11 Things We Learned This Week

This week, we learned …

… the oldest stories in the world are true.

Aboriginal Australians, like these teenagers in Yilan, Northern Territory, have oral histories stretching back at least 7,000 years.
Photograph by Amy Toensing, National Geographic

The oldest stories in the world also helped map it—find out how.



… the Underground Railroad ran south as well as north.

This map hints at the Texas-based southern Underground Railroad.
Map by National Geographic

Use our activity to introduce the Underground Railroad to primary students.



… why scientists use pasta to explain neutron stars, some of the most bizarre objects in the universe. Gnocch-idding.

Atomic particles in the outer layer of neutron stars are, like gnocchi, spherical. Deeper into the star, voids created by escaping neutrons create voids called antignocchi.
Photograph by Tamorlan, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-3.0

How do scientists study neutron stars?



… how climate change is unraveling the Antarctic ecosystem.

Colonies of penguins have collapsed as Antarctic waters have warmed.
Photograph by Paul Nicklen, National Geographic

What does our explorer, Enric Sala, think of the Antarctic ocean basin?



… how citizen science is transforming research.

Projects that recruit the public are getting more ambitious and diverse, but the field still faces some growing pains.
Photograph by Sylvia Earle, National Geographic

Find some citizen science projects for your students.



… the ephemeral history of fabric, and the women who weave it.

Only the top portion of the elaborately pleated Tarkhan dress survives. It’s more than 5,000 years old—how has your oldest piece of clothing held up?
Photograph courtesy of UCL Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology

Not all fabric is ephemeral—learn more about the world’s oldest dress.



… the truth about “hexing herbs.”

The best-known witches’ potion is probably “flying ointment.” Applied to the skin, it supposedly enabled witches to fly through the night to attend the Black Sabbath and consort with the Devil.
Illustration by Martin le France, courtesy Wikimedia. Public domain

Potent medicines, fatal poisons, or key ingredients in witches’ magical potions? Learn a little about locoweed.



… some butterflies hear with their wings.

Monarchs like these use swollen veins to channel sounds to ears at the base of their wings.
Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic

If they hear with their wings, what are their brains for? Explore that question with a neurobiologist studying the brains of monarch butterflies.



… there’s a database of paper airplanes with easy-to-follow folding instructions.

The database lets you sort by aerodynamic performance, difficulty, and whether or not you want to use scissors.

Use our paper airplane activity to introduce the forces of flight to students.



… the most violent eruption in recorded history may have taken place hundreds of years later than we thought.

Lake Taupo, sitting in the center of New Zealand’s North Island, is the caldera of a volcano that produced an ash column 50 kilometers (31 miles) high.
Photograph by Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC

Where was that supervolcano?



… just in time for the holidays, how the geography of stores gets you to buy more.

 How do companies market to your brain?

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