Tag Archives: Atlas Obscura

When NASA Wasn’t Sure if Astronauts Could Swallow in Space

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As humanity prepares for years-long missions to Mars, a major question has been raised: How will astronauts have enough to eat and drink in space? There’s talk of hydroponic growth labs, where sweet potatoes and beans might grow on the Red Planet, and kitchen appliances that remain functional in partial gravity.

While astronauts can chew and swallow in outer space the same way we do here on Earth (minus the matter of floating food, of course), during the early space missions, it wasn’t entirely clear if they could do so normally. What made NASA doubt astronauts’ ability to ingest and digest food? Vickie Kloeris, who manages the ISS food systems at NASA, says the concern likely stemmed from whether or not peristalsis—or, the involuntary muscle contractions … Read the rest

The Holiday That Celebrates Apples With Rifles and Cider

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After the New Year’s champagne is drunk and the Christmas tree is set out on the curb, the holiday season feels emphatically over. But in many apple-growing regions, there’s still one last celebration in January. Instead of champagne, the drink is hard cider. And instead of decorating a chopped-down pine, revelers tromp into apple orchards to drink and encourage a good harvest.

Apple wassailing, which has origins in southeast and southwest England, features a procession to the best apple tree in the orchard. There, revelers sing to the tree, decorate it with slices of toast to feed good spirits (and birds), and shoot rifles to scare away demons. Christmas-carolers may be familiar with the term “wassail.” An old Anglo-Saxon term for “Be in good health,” it … Read the rest

Found: A Special, Mind-Bogglingly Large Prime Number

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Many wondrous finds are tangible: You can pluck a bottle from the waves or brush soil from a pottery sherd in the ground. But some discoveries are no less wondrous for being abstract.

Recently, after six days of round-the-clock hunting, a program running on a computer in Germantown, Tennessee, nabbed big game in the math world: a new record for the longest Mersenne prime number, by a wondrously wide margin. A prime number, you may recall, is a number divisible by only 1 and itself. Mersenne primes, christened for the 17th-century friar who identified them, are a subset of these: prime numbers that are one less than a power of two. At first glance, they’re not so particularly difficult to see. Three, for instance, is a … Read the rest