Why Are Moths Drawn to Flames?

iStock/Zffoto
iStock/Zffoto

Around the world, moths make kamikaze dives into light bulbs and open flames with such regularity that they have their own idiom. What is it about lights that make moths so crazy?

For a long time, scientists blamed the moon. Moths used the moon as a navigational beacon, it was argued, keeping it at a constant angle to their direction of travel in order to fly straight. Light sources used by humans, whether they’re campfires or porch lights, threw a monkey wrench into this system. The moon is far enough away that the angle between it and a traveling moth isn’t going to change much, even after the moth flies a great distance. With a closer light source, though, the angle changes considerably after only a short distance. A moth confusing a light bulb or candle flame for the moon, the hypothesis went, would notice this change and attempt to correct its path by turning toward the light. After just a few course corrections, the moth would set itself into a tightening death spiral towards the light and eventually crash into it, either going down in flames or thwacking its poor little head.

On Second Thought...

Over the years, various holes were poked in this hypothesis. For one—and this is a big one—moths might not even use the moon for navigation.

There isn’t much evidence for it, especially when it comes to the over 50 percent of moths that don't migrate and wouldn’t have much use a celestial navigation aid in their short distance travels.

There’s also the fact that moths don't always circle around lights in a closing spiral like the moon hypothesis assumes. Most of the time, they actually head straight for it. Henry Hsiao, a professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of North Carolina, has tracked moth flights as the bugs headed toward a light source and found that, most of the time, they fly in a straight line toward the light until they get very close, then veer off and circle at a steady distance.

Hsiao’s observations led him to develop a new hypothesis. He’s unsure what causes the moth to make a beeline to a light, but thinks that the circling behavior at close ranges is caused by a visual distortion common to all sighted creatures called a “Mach band.” The band is the region surrounding a bright light that is perceived as being darker than any other part of the sky. Hsiao thinks that moths hang out in the band because they want the cover of darkness for safety, and wind up circling the light until their flight path takes them away from the it (or causes them to crash into it).

Love Hurts

Another explanation, proposed by U.S. Department of Agriculture entomologists in the 1970s, is that the infrared light spectrum emitted by candle flames contains some of the exact same wavelengths of light given off by female moths' luminescent pheromones. In other words, it’s just male moths that are attracted to flames because they wrongly assume that they’re going to get lucky. This doesn’t explain their attraction to UV light, which doesn’t emit the same light wavelengths as moth pheromones, but it does say something very profound about the lure of love.

Why Do People Say "Jesus H. Christ," and Where Did the "H" Come From?

IHC monogram: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain. Background: iStock/vectortatu
IHC monogram: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain. Background: iStock/vectortatu

Spencer Alexander McDaniel:

Well, first, let us talk about where the name "Jesus Christ" comes from. The name Jesus is an Anglicized form of the Latin name Iesus, which is in turn a Latinized form of the ancient Greek name Ἰησοῦς (Iēsoũs), which is, in turn, a Hellenized form of Jesus's original name in ancient Palestinian Aramaic, which was יֵשׁוּעַ (yēšūă‘), a shortened form of the earlier Hebrew name יְהוֹשֻׁעַ (y'hoshuaʿ), which means "Yahweh is Salvation."

y'hoshuaʿ is the original Hebrew name of the hero Joshua, the central figure in the Book of Joshua in the Old Testament. Consequently, yēšūă‘ was one of the most common male given names in Judaea and Galilee during the early part of the first century CE when Jesus was alive. There are even multiple other people with the exact same name mentioned in the New Testament, including Jesus Barabbas in the Gospel of Mark and Jesus Justus, an apostle mentioned in the Book of Acts and in the Pauline Epistles.

Although people today often treat the word Christ as though it is Jesus's last name, it is actually not a name at all, but rather an epithet (i.e. a descriptive title). The English word Christ is an Anglicized form of the Latin word Christus, which is, in turn, a Latinized form of the ancient Greek word Χριστός (Christós), meaning "anointed one." The word Χριστός is used in the New Testament as a Greek translation of the Hebrew title מָשִׁיחַ (māšîaḥ), which has roughly the same meaning.

In antiquity, the title of māšîaḥ was not exclusively specific to any one particular person; instead, it was a generic title that could be applied to anyone who was regarded as fulfilling the role of God's anointed. For instance, in Isaiah 45:1, the title is applied to Cyrus the Great, the shah-in-shah of the Achaemenid Empire, who freed the Jews from captivity in Babylon after he captured the city in 539 BCE and allowed them to return home to rebuild their Temple in Jerusalem.

Now that we have that covered, we can proceed to explain where the phrase "Jesus H. Christ" most likely comes from. Most Christians are familiar with the Chi Rho monogram. If you are not familiar with it, here it is:

It is composed of the capital forms of the Greek letters chi ⟨Χ⟩ and rho ⟨Ρ⟩, the first two letters of the Greek word Χριστός, superimposed over each other. It is a sort of clever abbreviation that was used by early Christians to signify "Jesus" without having to write out his full name.

There is, however, another monogram used to represent Jesus that many people are less familiar with: the IHϹ monogram. Here is one form of it:

IHC monogram
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

While the Chi Rho monogram is composed of the capital forms of the first two letters of the Greek word Χριστός, the IHϹ monogram is composed of the first three letters of Ἰησοῦς, which, if you recall, is the Greek spelling of the name Jesus.

