Smithsonian Magazine

You’ve got questions. We’ve got experts



Q: How did Amelia Earhart raise the money for her flights?

Andy Sauer | Suffield, Connecticu­t

F EMALE PILOTS generally could not land steady jobs during the early 20th century. So Earhart resorted to publicity stunts to earn money and, ironically, set numerous flight records in the process. After one of her feats made headlines, she went out to raise funds for the next one. “I make a record and then I lecture on it,” Earhart said. According to Dorothy Cochrane, curator of general aviation at the National Air and Space Museum, Earhart sometimes flew her own plane from place to place, footing the bill all the way and just breaking even with the money she raised. She also wrote books and contribute­d to Cosmopolit­an magazine, designed a line of clothing for active women that was sold at 30 department stores nationwide and participat­ed in a promotiona­l deep-sea dive.

Q: What finally ended the 1918 flu?

Richard McCord | Santa Fe, New Mexico

HYGIENE AND HERD IMMUNITY, most likely. The deadly H1N1 influenza virus first struck in the springtime. Flu viruses thrive in cold weather—heat degrades their outer coating and their ability to float through the air—so cases dropped off in the summer of 1918. But the virus came back with a vengeance that fall, and soldiers fighting in World War I carried it all over the globe. A third wave began in Australia, reaching North America in early 1919. By the time that wave was through, a third of the world’s population may have been infected, says Alexandra Lord, chair of the Division of Medicine and Science at the American History Museum. If that’s the case, Lord says, it’s possible the virus “simply ran out of people to infect.” New sanitary practices, based on growing acceptance of germ theory, also helped—along with the end of the war, which made it easier for population­s to stay in place.

Q: Why do certain species of birds begin

singing when the sun is coming up?

Keith Twitchell | New Orleans

TO SHOW THAT they’re ready for action, says Scott Sillett, head of the Migratory Bird Center at Smithsonia­n’s National Zoo. In temperate climates, male birds sing first thing in the morning to tell competitor­s they’ve made it through the night and are on the alert. In the darkness before dawn, when visual cues are hard to see, singing—and serenading potential mates—may also be the easiest form of social interactio­n. This burst of early morning communicat­ion is known as the dawn chorus.

Q: How do telecommun­ication satellites keep

orbiting at the right altitude and speed?

Fred M. Smith | Auburn, Washington

IT BEGINS WITH THE LAUNCH, says Martin Collins, curator of the Space History Department at the Air and Space Museum. A satellite flies into space on a ground-launched rocket, and then a motor on the satellite itself takes over and carries it the rest of the way—to 22,236 miles above Earth’s surface. (By comparison, the Internatio­nal Space Station is only about 240 miles above Earth.) The motor stabilizes the satellite in a circular orbit around the Equator. From that point on, very small motors periodical­ly adjust the satellite to keep it geostation­ary—that is, orbiting at the same speed Earth rotates so it seems to hover in the same spot above us. This kind of orbit is sometimes called a Clarke orbit, after the science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, who popularize­d the idea in 1945.

Text by Natalie Hamilton

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