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Archive for November, 2011

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The moon has been shaking for 800 years

Posted in Historical articles, Science, Space on Monday, 28 November 2011

This edited article about space originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 863 published on  29 July 1978.

Photographing the moon, picture, image, illustration

A spacecraft taking pictures of the moon by Wilf Hardy

Space scientists have recently discovered that the moon is shaking. This is the result of a collision 800 years ago.

On 20th June, 1178, a monk, Gervase of Canterbury, saw the collision. The impact from a meteor at least 40 kilometres across was so great that Gervase thought the moon had split in two.

From the centre of the split came forth a “flaming torch” emitting “fire, hot coals, and sparks.”

According to modern astronomers what the monk saw was the shadow of an immense cloud of moon-dust and rubble.

Scientists reasoned that as a result of this impact there should be a crater some twenty kilometres wide. When an orbiting space-craft was photographing the area for possible landing-places a crater, which could be the one in question, was discovered.

It has been called Giordano Bruno after a 16th century philospher.

The moon is still shaking from the impact, but you will not be able to see the movement yourself.

You will need laser equipment for that as the movement affects only about 45 metres of the moon’s surface and it takes three years to complete each shake.

England’s courage and bad weather defeat the Spanish Armada

Posted in Historical articles, History, Ships, War on Monday, 28 November 2011

This edited article about the Spanish Armada originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 863 published on  29 July 1978.

Sinking Spanish ships, picture, image, illustration

England’s fireships strike at the heart of the Spanish Armada

The moment that all England and most of Europe had been waiting for had arrived. Sailing down the English Channel in a crescent formation ten kilometres wide was the greatest sea-force the world had yet seen – the Spanish Armada.

The Armada (“armed fleet”) was the invasion force sent by the Catholic king of Spain, Phillip II, to conquer a Protestant England and to force her to follow the Church of Rome led by the Pope, rather than the recently-founded Church of England, at the head of which stood Elizabeth I.

However, the reason for the invasion was not just a matter of religious differences. For some time Sir Francis Drake had been attacking Spanish galleons as they returned from South America loaded with the treasures of the Indians who lived there. This was the final straw that led Phillip II to decide to conquer England. He therefore assembled an army in the Netherlands, which at that time belonged to Spain, ready to join forces with the Armada when it arrived and land somewhere on the coast of Kent.

On the 19th July, 1588, the huge crescent of ships was sighted off Cornwall, while, it is said, Sir Francis Drake was playing bowls. In all, there were 130 ships, 19,000 soldiers and 9,000 sailors. The English were unable to match the sheer size of the Spanish ships, but their ships were faster, more manoeuvrable and manned by the hardiest sailors in Europe.

Over the next ten days, the English fleet fought and won one of the most decisive battles in British history. Their lightly-armed craft got behind the Spanish galleys and forced them up the Channel and out into the North Sea.

By the 29th July, the danger was past. In disarray the Spanish fleet limped around the East coast of England, round Scotland and down past Ireland back to Spain. On the way, the fleet took a terrific hammering from Atlantic storms, and even more ships were lost, plus thousands of men from drowning and disease. The English lost no ships and only 100 men. England was saved.

The last days of the Blue Riband rivalry

Posted in Historical articles, Ships, Travel on Monday, 28 November 2011

This edited article about transatlantic travel originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 863 published on  29 July 1978.

Bremen and Liberte, picture, image, illustration

The Bremen and the Liberte by John S Smith

In the last days of August, 1939, Bremen, the pride of Germany’s Blue Riband holders, quietly slipped out of New York harbour. As the great liner headed out to sea, her crew members clicked their heels and gave the Nazi salute to the Statue of Liberty. For now they were members of the Third Reich, and war was imminent. The friendly rivalry on the North Atlantic had turned into something altogether more serious – now that the German crew faced the prospect of a return voyage to Europe across an ocean that was distinctly hostile. Just as Queen Mary was racing across the Atlantic from the other direction, fearful of any German warships that might be in the area, so Bremen was worried about the possibility of capture by a British warship – with good reason, for the cruisers Exeter and York had been despatched to find her.

Though still neutral at this stage of the war, the Americans had done all they could to hinder Bremen’s sailing with red tape and customs formalities. But now she was out to sea, heading north as fast as her propellers could drive her.

In a clever escape operation, the crew had spread rumours that they were going to Mexico. They had thrown lifebelts overboard to make it look like they had scuttled her, and in reality they were carrying enough explosive to do just this, should the need arise. Flying a Soviet ensign (though she looked nothing like a Soviet vessel), Bremen made a frantic dash northwards, heading towards Greenland and then the Russian port of Murmansk, where she could expect a reasonably friendly welcome at that time.

