Ask Smith­so­nian

— Roy Arvio | Chicago, Illi­nois

Smithsonian Magazine - - Con­tents -

IT WOULDN’T BE GOOD. At the Equa­tor, the earth’s ro­ta­tional mo­tion is at its fastest, about a thou­sand miles an hour. If that mo­tion sud­denly stopped, the mo­men­tum would send things fly­ing east­ward. Mov­ing rocks and oceans would trig­ger earth­quakes and tsunamis. The still-mov­ing at­mos­phere would scour land­scapes. But not to worry: Such an event would re­quire the same amount of en­ergy stored in the mo­men­tum of every­thing on our ro­tat­ing planet, says Jim Zim­bel­man, a ge­ol­o­gist in the Cen­ter for Earth and Plan­e­tary Stud­ies at the Na­tional Air and Space Mu­seum, and no phys­i­cal mech­a­nism on earth can sup­ply that.

Q: Were there ever mon­keys na­tive to North Amer­ica?

— Jim Skvorc | Dolores, Colorado

IT AP­PEARS NOT. Mon­keys ap­peared in Africa dur­ing the Oligocene era, which ended 23 mil­lion years ago, and then in South Amer­ica just a few mil­lion years later, says Emily Early, a re­search as­so­ciate of the Na­tional Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory’s Hu­man Ori­gins Pro­gram. But un­til about three mil­lion years ago, North and South Amer­ica were sep­a­rated by an ocean, and even after the Isth­mus of Panama formed, the trop­i­cal forests where the South Amer­i­can mon­keys had evolved did not ex­ist far­ther north. Some pop­u­la­tions may have tried mov­ing north­ward, but not in large enough num­bers to take hold.

Q: Was there an El­lis Is­land equiv­a­lent on the West Coast, some cen­tral pro­cess­ing place for im­mi­grants?

— Ed­win Cram­mer | Sun­rise, Florida

YES: AN­GEL IS­LAND Im­mi­gra­tion Sta­tion in San Fran­cisco pro­cessed about a mil­lion im­mi­grants, most of them from Asian coun­tries, from 1910 to 1940. But it wasn’t like El­lis Is­land, where im­mi­grants from Europe were greeted by the Statue of Lib­erty and gen­er­ally passed through in hours. An­gel Is­land was built pri­mar­ily to en­force the Chi­nese Ex­clu­sion Act of 1882, which barred al­most all im­mi­grants from China, and the cen­ter sub­jected new ar­rivals to in­tense in­ter­ro­ga­tions and in­va­sive med­i­cal ex­ams. Some 175,000 Chi­nese were de­tained there, some­times for years, and many of them wrote poignant notes and po­ems on the walls, says Theodore S. Gon­za­lves, a cu­ra­tor at the Na­tional Mu­seum of Amer­i­can His­tory. A fire de­stroyed the ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing in 1940; it wasn’t re­built. Lower im­mi­gra­tion rates, im­prov­ing U.S.-China re­la­tions and re­peal of the Ex­clu­sion Act in 1943 meant An­gel Is­land was no longer needed.

Q: Who was the first per­son com­mem­o­rated on a U.S. postage stamp?

— Wallis Kel­ner | Rockville, Mary­land

BEN­JAMIN FRANKLIN, the first post­mas­ter gen­eral, and Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton ap­peared on the five- and ten-cent stamps, re­spec­tively, when na­tional postage stamps made their de­but, in 1847. Be­fore that, let­ter re­cip­i­ents were ex­pected to pay the postage. But so­cial re­form­ers saw af­ford­able postal ser­vice as the “so­cial me­dia of the 1830s and 1840s,” says Daniel Pi­azza, cu­ra­tor of phi­lately at the Na­tional Postal Mu­seum, and pushed for up­front pay­ment. Stamps stemmed post of­fice losses on un­paid let­ters, lead­ing to cheaper rates and more let­ter-send­ing.

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