Why is Isle Royale, in Lake Superior, part of Michigan when it’s closer to Minnesota?
Kurt S. Petersen,
Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin
Because of Ohio. When the Buckeye State entered the Union, in 1803, it manipulated its border with Michigan to appropriate Toledo, on Lake Erie. That port increased in value to such an extent that in 1835, the Ohio and Michigan militias were on the verge of going to war over it. So the federal government brokered a deal: Ohio kept Toledo, and Michigan got the Upper Peninsula and copper-rich Isle Royale. Too few people lived in Minnesota to protest effectively.
author, How the States Got Their Shapes Too: The People Behind the Borderlines, Smithsonian Books
Every morning, I toss scraps of biscuits or bread out on the grass for the birds. Within a minute or two, they appear and begin eating. How do they know the food is there?
They know because you have conditioned them. They are now used to being fed every morning,
so they’re on the lookout.
curator of birds, Natural History Museum
If there is no oxygen in space, how do rockets ignite their engines?
High Bridge, New Jersey
Rockets carry an oxidizer, often in the form of liquid oxygen, to burn their engine fuel. That’s the fundamental difference between rockets and jets; the latter get oxygen from the air.
curator, Space History Division, National Air and Space Museum
As one of the first U.S. soldiers to enter Japan after it surrendered in 1945, I was struck by the damage from our bombing but also by the sparing of Kyoto and Nara. Who was wise and powerful enough to spare those cities?
Credit was often given—erroneously, and despite his denials—to Langdon Warner, a postwar adviser to the Arts and Monuments Division of General Headquarters of the Allied Powers in Tokyo. But in 1975 the noted scholar Otis Cary established that Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson repeatedly rejected Kyoto as a bombing target. Nara was never targeted.
archivist, Archives of American Art
How are drought, higher temperatures and climate change affecting lichens?
Jamestown, New Mexico
Not much. Lichens occupy some of the most extreme habitats on earth, from tropical rainforests to the Antarctic. As a group, they tend not to be very sensitive to temperature (though individual species prefer certain temperature ranges), and they tolerate drought pretty well. Some species, however, are highly sensitive to air pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide and heavy metals.
botanist, Natural History Museum
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