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What are Frankincense and Myrrh, Anyway?

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Gold, frankincense and myrrh.

In the standard Christmastime narrative of Jesus’ birth, he’s born in a manger and visited by, among others, three “wise men.” These guys are sometimes referred to as Kings from the East or the Orient, and sometimes as Magi (followers of Zoroaster and/or astrologers).

The Bible doesn’t give up much about these guys, and church tradition has had to fill in a lot of detail in the time since, including their names and places of origin—Melchior from Persia, Caspar from India and Balthazar from Arabia. What’s clear from the get-go, though, is that they came bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. That first one is something most people are familiar with, but what the heck are those other two?

Both lack the glitter and cache of gold, being dried tree saps, or resins. Frankincense comes from the deciduous trees of the genus Boswellia, and myrrh from some species in the genus Commiphora, all of which are found on the Horn of Africa and the coastal countries of the Arabian Peninsula.

Extracting the sap for both frankincense and myrrh is essentially the same: Harvesters make a vertical cut in the tree’s trunk, piercing the sap reservoirs inside the bark. The sap oozes out and drips down the trunk and is left to dry and harden. After a few days or weeks, harvesters come back and collect the resin.

Both resins have traditionally been used as incense and medicine. Frankincense has a woody, fruity smell that’s been used to perfume the homes of ancient Romans, the rituals of ancient Egyptians, and modern Catholic masses. In the ancient world, it was used medicinally to treat everything from poisoning, to diarrhea, to leprosy. In some Asian traditional medicines, it’s still used to aid digestion and relieve inflammation.

Myrrh, meanwhile, has a medicinal, kind of bitter smell and was used often used to dress wounds because of its astringency (that is, it causes tissue to constrict). Today, it’s still used to prevent and treat gum disease and sometimes shows up in toothpastes and mouthwashes.

Myrrh can also be used in drinks, and was sometimes added to wines and liquors for flavor. It’s used to make some brands of fernets, the Italian liqueur that’s a sort of unofficial national drink of Argentina.

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Watch a Rogue Pet Dog Interrupt a Russian News Anchor on Air
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Last week, a Russian news broadcast briefly went to the dogs after its host was startled by a surprise co-anchor: a friendly black canine that wandered on set, announced its presence with a loud bark, and climbed onto her desk.

 

As TODAY reports, Mir24 TV anchor Ilona Linarte went off script for a few minutes, telling viewers "I've got a dog here. What is this dog doing in the studio?" After the initial shock wore off, she gave her furry guest a tepid welcome, patting its head as she gently pushed it off the desk. ("I actually prefer cats,'' Linarte remarked. "I'm a cat lady.")

Linarte’s query was answered when the TV station announced that the dog had accompanied another show’s guest on set, and somehow got loose. That said, rogue animals have a proud tradition of crashing live news broadcasts around the world, so we’re assuming this won’t be the last time a news anchor is upstaged by an adorable guest star (some of which have better hair than them).

[h/t TODAY]

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Falcon Heavy and Dragon. Image credit: SpaceX via Wikimedia Commons // CC0 1.0
SpaceX Is Sending Two Private Citizens Around the Moon
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Falcon Heavy and Dragon. Image credit: SpaceX via Wikimedia Commons // CC0 1.0

Two members of the public are set to take an historic trip around the Moon, according to an announcement from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. As The Verge reports, the anonymous private citizens have already placed substantial deposits on the commercial space flight.

The private spacecraft company SpaceX revealed on Monday that the Falcon Heavy rocket will be launching with its Crew Dragon spacecraft in late 2018. The mission will consist of a circumnavigation of the Moon, passing over the body’s surface before traveling farther into space and returning to Earth. In total, the trip will cover 300,000 to 400,000 miles and take a week to complete.

A noteworthy part of the plan is the human cargo that will be on board. Instead of professional astronauts, the craft will carry two paying customers into space. The passengers, who’ve yet to be named, will both need to pass several fitness tests before they're permitted to make the journey. According to The Verge, Musk said the customers are “very serious” and that the cost of the trip is “comparable” to that of a crewed mission to the International Space Station. The goal for SpaceX is to eventually send one or two commercial flights into space each year, which could account for 10 to 20 percent of the company’s earnings.

[h/t The Verge]

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