What’s the Difference Between Streets and Avenues and More Questions From Our Readers

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(Illustration by François Avril)
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What’s the difference between a “street” and an “avenue”?
Seth R. Digel
Smethport, Pennsylvania

A street is a basic paved traffic link within an urban area; an avenue was originally grander, wider and often lined with trees or other flora. But the distinction has eroded over time, as when, for example, real estate developers indiscriminately call new roads “avenues” to make a more grandiose impression.
Nancy Pope
Curator, National Postal Museum

Did the Viking settlers of Greenland grow grapes there during the Medieval Warm Period (c. 950-1250)? Could gooseberries have grown there at the time, accounting for the references to grapes in Norse sagas?
Leo Leone
Tampa, Florida

No, on both counts. Those settlers—who are more correctly called “Norse” after they became established in Greenland and adopted Christianity—never grew grapes in Greenland. It was too cold, even during the Medieval Warm Period. However, Norse explorers likely found grapes in northern Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Gooseberries were introduced from Europe to the Americas in post-Norse times.
William Fitzhugh
Anthropologist and Co-author,
Maine to Greenland: Exploring the Maritime Far Northeast, National Museum of Natural History

Do stars make sounds?
Kristin Fankhauser
Phoenix, Arizona

Stars do vibrate and generate acoustic waves, but at frequencies way too low for humans to hear. In addition, sounds are compression waves and need some medium to travel through, such as air, water or metal; they can’t travel through empty space. That’s why I chuckled at the opening scene of the first Star Wars movie, in which the giant spacecraft is accompanied by a rumble.
David Latham
Astrophysicist, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Don't suffer through one more miserable cold-and-flu-season without getting an answer to the burning question: can chicken soup cure your cold? In this one-minute video, Ask Smithsonian's host Eric Schulze reveals the secrets and the science behind the classic remedy offered up since the time of the ancient Greeks.

How effective is an air horn as a defense against an animal attack?
Edward John Hinker
Arlington, Virginia

Some animal facilities have used a pressurized horn system, but we use bear spray and other measures when we work near large carnivores. Bear spray (stronger than mace) offers longer protection than a horn.
Juan Rodriguez
Animal Keeper, National Zoo

Why did Alexander Gardner move soldiers’ bodies for his Civil War photographs?
Charlie Ian
Los Angeles, California

Gardner was seeking to create dramatic tableaux of the aftermath of battle. The best known of his “manipulations” was of the so-called Rebel sharpshooter at Devil’s Den at Gettysburg, for which he moved an ordinary soldier’s corpse some distance to a nook in the rocks to give him the status of a sharpshooter. In effect, he created a narrative about an individual; it was his way of coping with the mass, anonymous casualties of modern warfare. Now, we justifiably deplore this as an affront to historical fact.
David C. Ward
Senior Historian, National Portrait Gallery

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