Later she crept down the coast of Northern Europe to Bremerhaven, where she joined her sister, Europa, which had been in Germany when war was declared. Like their former rivals, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, they too were converted into troop ships. They had huge doors cut into their sides, ready to take part in Operation Sealion, Hitler’s plan to invade Britain. Luckily the project was abandoned, which was just as well, for the two ships would have made easy targets for RAF bombers.

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Sir John Franklin’s tragic quest in the Arctic

Posted in Disasters, Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Ships on Monday, 28 November 2011

This edited article about exploration and discovery originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 863 published on  29 July 1978.

Sir John Franklin, picture, image, illustration

Franklin was shipwrecked off the coast of Australia in his youth, by Severino Baraldi

Twenty thousand pounds reward. That was the then colossal sum of money offered by Parliament only 160 years ago for a discovery that so far had eluded all man’s efforts . . .

That discovery was a North-West Passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans – a passage that would link Europe by a north-westerly route to China. Sixty-three attempts had been made to find it in the previous three centuries and still people believed that it existed, and should be found “in the interests of commerce and science.”

Although the reward was later withdrawn without a claimant, the challenge remained. And it was the challenge that inspired Sir John Franklin to file an application to lead the Admiralty expedition that was being fitted out for the task. The Lords of the Admiralty, reading Sir John’s request, raised their eyebrows dubiously.

“You have not sailed into Arctic waters for seventeen years,” they reminded Sir John. “Furthermore, you are 60 years old – far too old to be considered for such a daunting task.”

“You have been misinformed, my Lords,” replied Sir John spiritedly. “I’m only fifty-nine!”

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An unwanted Parisian landmark – the Eiffel Tower

Posted in Engineering, Famous landmarks, Historical articles on Monday, 28 November 2011

This edited article about the Eiffel Tower originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 863 published on  29 July 1978.

The Eiffel Tower, picture, image, illustration

The Eiffel Tower by Harry Green

The letter that appeared in a leading French newspaper on 14th February, 1887, caused a sensation in Paris. Signed by distinguished authors, architects and musicians, it called upon all lovers of beauty to protest against the erection of the tower. The building would be useless and monstrous, they wrote, and its silhouette would be an eyesore upon the city’s skyline.

The tower in question was the brainchild of a brilliant engineer named Gustave Eiffel, and it was designed to be the centrepiece of the Paris International Exhibition in 1889.

It would be hard to think of a more suitable place than Paris for an exhibition of this kind at the end of the 19th century. London might be the centre of the British Empire, and New York the fastest growing and most dynamic city on Earth, but as a centre of culture, ideas and sheer enjoyment of life, neither could compare with the capital of France. Artists and writers from all over the world felt that their education was not complete until they had spent some time in the city on the Seine.

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The caterpillar which spins a silken thread

Posted in Industry, Insects, Nature on Monday, 28 November 2011

This edited article about silk originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 863 published on  29 July 1978.

Silk, picture, image, illustration

The story of silk in pictures

No-one really knows when man first discovered how to use the threads made by caterpillars of the silkworm moth, bombyx mori, for the spinning of silk.

The origin of this beautiful, much-valued material is lost in legend and fable, but we do know that the silk industry began in China and that silk became an important commodity there under the emperor Huang Ti as long ago as 2,640 BC.

Silkworms are big, smooth, white caterpillars which hatch from tiny eggs laid by the parent moth on mulberry leaves. The eggs are called “silk seed” and are so minute that about 1,500 of them would only weigh about a gram.

When newly hatched, the tiny black larva turns to a creamy colour and grows to 85 millimetres in length. At first, it eats its eggshell, which contains food that is vital to its life and to its spinning. When the eggshell, has been eaten, the caterpillar then begins to eat the food that will provide its only sustenance for the rest of its life – mulberry leaves.

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A volcanic event on Tristan da Cunha

Posted in Disasters, Famous news stories, Geography, Geology, Historical articles on Monday, 28 November 2011

This edited article about disasters originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 863 published on  29 July 1978.

Tristan da Cunha, picture, image, illustration

The Tristaners leave their remote island of Tristan da Cunha in 1961 when the volcano started to erupt

A lurid glow filled the sky and a cloud of vapour rose close to the shore of Tristan da Cunha, a remote island in the South Atlantic. The island’s volcano, until then regarded as extinct, was beginning to erupt.

Life on the island had been peaceful for the 300 or so inhabitants until the middle of 1961. Then they received the first warning signals of trouble in the form of a series of earthquake shocks. Experts in Britain felt that there was no serious danger and the Tristaners went about their work, fishing and tending their cattle and fields.

Then, one Sunday evening in mid-September, came a shock more severe than any before. The islanders, gathered at their evening service, felt the little church heave and shake about them.

By the end of the month, pieces of rock began to break off from the mountainside and fall dangerously close to their homes. Livestock were killed and the island’s only water pipeline was fractured.

Cracks began to appear in house walls and deep fissures in the ground. Between the sea and the mountain, a dome of earth and rock was seen to be growing like a huge bubble from the ground.

