How "The Power" Literally Rocked the House

Turbo B and Penny Ford, featured performers on "The Power"

On July 5, 2011, the 39-story "Techno-Mart" mall in Seoul, South Korea shook for ten minutes, causing a two-day evacuation and an investigation. The cause of the tremors? Seismic experts concluded that "The Power," a dance hit by the band Snap!, simply rocked too hard.

Tae Bo Power - It's Gettin' Kinda Hectic

When the shaking occurred, it was felt only in the upper floors of the Techno-Mart. An investigation revealed that several dozen people had been doing an intense Tae Bo workout on the 12th floor. On that day, the Tae Bo instructor put on "The Power" and urged the class to do their workout "twice as hard." All that rhythmic stomping set up mechanical resonance within the building, causing it to vibrate. The Techno-Mart happened to have a resonance frequency matching that of "The Power's" kickin' beat. Here's a bit more explanation by professor Chung Lan of Dankook University:

“It just happens to be that the vibration set up by the “taebo” [sic] exercises coincided with the resonance frequency unique to the building,” the professor said. When an external vibration hits the resonance frequency of a certain object, the vibration is amplified and causes excess shaking even from slight movement.

And lest we forget, here's "The Power":

Rhythm is a Dancer

It's important to emphasize that the Techno-Mart's shaking was caused not so much by the weight of the stompers, but by their rhythm (ahem, "Rhythm is a Dancer" is also a song by Snap!). Investigators demonstrated that "The Power" was the song with the building-busting beat by staging a second dance session, while tremor detectors were installed throughout the building. Yes, Korean scientists recruited a new set of "middle-aged people" who performed Tae Bo to "The Power" for the sake of public safety. Here's a snippet from Koea JoongAng Daily:

Jeong Ran, a professor at Dankook University, said, “The total weight of the people who are expected to participate in the demonstration will be about 850 kilograms (1,873 pounds). But, actually, weight is not that important. Rhythm and music causes tremors. The demonstrators are now practicing how to dance to the beat of the music.

The original group of Tae Bo enthusiasts refused to come forward, for fear of negative media attention. Apparently the Tae Bo instructor also disappeared, and to make things worse, the incident occurred during his first day on the job.

The supreme irony of this is that Billy Blanks, creator of the Tae Bo workout system, released a video called Tae Bo Power later in 2011. The video featured a section on attaining "Billy's Power Abs" and encouraged users to "feel the POWER." It did not, however, cry "I've got the power!"

"The Power" 45 single cover
Original 45rpm "The Power" single

Zumba Can Also Rock Super-Hard

An oddly similar incident occurred in February 2011 in Australia, although instead of Tae Bo, the exercise was Zumba -- a mix of dance and aerobics. In Canberra, an Education Department building shook violently after a 12th floor dance class got its groove on. According to a story in The Age (emphasis added):

Tests confirmed exercise classes were causing the building to shake. While all buildings are designed to move in response to factors such as wind, the high impact movements of Zumba caused a build-up of "harmonic vibrations", despite the floor on which the exercise class was held exceeding Australian standards for gymnasiums, officials said.

As a result, Zumba classes were stopped in the building because of safety fears.

Snap! Bonus Trivia

You may have wondered about the brief Russian snippet in the beginning of the music video for "The Power." It appears to be a man talking about the Sputnik satellites, but indeed is about the release of a personal computing device for the visually impaired. (In Russian, the term "sputnik" is not specific to the iconic Russian satellites -- it means, roughly, "fellow traveler.") Wikipedia explains the opening clip:

The song opens with the somewhat enigmatic line in Russian: “???????????? ????? Transceptor Technology ?????????? ? ???????????? ??????????? «???????????? ???????»” (meaning “The American company Transceptor Technology has started production of the ‘Personal Companion’ computer”). “Personal Companion” was a computer-like device for the blind and visually impaired. Released in 1990, it was controlled by voice and could, among other functions, automatically download articles from USA Today by a built-in modem. It was made by Transceptor Technologies of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Buckingham Palace Was Built With Jurassic Fossils, Scientists Find

The UK's Buckingham Palace is a vestige from another era, and not just because it was built in the early 18th century. According to a new study, the limestone used to construct it is filled with the fossilized remains of microbes from the Jurassic period of 200 million years ago, as The Telegraph reports.

The palace is made of oolitic limestone, which consists of individual balls of carbonate sediment called ooids. The material is strong but lightweight, and is found worldwide. Jurassic oolite has been used to construct numerous famous buildings, from those in the British city of Bath to the Empire State Building and the Pentagon.

A new study from Australian National University published in Scientific Reports found that the spherical ooids in Buckingham Palace's walls are made up of layers and layers of mineralized microbes. Inspired by a mathematical model from the 1970s for predicting the growth of brain tumors, the researchers created a model that explains how ooids are created and predicts the factors that limit their ultimate size.

A hand holding a chunk of oolite limestone
Australian National University

They found that the mineralization of the microbes forms the central core of the ooid, and the layers of sediment that gather around that core feed those microbes until the nutrients can no longer reach the core from the outermost layer.

This contrasts with previous research on how ooids form, which hypothesized that they are the result of sediment gathered from rolling on the ocean floor. It also reshapes how we think about the buildings made out of oolitic limestone from this period. Next time you look up at the Empire State Building or Buckingham Palace, thank the ancient microbes.

[h/t The Telegraph]

Anne Dirkse, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
10 Astonishing Things You Should Know About the Milky Way
Anne Dirkse, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
Anne Dirkse, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Our little star and the tiny planets that circle it are part of a galaxy called the Milky Way. Its name comes from the Greek galaxias kyklos ("milky circle") and Latin via lactea ("milky road"). Find a remote area in a national park, miles from the nearest street light, and you'll see exactly why the name makes sense and what all the fuss is about. Above is not a sky of black, but a luminous sea of whites, blues, greens, and tans. Here are a few things you might not know about our spiraling home in the universe.


