March 1966

The Race to the Moon
“The surface of the moon appears to be quite solid and unexpectedly low in radioactivity. These are the two chief scientific findings to come out of the successful Soviet ‘soft landing’ of an unmanned spacecraft on the moon on February 3. According to Academician Nikolai Barabashov, a leading Soviet selenologist, the Luna 9 photographs ‘proved beyond doubt that the upper layer of the lunar soil is a spongelike, rough-textured mass scattered with individual sharp-edged fragments of various sizes.’ The long-standing question of whether or not this layer is strong enough to support heavy objects appears to have been settled. Soviet workers charged with analyzing the photographs point out that the 220-pound Luna 9 instrument package ‘did not sink into the soil to any substantial degree.’”

North Sea Oil
“The most active area of oil and gas exploration in the world is now the North Sea and its environs. The special inducement is the prospect of finding large fuel deposits in immediate proximity to major markets and in a region of relative political stability. Writing in the Geographical Review, Trevor M. Thomas points out that there are in the North Sea salt domes of the type that provide the structural basis of much of the oil entrapment in the Gulf of Mexico region. Extensive magnetic and seismic surveys have been carried out at sea by a large number of companies. According to Thomas, the work is extremely speculative, but it seems likely that valuable deposits will be found.”

March 1916

Naval Aviation Takes Off
“The seaplane as a naval scout should be able to operate from a moving ship as a base, and to do this with much the same indifference to the state of the weather as its fellow aeroplane in the military service. Thanks to the initial work of Captain Washington I. Chambers, U.S.N., a short-run catapulting railway is placed permanently aboard the U.S.S. ‘North Carolina.’ It is from this ship that seaplanes have repeatedly been launched [see illustration] in the past few weeks in the open sea and with the armored cruiser under way.”

More images of naval technology in 1916 are at www.ScientificAmerican.com/mar2016/naval-technology

Taming Nature's Fury
“The period of stormy weather in the Netherlands which set in around Christmas was marked by a terrific gale on the night of the 13th and 14th of January. On that night of terror, the calamity that befell the southern portion of the Province of North Holland is the worst of all—far worse than can be remembered to have ever happened since the fearful St. Elizabeth flood in 1421, when 10,000 people were drowned, and it must be entirely placed to the credit of better organization of help, better roads, better telegraphic and telephonic communication and railway service, that on this occasion the victims are numbered only by tens instead.”

March 1866

Unregulated Food
Trichina spiralis is a small microscopic worm or animalcule, which is found in the muscles and intestines of various animals, especially pigs and rabbits, in enormous quantities. We learn by the London Lancet that at Hedersleben, in Prussian Saxony, upward of ninety deaths have occurred from this disease. All this havoc has been caused by one trichinous pig! The butcher, having recognized the abnormal appearance of the meat of this pig, had carefully disguised it by mixing it with the meat of two healthy pigs. He made this confession shortly before his death, which was caused by trichiniasis contracted from his own meat. His wife also died of the disease.”

Geologic Periods
“All the facts of geology tend to indicate an antiquity of which we are beginning to form but a dim idea. Take, for instance, our well-known chalk. This consists entirely of shells and fragments of shells deposited at the bottom of an ancient sea. Such a process as this must be very slow; probably we should not be much above the mark if we were to assume a rate of deposition of ten inches a century. Now the chalk is more than 1,000 feet in thickness, and would have required, therefore, more than 120,000 years for its formation.”