From the February 6, 1937, issue


A stubbornly unmoving mountain of tropical air off the southeastern coast of the United States that would not get out of the way and permit the normal midwinter traffic of storms to flow in from the northwest is the ultimate explanation of the nation’s flood woes. Ordinarily, the northwesterly storms bring real winter cold, and the cold holds most of the seasonal precipitation in storage as snow and ice until time for the spring thaws. But with this persistent southeastern “high” keeping temperatures abnormally warm ever since well back into December, there was no snow, repeated rains have kept the soil soggy, and when a whole procession of “little lows” came marching along, dumping their moisture, there was nowhere for the water to go but off. And up came the rivers.

That, in a nutshell, is the story of the present record-breaking flood disasters, as stated by the U.S. Weather Bureau to Science Service.

The floods of the early spring of 1936 followed a somewhat similar situation, Weather Bureau scientists continued. In fact, persistent high-pressure areas in the Southeast are not unusual phenomena, though nobody knows as yet why they develop. However, as a rule they do not hang over that corner of the country for more than a few days, whereas this one has been an affair of weeks.

The present flood situation differs from that of 1936 in one important respect. Then, one single tremendous storm, deluging the upper watersheds of the rivers with downpours of as much as 6 inches within 24 hours, did all the mischief at once. The present situation has arisen from a whole procession of lesser storm areas, none of which has brought more than an inch, but all cumulating into a terrific aggregate of water.


Rudi W. Mandl, the mathematically minded Czechoslovakian dishwasher of New York City, apparently has started something. It is now revealed that his suggestions may enable astronomers to detect objects farther away than the present observing limits of their telescopes. Mandl, it will be recalled, had his brief moment of fame recently when Prof. Albert Einstein published calculations based on his ideas.

Scientists at the California Institute of Technology and Mt. Wilson Observatory are wondering if Mandl’s basic idea may not provide astronomy with a gravitational telescope, composed of stars, for studying distant nebulae beyond the reach of all man-made telescopes no matter how powerful they may be now, or however powerful they may ever be made at any time in the future.

Mandl, to recall a few facts, asked Prof. Einstein to check through mathematical calculations and publish the result, on the idea that light rays from a distant star should be bent and gathered into a telescopic effect as they passed by some nearer star. Mandl hoped that an additional ring of light would thus be formed about the nearer star and that this would provide a test for the theory of relativity.

The problem was a fairly simple mathematical exercise for Einstein but unfortunately for Mandl’s hopes the effect, said the famous relativitist, was principally of academic interest since little hope could be held that the phenomenon might be observed.

But at the seminar discussions at the California Institute of Technology and Mt. Wilson, Mandl’s idea has not died and, in fact, holds promise of aiding astronomy in a way he perhaps did not foresee. As a matter of fact for nearly a year now Dr. Fritz Zwicky of the Institute has been making calculations on the same happening with distant nebulae instead of single stars. Rudi Mandl, it seems, talked to other people before he was able to get to see Prof. Einstein. Among others he talked to the famous television engineer, Dr. V.K. Zworykin of the Radio Corporation of America. And Dr. Zworykin told Dr. Zwicky about it.

Dr. Zwicky has calculated, and will soon publish in the technical journals of science, that if a nebula has more than 10 billion stars in it and were not too diffuse, its gravitational field should be so powerful that light from a still more distant nebula would be bent slightly in passing it.

If the Earth happened to be in line with the two nebular systems, it might be found that the nearer one, instead of hiding the more distant one, would gather the rays and bend them into the instruments of an observer on the Earth. A star-studded gravitational telescope with a focal length of millions upon millions of miles would thus be achieved.

The effect seen on Earth should show the nearer nebula with a ring of light around it. If the Earth and the two nebulae were not exactly in a straight line, the ring of light would not be uniform and might even appear as two spots of light on opposite sides of the nearer nebula.

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