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The Quick 10: 10 Uninhabited Spots in the U.S.

Maybe you've noticed... there are a lot of people in the United States. But even with a population of 304,260,083 (so says the U.S. Census Bureau's Population Clock as of 1:30 p.m.), there are still some places that have been relatively untouched. You might find a radio tower or an airstrip, but no inhabitants. Here are a few of them.

10 Uninhabited Spots in the U.S.

1. Baker Island. Baker Island is southwest of Honolulu and has been a U.S. territory since 1857. It's only about 405 acres and access is pretty much restricted to educators and scientists. Four people used to live there but were evacuated during WWII.

2. Howland Island. Howland is about halfway between the U.S. and Australia and is one of the places Amelia Earhart was supposed to land when she disappeared (some theories say that she did, in fact, land there). Howland is about 455 acres and was briefly colonized by a military school in Hawaii in 1935. Two of the four "colonists" were killed by a Japanese air attack in 1941.

3. Jarvis Island. This tiny plot of land is just under three square miles, so it makes sense that no one has tried to move in. Well, that's not exactly true. "Millersville" was essentially some guys in pup tents, but when a Japanese submarine surfaced near the island and fired on them, they evacuated. No one was hurt, though.

4. The Johnston Atoll. In 1963, Johnson Island was declared a place to conduct nuclear testing if necessary. In 1993, though, it was deemed as a place to store and destroy chemical weapons. No one really lives there, but military personnel come and go.

5. Kingman Reef. Most of Kingman Reef is underwater so it's logical that it remains uninhabited. It used to be called "Danger Reef", which I enjoy more. It's so small and so barely above water that the highest point on the reef is still wet 99 percent of the time.

6. Petrel Islands. Also known as the Bajo Nuevo Bank, the Petrel Islands were re-discovered in 1660 by pirate John Glover. They had been noted on some Dutch maps prior to that but were unclaimed. Currently, lots of lobster fishermen spend time there. It does have a lighthouse, but that's about it.

7. Serranilla Bank. The Serranilla Bank can be found on Spanish maps as old as 1510. It's a little over 200 miles northeast of Nicaragua. Who owns it is actually questionable - in 1981, the United States gave several of the Guano Islands (Islands acquired by the U.S. in 1879) to Colombia, but never specifically named Serranilla. Colombia considers it theirs, though.

8. Midway Atoll. You probably know Midway as the location of the Battle of Midway during WWII. Before that, though, it was a tourist attraction for the extremely weathly. The China Clipper, an air boat run by PanAm, was in operation from 1935 to 1941. Only rich people could afford the trip, though, because a flight on the China Clipper cost more than three times the annual salary of the average American at the time. It was a Naval Air Station for a while but was downgraded to a Naval Air Facility in 1978. It was closed in 1993 and the last personnel left in 1997. As of March, the island has been approved for ecotours and studies.

9. Navassa Island. This one is also a little questionable - although the U.S. had claimed it, some documents show that Haiti claimed the land in 1801 or earlier. It's only about two square miles and is about 90 miles south of Guantanamo Bay. When the Panama Canal opened in 1914, a lighthouse was built on Navassa and three people lived there to maintain it. When an automated beacon was installed in 1929, the lighthouse keepers moved out and the island has been uninhabited ever since.

10. Wake Atoll. The Wake Atoll is jointly operated by the U.S. Army and Air Force. Access is very restricted, as you might imagine. Pan American set up a small base there in 1935 to service flights on the U.S.-China route. On December 8, 1941, Wake Island was attacked by 27-plus Japanese bombers. Ninety-eight Americans were gunned down on orders from Rear Admiral Shigematsu Sakaibara, but the Japanese eventually surrendered. It has no indigenous inhabitants now, although as of 2006 there were about 200 contractors living there.

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The Elements
9 Diamond-Like Facts About Carbon
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How well do you know the periodic table? Our series The Elements explores the fundamental building blocks of the observable universe—and their relevance to your life—one by one.
 
