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Smithsonian Magazine - - Shadows Of The Civil War -


Q: If the grav­ity of a black hole is so strong that noth­ing can es­cape from it, not even light, how has the Hub­ble Space Te­le­scope recorded im­ages of gas jets ejected from black holes?

—Joseph A. Leist | Hamil­ton, New Jer­sey

IT’S TRUE, no light can es­cape a black hole’s “event hori­zon,” or bound­ary, says Avi Loeb, a the­o­rist at the Har­vard-Smith­so­nian Cen­ter for As­tro­physics. How­ever, the Hub­ble im­ages record light emit­ted by stars or gases in the vicin­ity of the black hole, not com­ing out of it. The Event Hori­zon Te­le­scope, a project draw­ing on ob­ser­va­to­ries around the world to sim­u­late a te­le­scope as big around as Earth, gath­ered ra­dio data from around the black hole at the cen­ter of the Milky Way last April. Sci­en­tists hope that the data, which is still be­ing pro­cessed, will yield the first sil­hou­ette of a black hole.

Q: In his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Charles Lind­bergh wrote that when he fin­ished his trans--

At­lantic flight in Paris, some­one stole his en­gine and nav­i­ga­tion logs. Were they ever re­cov­ered? —Robert Kit­tredge | Se­dona, Ari­zona

NO, SAYS A RUEFUL Bob van der Lin­den, cu­ra­tor in the aero­nau­tics de­part­ment at the Na­tional Air and Space Mu­seum. When Lind­bergh landed at Le Bour­get air­field on May 21, 1927, he was greeted by 150,000 fans, many of whom rushed his plane to grab a sou­venir. Some made off with scraps of fab­ric, items from the cock­pit—and those two logs. Lind­bergh used data from a third log for his book, giv­ing his flight’s ori­gin, du­ra­tion and des­ti­na­tion and the num­ber of hours his en­gine ran. But the other two, which may con­tain more notes on his flight, re­main lost to his­tory.

Q: Many mam­mals give birth to mul­ti­ple off­spring at once. Do lit­ters ever in­clude iden­ti­cal twins? — Christo­pher Hu | Shaker Heights, Ohio

WELL, NINE-BANDED ar­madillo fe­males are fa­mous (in some cir­cles) for be­ing polyem­bry­onic; they bear lit­ters of four ge­net­i­cally iden­ti­cal off­spring from one fer­til­ized egg. And an Ir­ish wolfhound in South Africa made news in 2016, when re­searchers con­firmed that she had born two ge­net­i­cally iden­ti­cal pup­pies. Be­yond that, sci­en­tists don’t know much about mam­malian iden­ti­cal-twin births, says Klaus-Peter Koepfli, a re­searcher at the Smith­so­nian Con­ser­va­tion Bi­ol­ogy In­sti­tute, in part be­cause the tests nec­es­sary to show iden­ti­cal genes go be­yond the stan­dard sex test­ing per­formed on an­i­mals, and haven’t been seen as nec­es­sary.

Q: How and when did “si­mon-pure” en­ter Amer­ica’s po­lit­i­cal vo­cab­u­lary? —Ann Evett | French­glen, Ore­gon

THE AD­JEC­TIVE comes from Si­mon Pure, a char­ac­ter in the Eng­lish satir­i­cal play A Bold Stroke for a Wife, first per­formed in 1718. It meant “authen­tic” or “pure” when it en­tered our po­lit­i­cal vo­cab­u­lary in the Civil War era, says Jon Grinspan, a cu­ra­tor at the Na­tional Mu­seum of Amer­i­can His­tory. Around the 1880s, how­ever, as some vot­ers be­gan to stray from the po­lit­i­cal par­ties they’d been born into, can­di­dates who hewed to their party line cast them­selves as “si­mon-pure” Repub­li­cans or Democrats to court party loy­al­ists, sharp­en­ing the mean­ing to “purely par­ti­san.” That us­age per­sisted at least into the 1980s.

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