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Hitler on Ice: Did the Nazis Have a Secret Antarctic Fortress?

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As if I needed more evidence that I have a really awesome job, I occasionally get emails from my editor, Jason, that say things like, "A reader just left a comment about Nazis looking to form a super-advanced civilization in Antarctica. Can we add that to the list of things to investigate?"

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While there are more than a few conspiracy theories that deal with the Nazis and advanced ancient and/or alien civilizations, the supposed Nazi/alien/Antarctica connection, as told by a number of paranormal/conspiracy writers, can be summed up like this: the Nazis claimed an area of Antarctica as German territory and sent an expedition there + the Nazis experimented with innovative technology like stealth aircraft and liquid-propellant rockets = the Nazis in Antarctica must have found alien technology or met actual aliens.

Branching out from that hypothesis, there are stories about Hitler being whisked away (like a comic book super villain) to a secret Antarctic lair built under a mountain, British and U.S. forces battling Nazis and UFOs in the snow and, finally, the polar Nazi forces being wiped out by a nuclear bomb.

It would make an excellent summer action movie, but are these stories based on anything? Like many conspiracy theories, there are some elements of truth to it all. But whether the facts can be woven together into one cohesive narrative without having to make great leaps of logic is another matter.

For Colin Summerhayes, a geologist and oceanographer with the Scott Polar Research Institute, and Peter Beeching, a journalist and historian specializing in international affairs, the story doesn’t pass Carl Sagan’s “"baloney detection kit.” In 2006, the pair published "Hitler’s Antarctic Base: The Myth and the Reality.” It’s an expansive, peer-reviewed study of a mountain of documentary evidence concerning Antarctica’s geography and weather (including Summerhayes’ own research and first-hand experience), polar exploration, and the relevant countries’ declassified military histories. The 21-page myth-busting juggernaut, printed in the scholarly journal Polar Record, starts with an excellent battle cry of skepticism:

“However, as is often stated, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Perhaps there were cover-ups. Perhaps they were successful […] The burden of proof should fall on the shoulders of those making the claims. It is not sufficient to propose an idea and then claim that the hypothesis is untestable because the evidence for it has been covered up. In science, as pointed out by [Carl] Sagan we may start with experimental results, data, observations, and measurements regarded as facts. We then invent possible explanations and systematically confront each explanation with those facts, until we ?nd an explanation that meets the facts in all respects as far as we can tell.”

The tale of the frosty Nazis fails Summerhayes and Beeching’s gauntlet, and the paper picks the story apart piece by piece:

The German Antarctic Expeditions and Base

The Story: In 1938, the Nazis sent a large team of explorers - including scientists, military units and building crews on war ships and submarines - to the Queen Maud Land region of Antarctica. While mapping the area, they discovered a vast network of underground warm-water rivers and caves. One of these caves extended down as far as 20-30 miles and contained a large geothermal lake. The cave was explored and construction teams were sent in to build a city-sized base, dubbed Base 211 or New Berlin, that hosted the SS, the Thule Society, “serpent cults,” various Nazi occultists, the Illuminati, and other shadowy groups.

At some point, the Germans either discovered abandoned alien technology or made contact with extraterrestrial explorers (variously described as Greys or Reptilians). They learned or were taught how to replicate the alien technology, and used it to begin developing a number of super weapons including an advanced aircraft called an “antigravity-disk,” or flying saucer.

While many of these weapons were not ready for use in World War II, the base and the ability to manufacture these weapons might still exist and the Germans/aliens/some cult or secret society (depending on which conspiracy theorist you ask) will eventually launch a New World Order from it.

Survey Says: From December 1938 to April 1939, the Germans really did carry out an exploratory expedition to the western part of Queen Maud Land. Instead of a large-scale scientific and military operation, though, it consisted of one ship, the Schwabenland, and its goal was to scout new territory for the expanding German whaling industry. Further expeditions were planned, and while there’s no mention in German documents of any intention to establish a base, the future trips where one could have been built were quickly cancelled with the outbreak of World War II. After this first expedition, there was no of?cial German activity in Antarctica until 1959, when several Germans joined a Russian expedition.