 
It can be glittering and hard. It can be soft and flaky. It can look like a soccer ball. Carbon is the backbone of every living thing—and yet it just might cause the end of life on Earth as we know it. How can a lump of coal and a shining diamond be composed of the same material? Here are eight things you probably didn't know about carbon.

1. IT'S THE "DUCT TAPE OF LIFE."

It's in every living thing, and in quite a few dead ones. "Water may be the solvent of the universe," writes Natalie Angier in her classic introduction to science, The Canon, "but carbon is the duct tape of life." Not only is carbon duct tape, it's one hell of a duct tape. It binds atoms to one another, forming humans, animals, plants and rocks. If we play around with it, we can coax it into plastics, paints, and all kinds of chemicals.

2. IT'S ONE OF THE MOST ABUNDANT ELEMENTS IN THE UNIVERSE.

It sits right at the top of the periodic table, wedged in between boron and nitrogen. Atomic number 6, chemical sign C. Six protons, six neutrons, six electrons. It is the fourth most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen, and 15th in the Earth's crust. While its older cousins hydrogen and helium are believed to have been formed during the tumult of the Big Bang, carbon is thought to stem from a buildup of alpha particles in supernova explosions, a process called supernova nucleosynthesis.

3. IT'S NAMED AFTER COAL.

While humans have known carbon as coal and—after burning—soot for thousands of years, it was Antoine Lavoisier who, in 1772, showed that it was in fact a unique chemical entity. Lavoisier used an instrument that focused the Sun's rays using lenses which had a diameter of about four feet. He used the apparatus, called a solar furnace, to burn a diamond in a glass jar. By analyzing the residue found in the jar, he was able to show that diamond was comprised solely of carbon. Lavoisier first listed it as an element in his textbook Traité Élémentaire de Chimie, published in 1789. The name carbon derives from the French charbon, or coal.

4. IT LOVES TO BOND.

It can form four bonds, which it does with many other elements, creating hundreds of thousands of compounds, some of which we use daily. (Plastics! Drugs! Gasoline!) More importantly, those bonds are both strong and flexible.

5. NEARLY 20 PERCENT OF YOUR BODY IS CARBON.

May Nyman, a professor of inorganic chemistry at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon tells Mental Floss that carbon has an almost unbelievable range. "It makes up all life forms, and in the number of substances it makes, the fats, the sugars, there is a huge diversity," she says. It forms chains and rings, in a process chemists call catenation. Every living thing is built on a backbone of carbon (with nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, and other elements). So animals, plants, every living cell, and of course humans are a product of catenation. Our bodies are 18.5 percent carbon, by weight.

And yet it can be inorganic as well, Nyman says. It teams up with oxygen and other substances to form large parts of the inanimate world, like rocks and minerals.

6. WE DISCOVERED TWO NEW FORMS OF IT ONLY RECENTLY.

Carbon is found in four major forms: graphite, diamonds, fullerenes, and graphene. "Structure controls carbon's properties," says Nyman.  Graphite ("the writing stone") is made up of loosely connected sheets of carbon formed like chicken wire. Penciling something in actually is just scratching layers of graphite onto paper. Diamonds, in contrast, are linked three-dimensionally. These exceptionally strong bonds can only be broken by a huge amount of energy. Because diamonds have many of these bonds, it makes them the hardest substance on Earth.

Fullerenes were discovered in 1985 when a group of scientists blasted graphite with a laser and the resulting carbon gas condensed to previously unknown spherical molecules with 60 and 70 atoms. They were named in honor of Buckminster Fuller, the eccentric inventor who famously created geodesic domes with this soccer ball–like composition. Robert Curl, Harold Kroto, and Richard Smalley won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering this new form of carbon.

