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How a “flying circus” gave us the first aerial maps of Earth
Thomas Baldwin's Airopaidia (1786) includes the earliest sketches of the earth from a balloon.
- In the 1780s, as humanity mastered flight, a "balloon craze" swept across the world.
- Thomas Baldwin had just one sky-trip, but he wrote an entire book about it — Airopaidia.
- At times lyrical and technical, the curious volume also includes the world's first aerial maps.
An exact Representation of Mr. Lunardi's New Balloon, as it ascended with Himself – 13 May 1785.Credit: Public Domain Review / Public domain
On 8 September 1785, Thomas Baldwin saw something nobody had ever seen before: the English city of Chester and its surroundings from above. And then he did something nobody had ever done before: he produced maps of what he saw — the very first aerial maps in history. They're included in Airopaidia, a curious book that devotes hundreds of pages to Baldwin's one and only balloon trip.
People have been flying planes for 117 years. But the history of human flight goes back another 120 years before the Wright Brothers' first airplane ride at Kitty Hawk. On 21 November 1783, a balloon manufactured by the Montgolfier brothers took off near Paris, transporting two passengers 5.5 miles through the air in 25 minutes.
Almost immediately, the first manned flight set off a "balloon craze" throughout Europe. Balloonists travelled from city to city, attracting large crowds with their "flying circuses" (hence, the term well-known to Monty Python fans). The novel apparitions caused some to faint, others to vomit. Destruction and rioting were not uncommon.
Certainly spectacular, ballooning itself was not without danger. Pilâtre de Rozier, one of the two passengers on the first montgolfière, died in June 1785 while attempting to cross the English Channel, when his balloon caught fire.
Lamenting the "balloonomania" of his day, novelist Horace Walpole complained that "all our views are directed to the air; balloons occupy senators, philosophers, ladies, everybody." He hoped that these "new mechanic meteors" would not be "converted into new engines of destruction to the human race, as is so often the case of refinements or discoveries in science."
The first British balloonist was a remarkable Scotsman named James Tytler, who on 27 August 1784 managed a 10-minute flight in a hot air balloon just outside Edinburgh.
A jack of all trades, Tytler was also a pharmacist, surgeon, printer, poet, pamphleteer, and editor of the second edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. Less tastefully, he was the anonymous author of Ranger's Impartial List of the Ladies of Pleasure in Edinburgh, a review of 66 of the city's prostitutes.
Tytler's ballooning exploits fizzled out, and he was soon overshadowed by the flamboyant Vincenzo Lunardi, the "Daredevil Aeronaut."
The Daredevil Aeronaut
On 15 September 1784 — hardly a month after Tytler — Lunardi took off from the Artillery Ground in Finsbury on the first balloon flight in England. In attendance were the Prince of Wales and 200,000 other Londoners.
Lunardi was accompanied by a dog, cat, and caged pigeon. Flying north, he briefly touched down at Welham Green in a place still called "Balloon Corner." There, he released the cat, as he thought it had become unwell from the cold. Minus the feline, Lunardi took off again. England's first manned flight came to an end in a field near Standon Green End, 24 miles north of Finsbury. A memorial stone still marks the spot.
The next year, Lunardi toured England and Scotland with his Grand Air Balloon, drawing large crowds everywhere. Many of his flights were spectacular but not all were a success. On one of his Scottish flights, he drifted off over the North Sea and crashed into the waves. He was only rescued thanks to a passing fishing boat.
On 8 September, Lunardi's flying circus arrived in Chester, and here, Thomas Baldwin enters the play. Baldwin was a local clergyman's son and sometime curate himself. He was more interested in science than religion, though, and had lately gone completely balloon-crazy. In December of the previous year, he had proposed building a "Grand Naval Air-balloon," complete with sails, oars, and a rudder. Nothing came of it.
Nevertheless, Baldwin had a healthy belief in his own relevance for the ballooning industry. He in fact contended, at one point, that French balloonists had stolen his ideas and that "montgolfières," as hot-air balloons were then called, should rightly be known as "baldwins."