The Milky Way galaxy is about 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 kilometers (about 621,371,000,000,000,000 miles) across. Even traveling at the speed of light, it would still take you well over 100,000 years to go from one end of the galaxy to the other. So it's big. Not quite as big as space itself, which is "vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big," as Douglas Adams wrote, but respectably large. And that's just one galaxy. Consider how many galaxies there are in the universe: One recent estimate says 2 trillion.


artist's illustration of the milky way galaxy and its center
An artist's concept of the Milky Way and the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* at its core.
ESA–C. Carreau

The Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy composed of an estimated 300 billion stars, along with dust, gas, and celestial phenomena such as nebulae, all of which orbits around a hub of sorts called the Galactic Center, with a supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A* (pronounced "A-star") at its core. The bar refers to the characteristic arrangement of stars at the interior of the galaxy, with interstellar gas essentially being channeled inward to feed an interstellar nursery. There are four spiral arms of the galaxy, with the Sun residing on the inner part of a minor arm called Orion. We're located in the boondocks of the Milky Way, but that is OK. There is definitely life here, but everywhere else is a question mark. For all we know, this might be the galactic Paris.


If you looked at all the spiral galaxies in the local volume of the universe, the Milky Way wouldn't stand out as being much different than any other. "As galaxies go, the Milky Way is pretty ordinary for its type," Steve Majewski, a professor of astronomy at the University of Virginia and the principal investigator on the Apache Point Observatory Galactic Evolution Experiment (APOGEE), tells Mental Floss. "It's got a pretty regular form. It's got its usual complement of star clusters around it. It's got a supermassive black hole in the center, which most galaxies seem to indicate they have. From that point of view, the Milky Way is a pretty run-of-the-mill spiral galaxy."


On the other hand, he tells Mental Floss, spiral galaxies in general tend to be larger than most other types of galaxies. "If you did a census of all the galaxies in the universe, the Milky Way would seem rather unusual because it is very big, our type being one of the biggest kinds of galaxies that there are in the universe." From a human perspective, the most important thing about the Milky Way is that it definitely managed to produce life. If they exist, the creatures in Andromeda, the galaxy next door (see #9), probably feel the same way about their own.


John McSporran, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

We have a very close-up view of the phenomena and forces at work in the Milky Way because we live inside of it, but that internal perspective places astronomers at a disadvantage when it comes to determining a galactic pattern. "We have a nice view of the Andromeda galaxy because we can see the whole thing laid out in front of us," Majewski says. "We don't have that opportunity in the Milky Way."

To figure out its structure, astronomers have to think like band members during a football halftime show. Though spectators in the stands can easily see the letters and shapes being made on the field by the marchers, the band can't see the shapes they are making. Rather, they can only work together in some coordinated way, moving to make these patterns and motions on the field. So it is with telescopes and stars.


Interstellar dust further stymies astronomers. "That dust blocks our light, our view of the more distant parts of the Milky Way," Majewski says. "There are areas of the galaxy that are relatively obscured from view because they are behind huge columns of dust that we can't see through in the optical wavelengths that our eyes work in." To ameliorate this problem, astronomers sometimes work in longer wavelengths such as radio or infrared, which lessen the effects of the dust.


Astronomers can make pretty reasonable estimates of the mass of the galaxy by the amount of light they can see. They can count the galaxy's stars and calculate how much those stars should weigh. They can account for all the dust in the galaxy and all of the gas. And when they tally the mass of everything they can see, they find that it is far short of what is needed to account for the gravity that causes the Milky Way to spin.

In short, our Sun is about two-thirds of the way from the center of the galaxy, and astronomers know that it goes around the galaxy at about 144 miles per second. "If you calculate it based on the amount of matter interior to the orbit of the Sun, how fast we should be going around, the number you should get is around 150 or 160 kilometers [93–99 miles] per second," Majewski says. "Further out, the stars are rotating even faster than they should if you just account for what we call luminous matter. Clearly there is some other substance in the Milky Way exerting a gravitational effect. We call it dark matter."


Dark matter is a big problem in galactic studies. "In the Milky Way, we study it by looking at the orbits of stars and star clusters and satellite galaxies, and then trying to figure out how much mass do we need interior to the orbit of that thing to get it moving at the speed that we can measure," Majewski says. "And so by doing this kind of analysis for objects at different radii across the galaxy, we actually have a fairly good idea of the distribution of the dark matter in the Milky Way—and yet we still have no idea what the dark matter is."


andromeda galaxy
The Andromeda galaxy
ESA/Hubble & NASA

Sometime in the next 4 or 5 billion years, the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies will smash into each other. The two galaxies are about the same size and have about the same number of stars, but there is no cause for alarm. "Even though there are 300 billion stars in our galaxy and a comparable number, or maybe more, in Andromeda, when they collide together, not a single star is expected to hit another star. The space between stars is that vast," Majewski says.


There are countless spacecraft and telescopes studying the Milky Way. Most famous is the Hubble Space Telescope, while other space telescopes such as Chandra, Spitzer, and Kepler are also returning data to help astronomers unlock the mysteries of our swirling patch of stars. The next landmark telescope in development is NASA's James Webb Space Telescope. It should finally launch in 2019. Meanwhile, such ambitious projects as APOGEE are working out the structure and evolution of our spiral home by doing "galactic archaeology." APOGEE is a survey of the Milky Way using spectroscopy, measuring the chemical compositions of hundreds of thousands of stars across the galaxy in great detail. The properties of stars around us are fossil evidence of their formation, which, when combined with their ages, helps astronomers understand the timeline and evolution of the galaxy we call home. 


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