The youngest member of the carbon family is graphene, found by chance in 2004 by Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov in an impromptu research jam. The scientists used scotch tape—yes, really—to lift carbon sheets one atom thick from a lump of graphite. The new material is extremely thin and strong. The result: the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

7. DIAMONDS AREN'T CALLED "ICE" BECAUSE OF THEIR APPEARANCE.

Diamonds are called "ice" because their ability to transport heat makes them cool to the touch—not because of their look. This makes them ideal for use as heat sinks in microchips. (Synthethic diamonds are mostly used.) Again, diamonds' three-dimensional lattice structure comes into play. Heat is turned into lattice vibrations, which are responsible for diamonds' very high thermal conductivity.

8. IT HELPS US DETERMINE THE AGE OF ARTIFACTS—AND PROVE SOME OF THEM FAKE.

American scientist Willard F. Libby won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960 for developing a method for dating relics by analyzing the amount of a radioactive subspecies of carbon contained in them. Radiocarbon or C14 dating measures the decay of a radioactive form of carbon, C14, that accumulates in living things. It can be used for objects that are as much as 50,000 years old. Carbon dating help determine the age of Ötzi the Iceman, a 5300-year-old corpse found frozen in the Alps. It also established that Lancelot's Round Table in Winchester Cathedral was made hundreds of years after the supposed Arthurian Age.

9. TOO MUCH OF IT IS CHANGING OUR WORLD.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important part of a gaseous blanket that is wrapped around our planet, making it warm enough to sustain life. But burning fossil fuels—which are built on a carbon backbone—releases more carbon dioxide, which is directly linked to global warming. A number of ways to remove and store carbon dioxide have been proposed, including bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, which involves planting large stands of trees, harvesting and burning them to create electricity, and capturing the CO2 created in the process and storing it underground. Yet another approach that is being discussed is to artificially make oceans more alkaline in order to let them to bind more CO2. Forests are natural carbon sinks, because trees capture CO2 during photosynthesis, but human activity in these forests counteracts and surpasses whatever CO2 capture gains we might get. In short, we don't have a solution yet to the overabundance of C02 we've created in the atmosphere.

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Big Questions
Why Don't We Eat Turkey Tails?
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Turkey sandwiches. Turkey soup. Roasted turkey. This year, Americans will consume roughly 245 million birds, with 46 million being prepared and presented on Thanksgiving. What we don’t eat will be repurposed into leftovers.

But there’s one part of the turkey that virtually no family will have on their table: the tail.

Despite our country’s obsession with fattening, dissecting, and searing turkeys, we almost inevitably pass up the fat-infused rear portion. According to Michael Carolan, professor of sociology and associate dean for research at the College for Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, that may have something to do with how Americans have traditionally perceived turkeys. Consumption was rare prior to World War II. When the birds were readily available, there was no demand for the tail because it had never been offered in the first place.

"Tails did and do not fit into what has become our culinary fascination with white meat," Carolan tells Mental Floss. "But also from a marketing [and] processor standpoint, if the consumer was just going to throw the tail away, or will not miss it if it was omitted, [suppliers] saw an opportunity to make additional money."

Indeed, the fact that Americans didn't have a taste for tail didn't prevent the poultry industry from moving on. Tails were being routed to Pacific Island consumers in the 1950s. Rich in protein and fat—a turkey tail is really a gland that produces oil used for grooming—suppliers were able to make use of the unwanted portion. And once consumers were exposed to it, they couldn't get enough.

“By 2007,” according to Carolan, “the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Samoans also have alarmingly high obesity rates of 75 percent. In an effort to stave off contributing factors, importing tails to the Islands was banned from 2007 until 2013, when it was argued that doing so violated World Trade Organization rules.

With tradition going hand-in-hand with commerce, poultry suppliers don’t really have a reason to try and change domestic consumer appetites for the tails. In preparing his research into the missing treat, Carolan says he had to search high and low before finally finding a source of tails at a Whole Foods that was about to discard them. "[You] can't expect the food to be accepted if people can't even find the piece!"

Unless the meat industry mounts a major campaign to shift American tastes, Thanksgiving will once again be filled with turkeys missing one of their juicier body parts.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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