Even if they had wanted to, it’s not likely that the Schwabenland crew could have built even a small base, let alone one the size of a small city. The expedition, according to the ship’s logs, was only near the coast for a month. Summerhayes and Beeching figure it would have taken the Germans ten days to walk from the boat to the supposed site of the base and another ten to get back, leaving them less than ten days to build an entire base. Other polar expeditions of the era are known to have taken twice that long to build even small huts.

Operation Tabarin: SAS vs Nazis

The Story: While Great Britain was claiming the South Shetland, South Orkney and other islands between Antarctica and South America, they decided they needed a permanent presence in the area to monitor Nazi activity in Antarctica, Argentina and Chile. A secret military exercise, Operation Tabarin was launched by the Royal Navy, and established bases throughout the islands and on the Antarctic peninsula. Eventually, the Germans discovered the British base on the peninsula and attacked it in the summer of 1945. The base was under siege for months, until the SAS arrived around Christmas and rescued it.

Survey Says: For one thing, by the summer of ’45, Hitler was dead and the Germans had surrendered to the Allies. For another, the SAS was disbanded in October, and wasn’t reestablished until a few years later. British documents also suggest that Operation Tabarin was neither as large nor battle-ready as the stories say. Deterrence and spying were not stated goals, and most of the activities were scientific. The base crews consisted mainly of wireless radio operators and government scientists, with very few combat-ready infantrymen. The largest crew, at Hope Bay, consisted of only 13 people, hardly a force that could repel the Germans for almost six months.

Hitler’s Great Escape

The Story: Two months after the German surrender, a German U-boat, U-530, entered the Argentine naval base at Mar del Plata after escaping from Germany with Hitler, Eva Braun and high-ranking Nazi and SS officials on board and dropping them off at the German Antarctic base. An alternative theory says that the U-boat U-977 had been ferrying Hitler’s ashes, which were placed with other Nazi treasures packed in bronze, lead-lined boxes in the Antarctic city-base.

Survey Says: By 1945, Argentina had declared war on Japan and Germany after years of neutrality and friendly enough relations with the Germans. When the U-boat arrived, the captain thought his crew would be well-received, but they were taken as prisoners of war and interrogated by the Argentines, the Americans and the British. The interrogators from all three countries concluded that the appearance of the submarine in the area was coincidental—Hitler was not on board.

Summerhayes and Beeching also consider the dates of U-530’s departure from Germany and arrival in Argentina, a U-boat’s travel speed, and the weather conditions during the summer of 1945, all of which suggest that neither U-boat could have gotten Hitler or his remains to Antarctica. U-530 would not have had time to stop there on its journey, and either U-530 or U-977 would’ve had to dive deeper and longer under sea ice than they were capable of to reach Antarctic coastal land.

The Battle of Antarctica: Operation Highjump, UFOs and Secret Nukes

The Story: When the British failed to expel the Germans from Antarctica, the U.S. launched Operation Highjump in 1946 to destroy the German base. The ground and air forces were fought back by Germany’s flying saucers, and the base was finally obliterated by three nuclear bomb strikes. The flying saucers that have been sighted in the U.S. since then are Nazi spy craft, which are making preparations for the launching of the Fourth Reich under the control of what neo-Nazis call the “Last Battalion,” a Nazi government holdout operating in Antarctica or another remote part of the world.

Survey Says: Operation Highjump did happen, and it was the largest expedition ever sent to Antarctica. It had nothing to do with the Germans, though, as they had already surrendered, and everything to do with America’s Soviet allies. America saw the Soviet superpower as a potential threat and, on the eve of the Cold War, decided that the military ought to be prepared for warfare in extremely cold conditions in case combat erupted in Russia. Highjump was launched to train personnel and test equipment in very low temperatures and deep snow, to practice the building of bases, camps and air fields in snow and on ice, and to establish U.S. sovereignty in the region before the Soviets could. It was just one of several exercises to prepare for possible war with the USSR, and other, similar operations took place in Davis Strait, Northern Canada and Greenland. Antarctica was picked as the site not because of possible German holdouts, but because Highjump was the largest of these operations and the U.S. wanted to avoid the diplomatic fallout that might follow a full scale naval exercise closer to Soviet borders.

