Fascinating facts and interesting stories

World’s first video arcade game

The first video game was invented by Willy Higginbotham. Willy was no teenage computer wizkid, however. In the early 1940s he worked on advanced radar displays for B28 bombers and went on to work for the Manhattan Project where he designed the timing mechanism for the first atomic bomb. In 1958, bored by the displays of the Brookhaven National Labs annual open-day exhibition, Willy designed a tennis game simulation, the world’s first video game. It was called Tennis For Two. Willy did not take out a patent but even if he had the royalties would have been paid to the US government.  Read more…

Complete English novel without using the letter e

Ernest Vincent Wright’s 1939 novel Gadsby has 50,110 words, none of which contains the letter e.

Don’t believe that a novel could be without any e’s? Here’s an excerpt from page one of Wright’s Gadsby:

“If youth, throughout all history, had a champion to stand up for it; to show a doubting world that a child can think; and, possibly, do it practically; you wouldn’t constantly run across folks today who claim that “a child don’t know anything.” A child’s brain starts functioning at birth; and has, amongst its many infant convolutions, thousands of dormant atoms, into which God has put a mystic possibility for noticing an adults act, and figuring out its purport.”

– Gadsby by Ernest Vincent Wright. Published 1939

The size of the sun in comparison

It is the fire of life. It can be kind but it can get angry. But it never throws its weight around. It is the sun. And although it is 330,000 more massive than earth and contains 99.8% of the mass in our solar system, it is small in comparison with some other stars.

The sun never cease to amaze us with its theatrics, its lava flares dancing across its surface in a ballet of nuclear fusion, sometimes leaping millions of miles into the air. And although the sun is big, its intense heat and light makes it difficult to capture good images with normal instruments. So NASA scientists use an Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager and an Atmospheric Imaging Assembly detector to view the ultra-violet (UV) and extreme ultra-violet lithography (EUV) wavelengths released by the sun. The resulting images are spectacular.

Full disk image of the sun. Ain’t it beautiful?!

Full disk image of the sun

Full disk image of the sun as taken by NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory, which orbits 22,300 miles above earth.

Earth in comparison to the sun

Earth’s distance from the sun varies between 91.4 million miles – in January – and 94.4 million miles – in July. The average distance of 92,955,887.6 miles (149, 597, 870.7 kilometers) is called 1 astronomical unit (AU), a measurement that is used to report distances to other planets and stars as well. In short, it’s not a weekend drive.

NASA puts the size of earth to the sun in perspective like this: Suppose the radius of Earth were the width of an ordinary paper clip. The radius of the sun would be roughly the height of a desk, and the sun would be about 100 paces from earth.

Earth size in comparison to the sun and other planets:

Earth size in comparison with sun and planets

(Hey, we’re small but we’re beautiful!)

The size of the sun in comparison

Our sun is one of billions in the entire universe. It also is fairly small in comparison with other big stars. In fact, our sun is classified as a G2 dwarf star. Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, is twice as massive as the sun and 25 times more luminous. And Sirius is dwarfed by Pollux, which is eight times the radius of the sun. And Pollux is dwarfed by Arcturus, which is almost 26 times the size of the sun.

Size of the sun in comparison

It’s a big, big universe

But there are bigger stars yet. When compared to Antares, our handsome sun is a mere pixel on a map. And Antares is not even the biggest star. That title is thought to belong to a star called VY Canus Majoris. It is about 2,000 times the size of the sun, or more than twice the size of Antares.

Sun in comparison to Antares:

Sun compared to Antares

Note that it VY Canus Majoris is the biggest in size but not mass. The currently known most massive star is thought to be WR 102ka – known as Peony Nebula Star – at about 175 times the mass of the sun.

How big is the universe?

The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe calculated the age of the known universe at 13.7 billion years old, based on its radius of 13.7 billion light years. And it is growing bigger every day, at a speed of 71 km/s/Mpc. The size of the whole universe is estimated to be 78 billion light years. If you start traveling today at 60 miles per hour (100km/h) you’ll get to the end of your first coffee stop, the end of one light year, in nine trillion years. Then you just keep going for another 77.999 999 billion light years. Or you could stay here, look after our beautiful planet… and enjoy the sun.

Soft drink inventions

The term “soda water” was coined in 1798. The soda fountain was patented by Samuel Fahnestock in 1819, with the first bottled soda water available in 1835. The first ice-cream soda was sold in 1874 in the US. The first cola-flavored beverage was introduced in 1881. Coca-Cola was invented in 1886 in Atlanta, Georgia by Dr. John S. Pemberton. Pepsi-Cola was invented by Caleb Bradham 12 years later. In 1929, the Howdy Company introduced  its “Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Sodas,” which became 7 Up, which was invented by Charles Leiper Grigg.

