see today's Word  http://www.cool-word.com/archive/2000/02/17.html

Where did teddy bears come from?
A teddy bear is a furry stuffed bear, usually a child's toy. The toy and its name were born together after a celebrated act of compassion by U. S. President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt. There are several versions of the story. In the most popular one, Roosevelt went on a bear hunting trip in November 1902, but no bear was bagged. To give the President a chance for some kind of trophy, someone tied a bear cub to a tree so he could shoot it. He refused. Soon after, a cartoon was published in the Washington Post depicting the incident, and there was a great popular outcry in favor of the President's thoughtful restraint. An enterprising businessman began selling stuffed "Teddy bears," and they became an instant hit.
History of the teddy bear, including other versions of the story
Teddy bears have now been honored on postage stamps
Today's Person Of The Day is Teddy Roosevelt

How were messages sent before electric telegraphs?
Before the invention of the electric telegraph in the mid-1800s, time- critical messages were sent across long distances by various kinds of visual telegraph systems (semaphores). Messages were encoded as various combinations of flag positions or light flashes, sent between hilltop stations several kilometers apart. In Europe, the main system was a flag semaphore invented in 1791 by Claude and Ignace Chappe. It used pairs of movable arms and beams that could represent the letters of the alphabet. By the use of this system, Napoleon Bonaparte was able to send a message from Rome to Paris in about four hours at a rate of fifteen characters per minute. In the United States and England a different system was used in which six shutters encoded the letters and numbers. Today there are still some cities with landmarks called Signal Hill or Telegraph Hill, reminding us of their earlier function.
The international two-flag semaphore signalling system
Today's Word is semaphore

How do street lights "know" when to come on?
Street lights usually come on around dark, and flick off when the sun rises. Are they turned on by someone in an office somewhere? Do they have timers that make them go on and off? Most street lights have photoelectric sensors that turn them on when the light fades. Look at the top of a street light. The sensor may be visible as a cylindrical protrusion, often surrounded by spiky wires designed to keep birds from landing there. Sometimes a street light will either stay on all day or never come on at all. Each of these behaviors is usually caused by a defective sensor. You may also notice a few street lights that turn on, then buzz and go out, only to slowly brighten up again a few minutes later. These lights are suffering from aging bulbs that are about to fail.
Do you like street lights? You're not alone
More Facts about public works

How were croissants invented?
The delicate, flaky croissant or crescent roll is a baked pastry that is curved with pointed tips. Although its popular name in English speaking countries is French, the roll itself is of Austrian origin, commemorating a Turkish shape. According to the most popular story, in 1683 the Ottoman Turks invaded Vienna by trying to tunnel under the city's walls. The Turks were successfully repelled, thanks to the vigilance of the only people who were awake during the night-time raid: the bakers. In celebration of the victory the bakers created the croissant, shaping it like the crescent found on the Turkish flag. Since there are several different stories of this event, the true details may be different. But all sources agree that the croissant's shape is the Turkish crescent, and that it was created in celebration of an Austrian victory over the Turks.
The Turkish Siege of Vienna lasted sixty days
Article about croissants with a full recipe
A recipe for "quick and easy croissants"
More Facts about food

Why does the Moon look red during a lunar eclipse?
When the Earth moves between the Sun and the Moon, it casts its shadow on its own satellite, causing a lunar eclipse. From the Earth a bright, full Moon turns into a dark disc that usually has a deep, red color. Viewed from the Moon, the Earth is much bigger than the Sun, so during a total lunar eclipse the Sun's disc is completely blocked by the Earth. Why isn't the Moon plunged into complete darkness during a total lunar eclipse? When the Sun's light enters Earth's atmosphere at a shallow angle, it passes through many layers that scatter almost all of the blue and green light and bend the remaining light around the edge of the planet. The deep, red light shining on the Moon is the combined light of all the sunrises and sunsets that are happening on Earth at the moment of the eclipse.
A more detailed explanation, with pictures  http://spacescience.com/headlines/y2000/ast02feb_1.htm
More Facts about the Moon and eclipses