Before his take-off in Chester, Lunardi burned himself on the acid used to make the hydrogen for the balloon. Because of his injury, he couldn't make the ascent himself, so he agreed to rent out his Grand Air Balloon to Baldwin instead. And with that unbelievable stroke of luck, Baldwin lifted off from Chester Castle at 1:40 pm on 8 September 1785, for his first (and only) trip between the clouds. The new-fangled aeronaut certainly came well equipped. Baldwin brought tools for writing and sketching, a speaking trumpet, half a mile of twine, a hardboard map (which could also serve as a table), and — as apparently was de rigueur among balloonists — a pigeon.
Once aloft, Baldwin conducted several experiments. He used inflated bladders to get a sense of differences in air pressure, and he sampled various foods to find out whether they would taste differently high up in the air. (They did not, despite testimonials to the contrary reported from "the Peak of Tenerife" in Spain.)
Toward the end of his journey, Baldwin was forced to climb up on the rigging of the balloon to fix a stuck valve to release gas so he could descend. The balloon eventually came down at Belleair Farm in Rixton, 25 miles northeast of Chester, seven minutes shy of 4 pm.
A view from the balloon at its greatest elevation. In the center, the city of Chester in Cheshire.Credit: Internet Archive / Public domain.
After barely two hours in the air, Baldwin is a man transformed. He sets down his experiences in Airopaidia, which is published the next year. Filling out 362 pages, it's as much a gushing eyewitness report as it is a detailed scientific account of his trip — plus advice to future "aeronauts."
Much to his chagrin, not much has been made of Baldwin's contributions to ballooning. Yet this one-shot amateur did produce a few firsts.
The first true aerial maps
He appears to have been the first to observe the "pilot's glory," a halo that appears around the shadow of a person's head. This is the result of sunlight refracting on tiny water droplets in the atmosphere.
He was also the first to map out what he saw from a balloon. Bird's eye perspectives were nothing new in cartography. Mapmakers often represented cities from elevated perspectives in order to better show the layout of streets, for example. Leonardo da Vinci even pioneered the "satellite view," drawing a plan of the city of Imola in 1502 as if from straight above.
These, however, were works of the imagination. Baldwin's maps were the first aerial maps made from actual observation. And here, the maps say more than a thousand words could. Lunardi, when he observed London from above, had to admit: "I can find no simile to convey an idea of it."
A balloon prospect from above the clouds, showing cities, rivers, fields, and coastline.Credit: Internet Archive / Public domain.
Baldwin included three maps, two of which were colored, in Airopaidia:
- A circular view of Chester, as observed from the balloon's greatest elevation.
- A "Specimen of Balloon Geography," showing the area between Chester and Warrington from above the clouds.
- The balloon over Helsby-Hill in Cheshire.
Baldwin even gave his readers specific instructions on how to enjoy his maps to the fullest: roll up a piece of paper and peer over them as if through a telescope. For Baldwin and his fellow balloonists, flight among the clouds represented the height — quite literally — of the "Sublime," a Romantic notion that married the esthetic to the ecstatic.
As he related on pp. 37-38 of Airopaidia:
But what Scenes of Grandeur and Beauty!
A Tear of pure Delight flaſhed in his Eye! Of pure and exquiſite Delight and Rapture; to look down on the unexpected Change already wrought in the Works of Art and Nature, contracted to a Span by the NEW PERSPECTIVE, diminiſhed almoſt beyond the Bounds of Credibility.
Yet ſo far were the Objects from loſing their Beauty, that EACH WAS BROUGHT UP in a new Manner to the Eye, and diſtinguiſhed by a Strength of Colouring, a Neatneſs and Elegance of Boundary, above Descriptions charming!
The endleſs Variety of Objects, minute, distinct and ſeparate, tho' apparently on the ſame Plain or Level, at once ſtriking the Eye without a Change of its Position, aſtoniſhed and enchanted. Their Beauty was unparalleled. The Imagination itſelf was more than gratified; it was overwhelmed.
The gay Scene was Fairy-Land, and Cheſter Lilliput.
He tried his Voice and ſhouted for Joy. His Voice was unknown to himſelf, ſhrill and feeble. There was no Echo.
A popped balloon
Toward the end of the decade, the ballooning craze died down. Following a deadly accident involving an onlooker in 1786, Lunardi left Britain for Italy, Spain, and Portugal. At the mercy of the winds, balloons lacked any obvious practical application, military or otherwise. And with the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, Europe had enough to occupy its attention for the next quarter century. According to one compiler, by 1836, no more than 313 people had taken to the skies in England.
