YouTube // The New York Times
YouTube // The New York Times

What Happened to 'Nuclear Winter?'

YouTube // The New York Times
YouTube // The New York Times

In 1982, Dr. Richard P. Turco coined the phrase "nuclear winter," describing a theory that ash clouds would blanket the atmosphere after a nuclear war, blocking out the sun and plunging the world (or at least parts of it) into a dry, cold winter. Turco joined Carl Sagan (among others), publishing a study simulating nuclear winter in Science in 1983. Soviet scientists were also concerned about this possibility, as it certainly did seem plausible that ash plumes could do this (the year without a summer, anyone?).

Carl Sagan's second TV series—after Cosmos—was to be based on his concern about nuclear winter. The series was never produced, and arguments about the core science behind nuclear winter continue to rage decades later.

In the "Who Speaks for Earth" episode of Cosmos, Carl Sagan explained his concern about the global arms race and the likely outcome of a nuclear-equipped world going to war. He made the key point that all the conventional bombs dropped in World War II (roughly two megatons) equal a single thermonuclear bomb—a single bomb in the next war would equal the entire previous war. The consequences are staggering. Here are two relevant clips from that episode:

In this Retro Report video, The New York Times explores the science of the "nuclear winter" theory and how our thinking about it has changed over the years. Listen up, and keep an ear out for this quote summing up the Cold War:

"Imagine a room awash in gasoline. And there are two implacable enemies in that room. One of them has 9,000 matches. The other has 7,000 matches. Each of them is concerned about who's ahead, who's stronger. Well, that's the kind of situation we are actually in." -Carl Sagan (ABC News Viewpoint, "The Day After," November 20, 1983)

The NYT has a nice write-up to go along with their Retro Report video.

If you want to go even deeper into the historical nuclear rabbit hole that exists on YouTube, check out the recording of Spacebridge, a conference linking scientists in the Soviet Union and United States. Here's the first bit (including some of the Sagan footage seen in the Retro Report above):

What Pop Culture Gets Wrong About Dissociative Identity Disorder

From the characters in Fight Club to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, popular culture is filled with "split" personalities. These dramatic figures might be entertaining, but they're rarely (if ever) scientifically accurate, SciShow Psych's Hank Green explains in the channel's latest video. Most representations contribute to a collective misunderstanding of dissociative identity disorder, or DID, which was once known as multiple personality disorder.

Experts often disagree about DID's diagnostic criteria, what causes it, and in some cases, whether it exists at all. Many, however, agree that people with DID don't have multiple figures living inside their heads, all clamoring to take over their body at a moment's notice. Those with DID do have fragmented personalities, which can cause lapses of memory, psychological distress, and impaired daily function, among other side effects.

Learn more about DID (and what the media gets wrong about mental illness) by watching the video below.

Scientists Reveal Long-Hidden Text in Alexander Hamilton Letter

Age, deterioration, and water damage are just a few of the reasons historians can be short on information that was once readily available on paper. Sometimes, it’s simply a case of missing pages. Other times, researchers can see “lost” text right under their noses.

One example: a letter written by Alexander Hamilton to his future wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, on September 6, 1780. On the surface, it looked very much like a rant about a Revolutionary War skirmish in Camden, South Carolina. But Hamilton scholars were excited by the 14 lines of writing in the first paragraph that had been crossed out. If they could be read, they might reveal some new dimension to one of the better-known Founding Fathers.

Using the practice of multispectral imaging—sometimes called hyperspectral imaging—conservationists at the Library of Congress were recently able to shine a new light on what someone had attempted to scrub out. In multispectral imaging, different wavelengths of light are “bounced” off the paper to reveal (or hide) different ink pigments. By examining a document through these different wavelengths, investigators can tune in to faded or obscured handwriting and make it visible to the naked eye.

A hyperspectral image of Alexander Hamilton's handwriting
Hyperspectral imaging of Hamilton's handwriting, from being obscured (top) to isolated and revealed (bottom).
Library of Congress

The text revealed a more emotional and romantic side to Hamilton, who had used the lines to woo Elizabeth. Technicians uncovered most of what he had written, with words in brackets still obscured and inferred:

Do you know my sensations when I see the
sweet characters from your hand? Yes you do,
by comparing [them] with your [own]
for my Betsey [loves] me and is [acquainted]
with all the joys of fondness. [Would] you
[exchange] them my dear for any other worthy
blessings? Is there any thing you would put
in competition[,] with one glowing [kiss] of
[unreadable], anticipate the delights we [unreadable]
in the unrestrained intercourses of wedded love,
and bet your heart joins mine in [fervent]
[wishes] to heaven that [all obstacles] and [interruptions]
May [be] speedily [removed].

Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler married on December 14, 1780. So why did Hamilton try and hide such romantic words during or after their courtship? He probably didn’t. Historians believe that his son, John Church Hamilton, crossed them out before publishing the letter as a part of a book of his father’s correspondence. He may have considered the passage a little too sexy for mass consumption.

[h/t Library of Congress]


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