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50 Years Ago

From the December 5, 1931, issue

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PROTECTION EXTENDED NEARLY EXTINCT TEDDY BEARS

Koalas, known colloquially in Australia as native bears, real, live teddy bears in soft, plushlike fur, have lately become the objects of special solicitude, both official and private, in the far island-continent that is their home. For several generations nobody paid any more attention to them than Americans pay to squirrels, for they were so numerous that it never occurred to Australians that they could ever become scarce. But a highly fatal epidemic got started among them some years ago, killing them by the thousands. Hunters also shot great numbers for their fur. So before it was fairly realized, Australias live teddy bears were dangerously close to the extinction line.

Official action, though dangerously delayed, has been vigorous, and may avail to save the survivors. Shooting koalas is now forbidden, though as with most such sweeping prohibitions, there are not sufficient means for securing really complete enforcement.

Even more promising is the setting aside of well-supervised sanctuary areas, where not only these attractive marsupials but also other interesting but threatened native animals and plants can have a chance for their lives. One such area is Koala Park, near Sydney. This is managed by Noel Burnet, who supplied the appealing koala portrait that appears on the front cover of this issue of the Science News Letter.

FAINT NEBULAE MAY BE MOST DISTANT OBJECTS

A group of faint nebulae, just visible through the large reflecting telescope of the Bergedorf Observatory, Hamburg, has been discovered by Dr. Walter Baade. He believes them to be considerably more distant than another group of faint nebulae, like those in the constellation of Ursa Major, the great bear, which he discovered several years ago. These have been shown, by astronomers at the Mt. Wilson Observatory, to be about 70 million light-years distant.

Only one more distant group of objects has been measured–some nebulae in the constellation of Leo, the lion–which appears to be about 105 million light-years away. If the Ursa Major group is more than this, it will be the most distant object known to astronomers. The newly discovered nebulae are within a distance of about half a degree, the diameter of the moon, of the star Merak, the pointer farthest from the pole star, at the corner of the great dipper diagonally opposite the handle.

BALL LIGHTNING, OLD PUZZLE TO SCIENCE, MADE OUT OF SMOKE

Ghostly lump of the ball lightning that has till now baffled the efforts of scientists to understand it, has been made in the laboratory of Leeds University in England by Drs. W. Cawood and H.S. Patterson. Or at least something very like it has been made.

The artificial thunderbolt was a glowing red ball, 8 inches in diameter. It appeared while the experimenters were passing an electrostatic brush discharge through a smoke cloud.

Electrically charged particles, of opposite sign to the other particles of the smoke, formed the ball. It was kept suspended in the center of their 100-cubic-foot glass chamber, the experimenters believe, by the electrical repulsion of the inside walls.

Globular or ball lightning is one of the rarest and most puzzling of natural phenomena. Entering a home by the window or down the chimney, this dazzling red, blue, or white round or pear-shaped ball floats in the air or runs along the floor. The lightning ball may crackle or hiss, but it seldom does any harm. Sometimes it is observed dropping like a stone from a thunder cloud along the path of previous ordinary lightning flashes.

Dr. W.J. Humphreys of the U.S. Weather Bureau recently issued an appeal for detailed descriptions of the phenomenon from all persons who have observed it.

That the artificial lightning ball was movable and electrically charged was shown by Drs. Cawood and Patterson when they inserted an electrified wire into the vessel. Chains of the smoke particles formed the ball, it was shown under the microscope.

Evaporation of various substances into the space was the method of forming the smokes or aerosols, one with the formidable name of para-xylene-azo-beta-napthol being found most suitable.

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