In the race to the South Pole, explorer Robert F. Scott refused to sacrifice his ambitious science agenda
By Edward J. Larson | Friday, May 27, 2011 | 2
Permanent Address: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=greater-glory
SIDE TRIP: One of Scott’s 32 expedition members sleds past a massive ice structure named Castle Berg, off the shore of Ross Island, Antarctica. Image: Corbis
The history books say that Roald Amundsen beat Robert F. Scott in a race to the South Pole in 1911. Less widely known is that Scott had big scientific ambitions for his trip, which he largely fulfilled.
Scott’s team made several side trips to search for fossils and other scientific evidence, despite competition from Amundsen.
One of Scott’s most significant finds was fossils of an ancient plant, Glossopteris, that proved to be important evidence in support of Darwin’s theory of evolution.
One hundred years ago, in June 1911, Robert Falcon Scott and 32 explorers—most of them British scientists, naval officers or seafarers—were huddled in the darkness of the Antarctic winter, when the sun never rises above the horizon and up to eight feet of ice seals the surrounding sea. Winter temperatures on Ross Island, the southernmost piece of exposed land reached by Scott’s ship, can plunge below –50 degrees Fahrenheit. Blizzards rise up often. Lacking wireless communication and totally cut off from the outside world, the explorers waited for the longer, warmer days of spring, in October, when some of them would set out to cross nearly 900 miles of ice shelf, mountains and the Polar Plateau to arrive at a spot of no particular interest to anybody except for its location at the bottom of the earth.
Two British expeditions had tried to reach the South Pole before. Scott led one himself from 1901 to 1904, and Ernest Shackleton led another from 1907 to 1909. They had fallen short. This time, though, Scott was brimming with confidence. Drawing on those earlier experiences, he had methodically planned this expedition not merely to be the first to reach the South Pole but also to advance an ambitious scientific agenda. He had already put in place several teams that would fan out across the Ross Sea basin, collecting fossils, data and other things of scientific…
This year Friday the 13th superstitions get a break—luckily for triskaidekaphobes.
Painting by Leonardo da Vinci via Getty Images
for National Geographic News
Updated May 13, 2011
They date back to at least ancient Roman times, but Friday the 13th superstitions won’t be getting much of a workout this year. Luckily for triskaidekaphobia sufferers, 2011—like 2010 before it—has only one Friday the 13th.
By contrast, 2009 boasted three Friday the 13ths—the maximum possible in a year, at least as long as we continue to mark time with the Gregorian calendar, which Pope Gregory XIII ordered the Catholic Church to adopt in 1582.
“You can’t have any [years] with none, and you can’t have any with four, because of our funny calendar,” said Underwood Dudley, a professor emeritus of mathematics at DePauw University in Indiana, and author of Numerology: Or, What Pythagoras Wrought.
The calendar works just as its predecessor, the Julian calendar, did, with a leap year every four years. But the Gregorian calendar skips leap years on century years except those divisible by 400. For example, there was no leap year in 1900, but there was one in 2000. This trick keeps the calendar in tune with the seasons.
The result is an ordering of days and dates that repeats itself every 400 years, Dudley noted. As time marches through the order, some years appear with three Friday the 13ths. Other years have two or, like 2011, one.
Curious Calendar Encourages Friday the 13th Superstitions
“It’s just that curious way our calendar is constructed, with 28 days in February and all those 30s and 31s,” Dudley said.
(Related: “Leap Year: How the World Makes Up for Lost Time”.)
When the 400-year order is laid out, another revelation occurs: The 13th falls on Friday more often than any other day of the week. “It’s just a funny coincidence,” Dudley said.
Richard Beveridge, a mathematics instructor at Clatsop Community College in Oregon, authored a 2003 paper in the journal Mathematical Connections on the mathematics of Friday the 13th.
He noted the 400-year cycle is further broken down into periods of either 28 or 40 years.