The first letter is the Greek letter iota ⟨I ι⟩, which looks like the Latin letter ⟨I⟩ and makes the [i] sound as in the word machine, or sometimes the consonantal [j] sound as in the word yellow. The second letter is the Greek letter eta, which makes the long E sound, but which looks like the Latin letter H ⟨H η⟩. The third and final letter is the lunate sigma ⟨Ϲ ϲ⟩, a form of the Greek letter sigma which looks extremely similar to the Latin letter ⟨C⟩ and makes the [s] sound as in the word soft.

These are the first three letters of the name Ἰησοῦς, the Greek spelling of the name Jesus used in the original Greek text of the New Testament. At some point, however, presumably sometime in the early 19th century, ignorant Americans who were accustomed to the Latin alphabet and who knew nothing of the Greek alphabet mistook the letters of the IHϹ monogram for the Latin letters J, H, and C. They concluded that the J must stand for "Jesus" and the C must stand for "Christ," but then no one could figure out what the H stood for. Apparently, some people just concluded, "Hey, I guess H must be his middle initial!"

Eventually, the phrase "Jesus H. Christ" became something of a joke and it began to be used as a mild expletive. In his autobiography, the American author Mark Twain (a.k.a. Samuel Langhorne Clemens; lived 1835–1910) observed that the phrase was already in common use when he was still a young lad. Twain tells a humorous anecdote of how, in around 1847, when he was apprenticed to a printer, the evangelical preacher Alexander Campbell, the leader of the "Restoration Movement," ordered the printer to whom the young Samuel Clemens was apprenticed to print some pamphlets for one of his sermons.

Unfortunately, the printer accidentally dropped a few words and, in order to avoid having to reset three whole pages of text, made space to fill in the missing words by abbreviating the name "Jesus Christ" to simply "J. C." at one point in the text. The pious Reverend Campbell, however, insisted that the printer must not "diminish" the name of the Lord; he insisted that he needed to include the full name, even if it meant resetting three whole pages of already set text. The printer reset the text, but, because he was annoyed by the reverend, instead of changing the text of the pamphlet to say simply "Jesus Christ," he changed it to say "Jesus H. Christ."

It is important to note that Mark Twain's story is not the origin of the phrase, but it is an early piece of evidence of the phrase being used.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

Who Has Jurisdiction for Crimes Committed in Space?

iStock/nedelcupaul
iStock/nedelcupaul

It's 2050. Humans have mastered commercial space travel. Hundreds of people pay thousands of dollars to be sent into orbit in a spaceship. Maybe some decide to help colonize Mars.

Then, trouble. A jilted spouse. A smuggled firearm. Perhaps a struggle followed by suffocation. A space traveler is found dead on board a ship or on the Red Planet. Who has jurisdiction over such crimes? Is there such a thing as a cosmic Hercule Poirot? Could someone fall through the cracks and get away with space murder?

To date, no one has been victim of a space crime. But because no one nation can lay claim to ownership of space, the idea of a criminal offense committed outside of our atmosphere is something people have already given some thought to.

According to NASA engineer and instructor Robert Frost, the language of law for galactic felonies would be the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. In Article VIII of the treaty, nations engaging in space exploration agree that they will bear responsibility for the actions of personnel aboard their craft. In other words, if a privatized shuttle from China sees a fight break out among crew members, leaving one injured, China would be the entity responsible for handling legal repercussions.

That varies slightly with the International Space Station, or ISS, which is home to a number of personnel from different nations. In the case of the ISS, an intergovernmental agreement signed in 1998 mandates that the home country of the offender will handle any investigation or prosecution. If the victim is a national of another country, that country will have the right to inquire as to the criminal status of the offender and seek to have jurisdiction over the matter if they feel justice isn't being meted out.

In most cases, space crime sprees would be treated the same as if an offender was traveling in a foreign country or in international waters. If you're a U.S. citizen and decide to bludgeon someone at sea or on the Moon, the various international agreements and national laws would determine how you get prosecuted. (Assuming, of course, you returned to Earth to answer the charges.)

Space crimes pose another intriguing wrinkle. In terra firma investigations, authorities can secure crime scenes, question witnesses, and preserve evidence. Aboard a spaceship or on a distant planet, these procedures would be difficult to perform, and almost impossible to do in a timely fashion. Even if a criminal investigator is on Mars, low gravity will affect blood spatter and bodies may even decay at a different rate than they do on Earth. While an American may be found liable for murder, proving it was malicious and not the result of the dangerous environment would give any prosecutor a headache. A defense attorney, on the other hand, would have a field day questioning defective spacesuits or toxic exposure to strange space chemicals.

Then again, prosecutors may not have to concern themselves with evidence. Thanks to airlocks and restrictive suits, the movement of space travelers is highly monitored. It would be hard to make any plausible deniability about one's whereabouts.

The closest thing to space crime that law enforcement has yet encountered may be crimes committed in Antarctica, the frigid and isolated continent that's unaffiliated with any country but operates under the Antarctic Treaty signed by 54 nations. The agreement declares that the suspect is likely under their home country's jurisdiction. In some cases, the country owning the research station where the alleged crime took place steps in. In 2018, a Russian researcher at Bellingshausen Station on King George Island went after his victim with a knife in the station's dining room. He was charged in Russia, though reports indicate the case has since been dropped. And in 2000, an Australian astrophysicist suspected of being fatally poisoned had an autopsy performed in New Zealand. The exam showed he had ingested methanol, but it remains unknown whether he did so accidentally or whether someone gave it to him. New Zealand police were unable to determine the source.

A person committing murder in space would certainly be held responsible. But whether they'd ever be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt remains very much up in—and beyond—the air.

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