Margot Fonteyn, the greatest British ballerina of the 1900’s, was born on May 18, 1919. For more than two decades, she was probably the most famous and successful ballerina in the world, celebrated for her technique, her poise, and the radiance of her character portrayals.
Fonteyn starred in the great classical repertoire, triumphing in such ballets as Giselle, Swan Lake, and The Sleeping Beauty. Perhaps her signature role was Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty. Fonteyn also danced in major ballets by such modern choreographers as Roland Pettit, Ninette De Valois, and especially Frederick Ashton. She and Ashton established a refined form of dancing that became known as the British style. In 1962, Fonteyn joined Russian dancer Rudolph Nureyev to form a celebrated partnership that extended her fame beyond the world of ballet.
Fonteyn was born in Reigate, England, as Margaret Evelyn Hookam. She began taking dancing lessons at the age of 4. Early in her career she changed her name, adapting Margaret to Margot and her grandfather’s last name of Fontes into Fonteyn. In 1928, she moved with her family to China and continued her dance training in Shanghai. Fonteyn returned to England in 1933 and joined the Sadler’s Wells School in London in 1934. The school eventually became the Vic-Wells Ballet, the Sadler’s Wells Ballet, and eventually the Royal Ballet. Fonteyn was a guest artist with ballet companies throughout the world, but the Royal Ballet remained her artistic home until her death.
Fonteyn made her performing debut in 1934 as a snowflake in the ballet The Nutcracker. By the age of 16, she was dancing featured roles. While she was well known in the English dance world, Fonteyn did not gain international stardom until 1949, when she made a triumphant American debut in The Sleeping Beauty at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. She was extremely popular in the United States for the rest of her career. During the 1940’s and 1950’s, Fonteyn was frequently partnered with Robert Helpmann, a dancer with a powerful personality who perfectly complemented her grace and lyricism.
Fonteyn was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire (D.B.E.) in 1956. She was president of the Royal Academy of Dancing from 1954 until her death. Her memoir, Margot Fonteyn: Autobiography, was published in 1977. In 1979, Queen Elizabeth II awarded Fonteyn the title of Prima ballerina assoluta, an honor reserved for only the most exceptional prima ballerinas. Fonteyn died on Feb. 21, 1991.
On May 6, 1937, the German airship Hindenburg exploded over Lakehurst, New Jersey, killing 35 of the 97 people on board. When the explosion occurred at 7:25 p.m., the giant airship, which had departed from Frankfurt, Germany, was about 700 feet from its destination at Lakehurst Naval Air Station. The victims of the crash included 13 passengers, 22 crew members, and one member of the ground crew.
The Zeppelin LZ 129 Hindenburg had a huge main body that contained hydrogen gas. The lighter-than-air gas raised the craft and kept it aloft. The Hindenburg was steerable, and it had four diesel engines that moved it through the air. At the time of its construction in 1936, it was the world’s largest airship, measuring about 804 feet (245 meters) long and 135 feet (41 meters) wide, with a volume of 7,026,100 cubic feet (199,980 cubic meters). It cruised at 78 miles (125 kilometers) per hour.
The Hindenburg provided the first commercial passenger air service across the Atlantic Ocean. It made its first crossing in May 1936. The airship quickly became popular, and so its owners expanded its passenger capacity for its second season of flights, in 1937. The Hindenburg disaster came at the end of the first flight of the airship’s second season.
What caused the Hindenburg disaster? The governments of the United States and Germany investigated the explosion in 1937. Both governments reached the conclusion that a hydrogen gas leak was ignited by electrostatic electricity. In 2012, a team of researchers at the South West Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, confirmed this theory by performing a series of combustive experiments using one-tenth scale models of the Hindenburg.
“We proved beyond a reasonable doubt that it was a static electricity discharge that ignited leaking hydrogen that was mixed with oxygen in the vent shafts. It was a spark between the airframe and the skin of the aircraft,” said Matthew Blais, Southwest Research Institute’s Director of Fire and Technology.
The Hindenburg disaster marked the end of the use of airships for regular passenger services. In 1939, the Germans used the Graf Zeppelin II, the Hindenburg’s sister ship, for reconnaissance missions in Europe and off the coast of the United Kingdom. Its last flight was in August 1939, shortly before the start of World War II.
The European Commission (EC), the executive body of the European Union, banned the use of insecticides that some researchers have linked to the collapse of bee colonies. Some scientists believe that neonicotinoids—a new class of insecticides chemically related to nicotine—are harming bees. Nicotine is a natural insecticide that is fatal to many insects but less harmful to mammals. Until recently, nicotine-related insecticides were also believed to be less harmful to beneficial insects than traditional formulations.
A recent study in the journal Science, however, linked the use of certain neonicotinoids to a dramatic decrease in queen bees. Another recent study in Science linked insecticide exposure in bees to the problem of forager bees—worker bees that collect nectar
and pollen—having difficulty finding their way back to their hives. The chemical apparently affected the homing ability of the bees.
