Popular Science Monthly/Volume 55/May 1899/Notes


Prof. E. C. Pickering, of the Harvard College Observatory, announces the discovery by Mrs. Fleming of a new variable star in Sagittarius. It was found on eight of the photographs in her large collection. On March 8, 1898, it was of the fifth magnitude, and on April 29, 1898, of the eighth magnitude. A plate taken on March 9, 1899, shows it still visible and of the tenth magnitude. Its spectrum resembles that of other new stars. The entire number of new stars discovered since 1885 is six, of which five have been found by Mrs. Fleming.

Because of the great loss by fire which occurs every year in the Russian villages, the government is making efforts to induce the peasantry, says the Saturday Review, to employ some less dangerous material than straw thatch for the rooting of their izbas. There has already been a large increase in the use of shingle, and this has led to a considerable importation from Belgium and Germany, and also from the United States, of simple and inexpensive shingle making machines, for use in rural districts. German manufacturers, whose "commercial intelligence department" is remarkably well informed, are now making redoubled efforts to meet the immense demand anticipated. An improved and inexpensive hand fire engine is also being provided. Roofing felt or paper is very generally used under the shingle, and the demand for this is also increasing.

A fourth specimen of the Notornis Mantelli, a bird of New Zealand supposed to have become extinct, was captured in August last, and has been prepared for the museum by Mr. W. B. Benham. The first specimen was obtained, recently slain, by Mr. W. Mantell, in 1849, and is preserved in the British Museum; the second was killed by Maoris in 1851, and is in the Colonial Collection; and the third, now in the Dresden Museum, was taken in 1879. All these birds were found in a single denuded region of the country. The present specimen was caught by a dog in the bushes near Lake Te Anan, still in the same region, and is a very fine young female.

A plant growing in the dense jungles of Langsuam, Siam, was described by H. Warington Smyth, in an address to the Royal Geographical Society, as having the property of setting up a great irritation in the skin of any person coming in contact with it. "It has a large, broad leaf, and the Siamese declare that, after being badly stung by it, the only remedy is the heat of a fire; to bathe in a stream, which is the natural impulse, is considered absolutely fatal. A spot on the Kra-Champawn trail is known as Burmatai, from the fact that a party of Burmese, coming across to harry their neighbors in the old fighting days, are said to have got into a thick growth of this plant, and to have bathed in the stream to allay the agony, with the result that they all died there." The Siamese call the plant kalang-ton chang.

In the western part of Belgium the dog has been employed as a beast of burden from time immemorial. The Belgian dog (known only by this name) is a large, compactly built animal, measuring from twenty to thirty inches in height; the hair is smooth and short, generally tan or dark brown in color. It is the custom to crop both ears and tail. The dogs are usually driven before carts weighing from one hundred to one hundred and twenty pounds, in teams of from two to six abreast. A harness very similar in arrangement to that of the horse is used. Six of these animals will draw from six to eight hundred pounds. They are put to work when about a year old. They vary in price from twenty-five to sixty shillings. There are over two thousand dogs in Ghent licensed as draught animals.

A plant described by M. Henri Chantrey as most probably answering to the manna found by the Hebrews in the desert is the thallophyte Canona esculenta, or edible lichen, which grows in the deserts of Persia, Arabia, Mesopotamia, and Sahara. It is a grayish cryptogam of about the size of a pea, bearing short bracteate appendages on its top; when cut, it resembles a mass of dull white flour paste. It is an ephemeral substance, and must be collected the morning it appears, as it will soon dry up; but when properly prepared it can be kept in a close vessel. It is highly appreciated by the wandering Arabs, who have often been saved by it from starvation, and they lay up stores of it when opportunity offers. It is easily collected, for it never adheres to any foreign body, and, so far as appearance goes, seems as if it might have been thrown on the ground. There is but little suggestion of the mushroom in its taste, which is rather starchy, with a slight flavor of sugar. Cattle are very fond of it. The Arabs boil it into a gelatinous paste, which they serve in various ways. They preserve it by drying it in the shade and pack it in bladders or skins. It is not a complete first-class food, but is very good for a few days till something better can be got.

The Jernkontoret of Sweden is an ironmasters' exchange at Stockholm, which was founded in 1747 for the financial convenience of the subscribers, and now possesses a reserve fund of about $1,500,000. The functions of the society have been considerably enlarged since its institution. It has organized a corps of mining engineers and metallurgists, who receive salaries from it, and further from manufacturers whom they may serve. They are often commissioned to go abroad and obtain information and practical hints bearing upon their profession. The institution is supported by a light assessment on the production of its constituency. It has a fine building, and publishes an annual volume in Jernkontorets Annalen, containing original memoirs and reports from technical agents, which is sent gratuitously to all the masters of forges in Sweden, and is sold abroad.

In a number of glass mirrors of the third and fourth centuries, examined by M. Berthelot, the glass was coated with a metallic substance and with a layer of whitish material. The metal proved to be lead, with no trace of gold, silver, copper, tin, antimony, or mercury, and no sign of organic substance was present. It was thus shown that no extraneous material was used to cement the lead to the glass. The mirrors appeared to have been cut from hollow blown glass globes, and it is possible that before the globe was cut the molten lead had been poured into the interior, and had adhered to the previously warmed glass. The whitish layer consisted of lead carbonate and lead oxide formed by the oxidation of the lead coating and calcium carbonate, which had been deposited from the water of the district in which the mirrors were found.

The list of recent deaths among men known in connection with science and its applications includes the names of Prof. Karl Müller, botanist, one of the founders of the German scientific weekly, Die Natur, February 9th, aged eighty-one years; Sir John Struthers, emeritus professor of anatomy in the University of Aberdeen, in his sixty-seventh year; John Kreusi, mechanical engineer and inventor, at Schenectady, N. Y., January 22d, aged fifty six years; Thomas Cook, teacher of anatomy and author of works on the subject, in London, February 8th; Dr. A. Veitmeyer, civil engineer, in Berlin; Dr. Carl Schoenlein,of the Zoölogical Station at Naples, aged forty years; Major-General Joseph J. Reynolds, of the United States Army, formerly professor of mechanics and engineering at Washington University, St. Louis, February 26th, aged seventy-seven years; Dr. Alexandre Laboullbéne, professor of the history of medicine in the University of Paris, and author of a treatise on pathological anatomy and a book on French entomological fauna, aged seventy-three years; Dr. Philipp J. J. Valentini, Americanist and student of ancient Mexican and Central American monuments and codices, in New York, March 16th, in his seventy-first year; Gustave Wiedmann, professor of physics and chemistry in the University of Leipsic, and writer on electricity and magnetism; and Major J. Evans, professor of pathology in the Calcutta Medical College, March 13th.