Yes and no. The kind of DNA that we typically think of in our cells, which is responsible for giving you your father's nose or your mother's dimples, definitely comes from both parents. However, that's not the only kind of DNA you have. Inside your cells are a variety of "organelles" that perform specific functions. One of those, the mitochondrion, is known as the cell's power plant. It also happens to contain its own independent set of DNA. Research suggests that this genetic material actually has a separate evolutionary origin than our regular DNA, and that mitochondria may have once been bacteria that established a symbiotic relationship within our cells. The other surprising fact about mitochondrial DNA? Children only inherit it from their mothers. Thanks, Mom!
Actually, recycling looks very good on paper. According to the EPA, every year Americans consume 71 million tons of paper and paper packaging, but more than 60% of that is being recycled. Recycled paper fiber is such an efficient way of making paper that it requires only 60% as much energy, let alone other resources. For every ton of recycled paper produced, 17 trees, 7,000 gallons of water and 380 gallons of oil are saved&8212;along with enough electricity to power an American family for six months!
If your umbrella is old enough, maybe it really did grow feet and walk away. In Japanese folklore, when an inanimate object has been used for 100 years, it comes to life and transforms into a kind of spirit creature called a "tsukumogami." In the modern world of disposable goods, it's hard to imagine using a household item for so long, but it must have been not uncommon in 10th century Japan, because the list of known tsukumogami is pretty extensive. In fact, the sub-species of sentient umbrellas were common enough that they had their own name: kasa-obake. They are said to hop around on their single foot, glaring mischievously through their one eye, sometimes with a long tongue hanging from their mouth. So be sure to treat your umbrella well&8212;you really want to stay on its good side.
Technically, yes. Unlike a substance like water that changes from a liquid to a solid when frozen, glass develops no crystalline structure to maintain a rigid structure. For decades, science textbooks have supported this fact by pointing to the windows of medieval churches. Those window panes are often thicker at the bottom, and popular wisdom was that they had "flowed" downward at a very slow rate. In the late 1990s, however, some scientists decided to actually test that theory. They confirmed that, yes, glass would in fact exhibit some flow over time, but that it would take at least 10 million years for any visible change to occur in those window panes. It turns out that the sagging medieval glass, from mere hundreds of years ago, is only evidence of the period's primitive glassmaking techniques.
There's a man in the moon because you put him there. Specifically, part of your brain put him there. Dr. Doris Tsao, a neuroscientist from Germany, was doing research on stroke victims and discovered that some patients were able to recognize and identify any object except for faces. This suggested to her that facial recognition may occur in a very specific part of the brain. Testing showed her theory to be true, and further research has created a list of twelve visual attributes that cause these facial-related parts of the brain to activate. The hitch is that, if any object exhibits enough of these characteristics, our brains automatically identify a face even where none actually exists. Thus, we tend to see faces staring back at us from electrical outlets, grilled cheese sandwiches, or even the craters of the moon.
This question is not as simple as it may seem. The smarty-pants out there will quickly state that the tomato is a fruit. Botanically speaking, fruits are classified as the seed-bearing part of a flowering plant, a description which includes not only tomatoes, but also such produce as cucumbers, eggplants and pumpkins. But because they are not sweet, such foods are still also considered to be vegetables when it comes to food preparation. The distinction is surprisingly important, because it turns out that fruits and vegetables have different legal implications. So important, in fact, that the U.S. Supreme Court once had to step in and make the call. In 1893, in the case of Nix v. Hedden, the Court ruled that, when it comes to taxes and tariffs, the tomato is legally a vegetable.
Apple pie is only American in the sense that, like the country itself, it is an immigration success story. It had been a traditional treat in Britain and across Europe for centuries, but in the Americas the colonists were lacking one key ingredient: apples. America's only indigenous apple is the crab apple. Seeds were brought over, and orchards began to spring up, but most of that initial fruit was too tart for eating and was instead made into cider. It took nearly 100 years, as sweeter varieties were being cultivated and as the settlers grew more prosperous, for the apple pie to put down roots as a culinary favorite in the New World.
That cute, fluffy-wuffy little kitty cat nuzzling up against your leg right now is actually a vicious predator. Like its lion and tiger cousins, it requires periodic bursts of heightened speed and focus in order to catch its prey, whether that's a gazelle or your sock. In order to preserve their energy, cats spend much of their time dozing, often sleeping only lightly, in order to be able to leap back into action at a moment's notice. An individual cat nap typically lasts for 15 to 30 minutes, but add them all together and your cat is getting some serious down time: they sleep an average of 12-16 hours every day, with some even sleeping up to 20 hours in a single 24-hour period!
