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NASA // Public Domain
NASA // Public Domain

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:

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Animals
Where Do Birds Get Their Songs?
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iStock

Birds display some of the most impressive vocal abilities in the animal kingdom. They can be heard across great distances, mimic human speech, and even sing using distinct dialects and syntax. The most complex songs take some practice to learn, but as TED-Ed explains, the urge to sing is woven into songbirds' DNA.

Like humans, baby birds learn to communicate from their parents. Adult zebra finches will even speak in the equivalent of "baby talk" when teaching chicks their songs. After hearing the same expressions repeated so many times and trying them out firsthand, the offspring are able to use the same songs as adults.

But nurture isn't the only factor driving this behavior. Even when they grow up without any parents teaching them how to vocalize, birds will start singing on their own. These innate songs are less refined than the ones that are taught, but when they're passed down through multiple generations and shaped over time, they start to sound similar to the learned songs sung by other members of their species.

This suggests that the drive to sing as well as the specific structures of the songs themselves have been ingrained in the animals' genetic code by evolution. You can watch the full story from TED-Ed below, then head over here for a sample of the diverse songs produced by birds.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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