The Seattle windshield pitting epidemic: a textbook case of mass hysteria

Mass hysteria, per Wikipedia’s definition, is “a phenomenon that transmits collective delusions of threats, whether real or imaginary, through a population in society as a result of rumors and fear.” You may be familiar with famous incidents of mass hysteria such as the Dancing Plague of 1518 or the Salem witch trials, but you likely haven’t heard of a much more mundane yet relatably close-to-home instance: the Seattle windshield pitting epidemic of 1954. Considered by experts to be a “textbook” case of collective delusion, residents of Bellingham, Seattle, and other communities of Washington reached a state of panic when they began noticing “holes, pits, and dings” in their windshields.

[O]riginally thought to be the work of vandals[,] the rate of pitting was so great that residents began to attribute it to everything from sand flea eggs to nuclear bomb testing.
Originating in Bellingham in March, police initially believed the work to be vandals using BB guns. However the pitting was soon observed in the nearby towns of Sedro Woolley and Mount Vernon and by mid-April, appeared to have spread to the town of Anacortes on Fidalgo Island.
Within a week, the news and the so-called “pitting epidemic” had reached metropolitan Seattle. As the newspapers began to feature the story, more and more reports of pitting were called in. Motorists began stopping police cars to report damage and car lots and parking garages reported particularly severe attacks. […] By April 15, close to 3,000 windshields had been reported as affected.
Finally, Sergeant Max Allison of the Seattle police crime laboratory stated that the pitting reports consisted of “5 per cent hoodlum-ism, and 95 per cent public hysteria.” By April 17, the pitting suddenly stopped.

While troubled motorists propounded a number of theories to explain the pitting, ranging from “cosmic rays” to a shift in the earth’s magnetic field, the likeliest explanation is that “natural windshield pitting had been going on for some time, but it was only when the media called public attention to it that people actually looked at their windshields and saw damage they had never noticed before.”

Scientists discover a solid-black, bio-luminescent shark

As if the creature’s physical characteristics weren’t interesting enough on their own, researchers gave it one of the coolest names in the animal kingdom: the ninja lanternshark. This shark can be found in the deeps off the Pacific coast of Central America, and grows to about 1.5 feet in length.

The ninja lanternshark, or Etmopterus benchleyi.
The ninja lanternshark, or Etmopterus benchleyi.

Like other lanternsharks, it produces light with special organs in its body, which is likely used to communicate with other sharks, for camouflage and perhaps to attract prey. The scientists who first found the fish, from the Pacific Shark Research Center in California, gave the species the technical name Etmopterus benchleyi. It’s named after Peter Benchley, the author of Jaws. […] The animal lives in the waters off the continental slope, at depths of 0.5 to 0.9 miles deep, where it is very dark. It presumably eats small fish and crustaceans although scientists don’t yet know hardly anything about its diet or behavior.

You can read more about this intriguing creature here!

The underground homes of Coober Pedy, Australia

It’s a strange enough name for a town, but what really sets the place apart is the fact that the majority of its dwelling and businesses are… underground.

Coober Pedy is fairly remote: it’s about 500 miles north of Adelaide, in south Australia, and has a population of just 1,695. And because daytime temperatures can reach 120 degrees during the summertime, its residents tend to seek shelter beneath the earth. Take a fascinating video tour below:

They’re really taking “down under” to a whole new (subterranean) level. (Via Great Big Story.)

Frighteningly gigantic lizard makes surprise visit to Australian home

Here’s another story that fulfills every stereotype about life in Australia.

Eric Holland from Thurgoona in New South Wales was relaxing in his shed earlier this week, when he came across a 1.5 metre (5 foot) goanna lizard hanging on the side of his house.

giant-lizard-visits-australian-home“Well it was a bloody big shock mate,” Holland told radio station 2GB in an interview on Friday morning. “I nearly trod on the bloody thing.”

The goanna is actually a mature Lace Monitor, which can grow to 2 metres (6.5 feet) long and weigh 20 kilograms (44 lbs).

“A bloody big shock,” indeed. Story credit to Mashable.

Volcanic ghost towns of North Sumatra

Indonesia’s Mount Sinabung, a stratovolcano located in North Sumatra, has been dramatically erupting on and off since 2010. (Incidentally, I climbed this volcano in late 2011 — between eruptions, of course.)

Recent eruptions have been so sustained and severe that a number of nearby villages have been abandoned — declared by Indonesian authorities, as The Atlantic reports, “too dangerous to inhabit.” Numerous villages such as Guru Kinayan, Simacem, Kuta Gugung, and Sibintun now sit empty, covered in ash and rapidly being reclaimed by nature, as the images below show:

Volcanic Ghost Villages in Sumatra, Indonesia

(Photo credit goes to Associated Press photographer Binsar Bakkara.)

Austria reassures refugees that there’s no need to fear Krampus

Moving to a foreign land and experiencing a new culture can be trying under the best of circumstances, let alone following harried passage from war-torn regions. The new sights, sounds, and tastes can be overwhelming, the unfamiliar customs can be baffling, the different climate can be uncomfortable. I’m certain the Syrian refugees have confronted all of these things in Austria and elsewhere throughout Europe. But while each element of culture shock can (by definition) be cause for distress, one aspect of life in Austria that is likely to be particularly disturbing for uninitiated newcomers is… Krampus. For those unfamiliar, Krampus is “a horned, anthropomorphic figure who punishes children during the Christmas season who have misbehaved, in contrast with Saint Nicholas, who rewards well-behaved ones with gifts.” In Austria and other Alpine regions of Europe, early December often features “traditional parades in which young men dress as Krampus.”