What kind of material has no electrical resistance?
In 1911 a Dutch physicist named Heike Kamerlingh Onnes noticed that when he cooled mercury metal to a temperature just above absolute zero its electrical resistance completely disappeared. He had discovered superconductivity, a property that some materials have at very low temperatures. When all electrical resistance disappears, some strange things happen. Electric currents can flow forever in closed loops through the material. External magnetic fields cannot enter because they cause exactly equal and opposite currents to flow, repelling them. Scientists are still trying to understand superconductivity. One of the great mysteries is whether there are materials that can show superconductivity at high temperatures. New superconducting materials are discovered every year, but so far they all must be cooled to very low temperatures before they become superconductors.
All about superconductors
More Facts about electricity
http://www.cool-fact.com/archive/1998/12/11.html http://www.cool-fact.com/archive/1999/10/14.html http://www.cool-fact.com/archive/1999/10/27.html

What were the first creatures with compound eyes?
The first eyes with more than one simple lens belonged to bottom- dwelling, aquatic creatures that lived more than 500 million years ago. Scientists suspect that through mutation some of these primitive creatures were born with multiple eyes, instead of one on each side of the body. The multiple eyes probably gave them greater light-gathering ability, an advantage in deep or muddy waters, and over time evolution made their eyes more effective. In their descendants the trilobites compound eyes became quite complex, some of them containing as many as 20,000 lenses Today's insects, which also came from the same ancestors, bear compound and simple eyes adapted for many different lifestyles. Among the best are those of dragonflies, who can track tiny insects on the wing and scoop them up for dinner.
How does a bee see the world? Here's one scientist's educated guess http://cvs.anu.edu.au/andy/beye/beyehome.html
A surprising finding about one kind of insect's compound eyes
More Facts about eyes

Why do tiny particles jiggle around?
Look through a powerful microscope at a water suspension of tiny particles like pollen grains, bacteria, or just plain old dirt and you may notice that they are jumping and jiggling around. Why do they jiggle? The jiggling is called Brownian motion, after the Scottish botanist Robert Brown, who noticed it in 1828. While Brown could not explain the jiggling motion, we know today that it is the result of the movements of water molecules. Smoke particles floating in the air also show Brownian motion. All molecules are in motion all the time, even at a temperature of absolute zero. At room temperature, the chaotic, unpredictable movements of water molecules are strong enough that much larger particles get bounced around, and the bouncing is visible under the microscope.
Two pages with java applets that model brownian motion  http://www.geocities.com/SiliconValley/Vista/6175/brownian.html http://xanadu.math.utah.edu/java/brownianmotion/1/
More Facts atoms, molecules, and movement
http://www.cool-fact.com/archive/1997/10/16.html http://www.cool-fact.com/archive/1998/11/18.html http://www.cool-fact.com/archive/2000/02/02.html

What was the best throwing weapon before bows?
Before the bow and arrow were invented about 15,000 years ago, a simpler weapon was used to throw long darts with great power and accuracy. The atlatl [at-LAT-ul] was invented at least 25,000 years ago, and is still used by Australian aborigines. The atlatl is a stick about 60 centimeters long (24 inches), with a notched hook at one end. Into the notch is placed the end of a flexible, feathered "dart" that is at least 150 centimeters long (59 inches) and possibly longer. By flicking the atlatl quickly forward, the user is able to fling the dart toward the target with tremendous speed. Recently, there has been a surge of interest in the atlatl. Its physics are surprisingly sophisticated, involving temporary storage of energy in the flexing of the dart as it is thrown. Enthusiasts are now designing ever-better atlatls using high-tech materials, and there are world-wide competitions.
The World Atlatl Society
World Atlatl Magazine
More Facts about weapons
http://www.cool-fact.com/archive/1997/03/08.html http://www.cool-fact.com/archive/1998/04/17.html http://www.cool-fact.com/archive/1999/09/28.html