By then, the flying circuses were things of the past. Baldwin died in 1804, never having flown again. But the excitement of those days still gushes from his Airopaidia, and the maps it contains remain a unique milestone in the history of ballooning — and cartography.
A map showing the route of Baldwin's flight, from Chester Castle (circled, bottom) to Rixton Moss (circled, top).Credit: Internet Archive / Public domain.
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So much for rest in peace.
- Australian scientists found that bodies kept moving for 17 months after being pronounced dead.
- Researchers used photography capture technology in 30-minute intervals every day to capture the movement.
- This study could help better identify time of death.
We're learning more new things about death everyday. Much has been said and theorized about the great divide between life and the Great Beyond. While everyone and every culture has their own philosophies and unique ideas on the subject, we're beginning to learn a lot of new scientific facts about the deceased corporeal form.
An Australian scientist has found that human bodies move for more than a year after being pronounced dead. These findings could have implications for fields as diverse as pathology to criminology.
Dead bodies keep moving
Researcher Alyson Wilson studied and photographed the movements of corpses over a 17 month timeframe. She recently told Agence France Presse about the shocking details of her discovery.
Reportedly, she and her team focused a camera for 17 months at the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER), taking images of a corpse every 30 minutes during the day. For the entire 17 month duration, the corpse continually moved.
"What we found was that the arms were significantly moving, so that arms that started off down beside the body ended up out to the side of the body," Wilson said.
The researchers mostly expected some kind of movement during the very early stages of decomposition, but Wilson further explained that their continual movement completely surprised the team:
"We think the movements relate to the process of decomposition, as the body mummifies and the ligaments dry out."
During one of the studies, arms that had been next to the body eventually ended up akimbo on their side.
The team's subject was one of the bodies stored at the "body farm," which sits on the outskirts of Sydney. (Wilson took a flight every month to check in on the cadaver.)Her findings were recently published in the journal, Forensic Science International: Synergy.
Implications of the study
The researchers believe that understanding these after death movements and decomposition rate could help better estimate the time of death. Police for example could benefit from this as they'd be able to give a timeframe to missing persons and link that up with an unidentified corpse. According to the team:
"Understanding decomposition rates for a human donor in the Australian environment is important for police, forensic anthropologists, and pathologists for the estimation of PMI to assist with the identification of unknown victims, as well as the investigation of criminal activity."
While scientists haven't found any evidence of necromancy. . . the discovery remains a curious new understanding about what happens with the body after we die.
Metal-like materials have been discovered in a very strange place.
- Bristle worms are odd-looking, spiky, segmented worms with super-strong jaws.
- Researchers have discovered that the jaws contain metal.
- It appears that biological processes could one day be used to manufacture metals.
The bristle worm, also known as polychaetes, has been around for an estimated 500 million years. Scientists believe that the super-resilient species has survived five mass extinctions, and there are some 10,000 species of them.
Be glad if you haven't encountered a bristle worm. Getting stung by one is an extremely itchy affair, as people who own saltwater aquariums can tell you after they've accidentally touched a bristle worm that hitchhiked into a tank aboard a live rock.
Bristle worms are typically one to six inches long when found in a tank, but capable of growing up to 24 inches long. All polychaetes have a segmented body, with each segment possessing a pair of legs, or parapodia, with tiny bristles. ("Polychaeate" is Greek for "much hair.") The parapodia and its bristles can shoot outward to snag prey, which is then transferred to a bristle worm's eversible mouth.
The jaws of one bristle worm — Platynereis dumerilii — are super-tough, virtually unbreakable. It turns out, according to a new study from researchers at the Technical University of Vienna, this strength is due to metal atoms.
Metals, not minerals
Fireworm, a type of bristle wormCredit: prilfish / Flickr
This is pretty unusual. The study's senior author Christian Hellmich explains: "The materials that vertebrates are made of are well researched. Bones, for example, are very hierarchically structured: There are organic and mineral parts, tiny structures are combined to form larger structures, which in turn form even larger structures."
