Skip to content

OpenLearn Live: 23rd August 2016

Updated Tuesday, 23rd August 2016

Why are fascists attracted to lightning bolts? NASA reconnects with a sun observatory. Free learning from across the day.

This page was published over five years ago. Please be aware that due to the passage of time, the information provided on this page may be out of date or otherwise inaccurate, and any views or opinions expressed may no longer be relevant. Some technical elements such as audio-visual and interactive media may no longer work. For more detail, see our Archive and Deletion Policy

OpenLearn Live brings together the worlds of learning and research into your world. This page will be updated across the day.

Yesterday, we explored the furore around Caster Semenya, restarted Life Story and asked who owns the code that powers your heart?

See the full collection of OpenLearn Live

Today's posts

NASA tunes back into stereo

Loops of highly charged particles burst from the sun's surface in this image, taken on Dec. 4, 2006. Among the first images taken by STEREO, the image shows the sun's roiling surface and atmosphere at temperatures around one million Kelvin. Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: NASA Loops of highly charged particles burst from the sun's surface in this image, taken on Dec. 4, 2006. Among the first images taken by STEREO, the image shows the sun's roiling surface and atmosphere at temperatures around one million Kelvin.

Back in October of 2014, NASA lost contact with one of the STEREO Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatories. While STEREO-A was still sending information and images of the Sun, STEREO-B had fallen silent.

Yesterday, contact was re-established:

The Deep Space Network established a lock on the STEREO-B downlink carrier at 6:27 p.m. EDT. The downlink signal was monitored by the Mission Operations team over several hours to characterize the attitude of the spacecraft and then transmitter high voltage was powered down to save battery power. The STEREO Missions Operations team plans further recovery processes to assess observatory health, re-establish attitude control, and evaluate all subsystems and instruments.

Read the full release at NASA: NASA Establishes Contact With STEREO Mission

The STEREO Mission at NASA

Try our free course on The Sun

Bolt week: The far right and lightning bolts

This week, we're marking the remarkable success of Usain Bolt by exploring the world of all types of bolt. Yesterday, we started with climbing bolts. Today, with Usain's post-win celebratory move having reclaimed the imagery of the lightning bolt from the far right, we have to ask... what was it with fascists and lightning bolts in the first place?

We're going to take as our starting point this flag, which was flown by Oswald Mosley and his 1930s British Union Of Fascists:

British Union of Fascists flag Creative commons image Icon Adapted from R-41 under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license

Inspired by, and sharing, much of Hitler's beliefs, the BUF weren't an insignificant force in 1930s British politics. As Spartacus History records:

According to a MI5 report in 1934 the British Union of Fascists had between 35,000 and 40,000 active members. It also said that senior service officers and prominent businessmen had joined the party. The Conservative Party became concerned about losing members to the BUF.

They had an early electoral victory in Worthing in 1933, when Charles Bentinck Budd won a seat on the council. But this was to be something of a high-water mark - despite the enthusiastic early support of the Daily Mail, the party didn't find much traction at the ballot box. The Mail pulled its support early in 1934; the party lurched to the right and its anti-semitic subtext became overt policy. The party split, and was eventually outlawed as the British turned to fight the fascists on Europe.

But what of the lightning logo? The BUF - and its earlier incarnation, the New Party - knew a thing or too about eye-catching propaganda. Julie Gottlieb's The Marketing of Megalomania: Celebrity, Consumption and the Development of Political Technology in the British Union of Fascists explains how the BUF sought to attract attention and support:

It was again Irene Ravensdale who recalled that ‘in the last years of her life [Cynthia Mosley, the first wife of Oswald] was searching for designs for a Fascist flag — he [Mosley] wanted to make Sousa’s march, the Stars and Stripes, into a Fascist anthem, with words by Osbert Sitwell.’14 Music was to be an enduring feature of BUF meetings, and the eccentric and ‘authority-debunking’ Lord Berners wrote the music for the BUF’s song ‘Come, All Young Britain’, while a number of artistically-inclined BUF members, such as Selwyn Watson and J.F. Welsh, wrote the songs ‘Mosley!’ and ‘Britain Awake’.

The jagged bolt of lightning was clearly meant to catch the eye. Adopted in 1935, when the party appended "and National Socialists" to its name, there was more than a nod to Germany's Nazi swastika, and to the logo of the German SS.

During the Nazi era, the SS logotype was so frequently used in Germany that typewriters were produced which included the symbol as part of the typeface.

However, the "SS" of the Schutzstaffel wasn't originally intended to be seen as lightning bolts. They had their origins in the Nazi obsession with runic imagery. The Anti-Defamation League explains the derivation:

The SS symbol is derived from the "sowilo" or "sun" rune, a character in the pre-Roman runic alphabet associated with the "s" sound. The Nazis derived many of their symbols from such pre-Roman images. Because the sowilo rune resembles a lightning bolt (with flat ends instead of pointed ends), the SS symbol has come to be associated with a lightning bolt image.

The runes have been tainted ever since, and their use in Germany is banned by law. So sensitive are Germans to imagery with Nazi overtones, the band Kiss actively changed their logo when marketing to the country to avoid confusion between the last two letters of their name, and the logo of the SS.

Not everyone sought to distance themselves from fascist imagery, though. In 2004, Lee Kuan Yew admitted to the FT's Observer column that he adapted the BUF flag as the logo of his Singaporean political party, the People's Action party:

"I was aware of it," he says. "It was a decision made at a time when we were all young revolutionaries and were greatly influenced by the thinking and the mood of the time."

Lee notes that the once left-leaning PAP made a few stylistic changes to the black-and-white BUF symbol, making the circle blue and the lightning bolt red. That was intended to create a "striking" design.

He declined to change the logo, despite its origins, pointing out that it would cost a large sum of money to get a brand consultant to design something as memorable.

More from OpenLearn on the Second World War

More from OpenLearn on design






Related content (tags)

Copyright information

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?