If a German base in Antarctica was the real target of Operation Highjump, its planners were lacking some very basic map-reading skills. By all accounts, the supposed Nazi cave base was under Queen Maud Land somewhere, but Highjump was based on the Ross Ice Shelf on the opposite side of the continent. Military-made maps and Navy reports show where every plane and ship went for the duration of the exercise, and not one soldier even came close to where the Germans were known to have explored. None of Highjump’s aims or activities were as secret as conspiracy theorists make them out to be, and there were 11 journalists embedded on the military ships who relayed a total of over 478,000 words back home to their editors, readers and viewers. With all these reporters saw and heard, the Germans were never mentioned.

As for the flying saucer attacks, the case for these UFOs is made solely on a quote from a navy admiral that appeared in a Spanish-language newspaper. The admiral had been discussing the danger posed by a Soviet presence in the polar regions, and how they could potentially launch planes and attack the U.S. and western Europe from the poles. Somehow this got mistranslated (either accidentally or willfully) to suggest that the admiral was talking about mysterious “flying objects.” Highjump did not lose any planes to flying saucer attacks, either. U.S. forces suffered the loss of only one craft during the operation, due to a white out in a snowstorm.

After Highjump was complete, there were three then-secret nuclear explosions in the atmosphere in the southern hemisphere. They didn’t occur near Queen Maud Land, though, nor even over Antarctica, and they had no military target. Instead, they were detonated at high altitudes over the ocean to study the effects of nuclear explosions high up and outside the atmosphere. American researchers were particularly curious about how a nuclear explosion might interfere with radar tracking, communications, and the electronics of satellites and other ballistic missiles in the event of a large-scale nuclear strike during the Cold War. After the tests became public knowledge, their purpose and location were confirmed by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation in Vienna and the British Antarctic Survey, which had been measuring radioactivity on the continent at the time of the tests and saw no spike in radiation levels during or after detonation.

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Big Questions
Why Do Small Dogs Live Longer Than Large Dogs?
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Why do small dogs live longer than large dogs?

Adriana Heguy:

The issue of body size and lifespan is a fascinating topic in biology. It’s strange that across species, at least in mammals, large-bodied animals live longer than small-sized animals. For example, elephants live a lot longer than mice. The theory is that
bigger animals have slower metabolisms than small animals, and that faster metabolisms result in more accumulation of free radicals that damage tissue and DNA. But this doesn't always hold for all animals and the “rate of living” theory is not widely accepted. What we cannot clearly understand remains fascinating.

But now if we look at within a given species, lifespan and body size are inversely correlated. This is definitively the case for dogs and mice, and it has been proposed that this is the case for humans, too. Why would this be? A possible explanation is that larger dogs (or mice, or people) grow faster than their smaller counterparts because they reach a larger size in more or less the same time, and that faster growth could be correlated with higher cancer rates.

We do not have a clear understanding of why growing faster leads to accelerated aging. But it seems that it is an accelerated rate of aging, or senescence, that causes larger dogs to have shorter lifespans than little dogs.

The figure above is from Ageing: It’s a Dog’s Life. The data is from 32 breeds. Note that the inverse correlation is pretty good, however some large dog breeds, at around 40 to 50 kg (or about 88 to 110 pounds), live 12 or 13 years in average while some other dog breeds of equal body size live only eight or nine years on average. This is due to dogs being a special case, as they were artificially bred by humans to select for looks or behavior and not necessarily health, and that considerable inbreeding was necessary to produce “purebred” dogs. For example, boxers are big dogs, but their higher cancer rates may result in a shorter lifespan. However, the really giant breeds all consistently live eight to nine years on average. So there is something going on besides simple breeding quirks that led to bad genetics and ill health. Something more general.