While some of us are still recovering from Pluto's removal from the planetary roster of our solar system, there may still be another dark horse contender out there for the designation of 9th Planet. Pluto, which is actually much smaller than Earth's moon, is just one of several "dwarf planets" that circle the earth in a ring of asteroids and space debris known as the Kuiper Belt. But recently, as astronomers have observed the Kuiper Belt, they have found that its objects are not all orbiting in regular patterns. What's throwing them off course? One possibility is the gravitational pull of an undiscovered planet, perhaps even four times as large as the Earth. Unfortunately, orbiting so far away from the sun means that it would reflect very little light, making it nearly impossible to find even with advanced equipment.
If Thomas Jefferson had had his way, you might be. In 1787, the newly-formed government of the United States passed an ordinance claiming the land south of the Great Lakes as American soil. Called the Northwest Territory, this act established the pattern by which the government would expand its borders westward: by creating new states rather than by expanding existing ones. Thomas Jefferson was one of the early proponents of this plan. The author of the Declaration of Independence turned his pen to the map of this new frontier, drew straight lines dividing the area into seventeen proposed states, and invented names for them all using a combination of Latin and Native American words. Some of those names, like Illinoia and Michigania, were adapted into official usage. Others, however, would have given an entirely different flavor to the American landscape. Can you imagine hailing from the great states of Metropotamia, Equitasia, Chersonesus, Assenisipia?
It's considered common knowledge now that no two people are exactly alike, and that those differences are coded right into our DNA. You may be surprised to learn, however, that all of those differences between us only appear in only 1% of our DNA. That means that in 99% of our genetic makeup, the entire human race is exactly alike. If it seems impossible that just 1% could account for the variety found among earth's population: 97% of our DNA is exactly the same as that of an orangutan!
Though it can be assumed that horses certainly like peanut butter, don't expect your steed to state his preference for smooth or chunky any time soon. Despite an incredibly sticky rumor, everyone's favorite "talking" horse, Mr. Ed, learned to speak not because he was fed the stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth food, but through good, old-fashioned training. The PB rumor was perpetuated by Wilbur himself, Alan Young, who feared that children wouldn't find Mr. Ed's real, animal actor training as charming as the idea of sharing their favorite snack with him. Though at first his handlers would jiggle his lips with a piece of thread, Mr. Ed (being the professional pony he was) soon learned to move his lips independently at the touch of his hoof, and eventually, whenever his human co-actors stopped talking!
Nope, it's not Z! It is no coincidence that I and J stand side-by-side-for centuries they were considered the same character! The letter J started as a swash, a typographical embellishment for the already existing I used to denote the conclusion of a series of ones-as in "Henry viij" for Henry the Eighth. Both I and J were used interchangeably to express the sound of both the vowel and the consonant until 1524 when Renaissance grammarian Gian Giorgio Trissino argued for poor J's autonomy in his "epistola del Trissino de le lettere nuwvamente aggiunte ne la lingua italiana" ("Trissino's epistle about the letters recently added in the Italian language"). After being snubbed for nearly three more centuries, J was finally acknowledged as a full-fledged letter in the nineteenth-century, making it the baby of the English alphabet.!
Theoretically, a single paper fiber could survive the recycling process 20, 30, even 100 rounds, but the odds suggest that a strand only has about 5 lives. At the recycling plant, paper is heated and chopped into tiny bits to make pulp. During that process, the long fibers that make up virgin paper have about a 20% chance of being sliced into a fragment that's too small to be reconstituted into top-quality sheets. Fortunately, this isn't the end of the road for these subpar strands. Since paper quality declines after each recycling, there is a hierarchy that paper descends on its way to retirement. As they age, previously recycled sheets are typically transformed into something less distinguished, but still useful, like cereal boxes, milk cartons, or toilet paper. Want an easy way to extend the life of that humble sheet of paper? Just remember to flip to the back!
Its hard to imagine a time before the chocolate chip cookie, but the innovator who brought enlightenment to that dark age was Ruth Wakefield. Educated in food science, she left academia when she and her husband purchased a renovated toll house outside of Boston, and opened an inn and restaurant. In 1930, she was preparing a batch of chocolate cookies when she discovered she was out of cocoa powder. Thinking fast, she broke up a bar of semi-sweet chocolate and stirred it into the dough, expecting it to melt in the oven. Instead, she pulled out a new culinary innovation: the "Toll House Crunch Cookie." The cookies were an instant hit grew so popular that when a chocolate company began producing the first chocolate chips, they asked if they could publish Wakefield's recipe on the package. She agreed-in exchange for a lifetime supply of chocolate.
