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Russian Submarine Officer Who May Have Averted Nuclear War Will Be Awarded First Future of Life Prize

Fifty-five years ago, a Soviet submarine officer’s cool head may have prevented World War III. Now, the late hero—Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov, who died in 1998 at the age of 72—will be awarded with a posthumous prize that acknowledges his actions, The Guardian reports.

As National Geographic recounts, Arkhipov was 34 years old in 1962, and on a secret submarine mission in the Caribbean. The Cuban Missile Crisis was in full force, and no sea traffic was allowed through the island’s waters. But the U.S. Navy spotted the sub, and began attacking it with depth charges.

What the U.S. Navy didn’t know was that the Russians had a tactical nuclear torpedo onboard. The Russian officers hadn’t heard from Moscow in days, but they’d already received permission to use their deadly weapon if needed. Believing that war was imminent, the submarine’s commander, Valentin Savitsky, decided to fire at one of 11 nearby Navy ships.

“We’re gonna blast them now!” Savitsky exclaimed, according to a report from the U.S. National Security Archive. “We will die, but we will sink them all—we will not become the shame of the fleet.”

Savitsky ordered the nuclear missile readied, and his second-in-command gave the go-ahead. That’s when Arkhipov—who was Savitsky’s equal in rank—came in and talked him down. The officer explained that the depth charges were off-target, and were actually the U.S. Navy’s way of asking them to surface. He refused to approve the missile’s launch—and without his sign-off, the initiative was a no-go.

To commemorate the fateful events from October 27, 1962, the Future of Life Institute—a U.S.-based organization that supports “research and initiatives for safeguarding life and developing optimistic visions of the future,” according to its website—will present Arkhipov’s family members with its $50,000 “Future of Life” prize.

“The Future of Life award is a prize awarded for a heroic act that has greatly benefited humankind, done despite personal risk and without being rewarded at the time,” Max Tegmark, an MIT physics professor and head of the Future of Life Institute, said in a statement quoted by The Guardian.

However, Arkhipov’s descendants believe that his actions were driven by duty rather than heroism.

“He acted like a man who knew what kind of disasters can come from radiation,” said Elena Andriukova, Arkhipov's granddaughter. “He did his part for the future so that everyone can live on our planet.”

[h/t The Guardian]

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New Largest Known Prime Number Has More Than 23 Million Digits
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Prime numbers come in all sizes: They go down to single digits and grow infinitely larger. But calculating the exact quantity of the largest prime numbers in existence takes serious time and effort. Now, thanks to help from a volunteer and his computer, the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS) has identified the newest largest prime number we know of.

The prime number has 23,249,425 digits, surpassing the previous record holder by 1 million digits. It can be written as 277,232,917-1 or M77232917. Like other prime numbers, the quantity can only be divided by one and itself. But unlike some smaller primes, this one joins a special category called Mersenne primes.

Mersenne primes are found by calculating numbers to the second power and subtracting the value of one from the total. Only 50 prime numbers have been found this way, and a lot of computing power is required to uncover them.

Since 1996, GIMPS has been crowdsourcing computers to discover larger and larger prime numbers. Anyone can download their program and dedicate their unused processing power to churning out algorithms in search of the next record breaker. Volunteers whose computers successfully identify a new prime number are eligible for a cash reward of up to $3000.

The most recent winner was Jonathon Pace, a 51-year-old electrical engineer from Tennessee. His computer calculated the number M77232917 on December 26, and its prime status was independently verified by four separate computers.

GIMPS is constantly outdoing itself, with the previous largest prime announced just two years ago. If you'd like to join the effort, their prime-hunting software is free to download. But don't expect instant results: Pace was volunteering with GIMPS for 14 years before his altruism paid off. 

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Meet Betty Reid Soskin, the Country's Oldest Park Ranger
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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

There’s no age limit for enjoying the outdoors, switching careers, or speaking out against injustice—and Betty Reid Soskin is living proof. As Travel + Leisure reports, the 96-year-old California resident is the nation’s oldest active national park ranger, a late-in-life vocation she embarked on just over a decade ago.

Soskin, who originally hails from Detroit, works at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California. The national park preserves the history of the U.S. home front during World War II, including the businesses, innovations, and people that helped make victory possible. (Richmond was once home to more than 56 different war industries.)

Today, Soskin gives interpretive tours of the park. But long ago, she worked as a World War II file clerk for the all-black Boilermakers A-36. Soskin—the great-granddaughter of a freed slave—gained local prominence as an activist, and fame as a songwriter, during the Civil Rights Movement. But history ended up being just as important to Soskin as current political events when she served as a consultant with the National Park Service for the Rosie the Riveter Park in the early 2000s.

Soskin was the only person of color at the planning table, according to NPR. She ensured that the historic park didn’t erase memories of the segregation that had once existed at factories and shipyards, as doing so would also erase the history of the area’s African-American population.

Word of Soskin and her activist efforts spread, especially when she publicly denounced the 2013 federal funding crisis. In 2015 she was formally recognized by President Barack Obama, who gave her a silver coin with the presidential seal. Sadly, Soskin’s presidential coin was stolen in 2016 in a violent home invasion, but she returned to work three weeks after the attack, saying in a press conference that she “wanted to get back into routine life.”

Fans of Soskin can keep up with her via her blog, where she’s written about her life and job since 2003. You can also learn more about her, in her own words, in the video below.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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