What's the largest visible light telescope?
Until 1993, the largest light telescope in the world was the 200-inch (5-meter) Hale Telescope at the top of Mt. Palomar in southern California. With its huge single-piece glass mirror, it was a tremendous feat of engineering. In 1993, the gigantic 400-inch (ten-meter) Keck I Telescope was completed. At the top of Hawaii's dormant Mauna Kea volcano, it is eight stories tall and weighs 300 tons. In 1996 its twin, the Keck II, was brought online. Instead of a single continuous mirror, each Keck Telescope has thirty-six thin hexagonal segments that can be individually aligned for maximum accuracy. With its huge collecting area, each Keck can gather forty thousand times as much light as the telescope that Galileo used.
The twin Keck Telescopes  http://www2.keck.hawaii.edu:3636/realpublic/gen_info/gen_info.html
More Facts about telescopes and other seeing instruments
http://www.cool-fact.com/archive/1998/04/13.html http://www.cool-fact.com/archive/1998/11/17.html http://www.cool-fact.com/archive/1999/08/03.html

How are horse's hooves protected from cracks?
The hooves of a galloping horse can hit the ground with more than the weight of the entire animal, yet they are made of keratin, the same protein that makes up your fingernails. How do they keep from cracking under the stress? A horse's hoof is essentially a huge toenail. But unlike human toenails, it has an internal structure that stops cracks before they can grow, and even shunts them off to the edge of the hoof, thus trimming it efficiently by removing extra "flash" from the edges. The keratin protein of the hoof has a "grain" like the grain of wood. Cracks tend to grow along that grain. If a crack develops, it moves along the grain until it comes to one of thousands of microscopic tubes that run through the hoof. Each tube is wound with layers of protein with differently-pointing grain, which redirect the crack along the tube to the edge of the hoof, where it harmlessly ends.
More about horse's hooves and hoof cracks, which can still happen in spite of nature's excellent protection
http://www.thehorse.com/0698/hoof_cracks0698.html http://www.webaccess.net/~cherryhillbooks/INFOhoofdress.htm
More Facts about horses
http://www.cool-fact.com/archive/1997/02/25.html http://www.cool-fact.com/archive/1998/08/26.html

Why isn't this popular Asian fruit allowed on airplanes?
All across southeast Asia, people eat the durian or stinkfruit (Durio zibethinus). Westerners who try them are often astonished at the smell, which has been described as a blend of decayed onion, turpentine, garlic, Limburger cheese, and resin. Although the flesh of the durian is sweet and mild, the aroma is so strong that many westerners cannot consume it without gagging. Eating it on commercial flights has been forbidden by several Asian airlines. Yet the durian is enormously popular in Asia. In Thailand, it is called the King Of Fruits. This spiky-skinned, brownish green fruit, which can grow as big as a human head, is becoming available in the United States and Europe. Watch for it in gourmet supermarkets -- but be prepared!
More about the amazing durian
Daniel eats Durian fruit
The King and Queen of tropical fruit, with recipes
More Facts about fruit

How thick is Earth's crust?
Most of the Earth is made of relatively heavy rock and metal. The crust is a layer of lighter material that floated to the top when the planet was still almost all molten. It makes up only 1% of the total volume of the planet. The crust varies in thickness, from five kilometers (three miles) under the deepest parts of the ocean to 70 kilometers (43 miles) under the highest continental mountain ranges. How thin is it, compared to the planet's size? Imagine that the Earth is the size of an orange. Under the deepest oceans, the crust would be thinner than tissue paper, while under the biggest mountain ranges it would be about as thick as construction paper.
A great page all about Earth
More Facts about our planet

What happens when you make a snowball?
When you make a snowball, you squeeze together a scoop of snow and it clumps into a semi-solid mass. Why does it do that? Do the snowflakes get caught on one another? How does the snowball hold together? The pressure you apply when you pack the snowball melts a small fraction of the ice. When you release the pressure, that melted ice re-freezes, holding the whole ball together. The same thing happens when an ice skater skates: there's a thin layer of liquid water under the skate blade, formed by the increased pressure there. When it's extremely cold, snowballs are hard to make, and it's harder to skate on the ice. That's because the colder the ice is, the more pressure it takes to melt it.
Why it's impossible to have a snowball fight on Mars
More Facts about snow and ice

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Updated Mar 9th 2002



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