Advances in technology have certainly improved the lifespan of the humble light bulb: new LED bulbs will burn for 50,000 hours, or nearly six years of continuous use. But they still can't compare with the longevity of some of their old-fashioned, incandescent ancestors. At a fire station in Livermore, California, there shines a bulb that has been in use for the last 110 years. The four-watt bulb was switched on before the beginning of WWI, and has almost never been turned off during the century since. Surprisingly, the low wattage and continual usage might actually have contributed to the bulb's extended life. As incandescent lights are turned on and off, their filaments quickly heat and cool, causing the stress cracks that eventually break and leave you in the dark.
If you're gazing into the eyes of a newborn baby, more often than not you'll see they're some brilliant shade of blue, whatever the color of their parents' eyes. This happens because, when a child is born, its eyes are still building up their store of a protein called melanin. The more melanin that collects, the darker the iris will become. Not only that, melanin itself becomes darker with exposure to ultraviolet light. At around six months old, a baby's eyes will usually reach the color they will retain for the rest of their life.
In 1886, a young stamp collector in Sweden was looking through old letters in his grandmother's attic when he made a promising discovery. It was a 3 skilling (equivalent to 3 cents) stamp from the country's first run of postal stamps thirty years earlier. He quickly sold it to a collector, who was puzzled by the stamp's yellow color: the 3 skilling denomination was supposed to have been printed in blue-green ink, with yellow being used for the 8 skilling version. Over the years, it became clear that the misprinted yellow stamp was the only surviving one of its kind, and its price skyrocketed accordingly. In 2010 it was purchased by an anonymous buyer for "at least" $2.3 million. That means the going rate for that little slip of paper is approximately $2.55 billion per ounce! Compare that with an ounce of gold, which on the same date was selling for a mere $1,180.
Leave it to the ancient Greeks, those innovators in so many areas of knowledge, to also make great advances in the philosophy of excuses. The scholar Zeno of Elea proposed the following paradox: Imagine you are traveling from point A to point B. First you travel half the distance, then half the remaining distance, then half the remaining distance, and so on. That means that, logically speaking, it is physically impossible for you to complete the trip. The same reasoning holds true for completing homework, cleaning bedrooms, washing dishes, etc. After first presenting this mind-twisting paradox, Zeno must have been disappointed by the response of Diogenes the Cynic, who disproved Zeno's conclusion simply by standing up and walking across the room.
That sweet, heart-shaped candy you're about to pop in your mouth has a history that dates back over a hundred-and-fifty years. In 1847, an English immigrant named Oliver Chase invented a press that cut out candy discs called "hub wafers." Not to be outdone, Chase's brother Daniel invented a machine that stamped messages directly onto the candy. Initially, the younger Chase's conversational confections were cut into "cockles"—a scalloped shell shape that was large enough for a brief message. His company went on to produce candies in the form of horseshoes, baseballs and more, until finally, in 1901, the now-familiar heart shape appeared. It has been sweetening Valentine's Days ever since.
Archeologists certainly do. The Red Lady made her social debut in 1823 when she was discovered by Rev. William Buckland as he explored a network of limestone caves in Wales. Part of an ancient, ceremonial burial site, her skeleton lay coated in red ochre, a claylike pigment, accompanied by seashell necklaces and carved mammoth ivory. The first human fossil ever discovered, she still managed to hide her age quite well: Buckland estimated her to be from the first century Roman occupation of Britain, but radiocarbon dating now shows she lived in the Paleolithic era, around 33,000 years ago. The Red Lady also kept a secret from the man who discovered and named her: she was actually a male.
A Valentine heart may symbolize romance, but advances in medical science have revealed that the path to true love lies directly through the brain. When you feel that first delightful rush of attraction toward someone, you can thank the ventral tegmental, part of the brain which pumps out dopamine and other feel-good hormones that make your body buzz. As you realize this attraction is growing into something more lasting than a crush, it may be a sign that your nucleus accumbens has begun producing oxytocin, a powerful component of emotional bonding. This is the same chemical that helps mothers bond with their babies. If all goes as planned in the relationship, love finally arrives at the caudate nuclei, twin regions of the brain in which are stored ingrained knowledge and habits, such as how to ride a bicycle. It is here in long-term storage that the thrill of love transforms into a lifelong romantic commitment.