A bee, covered in pollen, sips nectar from a flower. Many flowers and kinds of food crops depend upon bee pollinators. (© Steve Hopkin, Taxi/Getty Images)
Scientists and environmentalists are very concerned about the health of bees. Honey and other bees pollinate around one-third of the world’s crop production. In 2006, beekeepers in the United States began reporting that large numbers of bees were mysteriously disappearing from their hives—which became known as colony collapse disorder (CCD). It soon became clear that this was a worldwide problem. Scientists are not certain of all the factors involved in CCD. Some of the causes considered likely include mites and other parasites and viruses. Even if these are the primary causes of CCD, however, it could be that certain insecticides weaken the bees and are causing them to be more vulnerable to illness.
The EC ruling states that the use of neonicotinoids should be restricted to crops not attractive to bees and other pollinators. Crops such as wheat and barley, for example, are not of interest to such insects. The EC is imposing a two-year restriction on the neonicotinoids–clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam–beginning no later than July 1, 2013.
On April 23, 1896, an audience gathered in the darkened Koster and Bial’s Music Hall in New York City. They had come to witness the Vitascope—“Edison’s Greatest Marvel,” as posters from the period billed the new projector developed by the American inventor Thomas Edison. The rapt audience was thrilled as it watched moving pictures projected onto a 20-foot white screen housed in a giant gold picture frame.
A New York Times account published the following day described the event: “… a buzzing and roaring were heard in the turret, and an unusually bright light fell upon the screen. Then came into view two precious blonde young persons of the variety stage in pink and blue dresses, doing the umbrella dance with commendable celerity.” The program of silent moving images also included “a burlesque boxing match between a tall, thin comedian and a short, fat one,” “a view of an angry surf breaking on a sandy beach near a stone pier,” and “a skirt dance by a tall blonde.” The “views … were all wonderfully real and singularly exhilarating.”
Today’s motion-picture audiences, accustomed to Hollywood blockbusters exploding with spectacular 3D special effects, would no doubt find such a program of films quite dull. But on April 23, 1896, this audience became the first to see a motion picture in a theater in the United States. The American audience cheered for Edison’s new projector, operated that day by Edwin S. Porter—who went on to direct the landmark film The Great Train Robbery (1903), released by Edison’s company.
However, Edison did not exactly invent the new motion-picture projector. It was an adaptation of a device called the Phantoscope, developed by the American inventors Francis C. Jenkins and Thomas Armat. Jenkins and Armat clashed over the patent of the Phantoscope, and Jenkins sold his interest in the projector to Armat. Armat demonstrated the Phantoscope for the American businessmen Norman C. Raff and Frank R. Gammon, two of the owners of the Kinetoscope Company. The company was one of several that marketed Edison’s kinetoscope. Introduced in 1894, the kinetoscope was the first commercial device for viewing motion pictures. Raff and Gammon negotiated with Armat to purchase rights to the Phantoscope and approached Edison for his approval. The Edison Manufacturing Company agreed to manufacture the projector and to produce films for it under the condition that it be advertised and marketed as a new Edison invention called the Vitascope. It became the first commercially successful motion-picture projecting device.
In November 1896, the Edison Manufacturing Company developed its own projector, the Projectoscope (or Projecting Kinetoscope), abandoning the Vitascope. Edison continued to make improvements to motion pictures. In 1913, he debuted his latest version of the kinetophone—a combination kinetoscope and phonograph. The kinetophone synchronized sound and images. The device used a pulley to attach a phonograph to a projector.
In addition, Edison and other inventors tried to control the motion-picture industry. In 1908, they formed the Motion Picture Patents Company. The company largely controlled the production, distribution, and exhibition of motion pictures in the United States. But in 1915, a federal court declared the company to be an illegal monopoly. Afterward, Edison and most other members of the Motion Picture Patents Company lost much of their influence in filmmaking.
As history would have it, the Vitascope did not turn out to be “Edison’s Greatest Marvel.” Instead, the inventor’s legacy rested on his more famous earlier contributions: the phonograph (1877) and the first useful electric light (1879).
According to Roman mythology, the twin brothers Romulus and Remus founded the city of Rome in 753 B.C. near the Tiber River in central Italy. Romulus and Remus were born in the ancient Italian city of Alba Longa. Their parents were Rhea Silvia, a human woman, and the god Mars. When Romulus and Remus were babies, their great uncle Amulius, the ruler of Alba Longa, had them thrown into the Tiber River so they could not threaten his rule. The twins washed ashore and were nursed by a female wolf. Wolves are associated with the god Mars. The twins later were discovered and raised by a shepherd named Faustulus and his wife. Romulus and Remus eventually set out to found their own city at the place where the wolf had found them. A quarrel between the brothers led to Remus’s death, and Romulus named the new city Rome, after himself. Romulus became the first of seven mythological kings who ruled Rome until the founding of the Roman Republic in 509 B.C. He was a wise and popular ruler and a fine military leader. Under Romulus’s leadership, Rome expanded and became the most powerful city in its region. At the end of his reign, Romulus disappeared mysteriously in a storm. A later myth tells that he became the god Quirinus.