A few years ago, a large study [PDF] was published using mortality data from thousands of dogs across 74 breeds, testing three hypotheses: Large dogs may die younger than small dogs because of (1) an earlier onset of senescence, (2) a higher minimum mortality hazard, or (3) an increased rate of aging. The conclusion from their study is that aging starts more or less at the same age in small and large breeds, but large breeds age faster. We do not have a clear understanding of the underlying mechanism for faster aging in dogs. It seems that when we selected for large body size, we selected for faster aging as well. But we do not know all the genetic components of this. We know that there are at least three genes that determine large body size in dogs: IRS4 and IGSF1, involved in thyroid hormone pathways which affect growth, and ACSL4, involved in muscle growth, and back fat thickness.

But how this accelerates aging is still speculation. More studies are needed, but dogs seem to be a great model to study the evolution of body size and its relationship to aging.

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

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Big Questions
Should You Keep Your Pets Indoors During the Solar Eclipse?
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By now, you probably know what you’ll be doing on August 21, when a total solar eclipse makes its way across the continental United States. You’ve had your safety glasses ready since January (and have confirmed that they’ll actually protect your retinas), you’ve picked out the perfect vantage point in your area for the best view, and you’ve memorized Nikon’s tips for how to take pictures of this rare celestial phenomenon. Still, it feels like you’re forgetting something … and it’s probably the thing that's been right under your nose, and sitting on your lap, the whole time: your pets.

Even if you’ve never witnessed a solar eclipse, you undoubtedly know that you’re never supposed to look directly at the sun during one. But what about your four-legged family members? Shouldn’t Fido be fitted with a pair of eclipse glasses before he heads out for his daily walk? Could Princess Kitty be in danger of having her peepers singed if she’s lounging on her favorite windowsill? While, like humans, looking directly at the sun during a solar eclipse does pose the potential of doing harm to a pet’s eyes, it’s unlikely that the thought would even occur to the little ball of fluff.

“It’s no different than any other day,” Angela Speck, co-chair of the AAS National Solar Eclipse Task Force, explained during a NASA briefing in June. “On a normal day, your pets don’t try to look at the sun and therefore don’t damage their eyes, so on this day they’re not going to do it either. It is not a concern, letting them outside. All that’s happened is we’ve blocked out the sun, it’s not more dangerous. So I think that people who have pets want to think about that. I’m not going to worry about my cat.”

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, a veterinarian, author, and founder of pawcurious, echoed Speck’s statement, but allowed that there’s no such thing as being too cautious. “It’s hard for me to criticize such a well-meaning warning, because there’s really no harm in following the advice to keep pets inside during the eclipse,” Vogelsang told Snopes. “It’s better to be too cautious than not cautious enough. But in the interest of offering a realistic risk assessment, the likelihood of a pet ruining their eyes the same way a human would during an eclipse is much lower—not because the damage would be any less were they to stare at the sun, but because, from a behavior standpoint, dogs and cats just don’t have any interest in doing so. We tend to extrapolate a lot of things from people to pets that just doesn’t bear out, and this is one of them.

“I’ve seen lots of warnings from the astronomy community and the human medical community about the theoretical dangers of pets and eclipses, but I’m not sure if any of them really know animal behavior all that well," Vogelsang continued. "It’s not like there’s a big outcry from the wildlife community to go chase down coyotes and hawks and bears and give them goggles either. While we in the veterinary community absolutely appreciate people being concerned about their pets’ wellbeing, this is a non-issue for us.”

The bigger issue, according to several experts, would be with pets who are already sensitive to Mother Nature. "If you have the sort of pet that's normally sensitive to shifts in the weather, they might be disturbed by just the whole vibe because the temperature will drop and the sky will get dark,” Melanie Monteiro, a pet safety expert and author of The Safe-Dog Handbook: A Complete Guide to Protecting Your Pooch, Indoors and Out, told TODAY.

“If [your pets] have learned some association with it getting darker, they will show that behavior or at a minimum they get confused because the timeframe does not correspond,” Dr. Carlo Siracusa of Penn Vet Hospital told CBS Philly. “You might put the blinds down, but not exactly when the dark is coming but when it is still light.” 

While Monteiro again reasserts that, "Dogs and cats don't normally look up into the sun, so you don't need to get any special eye protection for your pets,” she says that it’s never a bad idea to take some extra precautions. So if you’re headed out to an eclipse viewing party, why not do your pets a favor and leave them at home. They won’t even know what they’re missing.

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