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OpenLearn Live: 16th December 2016

Updated Friday 16th December 2016

The tiny bubbles of winter that started in Vienna; rubber eggs; Italian crises and a crack in space. Learning and research from across the day.

OpenLearn Live bites into the chocolates in box of online learning and research to find the strawberry creams. (Your favourite chocolate might make the metaphor work better). This page will be updated across the day.

Yesterday was quiet, because of Christmas parties

On this day last year: the myth of Star Wars, John IV Laskaris and what makes a good death?

See the complete collection of OpenLearn Live


Today's posts


Happy holidays

This is the last proper OpenLearn Live of 2016 - although we'll be back with the-too-soon-to-call-it-traditional annual Christmas Special next week. We'll be back early in the new year with daily editions - in the meantime, we wish any and everyone who enjoys these rummages through learning the compliments of whatever season you consider yourself to be currently enjoying.


Can you make a rubber egg?

If you can, you won't need to watch this short science video, but you might get a job working in our staff canteen. Assuming you can't, though, here's how, courtesy of SFGlobe:

... and what about the eggs in Cool Hand Luke?


The crack in space

As if 2016 wasn't packed full enough of things to worry about, scientists have found a crack in the magnetic shield which protects us from cosmic rays. Wired reports:

The GRAPES-3 muon telescope in Ooty, India, detected a spike in cosmic ray levels, indicating that the Earth’s magnetic shield may be damaged. Though the burst of rays was recorded back in June 2015, a study just published in Physical Review Lettershas revealed the extent of the high-intensity event for the first time.

For two hours on 22 June, 2015, particles from a giant cloud of fast-moving plasma penetrated the Earth’s atmosphere. The particles, which originated from the surface of the Sun, were moving at about 2.5 million kilometres per hour when they struck our planet’s atmosphere.

This high-speed strike caused the Earth’s magnetosphere – the area containing the planet’s magnetic field – to shrink from 11 times to four times the Earth’s radius. The charged particles in Earth’s magnetosphere usually deflect solar winds which would otherwise bring harmful ultraviolet radiation to the Earth’s surface.

The loss of this protection doesn't just mean that we'd be more suspectible to skin cancers, but it could means the sun's various flarings would have a more disruptive effect on things that use electricity.

Read the full report at Wired: Galactic cosmic rays burst through a crack in Earth's magnetic shield

The special relativity framework


Is the EU making Italy's crisis deeper?

As Italy's political world struggles to cope with the referendum-induced loss of a Prime Minister, Philip Molyneux asks if the EU is making things even tougher for the government to cope with an economic crisis:

Failure to resolve the problems would compound financial market jitters surrounding Italian banks. That could lead to widespread failure and the export of similar problems, due to a collapse of confidence, to other fragile eurozone countries.

To unlock an injection of state funds the Bank of Italy would therefore need to decide whether to follow the EU rules and risk the wrath of the retail bondholders with a bail-in – and/or provide guarantees to cover their losses. Ironically, the ECB would then potentially have to provide guarantees, liquidity injections and capital support to maintain confidence in the Italian system.

Meanwhile, all eyes will be on the UniCredit capital-raising to see if it fares any better. It should do: UniCredit’s proposed rights issue requires market credibility that Monte dei Paschi does not have at present. Were it to hit difficulties, however, this crisis will move from major to monumental. Either way, it looks likely to be some time before the problems in Italian banking even begin to look like being resolved.

Read at The Conversation: Why EU rules risk making Italy’s banking crisis a whole lot worse

Italy's political crisis explained


Aah, Vienna: Snow globes

This week, to mark our BBC Four co-production, Vienna: Empire, Dynasty & Dream, we've been telling some other stories from Austria's capital city.

If you've missed any, the week so far has featured:

Now, you might be looking at OpenLearn Live, sighing a little - "sure, Vienna is a lovely city, but this is the last instalment before Christmas. Couldn't we have had something a little more festive?"

We can help you out. Today... it's snow globes.

Christmas snow globe Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: Petr Kratochvil

What's the link between snow globes and Vienna? Well, Vienna is home to a Snow Globe Museum - where you can have a twenty minute tour of a collection of globes and artefacts. And there, in the museum, Erwin Perzy III makes globes, using his grandfather's tools and designs.

Perzy's grandfather is the man credited with inventing the snow globe. And, as with many inventions, it wasn't what he'd set out to do. 

Erwin Perzy I had been asked to create a way of improving the light cast by electric bulbs in operating theatres. He tinkered with an idea based on a cobblers' trick - they'd fill a jar with water, pop it in front of their candle, and enjoy better light.

This didn't quite work with electric light, so Perzy tried putting bits of tinsel into the jar to see if that would scatter the light. 

That didn't do much, either, so he experimented with other small pieces in the liquid. White semolina flakes didn't do much to help with the problem he was trying to solve, but they did look a little like snow. Around the same time, one of his friends asked him if he could use his tools to create a tiny diarama of the Basilica of the Birth of the Virgin Mary. Perzy wondered if putting the tiny scene in the jar would create a festive scene - it did, and a souvenir staple was born.

There's obviously going to be a royal in this story somewhere, and in this case, it's Emperor Franz Josef I who saw the perfected snow globes Perzy had begun to sell. He awarded a special prize for toymaking, the globes took off and now, wherever people gather to take selfies, there'll be a wobbly table offering simulacrums of the site in a gloopy, snowy format.

No invention is complete without a counter-claim, though - in 1878, globes featuring a tiny man holding an umbrella were shown at the Paris Exhibition. Perzy, working 22 years later, was apparently unaware of these earlier objects. And, to be fair, he was the man who created a business from the items. He might not have made the very first snow globes, but without him, grandparents around the world wouldn't be faking delight at gifts today. Well, not those specific gifts, anyway.

Try our free course Inventions & Innovation

See more about our Vienna TV series

 

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