Sometime around 1650, French jeweler Jean-Baptiste Tavernier emerged from the Indian subcontinent with an exceptionally large, brilliant blue diamond. It was whispered that he had stolen it from the eye of an idol, and that the goddess's curse followed all those who owned or wore the gem. In 1911, the New York Times published a lengthy list of those whose lives had been blighted by what had come to be known as the Hope Diamond: royalty deposed, reputations ruined, and many a grisly demise. Then, as now, this makes for an exciting story—which helped to drive newspaper sales, while raising the value of the diamond for its alive-and-well owners. In fact, with only a couple of exceptions, the diamond has been safely passed between nobles, collectors and socialites for three-and-a-half centuries, with each owner embellishing the jewel's story to burnish their own reputation.
In the original version of familiar tale, six-year-old George Washington does indeed take his child-sized hatchet to the trunk of his father's cherry tree—but merely succeeds in damaging it by cutting the bark away. Chopping the tree down makes a more dramatic story, and probably was added as the anecdote was passed from person to person, but the real twist is that it never occurred at all. The hatchet, the tree and the little boy who declared, "I can't tell a lie," were the invention of writer Mason Weems for his book A History of the Life and Death, Virtues and Exploits of General George Washington, published shortly after Washington's death. Writing under the pen name Parson Weems (though not a real parson), he claimed the story was recounted to him by a (fictional) childhood acquaintance of the President. Truly an odd beginning for a fable about honesty.
In spite of its prickly exterior, the pineapple is a traditional symbol for hospitality, even in regions of North America and Europe where it doesn't grow. In fact, that rarity actually contributed to its hospitable reputation. Among the wealthy classes of colonial America, lavish feasts were a popular form of socialization. Tables would be spread with elaborate, artistic displays of food, mingled with flowers or statuettes. The absolute pinnacle of extravagance would be to crown it with a pineapple. In some cities, families could even rent a pineapple to display, if their resources were not sufficient to buy one for themselves. Such a rare and expensive delicacy showed that the hostess had gone above and beyond in her efforts to offer her guests the very best. In time, the pineapple spread from the dinner table to the décor, where it came to be painted on walls or carved into banisters and fence posts, always offering the same promise of fine hospitality inside.
While a snowstorm may not qualify as shorts weather, it does in fact raise the temperature of the air. To understand why, picture an ice cube in a frying pan. The hot pan is adding energy to the ice in the form of heat, and that extra heat is what allows the ice to change from solid to liquid and eventually to invisible water vapor. What's harder to see is that the reverse process is also true: as evaporated water changes back to water or ice, it releases that energy back into the air. When there are enough little drops of ice forming up in the atmosphere for us to experience snow, then all of those little drops together release enough heat for us to feel a slight change in temperature.
It was a cold night in April when the great ship went down in the North Atlantic. A British luxury liner, it was the largest ship ever constructed and was largely believed to be "unsinkable," until it struck an iceberg and went down. With an insufficient number of lifeboats on board, the accident resulted in the loss of half the ship's 2,500 passengers. Of course, their loss is made less tragic by the fact that they were entirely fictional. While the details are uncannily like the 1912 sinking of the Titanic, this is actually the plot of an 1898 novel titled Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan. Author Morgan Robertson was just two letters away from using the Titanic's actual name, as well as making uncanny estimates of the ship's construction, size, speed and passenger capacity. When the real "unsinkable" ship sank fourteen years later, Robertson was quick to republish his book, nudging the numbers along the way to make his predictions look even more astounding than they already were.
It certainly can—and not just if you're hosting a Sunday School social. "Church key" is the colloquial name of a still-familiar, two-part can opener. One part was invented around 1900, in order to unlock the new-fangled glass bottles with their crown-shaped, metal caps. Part two was added in 1935 in response to the invention of canned beerathe tool's curving point could puncture a triangular window into the top of the as-yet pull-tab-free containers. The origin of the church key's name is still in dispute: it could be a sarcastic joke, or maybe inspired by the monks who refined the art of brewing during the Medieval Era. Either way, those who use one will probably soon be full of the spirit.
