The scientific tourist #112 — Broken Arrows

Two interesting pieces of history on display at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History — the casings of two bombs involved in the 1966 Palomares incident:

Broken Arrows

Broken Arrow” is U.S. Defense Dept. (DOD) terminology for an accidental event that involves nuclear weapons, warheads, or components but that does not create the risk of nuclear war.  The DOD officially recognizes that 32 Broken Arrow incidents have occurred since the first use of nuclear weapons in 1945.  The 1966 accident over the Spanish town of Palomares was one of the more blood-curdling of these.

From the placard:

On January 17, 1966, a B-52 collided with a KC-135 tanker during a routine refueling operation over Palomares, Spain on the Mediterranean sea coast. The B-52 was carrying four nuclear bombs, which fell over 28,000 feet. One bomb fell into the sea and the other three bombs landed on the ground. The bomb that fell into the sea was recovered at a depth of 2,500 feet after an extensive underwater search. The bomb was dented but intact, and there was no radiation leakage.

With two of the three other bombs, the high explosives detonated on impact and released some radioactive materials. Approximately 1,400 tons of contaminated soil and vegetation were removed to the U.S. for storage at the Savannah River Site. A small parachute deployed on the other bomb, and it remained relatively intact.

The casings from the two bombs that did not detonate during the Palomares incident are on display at the museum, and pictured above.  The one on the left was the bomb subsequently retrieved from the Mediterranean, while the one on the right was the sole bomb to reach land under a working parachute.  Note that these are casings of B28 thermonuclear bombs — once the mainstay of the U.S. Strategic Air Command during the cold war, and capable of a range of explosive yields between 70 kilotons and 1.45 megatons.

But this incident isn’t exactly something we can consign to the history books just yet.  While 2.2 hectares (5.4 acres) of land was decontaminated by removing soil with high levels of radioactivity back in 1966, studies conducted in the past decade have found lingering contamination.  As recently as 2012, Spain formally asked the U.S. to finish the site cleanup.

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Carnivalia — 4/02 – 4/08

The past week’s crop of (mostly) science-related blog carnivals:

Carnivalesque #101

Carnival of Space 348

Friday Ark #469

Morsels For The Mind – 04/04/2014

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The scientific tourist #111 — Ammonite

Another excellent fossil on display at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle, Washington — this one, an Ammonite:


To be particular, this is a Canadoceras newberryanum, and was collected on Sucia island in Washington state.

Ammonites first appeared about 400 million years ago and were once so plentiful globally that particular species can be used to date rock strata (i.e., they are index fossils) — this one dates to between 70.6 and 84.9 million years ago.  But Ammonites had their good years and bad like all species, and the last of them died out with the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous.

While Ammonites look very similar to modern-day Nautilus shells, they’re actually only distant relatives.  Of modern-day fauna, Ammonites are most closely related to squid and octopi.

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Carnivalia — 3/26 – 4/01

The past week’s crop of science-related blog carnivals for your reading pleasure:

March Berry-go-round: Unusual edible plants

Carnival of Evolution: CoE #70 the Game of Evolution

Carnival of Space #347

Friday Ark #468

A March Madness Health Wonk Review

Morsels For The Mind – 28/03/2014

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The scientific tourist #310 — the Stuka

On display in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Illinois — it’s one of only two surviving Stuka dive bombers:


The Stuka (officially, the Junkers Ju 87) started its development early in the 1930s, and in spite of a problem-plagued development first saw active service just a few years later in 1936.  Like many dive bombers, it was built for durability and so suffered from slow airspeed — it was lethal against ground targets, but only in areas in which the Nazis had air superiority.  Once the Luftwaffe lost air superiority throughout Europe, the Stukas (shortened from the German Sturzkampfflugzeug, “dive bomber”) were easy pickings for allied fighters.

This particular Stuka was captured while on the ground for servicing in Libya in 1941; it was a gift to the museum from the British government in 1946.  You’ll notice it lacks the usual “spats” on its landing gear — nothing at the museum indicates if it flew this way or if this configuration was an accident of its capture.  Meanwhile, a 3rd Stuka was found in the Baltic in the 1990s and recovered in 2012, it is undergoing extensive restoration work before it can go in display at a museum in Berlin.

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Carnivalia — 3/19 – 3/25

The past week’s selection of science-related blog carnivals:

Carnival of Space Number 346

Morsels For The Mind – 21/03/2014

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The scientific tourist #309 — removed as part of NAGPRA

In the midst of a display of Mimbres pottery, the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology has this… somewhat passive aggressive comment on NAGPRA.

Removed as part of NAGPRA

NAGPRA is the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, a U.S. federal law passed in 1990 that requires museums and federal agencies to return certain Native American cultural items to their tribes of origin.

On the face of things, NAGPRA’s pretty simple — if human remains, funerary objects, or objects sacred to a tribe are found on federal or tribal lands, they need to be returned to the descendants of their original owners, for handling in accordance with their cultural beliefs and traditions.  In practice, though, things get a bit trickier — particularly when it comes to identifying “lineal descendants and culturally affiliated” tribes when an artifact is hundreds or thousands of years old.  Even Kennewick Man (some 9,000 years old) got caught up in this process.  And then, of course, repatriated items are no longer available for scientific study.

Still, at its core, NAGPRA is really just a legal codification of the principle that Native American remains and funerary goods should be treated with the same respect as is due to remains of any other race.  And it’s not as if there aren’t ample historical examples of disrespectful treatment of such remains.

This display left me deeply disappointed, as it seems a better approach could have been taken that would actually be thought-provoking rather than just provocative and more than a little petulant.

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Carnivalia — 3/12 – 3/18

The past week’s crop of (mostly) science-related blog carnivals:

The 344th Carnival of Space

Friday Ark #467

Giants’ Shoulders #69

Health Wonk Review: Mud Season Edition

Morsels For The Mind – 14/03/2014


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The scientific tourist #308 — salt layers

A look at layers in the walls at the Kansas Underground Salt Museum (recently renamed Strataca) in Hutchinson, Kansas:

Salt layers

The salt deposit that is being mined in Kansas forms a bed about 400 feet thick, 150 miles wide, and 200 miles long, and contains approximately 30 trillion tons of salt.  This was all laid down in the Permian period, some 275 million years ago.

At the time, Kansas was in the northern tropics and was partially covered by a shallow sea.  Some branches of this sea were apparently cut off from the general circulation — at least from time to time.  So when this branch saw little inflow from streams, it could evaporate, leaving a deposit of relatively clean and clear salt behind.  When sediment was washed into it from streams, a thin dark coating of mud settled over the last salt layer.

A variety of processes can be used to clean rock salt for use in food for people, but this deposit is mostly used as-is for road salt and in livestock feed.

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Carnivalia — 2/26 – 3/11

I missed last week, so this week you get a double-dose of (mostly) science-related blog carnivals:

Carnivalesque #101

69th Carnival of Evolution: Darwin’s Day Edition

Carnival of Space #343

Friday Ark #466

Health Wonk Review: In Like a Lion

Morsels For The Mind – 07/03/2014

Morsels For The Mind – 28/02/2014

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