It was time to go. Fortunately, a refrigerator ship, which called to pick up the islanders’ crawfish, was anchored offshore. This and a fishing craft took the Tristaners to another island from where they were eventually brought to Britain.

None of the islanders was injured. After they had been away for 18 months, most of the islanders returned. They found that little damage had been done to their settlement, except that their newly-built crawfish freezing plant was completely buried. The lava stream had spread into the sea, adding over 30 hectares to the island’s area. Once more the Tristaners settled down on their island hoping that the volcano would not awaken from its slumber again.

The ferocity and strength of the massive Pike

Posted in Fish, Nature, Wildlife on Tuesday, 15 November 2011

This edited article about fish originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 862 published on  22 July 1978.

Pike, picture, image, illustration

A pike attacking a duck

Lying among the reeds near the river bank lurks a large fish. About a metre in length and coloured with a mottling of brown, green and yellow, it looks almost like a log as it waits motionless in the water.

Suddenly, the fish is galvanised into action. A smaller fish swimming by has caught its eye. The big fish darts upon its victim and seizes it in its strong jaws.

The predator is a pike, which is a terror of the waterways. Not only does it hunt and destroy weaker fishes of all sorts, including its own smaller relatives, but it also catches and eats frogs, rats and young water birds. In fact, it will kill and eat anything that is not too big for it to tackle.

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England’s greatest cricketer – the “Doctor”, W G Grace

Posted in Historical articles, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Tuesday, 15 November 2011

This edited article about cricket originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 862 published on 22 July 1978.

W G Grace, picture, image, illustration

W G Grace at the wicket by Richard Hook

Now that the parks and greens of Old England are echoing with the sound of leather upon willow, what better moment to honour the memory of the greatest cricketer of all time – the “Doctor”, W. G. Grace, who was born 130 years ago this week, on 18th July, 1848.

William Gilbert Grace was a giant in every sense of the word. Towering above everybody else on the field, his beard flowing in dark waves on to his chest, he dominated cricket for more than forty years, starting with 170 runs for South Wales when he was 16, and still scoring centuries in county matches when he was 56. To the Victorians he became a national hero, a sort of living representation of John Bull in his power and permanence.

In a way it was not surprising that he should have achieved such fame at cricket, for he was born into a family of fanatical cricketers. He was the third of four brothers, (all of whom played for England at some time or another and occasionally at the same time) he learnt to play from his father, who cleared a pitch in the garden of their home near Bristol and taught his boys every thing he knew about cricket, which at that time did not have a very precise set of laws.

“W.G.” was a natural. As a batsman he could deal with virtually any ball that was bowled at him, and he made mincemeat of the fast bowlers who terrorised his contemporaries. He was also a tremendous bowler: on one occasion in 1867, he took eight wickets at a cost of only 25 runs. In a career that stretched from 1865 to 1908, he scored no less than 54,896 runs (including 126 centuries) and took 2,876 wickets.

There will never be another cricketer to rival Grace. Playing on pitches that a modern schoolboy would reject as unsuitable, he revolutionised the styles and techniques of cricket, as well as making the game more popular than any man before or since. As one obituary said of him when he died, “Had Grace been born in Ancient Greece, the Iliad would have been a different book.”

The enduring romance of R D Blackmore’s ‘Lorna Doone’

Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, Literature on Tuesday, 15 November 2011

This edited article about English literature originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 862 published on 22 July 1978.

Lorna Doone, picture, image, illustration

The fight between John Ridd and Carver Doone by James E McConnell

By all accounts R.D. Blackmore was a kindly, amiable man who remained unbowed throughout all his life by the series of misfortunes which dogged him at every step. While he was at school he was hit on the head with a brass hammer, which left him with a legacy of epilepsy in later life. When he married, his wife became a chronic invalid, thus burdening him with looking after her while he himself was far from well.

He set up as a fruit-grower at Teddington in Middlesex, and the railway arrived and carved a path through his property, leaving a railway station almost on his doorstep. Crop after crop failed to appear or fell rotten to the ground. When he did succeed in getting his fruit to Covent Garden, he was often swindled.

His servants either left in droves or refused to work. His brother died mysteriously, and when Blackmore irrationally started accusing all and sundry of murdering him, he was bombarded with libel actions.

Even in that which was dearest to him – the creative act of writing – he was, for the most part, a dismal failure. All his books were published, but the critics were lukewarm about most of them, and today only one of them is remembered, his justly famous Exmoor novel, Lorna Doone.

In this one book, set in an area he had not seen since he was 16, Blackmore achieved heights that he was never to attain again. In the books he wrote afterwards, Blackmore tried desperately to recapture some of the magic of Lorna Doone, using locales ranging from the South Downs to Yorkshire, from Middlesex to Pembrokeshire, but the reviewers remained unenthusiastic.

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