It can seem miraculous when mail delivered the day after it's sent. But the speed of mail delivery can be equally astonishing when it's not so fast: In 2010, a women's center in California received a Christmas card—that had been mailed 73 years before! The card was sent in 1937, at a time when mail was still being sorted by hand. A U.S. Post Office spokesman suggested that it might have simply been dropped into a crack somewhere. Since then, the post office itself had moved to another location, and the old building had undergone renovations. It's possible that the letter was discovered during that process, and that someone had been kind enough to drop it in the mailbox. It was delivered with a 3-cent stamp, and the message included the apology, "Thank you for your last letter which I have been intending to answer but somehow didn't." Now the writer can have a much better excuse at the ready.
Lightning. Lots and lots of lightning, actually. Atmospheric conditions are constantly shifting the balance of positive and negative charges between the air and the ground. Nature restores that balance by creating a burst of lightning — and does so up to fifty times around the world every second! Not only that, but once the path of ionized air through which lightning travels has been formed, it makes it easier for electric charge to travel that way again. Every lightning strike you see might actually be three to five separate flashes, which gives it a strobe-like flicker. So much for the theory of lightning not striking the same place twice!
Who could forget the classic carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas?" Or at least, who could forget the first half of the lyrics, which are repeated relentlessly before the song is done. And yet, with all that repetition, things still change over time. For example, those "four calling birds" didn't appear in the lyrics until the 20th century. Before that they were "colly birds"—another name for the Eurasian blackbird. That's certainly not the only change that has happened to the song over the centuries, though. In various historical versions of the song, "my true love" also gives "twelve bells a-ringing," "eleven badgers baiting," and "ten ships a-sailing."
It seems odd that a parasitic plant should be an invitation to romance, but it has played that role for centuries. In the first century BC, Roman thinker Pliny the Elder recorded the belief of his day that mistletoe had supernatural powers. After all, when trees lost their leaves in the winter, any mistletoe in their branches would remain green. It was thought that the plant absorbed and preserved the life force of the tree during the cold months, and mistletoe was prized as a medicine that could promote fertility. As Europe became Christianized the veneration of mistletoe remained, but the focus shifted from procreation to civilized permission for a chaste peck on the cheek.
In Iceland, they don't just have one Santa Claus. They have 13 of them-along with their mysterious companion, the Yuletide Cat. Legend has it that the Yule Lads, as they are called, are the offspring of a giant, mountain-dwelling troll, and stories about them date back to the 13th century. Their depiction has shifted over time from terrifying monsters to merry tricksters (with names like Door-Slammer and Candle-Stealer), and modern depictions are largely in line with Santa Claus variations from around the world. They even deliver gifts, and wear red and white. The Yuletide Cat, on the other hand, still seems pretty ominous. Legend has it that the beast comes to eat children that haven't been given new clothing before Christmas. Sounds like a good reason to get holiday shopping done early!
First, perhaps you should ask yourself what you've done wrong this year, since coal is traditionally the reward Santa gives to naughty boys and girls. But why coal? One thing to remember is that, up into the early 20th century, coal was key to heating a home during cold winter months. So, a gift of coal was not worthless. It just wasn't very exciting, especially if you were dreaming of the trinkets and toys available to wealthy families. Today coal remains primarily as a verbal threat, and it's hard to imagine actually filling a misbehaving child's stocking with charcoal briquette. However, modern children are still punished with similarly practical gifts, like wool socks and underwear.
Of course you can. After all, your clothing alone would be too heavy a load for a single ant. But proportionately speaking, ants are truly superhuman. They can each carry 10 to 50 times their own body weight. One species—the Asian weaver ant—is known to be able to carry 100 times its weight! That's like being able to carry a school bus over your head! How can they possibly be so strong? Because they're so small, they're muscles are actually larger relative to size than in larger species.
You use a "straw poll" ≬ that phrase has been used since the 1820's for unofficial polls gauging public opinion, often about politics. While twigs and straw have historically been used in simple forms of voting (a candidate who does poorly may feel like they've drawn the short straw), it's believed the origin of the phrase simply came from the method of using a piece of straw to determine which way the winds were blowing.
It's true that reindeer might actually take a long, magical trip each year, but it's probably not the one you're thinking of. Siberian reindeer are very fond of "fly agaric," a species of mushrooms with an adorable red cap with white polka dots. It also happens to have hallucinogenic properties. Much like cats' penchant for catnip, reindeer will eagerly dig through the snow to uncover the little delicacies. It's not actually known whether the mushrooms have the same psychedelic effect on reindeer brains as they do on humans, but the indigenous people of Siberia have long sought after tripped-out reindeer as a means of reaching transcendence.
