Popular Science Monthly/Volume 39/May 1891/Notes


According to the investigations of an Indian student of the Hindoo folk lore, published at Lucknow, it is believed that if a person is drowned, struck by lightning, bitten by a snake, or poisoned, or loses his life by any accident or by suicide, he goes instantly to hell. If he dies naturally on a bed or a roof, he becomes a bhut, or evil spirit; and with this belief care is taken on the approach of death to move the person carefully on to the floor. The earth is believed to be resting on the horns of a cow and the raised trunks of eight elephants, called diggai, or "elephants supporting the regions," and each of the cardinal and sub-cardinal points of the compass has its appropriate guardian. An eclipse is supposed to be produced by the occasional swallowing up of the sun or moon by the severed head of Rihu, son of a demon family, who was decapitated by Vishnu for disguising himself as a god and drinking nectar.

The new system of railway fares introduced in Austria and Hungary, as has been shown by Prof. E. J. James, gives the Austrian Empire the cheapest railway fares in the world. Under it the usual fare for third-class passengers is about six and a half mills a mile, or $6.50 for a thousand-mile trip. Commutation rates for local service are still lower. Thus workmen can travel to and from work on the railroad for two cents a trip, up to six miles; four cents up to twelve miles; six cents up to eighteen miles; eight cents up to twenty-four miles; and ten cents up to thirty miles. Yearly tickets good for thirty-mile trips are sold for $17.40. These rates have proved profitable to the railways, and under them the traffic has increased so rapidly that the accommodations are taxed to the uttermost. The system is commended to the attention of American railway managers.

The bush country of the South Island, New Zealand; is troubled by a periodical visitation of rats (Mus maorium), which appear in the spring every four years. They are considerably different in size and general appearance from the common brown rat, being less fierce in appearance, and weighing, in full-grown specimens, only about two ounces. They are slow and awkward in movement on the ground, but quite at home and extremely active in climbing trees. These they ascend with the nimbleness of flies, running out with amazing quickness to the very tips of the branches. Hence, when pursued, they invariably make for trees if any are in reach, or, if not, for anything that will take them from the ground—as when a rat, disturbed by a plow, ran up the horse-reins which were dragging on the ground. They betray themselves, when startled, by their cry—an indiscretion of which the common rat is rarely guilty.

Attention is called by L. W. Wiggles worth to the use of a squirrel's tail as a steering and balancing organ during its leaps through the air. A squirrel was observed by a friend of the author's, in leaping from the height of thirty-three feet to the ground, to cause itself, by curving its tail strongly to one side just before alighting, to swerve in its course, and so avoid some hard substance on which it would otherwise have fallen.

Experiments are being made in European navies with captive balloons as points of observation. From one sent up from a French ironclad, ships and the details of the neighboring coast could be seen, in clear weather, for twenty or twenty-five miles. With silk as the material of the cable by which it is held, the balloon could rise in calm weather to a height of four hundred yards. The subject has attracted the attention of the naval authorities in Germany and England.

Mr. C. B. Atwell says, in the American Microscopical Journal, that amœbas for laboratory purposes are obtained at the North-western University from the algæ of Lake Michigan. A quantity of the common alga (Cladophora canalicularis) is put into a tumbler of water and allowed to stand for six or eight days, when a white film or ooze appears upon it which teems with amœbas and other protozoa. It is sometimes possible, in the rich supply thus obtained, to observe six, eight, or ten amœbas in the field at once.

Most people are probably not aware that there is one at least of the well-known stars compared to which the sun is a mere pygmy. Sirius, the dog-star, which is also a sun, is believed to have nearly five thousand times the volume of our sun. Its immense distance, probably a hundred million millions of miles, makes such measurement as is applied to the planets impossible. Hence the above estimate is based on a comparison of the light of Sirius with that received from the sun. It is the most brilliant star in the heavens, being far brighter than the first magnitude, and its light has a greenish tinge. During the winter months the place to look for Sirius is in the southern heavens.