A Brief History of the International Geophysical Year

NASA // Public Domain
NASA // Public Domain

On July 1, 1957, the International Geophysical Year (IGY) began. It lasted 18 months.

The idea was hatched in the early 1950s when physicist Lloyd Berkner proposed a worldwide effort to track geophysical data. The idea was to collect and share scientific data about the Earth—notably its atmosphere, its oceans, its glaciers, and its sun—regardless of political boundaries. A total of 67 countries got onboard.

Berkner studied the Earth's atmosphere, and he proposed mid-1957 through the end of 1958 for the IGY. This timing would allow scientists to observe a period of tumultuous sunspots at the height of their 11-year cycle. As a member of the National Academy of Sciences, Berkner's proposal went over well.

As part of the IGY, the U.S. began to ramp up its orbital satellite-building efforts. They hoped to launch satellites to collect geophysical data, and that effort fed directly into the creation of NASA in July, 1958. Of course, Americans' dreams of satellite supremacy were interrupted when the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik 1 using a military intercontinental ballistic missile on October 4, 1957, going against its promise to keep the military out of the scientific activities of the IGY. (The launch was pre-announced; the ICBM was not.) The IGY marks the beginning of the space race, but it was also a remarkable collaboration on Earth, particularly in the areas of Antarctic research and glaciology.

During the IGY, satellite launch attempts happened nearly every month. After Sputnik 1, the USSR sent up Sputnik 2 with the dog Laika aboard. A month later, the U.S. responded with Vanguard TV-3 (Test Vehicle-3), which blew up on the launch pad. (Subsequent Vanguard and Sputnik launches were littered with failures, but successes poked through as well.) The first American satellite to reach orbit, Explorer 1, went up on January 31, 1958 as part of the IGY. It discovered the Van Allen radiation belts. (In the image above, Dr. James Van Allen stands in the middle of three scientists, holding aloft a model of the Explorer 1 launch rocket.)

The effects of the IGY are still felt today, in the satellites we use to observe our planet and in the open research processes organizations like NOAA use to study oceans and weather.

Just before the IGY began, President Eisenhower gave a one-minute statement on the project:

Far more impressive was an BBC TV program called The Restless Sphere. Hosted by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, this 70-minute show dug into all manner of science, including the various satellite projects in progress around the world. This was broadcast on June 30, 1957, and is a brilliant time capsule. Enjoy:

Is There An International Standard Governing Scientific Naming Conventions?

iStock/Grafissimo
iStock/Grafissimo

Jelle Zijlstra:

There are lots of different systems of scientific names with different conventions or rules governing them: chemicals, genes, stars, archeological cultures, and so on. But the one I'm familiar with is the naming system for animals.

The modern naming system for animals derives from the works of the 18th-century Swedish naturalist Carl von Linné (Latinized to Carolus Linnaeus). Linnaeus introduced the system of binominal nomenclature, where animals have names composed of two parts, like Homo sapiens. Linnaeus wrote in Latin and most his names were of Latin origin, although a few were derived from Greek, like Rhinoceros for rhinos, or from other languages, like Sus babyrussa for the babirusa (from Malay).

Other people also started using Linnaeus's system, and a system of rules was developed and eventually codified into what is now called the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN). In this case, therefore, there is indeed an international standard governing naming conventions. However, it does not put very strict requirements on the derivation of names: they are merely required to be in the Latin alphabet.

In practice a lot of well-known scientific names are derived from Greek. This is especially true for genus names: Tyrannosaurus, Macropus (kangaroos), Drosophila (fruit flies), Caenorhabditis (nematode worms), Peromyscus (deermice), and so on. Species names are more likely to be derived from Latin (e.g., T. rex, C. elegans, P. maniculatus, but Drosophila melanogaster is Greek again).

One interesting pattern I've noticed in mammals is that even when Linnaeus named the first genus in a group by a Latin name, usually most later names for related genera use Greek roots instead. For example, Linnaeus gave the name Mus to mice, and that is still the genus name for the house mouse, but most related genera use compounds of the Greek-derived root -mys (from μῦς), which also means "mouse." Similarly, bats for Linnaeus were Vespertilio, but there are many more compounds of the Greek root -nycteris (νυκτερίς); pigs are Sus, but compounds usually use Greek -choerus (χοῖρος) or -hys/-hyus (ὗς); weasels are Mustela but compounds usually use -gale or -galea (γαλέη); horses are Equus but compounds use -hippus (ἵππος).

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

An Ice Age Wolf Head Was Found Perfectly Preserved in Siberian Permafrost

iStock/stevegeer
iStock/stevegeer

Don’t lose your head in Siberia, or it may be found preserved thousands of years later.

A group of mammoth tusk hunters in eastern Siberia recently found an Ice Age wolf’s head—minus its body—in the region’s permafrost. Almost perfectly preserved thanks to tens of thousands of years in ice, researchers dated the specimen to the Pleistocene Epoch—a period between 1.8 million and 11,700 years ago characterized by the Ice Age. The head measures just under 16 inches long, The Siberian Times reports, which is roughly the same size as a modern gray wolf’s.

Believed to be between 2 to 4 years old around the time of its death, the wolf was found with its fur, teeth, and soft tissue still intact. Scientists said the region’s permafrost, a layer of ground that remains permanently frozen, preserved the head like a steak in a freezer. Researchers have scanned the head with a CT scanner to reveal more of its anatomy for further study.

Tori Herridge, an evolutionary biologist at London’s Natural History Museum, witnessed the head’s discovery in August 2018. She performed carbon dating on the tissue and tweeted that it was about 32,000 years old.

The announcement of the discovery was made in early June to coincide with the opening of a new museum exhibit, "The Mammoth," at Tokyo’s Miraikan National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. The exhibit features more than 40 Pleistocene specimens—including a frozen horse and a mammoth's trunk—all in mint condition, thanks to the permafrost’s effects. (It's unclear if the wolf's head is included in the show.)

While it’s great to have a zoo’s worth of prehistoric beasts on display, scientists said the number of animals emerging from permafrost is increasing for all the wrong reasons. Albert Protopopov, director of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Sakha, told CNN that the warming climate is slowly but surely thawing the permafrost. The higher the temperature, the likelier that more prehistoric specimens will be found.

And with average temperatures rising around the world, we may find more long-extinct creatures rising from the ice.

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