“At the end of every cycle you get a year with three Friday the 13ths the year before the last year in the cycle … and you also get one on the tenth year of all the cycles,” he said.
2009, for example, was the tenth year of the cycle that started in 2000.
Friday the 13th Superstitions Linked to Triskaidekaphobia
Friday the 13th superstitions are rooted in ancient bad-luck associations with the number 13 and the day Friday, said Donald Dossey, a folklore historian and author of Holiday Folklore, Phobias and Fun.
The two unlucky entities ultimately combined to make one superunlucky day.
Dossey traces the fear of the number 13—aka, triskaidekaphobia—to a Norse myth about 12 gods having a dinner party at Valhalla, Norse mythology’s heaven. In walked the uninvited 13th guest, the mischievous god Loki. Once there, Loki arranged for Hoder, the blind god of darkness, to shoot Balder the Beautiful, the god of joy and gladness, with a mistletoe-tipped arrow.
“Balder died, and the whole Earth got dark. The whole Earth mourned. It was a bad, unlucky day,” Dossey said.
There is also a biblical reference to the unlucky number 13. Judas, the apostle said to have betrayed Jesus, was the 13th guest to the Last Supper. (See “Lost Gospel Revealed; Says Jesus Asked Judas to Betray Him.”)
As for Friday, it’s well known among Christians as the day Jesus was crucified. Also, some biblical scholars believe Eve tempted Adam with the forbidden fruit on Friday. Perhaps most significant is a belief that Abel was slain by his brother Cain on Friday the 13th.
Meanwhile, in ancient Rome, witches reportedly gathered in groups of 12. The 13th was believed to be the devil.
In modern times, many triskaidekaphobes point to the ill-fated mission to the moon, Apollo 13.
Thomas Fernsler, an associate policy scientist in the Mathematics and Science Education Resource Center at the University of Delaware in Newark, said the number 13 suffers because of its position after 12.
According to Fernsler, numerologists consider 12 a “complete” number. There are 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 tribes of Israel, and 12 apostles of Jesus, he pointed out.
Thirteen’s association with bad luck, he said, “has to do with just being a little beyond completeness. The number becomes restless or squirmy”—not unlike some folks with triskaidekaphobia today.
Paralyzed by Friday the 13th Superstitions
Some people are so paralyzed by Friday the 13th superstitions that they refuse to fly, buy a house, or act on a stock tip, for example.
“It’s been estimated that [U.S] $800 or $900 million is lost in business on this day, because people will not fly or do business they would normally do,” said Dossey, the historian, who is also the founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina.
Among other services, Dossey’s organization counsels clients on how to conquer Friday the 13th superstitions, which fuel a phobia that he estimates afflicts 17 to 21 million people in the United States.
Symptoms range from mild anxiety to full-blown panic attacks. The latter may cause people to reshuffle schedules or miss an entire day’s work.
When it comes to bad luck of any kind, Richard Wiseman—a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield, England—has found that people who consider themselves unfortunate are more likely to believe in superstitions associated with bad luck.
Supersitious people’s “beliefs and behavior are likely to be part of a much bigger worldview,” he said. “They will believe [both] that luck is a magical force and that it can ruin their lives.”
Triskaidekaphobia’s Architectural Effects
Triskaidekaphobia can be seen even in how societies are built. More than 80 percent of high-rise buildings lack a 13th floor. Many airports skip the 13th gate. Hospitals and hotels regularly have no room number 13.
On streets in Florence, Italy, the house between number 12 and 14 is addressed as 12 1/2. In France socialites known as the quatorziens(“fourteeners”) once made themselves available as 14th guests to keep a dinner party from an unlucky fate.
DePauw University’s Dudley said nobody really knows why Friday the 13th has spawned so many superstitions.
“You’ve got to have something that is unlucky, and somehow they hit on 13,” he said. “But all these explanations are just moonshine.”
June 25, 2011 – 12:14AM
Nor, for that matter, a shrine to John F. Kennedy that includes a cane rocking chair, made to order for a commander-in-chief with a crook back.