The bristle worm jaw, by contrast, replaces the minerals from which other creatures' bones are built with atoms of magnesium and zinc arranged in a super-strong structure. It's this structure that is key. "On its own," he says, "the fact that there are metal atoms in the bristle worm jaw does not explain its excellent material properties."
Just deformable enough
Credit: by-studio / Adobe Stock
What makes conventional metal so strong is not just its atoms but the interactions between the atoms and the ways in which they slide against each other. The sliding allows for a small amount of elastoplastic deformation when pressure is applied, endowing metals with just enough malleability not to break, crack, or shatter.
Co-author Florian Raible of Max Perutz Labs surmises, "The construction principle that has made bristle worm jaws so successful apparently originated about 500 million years ago."
Raible explains, "The metal ions are incorporated directly into the protein chains and then ensure that different protein chains are held together." This leads to the creation of three-dimensional shapes the bristle worm can pack together into a structure that's just malleable enough to withstand a significant amount of force.
"It is precisely this combination," says the study's lead author Luis Zelaya-Lainez, "of high strength and deformability that is normally characteristic of metals.
So the bristle worm jaw is both metal-like and yet not. As Zelaya-Lainez puts it, "Here we are dealing with a completely different material, but interestingly, the metal atoms still provide strength and deformability there, just like in a piece of metal."
Observing the creation of a metal-like material from biological processes is a bit of a surprise and may suggest new approaches to materials development. "Biology could serve as inspiration here," says Hellmich, "for completely new kinds of materials. Perhaps it is even possible to produce high-performance materials in a biological way — much more efficiently and environmentally friendly than we manage today."
Dealing with rudeness can nudge you toward cognitive errors.
- Anchoring is a common bias that makes people fixate on one piece of data.
- A study showed that those who experienced rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to bad data.
- In some simulations with medical students, this effect led to higher mortality rates.
Cognitive biases are funny little things. Everyone has them, nobody likes to admit it, and they can range from minor to severe depending on the situation. Biases can be influenced by factors as subtle as our mood or various personality traits.
A new study soon to be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that experiencing rudeness can be added to the list. More disturbingly, the study's findings suggest that it is a strong enough effect to impact how medical professionals diagnose patients.
Life hack: don't be rude to your doctor
The team of researchers behind the project tested to see if participants could be influenced by the common anchoring bias, defined by the researchers as "the tendency to rely too heavily or fixate on one piece of information when making judgments and decisions." Most people have experienced it. One of its more common forms involves being given a particular value, say in negotiations on price, which then becomes the center of reasoning even when reason would suggest that number should be ignored.
It can also pop up in medicine. As co-author Dr. Trevor Foulk explains, "If you go into the doctor and say 'I think I'm having a heart attack,' that can become an anchor and the doctor may get fixated on that diagnosis, even if you're just having indigestion. If doctors don't move off anchors enough, they'll start treating the wrong thing."
Lots of things can make somebody more or less likely to anchor themselves to an idea. The authors of the study, who have several papers on the effects of rudeness, decided to see if that could also cause people to stumble into cognitive errors. Past research suggested that exposure to rudeness can limit people's perspective — perhaps anchoring them.
In the first version of the study, medical students were given a hypothetical patient to treat and access to information on their condition alongside an (incorrect) suggestion on what the condition was. This served as the anchor. In some versions of the tests, the students overheard two doctors arguing rudely before diagnosing the patient. Later variations switched the diagnosis test for business negotiations or workplace tasks while maintaining the exposure to rudeness.
Across all iterations of the test, those exposed to rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to the initial, incorrect suggestion despite the availability of evidence against it. This was less significant for study participants who scored higher on a test of how wide of a perspective they tended to have. The disposition of these participants, who answered in the affirmative to questions like, "Before criticizing somebody, I try to imagine how I would feel if I were in his/her place," was able to effectively negate the narrowing effects of rudeness.
What this means for you and your healthcare
The effects of anchoring when a medical diagnosis is on the line can be substantial. Dr. Foulk explains that, in some simulations, exposure to rudeness can raise the mortality rate as doctors fixate on the wrong problems.
The authors of the study suggest that managers take a keener interest in ensuring civility in workplaces and giving employees the tools they need to avoid judgment errors after dealing with rudeness. These steps could help prevent anchoring.
Also, you might consider being nicer to people.