The Death Rays of the Greeks (Another Cool Olympic Thing)

Did Archimedes get the idea for his ship-destroying death ray while watching the Olympics? Did he hang around the Temple of Hestia? And what’s the Gilligan’s Island connection?

#ParisIsComing. The Paris Olympics will take place July 26-August 11– mark those sixteen days of glory on your 2024 calendar. I’m gearing up, so to get you in the mood, I’ll be sharing some preliminary posts over the next few months.

Today is all about the torch lighting. I might call it the torturous trail to the torch or the traditional tale or the tantalizing tutelage, but let’s just call it a blog post for now.

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Y is for Yucatan

The Big One! Asteroid impact site in Chicxulub, Yucatan. Graphic from Atlantic.

BOOM! or maybe it was boom…boom…fshhhh..whap booma-booma…boom..bubble boom glub glub Boom…

Which was it? Luis Alvarez had one story, and he was laughed out of the paleontologist’s room. Until he wasn’t. Gerta Keller, who disagreed with him, has been laughed out of the same rooms. She’s won prizes for her research. Can they both be right?

There are multiple stories here. First, there is a story of a scientist who had a crazy idea and some data, which took decades for scientists to confirm. Then, there’s a second story, of a scientist still fighting for her own version, one which would upend those decades. Plus, there’s the underlying story, of what killed off all the dinosaurs. Between story one and story two, there’s still uncertainty about story three.

It’s been called “The Nastiest Feud in Science.” It’s still ongoing, even though now they do know where the asteroid hit. The crater is in the Yucatan.

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O is for Origin

Darwin’s diary, speculating about species development. Wikipedia.

I hope this doesn’t burst anyone’s bubble, but Charles Darwin did not entirely invent the theory of evolution. Many biologists–or naturalists as they called them then–had an idea that life had changed over time. Darwin added his own special sauce, in his argument On the Origin of Species, but it was part of a chain of scientific proposals. Some of these proposals preceded or ignored the fossil findings. Others tried to fit them within grander narratives, despite evidence that said differently.

The origin of the dinosaurs can be considered from two frameworks. One is about the history of those who found fossils, a topic that has been brushed lightly before. The other is about the first dinosaur itself, a truth that is at the mercy of the fossils themselves. Then, there is the question of what came after, what animal origins emerged once the ruling dinosaurs were forced to bow before E.T. and his Merry Asteroid. Different kinds of origin stories.

Cuvier drawing of elephant parts, wikpedia.

The Origin of Evolution

Evolution and the resistance to evolution was not just about monkeys. The radical notion about change in general was that there had been change to live creatures, and it had lasted millions of years. The Bible had dictated different terms. Seven days. All the creatures, flora and fauna, created in just a part of that time span. As naturalists started digging up things, the idea that million of years had past didn’t fit the religious narrative.

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