Ancient Romans celebrated an important religious festival called Lupercalia every February near the Lupercal, a cave in the Palatine Hill. This cave was associated with the wolf who nursed Romulus and Remus. The Palatine Hill is one of seven historic hills east of the Tiber River in Rome. They form the heart of the ancient city. The other six hills are the Aveline, Caelian, Capitoline, Esquiline, Quirinal, and Viminal hills. Lupercalia included banquets, dancing, and the sacrificing of goats. Teams of young men called Luperci raced naked around the Palatine Hill with whips made from goats’ hides. Women who hoped to have children stood near the runners’ path to be struck by the whips. They believed this would make them fertile.
There is little evidence that Romulus and the six kings who succeeded him existed. Some scholars think the kings originated as gods whom the Romans converted into historical figures. The kings and gods have many similarities. For example, Romulus resembles the god Jupiter. The seventh king, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, resembles Mars. Archaeologists have discovered the remains of houses built about 900 B.C.—approximately 150 years before the legendary founding date—on the Palatine Hill. The earliest settlers in the area were a people called the Latins who inhabited neighboring towns in Latium, the region around Rome. The seven hills that comprised ancient Rome were steep and easily defended. The valleys between them were fertile and well watered and provided necessary building materials. The Tiber River provided a convenient route to the Mediterranean Sea, allowing for trade with other communities. These geographical features helped a young Rome prosper and eventually develop as the center of a great empire. Whether or not Romulus and Remus had any part in this history, they remain a prominent part of Roman mythology. A famous bronze sculpture at the Capitoline Museums in Rome shows a she-wolf nursing the brothers. The sculpture is thought to have been created in the 400’s B.C. or in the Middle Ages (from about the 400’s through the 1400’s A.D.).
It may sound like a science-fiction movie, but southern Florida truly is being attacked by giant snails—giant African land snails (Achatina fulica), to be precise. The shell of these snails are commonly as large as 7 inches (18 centimeters) in length and more than twice that size in diameter. The snails are an invasive species in Florida. They are voracious plant eaters that can be harmful to agricultural crops and natural ecosystems.
The snails were first spotted in Florida in September 2011. Since that time, 117,000 of them have been trapped by scientists from Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Human Services. The invasion is worrisome because the snails have no natural predators to reduce their population and an individual snail is capable of laying around 1,200 eggs at a time. The giant snail also harbors a parasite that can cause meningitis in humans. Humans can contract it by eating undercooked snails or by simply handling a snail.
Florida has had a previous run-in with this snail. In 1966, a child brought in three from Hawaii. His grandmother released them into her garden. Seven years later, the snail population had grown to 17,000. It took the state of Florida 10 years to eradicate the snails, at a cost of $1 million. Scientists have not determined how the current infestation came about.
Experts gathered in Gainesville, Florida, last week for a Giant African Land Snail Science Symposium to share information on the best methods of eradicating the pest. Florida is battling a number of other invasive species in addition to the snail, including the Burmese python and the Asian swamp eel (which is actually a fish and is not a true eel).
Soviet air force pilot, Gagarin instantly became one of the most famous people in the world. The flight was a second notable “first” for the Soviet space program, after the launching of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, in 1957. The Soviets would also become the first to launch a woman when Valentina Tereshkova entered space on June 16, 1963.
Gagarin’s flight charged the already heated relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States. After World War II (1939-1945), the two nations had entered a period of intense competition called the Cold War. The tension between the two superpowers revolved around the build-up of military might, most notably nuclear weapons. One front on which the Cold War was “fought” was the Space Race, with each rival trying to best the other in space technology. The Soviets won the opening rounds of the Space Race with the launch of Sputnik and with Gagarin’s historic flight. The race intensified during the 1960’s, reaching a peak with the landing of American astronauts on the moon in July 1969.
Gagarin’s flight was followed within a month by the first launch of an American into space. On May 5, the Navy pilot Alan Shepard flew Freedom 7 on a 15-minute flight. The mission was a far cry from the over 100-minute mission flown by Gagarin. During his flight, Shepard would not even orbit Earth once, falling back to the Atlantic Ocean soon after reaching space.
The Cold War and the Space Race were born out of fear among rivals. However, the technologies developed during this period laid the foundations for much of modern life. Satellites are an irreplaceable part of global communication, weather tracking, and navigation to name but a few uses. Still other Cold War technologies led to the Internet. Many advanced materials developed for use in space, such as lightweight plastics, are now used everyday.