Mindful of these festivities, “Officials in the village of Virgen worried about how new arrivals from the Middle East would react to the local tradition of meeting so-called ‘Christmas Devils’ who pretend to abduct kids.”

Fearing the spectacle would be misunderstood, community representatives last week visited the 22 migrants — including 12 children — who have been housed in the Alpine village since the end of October.

They were shown the frightening masks and given insight into the event’s history with the help of an Arabic translator. The verdict? The newcomers had “lots of fun,” according to social worker Nicole Kranebitter.

The migrants “will now know what to expect when St. Nicholas and the Krampus creatures knock on their door,” Kranebitter added.

She said the next event planned for the families who fled war-torn homelands will be traditional cookie baking.

What a great and thoughtful approach, and in such marked contrast to the xenophobia that has greeted migrants in so many other parts of the world.

Why are there so many medieval paintings of people battling large snails?

I never knew that giant snails featured so prominently in medieval paintings, but now that I do, this is the first question on my mind. They do, it turns out.  According to Sarah J. Biggs of the British Library, “images of armed knights fighting snails are common” in 13th and 14th century illuminated manuscripts, “especially in marginalia.”  Check out a sampling below:

View post on imgur.com

One theory about the snails, Biggs goes on, is that they represent the Resurrection; others suggest they are a symbol of the Lombards, a group “vilified in the early middle ages for treasonous behaviour”;  still others have described the ‘knight v snail’ motif as “a representation of the struggles of the poor against an oppressive aristocracy, a straightforward statement of the snail’s troublesome reputation as a garden pest, a commentary on social climbers, or even as a saucy symbol of female sexuality.”

As /r/AskHistorians puts it, in other words, there are “as many explanations as there are scholars”; fundamentally, we just really don’t know. Redditor /u/TheAlaskan relates another plausible account:

“I’m partial to the explanation of Medievalist Lisa Spangenberg, who suggests that the snail is ‘a reminder of the inevitability of death.’
To understand that reference, you have to refer to Psalm 58 (Wycliffe translation) . We’re looking here at verses 7-8:
7 They shall come to nought, as water running away; he bent his bow, till they be made sick. (They shall come to nothing, like water running forth; and when they go to bend their bows, they shall be made feeble, or weak.)
8 As wax that floateth away, they shall be taken away; fire fell above, and they saw not the sun. (Like a snail that melteth away into slime, they shall be taken away; like a dead-born child, they shall not see the sun.)
Like the snail, even the best-armored knight will melt away.”

Fascinating and bizarre stuff.

Apparently, Earth is sprouting dark matter “hairs”

The great thing about astrophysics is that… it’s all weird. And not much is weirder than dark matter (a “hypothetical kind of matter that cannot be seen with telescopes but accounts for most of the matter in the universe”; “one of the greatest mysteries in modern astrophysics”). Should we be surprised that the Earth is growing a dark matter mullet? Well, maybe.

While dark matter is itself unobservable, scientists can track it based on the trail it leaves. And according to a recent study published in the Astrophysical Journal, “some of those trails might come in the form of “hairy” filaments draped around Earth.” The Washington Post goes on:

If Earth is indeed wearing a dark matter toupee, it could be great news for astrophysicists.

“If we could pinpoint the location of the root of these hairs, we could potentially send a probe there and get a bonanza of data about dark matter,” lead study author Gary Prézeau of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement.

Fine-grained streams of dark matter mixed up with matter matter are crisscrossing through our solar system as we speak. Earth’s gravity would bend these streams into dense filaments that Prézeau compares to strands of hair. The densest part of the filament — the “root,” if you will — would have a black matter density a billion times higher than the original stream.

According to the research, these roots might be as close as 600,000 miles away, with the fine tips of the filaments would reach out about twice as far.

Because these roots would boast such a dense trove of dark matter, locating and studying them could give us one of our best ever chances of detecting the mysterious stuff directly.

Strange stuff indeed.

Bizarre “spaghetti monster” discovered 4000 feet underwater

One never knows what sort of strange life forms the ocean will churn up next.

According to livescience, “workers at the oil and gas company BP videotaped this strange-looking animal while collecting video footage some 4,000 feet (1,220 meters) under the sea with a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV).” Check out the footage below:

The creature, it turns out, is Bathyphysa conifer, a colonial animal similar to jellyfish and corals: “the spaghettilike B. conifer is made up of many different multicellular organisms known as zooids. These organisms are a lot like regular, solitary animals, except that they’re attached to other zooids, forming a more complex organism.”

Underwater Mormon ghost town uncovered by Nevada drought

Formerly submerged under 60 feet of water, the ongoing drought in the western United States has left the ghost town of St. Thomas, Nevada, once again exposed to the air.

From the Huffington Post:

Lest anyone forget, the drought in California and across the Southwest is still raging on. And one of the places where its effects can be observed most clearly is Nevada’s Lake Mead.

The nation’s largest reservoir has hit a series of troubling milestones over the past year, sinking to a record low in late June. Now, in the latest benchmark for the new Lake Mead, a town that flooded shortly after the completion of the Hoover Dam in 1938 has literally risen from the depths.

The ghost town — once called St. Thomas, Nevada — was founded as a Mormon settlement in 1865 and had six bustling businesses by 1918, according to Weather.com. But for nearly a century, it’s been uninhabited and uninhabitable, existing mostly as an underwater curiosity.

You can see more pictures here.