205 - North America, the Balkans Version
From a young age, Frank was fascinated by maps and atlases, and the stories they contained. Finding his birthplace on the map in the endpapers of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings only increased his interest in the mystery and message of maps.
While pursuing a career in journalism, Frank started a blog called Strange Maps, as a repository for the weird and wonderful cartography he found hidden in books, posing as everyday objects and (of course) floating around the Internet.
"Each map tells a story, but the stories told by your standard atlas for school or reference are limited and literal: they show only the most practical side of the world, its geography and its political divisions. Strange Maps aims to collect and comment on maps that do everything but that - maps that show the world from a different angle".
A remit that wide allows for a steady, varied diet of maps: Frank has been writing about strange maps since 2006, published a book on the subject in 2009 and joined Big Think in 2010. Readers send in new material daily, and he keeps bumping in to cartography that is delightfully obscure, amazingly beautiful, shockingly partisan, and more.
North America must have the lowest nation/surface ratio in the world. The huge subcontinent is made up of only two sovereign states: Canada and the US (*). This is not to say that this was a ‘Manifest Destiny’: many regionalist revolts were crushed to form these two monoliths.
Which raises the question, at least in Matthew White’s mind: “What is the most fragmented that North America could have been?” White’s website (from the mid-nineties, but still online) serves up several ‘alternate history’ maps, that use a POD (point of divergence) somewhere in the past to construct a present slightly (or wildly) different from ours. White’s Balkanised North America, with 1787 as the POD, is by far the most interesting exercise.
“In this alternate reality, the westward expansion of the Anglo-American people proceeded pretty much as it did in our reality,” White writes, “but the United States government just couldn’t keep up. Every national identity crisis resolved itself in favor of the separatists instead.”
On the map, White details as sovereign, areas that: “1. administered themselves as autonomous nations at some point in American history, or 2. shed blood to achieve or maintain their independence, or at least 3. threatened to.”
One important caveat: “The Native American tribes throughout the continent fit all these criteria, but I limited myself to only three native enclaves.”
Not mentioned in this timeline, but present on the map: the Maritime Dominion, a British toehold on the North American subcontinent (New Brunswick and Nova Scotia); and Newfoundland, either a separate British dominion or an independent state. Depending on the latter, this ‘balkanised’ North America is composed of no less than 17, and possibly 18 territories with different sovereignties. Compared with the real-time country that stretches ‘from sea to shining sea’, this USA has been reduced to a rump state – somewhat reminiscent of present-day Serbia relative to former Yugoslavia.
(*): Please note that the definition of ‘North America’ varies: in Anglo-America (i.e. English-speaking Canada and the US) it is often held to be synonymous with the US and Canada. Sometimes, Mexico is included. And/or St Pierre and Miquelon (a French-administered collectivité territoriale off Canada’s Atlantic coast). And/or Bermuda. All of which would take the number of sovereign states covering North America up to five – still a very small number.
This map was sent in by Kári Tulinius, Matthew White’s website can be found here.
Here's the science of black holes, from supermassive monsters to ones the size of ping-pong balls.
- There's more than one way to make a black hole, says NASA's Michelle Thaller. They're not always formed from dead stars. For example, there are teeny tiny black holes all around us, the result of high-energy cosmic rays slamming into our atmosphere with enough force to cram matter together so densely that no light can escape.
- CERN is trying to create artificial black holes right now, but don't worry, it's not dangerous. Scientists there are attempting to smash two particles together with such intensity that it creates a black hole that would live for just a millionth of a second.
- Thaller uses a brilliant analogy involving a rubber sheet, a marble, and an elephant to explain why different black holes have varying densities. Watch and learn!
- Bonus fact: If the Earth became a black hole, it would be crushed to the size of a ping-pong ball.
Protected animals are feared to be headed for the black market.
In a breakthrough for nuclear fusion research, scientists at China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor have produced temperatures necessary for nuclear fusion on Earth.
- The EAST reactor was able to heat hydrogen to temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius.
- Nuclear fusion could someday provide the planet with a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
- Still, scientists have many other obstacles to pass before fusion technology becomes a viable energy source.
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