Unlike the too-common tale of over-harvested timber leading to the endangerment of certain trees, cork is a renewable, well-managed wood product. A single cork oak tree can be productive for 170 years, and harvesting its bark is a traditional skill that is passed from generation to generation. Ironically, the threat to cork is not over-consumption, but just the opposite. The vast majority of cork that is produced is used as stoppers for wine bottles, but gradually the wine industry has been shifting towards cheaper, synthetic alternatives. If demand for cork is not maintained, then the forests that produce it are at risk of no longer being cultivated.
December the 26th certainly is a busy day. In Great Britain and many of the British Commonwealth nations, it is Boxing Day-a day in which servants and tradespeople would traditionally receive gifts from their employers. In South Africa, it is an official Day of Good Will. In Ireland, it is observed as St. Stephen's Day-that well-known carol in which Good King Wenceslas looks out "on the feast of Stephen" is actually not a Christmas song at all! December 26th is also the Second Day of Christmas, which is part of the twelve days of Christmastide, and evidently a fine time for receiving "two turtledoves." But in the United States, the day is celebrated primarily for the freedom to take unwanted gift sweaters back to the store.
A musician and a lyricist were suffering through a broiling summer day. The lyricist, Bob Wells, began jotting down the chilliest thoughts he could think, in an effort of mind over matter. The musician, Mel Tormi caught sight of the list: "Chestnuts roasting... Jack Frost nipping... Yuletide carols..." Forty minutes, the two had turned wishful thinking into a song. According to BMI, a music licensing company, "The Christmas Song" has become the most-performed song of the holiday season.
Radio waves are good for more than just tuning into your favorite music. When used in radar, they can reveal the location and motion of objects in the distance. And, as discovered by one radar engineer in 1945, they can also melt a chocolate bar that's in your pocket. That engineer, named Percy Spencer, became curious and tried placing popcorn kernels near his device. They popped. Mr. Spencer continued his experimentation, and shepherded his discovery into becoming what is now the saving grace for leftovers everywhere: the microwave oven.
You may know the experience: You're in a room full of people chatting away, barely able to hear the person next to you over the noise, when suddenly a child cries out and their voice rings out loud and clear across the room. Perhaps paradoxically, children's voices are so big precisely because they're so small. An infant's larynx (where the voice is formed) is much smaller than an adults, causing it to create much higher frequencies. In the same way, the smallest instrument in the orchestra--the piccolo--creates such high frequencies that just one of them can be heard over the rest put together. While a shrill cry is rarely pleasant to listen to, babies across the animal kingdom use such attention-grabbing calls to ensure that they get the care they need from their parents.
You've seen magenta before, right? It's that brilliant, hot pink color of beet juice or redbud blossoms. And yet, if you take a look at the spectrum of visible light, you will find no such color there. What we perceive as magenta is actually created inside our brains. The brain, when confronted with simultaneous light frequencies, would usually tell us that we are seeing the color half-way between them—but in the case of red and violet light, that middle-ground color would be green. So instead of giving you clearly false information, the brain invents magenta, a color that only exists in your mind's eye.
Compass needles don't point to the northernmost tip of the earth, but toward the north end of the planet's magnetic field. And that point, called magnetic north, has begun shifting by nearly forty miles each year—faster than any time since documentation began in 1831—causing increasing complications for migrating animals and human navigation. Scientists speculate that we might actually be moving toward a complete reversal of the magnetic poles. That sounds drastic to us, but for the planet it's just business as usual: it's estimated that the poles realign every 400,000 years or so. The reversal process itself could take as long as 100,000 years, so don't rush out to buy a new compass just yet.
Ah, the bald eagle. Majestic. Proud. But also, according to one of our Founding Fathers, "of bad moral character." That was the opinion of Benjamin Franklin, who was displeased with the eagle's tendency to steal fish from its feathered friends, rather than catching its own. His preferred bird has since become an American favorite, although not for the reasons Franklin imagined: "The Turkey is... though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on."
While it's tempting to guess your favorite love-to-hate-him President, the real name is less familiar: David Rice Atchison. In 1849, Atchison was the President pro tempore of the U.S. Senate. That year, President James Polk's four-year term ended on a Sunday, but incoming President Zachary Taylor and his Vice President chose not to be inaugurated until Monday. Since Atchison's position was next in line for succession, some argue that he was Acting President for twenty-four hours—a time he spent napping, after a taxing week in the Senate. Atchison himself never claimed the title, pointing out that it was just a technicality. Even so, the town of Atchison, Kansas, created the country's smallest presidential library in his honor.