Red Bull was introduced by Austrian Dietrich Mateschitz and Chaleo Yoovidhya, from Thailand, in 1987. It is based on the Thai drink called Krating Daeng which means red bull.

The first diet soft drink, called the “No-Cal Beverage” is launched in 1952. Aluminum cans were introduced in 1957 and two years later the first diet cola went on sale.

The pull-ring tab was invented in 1962 and the re-sealable top in 1965. Plastic bottles were first used for soft drinks in 1970. The Polyethylene Terephthalate bottle was introduced in 1973. The stay-on tab was invented in 1974.

The most popular beverage in the world is tea.

Choosing a mate for life

In 1976 Mrs Janine Swift of Los Angeles married a 50lb (22kg) rock in a ceremony that was witnessed by 20 people. With a divorce rate of about 50% in the West, it is doubtful that she’s still married to the rock. In fact, the chance of a first marriage ending in divorce is between 50% and 67%. The chance that a second marriage will end in divorce is about 10% higher than for the first marriage.

The reasons for divorce are many and varied but the biggest reason still is unbearable moaning (complaining) by one of both partners although it is not a reason cited in court – most courts would not grant a divorce on such grounds. The most common “legal” reason is irreconcilable differencesRead more…

Iraq war civilian casualties

While people are still debating the real reason for the Iraq war the casualty numbers for soldiers and civilians keep climbing. According to Just Foreign Policy, more than 1.3 million Iraqis have died since the military invasion of Iraq was launched in March 2003. According to AntiWar, the Iraq war has caused an estimated 100 000 US soldiers wounded and more than 4 000 killed in action.  Read more…

The middle finger and the fricative F

Before the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the French, anticipating victory over the English, proposed to cut off the middle finger of all captured English soldiers to prevent them from drawing the renowned English longbow in the future. The famous weapon was made of the English Yew tree, and the act drawing the longbow was known as “plucking the yew,” or “pluck yew.” To the embarrassment of the French, the English won the battle and began mocking the French by waving their middle fingers, saying, “Pluck yew!” The letter “F” later crept into the symbolic gesture known as showing the finger or the highway salute – the universal sign of disrespect – because of the difficulty in pronouncing consonant clusters.

To get the feathers for the longbow arrows, one would have gone to the village plucker with the introduction “pleasant person pheasant plucker.” The result was the change of the letter P to a labiodental fricative F. Read more…

Who invented the light bulb?

Who invented the light bulb? No, it wasn’t Thomas Edison. Light bulbs were in use long before Edison applied for the patent in 1879. British inventor Humphry Davy invented an incandescent light bulb in 1801 and created the “arc lamp” in 1809.

In 1835, Scottish inventor James Bowman Lindsay demonstrated a constant electric light in Dundee. In 1840, British scientist Warren de la Rue also demonstrated a light bulb. In 1841, British inventor Frederick DeMoleyns patented a light bulb and in 1844 American John Wellington Starr filed a U. S. patent caveat for an incandescent lamp. Many others would follow suit but none of the bulbs were effective for everyday use.  Read more…

Crossing the Rubicon

The expression “crossing the Rubicon” is used to describe an irreversible decision. It originates from the Roman times where the Rubicon river marked the boundary between the Roman state and the  provinces. In 49 BC Caesar declared that crossing the river with an army meant declaring war on Rome. Which meant facing a powerful and very motivated force.

Let’s talk about the weather

As long ago as the 5th century BC the Greeks sent out weather forecasts to their sailors before they cast off. They also posted weather forecasts, called peg calendars, on important buildings. It proved to be very popular. Greek philosopher Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) wrote the first book on weather, Meteorologica, in 350 BC – it remained the standard textbook on weather for 2,000 years.

Today, meteorological services use some of the most powerful computers available to send out millions of weather forecasts a year (almost a million forecasts are sent to airlines). How accurate are they? More than you may have imagined! One-day forecasts are accurate more than 75% of the time.

The first weather satellite, Vanguard 2, was launched on February 17, 1959. There was a problem with it’s rotation, however, so the Tiros 1, launched on April 1, 1960, is considered the world’s first successful weather satellite. Weather services rely on about 100 satellites for meteorological data.

The weather is one of the most talked about topic. It therefor is no surprise that, collectively, the weather is the most watched program on TV.

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