But there they are on display in the little Museum of History on Baltimore Street, along with thousands of Civil War artefacts – weapons, shrapnel, bullets, uniforms and manuscripts, even Abraham Lincoln’s wallet – that provide a reassuring geographical reference.
The eclectic hoard evolved from proprietor Erik Dorr’s early fascination with history.
At age eight, he saved $50 during a summer mowing lawns and, instead of buying baseball cards like his peers, he acquired a trunkload of mementoes taken from captured German soldiers in World War II by his school’s cleaner.
”My parents thought I was off my rocker,” he says, sheepishly.
But Dorr’s destiny was marked: he became a collector and then dealer, finally managing to lay his hands on some of the trove famously looted by US soldiers from Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s lair in the Bavarian Alps.
In the heart of this Civil War precinct, the 43-year-old’s collection – displayed in the home that once belonged to his great-grandparents – might seem incongruous, especially as America commemorates the sesquicentenary of those bloodied and brutal 19th-century hostilities.
But history is the currency of Gettysburg, where the business of collecting and commemoration comes in various guises, from the intriguing to the classy and the kitsch, and where Lincoln’s face features on everything from plaques to baseballs, to packs of candy.
Yet for the town that is the most synonymous with the war, Gettysburg’s big moment is still two years away as events marking the 150th anniversary unfold to the timetable of the war, plotting a course from the first engagement of the war at Fort Sumter to the final battle at Appomattox.
Gettysburg’s turn comes in 2013, although those fateful first three days of July fall this year on a weekend, adding a buzz to the 148th anniversary re-enactments.
Preparations are apparent: footpaths are being relaid in the main street and workers tend the battlefield surrounds in the muggy early summer as tour groups navigate the 1300 monuments and memorials in buses, on horseback, bikes and Segways.
”It’s just starting to build,” says a bartender of the annual influx, a sepia-toned battlefield photograph displayed behind her that is actually the door to a wide fridge. ”It’s been busy but it’s gonna get a helluva lot busier,” she adds.
At the nearby American History Store, where generals Ulysses Grant and Robert E. Lee are kings on a Civil War chess board, a sales assistant has detected an upswing, too. ”I’ve noticed a lot more people already this year, so 2013 is going to be crazy.”
Just how ”crazy” is difficult to fathom, because already at the new Visitor Centre and Museum, busloads of tourists swarm the gift shop like locusts, stripping it of Gettysburg key-rings, Gettysburg cups, Gettysburg playing cards, Gettysburg teddies and T-shirts … pens, peanuts, prints and paraphernalia, as the Battle Hymn of the Republic is piped through the sound system.
The town centre, meanwhile, seems more suited to genuine history buffs, where relics are stocked by various dealerships, including one on Steinwehr Avenue where the vendor is retelling with gusto the moment when a Russian tourist slapped roubles on the counter and tried to make off with a $3000 revolver.
Here a rusty cannon ball, still in one piece, is selling for $US475, bayonets for $US750 and an 1861 Enfield rifle for $US5500.
The good burghers of Gettysburg have harvested tonnes of munitions from the battlefield in the decades since the two armies collided there, putting the Pennsylvania town forever on the map.
The combatants fired more than 600 tonnes of metal over the three days, as they soaked the battlefield with the blood of 10,000 dead and another 30,000 wounded.
Some had died instantly, wrote a Union soldier from Wisconsin. ”Others had struggled fiercely with death, tearing the earth with their hands, dying at last with expressions of the most horrible agony lingering on their distorted features.”
Months later, America’s first National Cemetery would be consecrated on six hectares of land in the middle of Gettysburg.
The president attended but was not billed as the main speaker. Instead, Lincoln was invited to make ”a few appropriate remarks”. Which he did, for just two minutes.
And the rest is history.
This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/world/history-buffs-gather-as-gettysburg-prepares-for-civil-war-anniversary-20110624-1gjl4.html