History

Why Does Friday the 13th Scare Us So Much?

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: September 12, 2013   View Article

It’s Friday the 13th, and millions of people are on edge, fearing a calamity with personal or global repercussions-a broken leg, a stock market crash, or the trigger pulled for World War III.

Why all the anxiety? In short, because the fear is ingrained in Western culture, according to experts.

“If nobody bothered to teach us about these negative taboo superstitions like Friday the 13th, we might in fact all be better off,” said Stuart Vyse, a professor of psychology at Connecticut College in New London.

Beer mystery solved! Yeast ID’d

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: August 22, 2011   View Article

Ice cold beer: In these dog days of summer, few things are better. So, let’s raise a glass and toast Saccharomyces eubayanus, newly discovered yeast that helped make cold-fermented lager a runaway success.

The yeast, in the wild, thrives in ball-shaped lumps of sugar that form on beech trees in Patagonia of South America. Its discovery appears to solve the mystery of how lager yeast formed. Until now, scientists only knew about the origins of ale yeast, which makes up just half of the lager yeast genome.

Yeasts are microscopic fungi that feast on sugar, converting it to carbon dioxide and alcohol via the process of fermentation. Ale yeast, S. cerevisiae, has been doing this throughout the history of beer, which stretches back to at least 6,000 B.C. in Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization.

Seven deep mysteries of history

Publication: MSNBC.com   Date: August 24, 2010   View Article

What happened to Amelia Earhart?

Amelia Earhart raised the spirits of Depression-era America as she soared into the aviation record books with feats of altitude, distance and endurance. The mood took a gloomy turn, however, when she and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared over the Pacific Ocean on July 2, 1937, during a much-heralded attempt to fly around the world. Their fate remains one of aviation’s greatest unsolved mysteries.

Theories abound: They ran out of fuel and crashed into the Pacific Ocean. They were captured by the Japanese and executed. They survived, and Earhart lived out her life as a housewife in New Jersey.

A prominent theory with tantalizing clues holds that they survived the crash landing and but perished as castaways on Nikumaroro, an uninhabited island in the republic of Kiribati. An expedition to the island in 2010 recovered pieces of a pocket knife and a glass jar that may have belonged to the castaways. If DNA analyses on these and other items match Earhart’s, the mystery may finally be resolved.

Check out six more stories of historical mysteries.

Eight great American discoveries in science

Publication: MSNBC.com   Date: July 4, 2010   View Article

When the colonies declared independence from Great Britain in 1776, scientists in the Americas, with a few notable exceptions, were largely dependent on Europeans — shipping botanical specimens, for example, across the Atlantic for study and classification, according to Marc Rothenberg, the agency historian with the National Science Foundation. But in the 19th century, the infrastructure was put in place for homegrown American science and engineering.

“In the 20th century we really become an international leader,” Rothenberg said. Follow along as msnbc.com takes a look back at some of the achievements and discoveries that gave the U.S. a leadership role in the sciences.

Father’s Day 2010 Is Centennial: How Did Holiday Start?

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: June 18, 2010   View Article

As Father’s Day hits its centennial on June 20, 2010, sons and daughters around the world are expected to open their wallets wider—slightly—in celebration. Because of the slowly recovering global economy, people are expected to spend about 4 percent more than in 2009 on cards, ties, tools, clothes, and other Father’s Day gifts.

But the first Father’s Day, a hundred years ago, was decidedly humbler, and refreshingly noncommercial.

Memorable moments in space shuttle history

Publication: MSNBC.com   Date: May 6, 2010   View Article

After more than 130 missions over nearly 30 years, NASA’s space shuttle program is gearing up for its final flight, when Endeavour will deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a $1.5 billion particle detector, to the International Space Station.

“It is obviously time for these vehicles to be given an honorable retirement, and I do emphasize honorable,” said Roger Launius, senior curator of human spaceflight at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. “They have served well, but they are obsolete and it’s time to move on.”

Follow along as msnbc.com and Launius take a look back at memorable moments in space shuttle history

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Water Found in Apollo Moon Rocks?

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: March 9, 2010   View Article

Recently NASA crashed two spacecraft into the moon and orbiters scanned the lunar surface for telltale light signatures—all to confirm the rocky body isn’t bone dry after all.

But, it turns out, solid evidence for water on the moon was under our noses the whole time.

Tiny amounts of water have been found in some of the famous moon rocks brought back to Earth by the Apollo astronauts, scientists announced last Wednesday.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach