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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.

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Look Up! The Lyrid Meteor Shower Arrives Saturday Night
Scott Butner, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Scott Butner, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

There is a thin line between Saturday night and Sunday morning, but this weekend, look up and you might see several of them. Between 11:59 p.m. on April 21 and dawn on Sunday, April 22, the Lyrid meteor shower will peak over the Northern Hemisphere. Make some time for the celestial show and you'll see a shooting star streaking across the night sky every few minutes. Here is everything you need to know.

WHAT IS THE LYRID METEOR SHOWER?

Every 415.5 years, the comet Thatcher circles the Sun in a highly eccentric orbit shaped almost like a cat's eye. At its farthest from the Sun, it's billions of miles from Pluto; at its nearest, it swings between the Earth and Mars. (The last time it was near the Earth was in 1861, and it won't be that close again until 2280.) That's quite a journey, and more pressingly, quite a variation in temperature. The closer it gets to the Sun, the more debris it sheds. That debris is what you're seeing when you see a meteor shower: dust-sized particles slamming into the Earth's atmosphere at tens of thousands of miles per hour. In a competition between the two, the Earth is going to win, and "shooting stars" are the result of energy released as the particles are vaporized.

The comet was spotted on April 4, 1861 by A.E. Thatcher, an amateur skywatcher in New York City, earning him kudos from the noted astronomer Sir John Herschel. Clues to the comet's discovery are in its astronomical designation, C/1861 G1. The "C" means it's a long-period comet with an orbit of more than 200 years; "G" stands for the first half of April, and the "1" indicates it was the first comet discovered in that timeframe.

Sightings of the Lyrid meteor shower—named after Lyra, the constellation it appears to originate from—are much older; the first record dates to 7th-century BCE China.

HOW CAN I SEE IT?

Saturday night marks a first quarter Moon (visually half the Moon), which by midnight will have set below the horizon, so it won't wash out the night sky. That's great news—you can expect to see 20 meteors per hour. You're going to need to get away from local light pollution and find truly dark skies, and to completely avoid smartphones, flashlights, car headlights, or dome lights. The goal is to let your eyes adjust totally to the darkness: Find your viewing area, lay out your blanket, lay down, look up, and wait. In an hour, you'll be able to see the night sky with great—and if you've never done this before, surprising—clarity. Don't touch the smartphone or you'll undo all your hard ocular work.

Where is the nearest dark sky to where you live? You can find out on the Dark Site Finder map. And because the shower peaks on a Saturday night, your local astronomy club is very likely going to have an event to celebrate the Lyrids. Looking for a local club? Sky & Telescope has you covered.

WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON UP THERE?

You don't need a telescope to see a meteor shower, but if you bring one, aim it south to find Jupiter. It's the bright, unblinking spot in the sky. With a telescope, you should be able to make out its stripes. Those five stars surrounding it are the constellation Libra. You'll notice also four tiny points of light nearby. Those are the Galilean moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. When Galileo discovered those moons in 1610, he was able to prove the Copernican model of heliocentricity: that the Earth goes around the Sun.

THERE'S BAD WEATHER HERE! WHAT DO I DO?

First: Don't panic. The shower peaks on the early morning of the 22nd. But it doesn't end that day. You can try again on the 23rd and 24th, though the numbers of meteors will likely diminish. The Lyrids will be back next year, and the year after, and so on. But if you are eager for another show, on May 6, the Eta Aquariids will be at their strongest. The night sky always delivers.

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Can You 'Hear' These Silent GIFs?
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GIFs are silent—otherwise they wouldn't be GIFs. But some people claim to hear distinct noises accompanying certain clips. Check out the GIF below as an example: Do you hear a boom every time the structure hits the ground? If so, you may belong to the 20 to 30 percent of people who experience "visual-evoked auditory response," also known as vEAR.

Researchers from City University London recently published a paper online on the phenomenon in the journal Cortex, the British Psychological Society's Research Digest reports. For their study, they recruited more than 4000 volunteers and 126 paid participants and showed them 24 five-second video clips. Each clip lacked audio, but when asked how they rated the auditory sensation for each video on a scale of 0 to 5, 20 percent of the paid participants rated at least half the videos a 3 or more. The percentage was even higher for the volunteer group.

You can try out the researchers' survey yourself. It takes about 10 minutes.

The likelihood of visual-evoked auditory response, according to the researchers, directly relates to what the subject is looking at. "Some people hear what they see: Car indicator lights, flashing neon shop signs, and people's movements as they walk may all trigger an auditory sensation," they write in the study.

Images packed with meaning, like two cars colliding, are more likely to trigger the auditory illusion. But even more abstract images can produce the effect if they have high levels of something called "motion energy." Motion energy is what you see in the video above when the structure bounces and the camera shakes. It's why a video of a race car driving straight down a road might have less of an auditory impact than a clip of a flickering abstract pattern.

The researchers categorize vEAR as a type of synesthesia, a brain condition in which people's senses are combined. Those with synesthesia might "see" patterns when music plays or "taste" certain colors. Most synesthesia is rare, affecting just 4 percent of the population, but this new study suggests that "hearing motion synesthesia" is much more prevalent.

[h/t BPS Research Digest]

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