How did you spend your time on Google Earth during lockdown—assuming you did in fact spend time on Google Earth during lockdown?
Exploring cool historical maps? Practicing on the flight simulator? Or trying to pinpoint your friend’s backyard treehouse, the one you mysteriously still haven’t been invited to see? (And now you’re thinking that, frankly, it might not even exist … )
As for the Hollingworths—since you ask—Neville, a paleontologist, and his wife, Sally, used their Google Earth time to explore the area around Swindon, in southwest England, where they live. In the course of their virtual roaming some sort of quarry caught their eye, so they went to have a look in person.
What they found is being called a “Jurassic Pompeii,” a “treasure trove of scientific gold,” according to an article in The Times of London. It seems the quarry’s clay floor “was studded with rare fossils of sea lilies, crinoids, starfish and brittle stars” roughly 167 million years old. The sea creatures were apparently killed—and preserved—by an ancient mudslide.
This is, apparently, as big as it sounds. Tim Ewin, a senior curator at London’s Natural History Museum, told The Times, “It’s really an exceptional site, all beautifully preserved. It’s going to allow us to do some really cool science.”
To that end (doing cool science), Tim has secured funding for a dig. Already, three new species have been discovered—two kinds of stars and a sea cucumber.
The exact location of the “Jurassic Pompeii” site is being kept top secret. However, AIR MAIL went on Google Earth, and it took but a few minutes to determine that in the vicinity of metropolitan Swindon you will find trees, rooftops, and ample parking. (Do not, under any circumstances, tell anyone.)
Earning His Wings
Last week, news broke that researchers had determined the sex of a famous pigeon that died 100 years ago. A famous pigeon? Yes, because it played a heroic role in World War I. (More on that in a moment! It’s a great story!)
After it died, the pigeon was stuffed, mounted, and put on display at the Smithsonian Institute, where for decades it was mostly left alone. Earlier this year, scientists decided to take tissue samples from the its right leg, extracted DNA, and voila: it’s a boy! Or, was a boy.
But most accounts didn’t bother to explain why it took DNA to determine the pigeon’s sex (not to mention why people cared either way). Air Mail Pilot wondered: Couldn’t someone have just held the pigeon up and looked, like people do with kittens and puppies?
The answer, it turns out, is no, because pigeons are among the 97 percent of bird species in which both sexes’ reproductive organs are strictly internal. In many cases there are other ways to tell males and females apart, like plumage. (See: peacocks vs. peahens.) But in some species, including pigeons, males and females look exactly the same on the outside. To put it another way: pigeons don’t have penises. Air Mail Pilot is not embarrassed to admit we have learned something today.
Back to the famous war-hero pigeon. His name was Cher Ami—French for “dear friend.” He was a homing pigeon, a breed once used to send written messages across great distances, typically in canisters strapped to the birds’ legs. In battle, in the days before telephones and radio, pigeons were often the only means of communication between troops.
This was the case in October 1918, in France, near the end of World War I. Cher Ami was in service with a company of U.S. infantry, the so-called Lost Battalion, which was surrounded by Germans. To make matters worse, the Americans were taking friendly fire from allied forces. Out of 550 men, more than 300 would be wounded, captured, or killed.
The company commander needed to get word to division headquarters, pleading for reinforcements. He tried human runners, but German soldiers captured them. He then turned to pigeons. As shells exploded all around, a first bird was spotted and shot down. So was a second.
Cher Ami was the desperate company’s last hope. Carrying a message containing the troops’ location and a forgivably annoyed request—“Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly upon us. For heavens sake stop it”—Cher Ami was hit and fell to earth. But somehow he managed to set off again and made it back to the division’s headquarters, despite a deep wound in his breast. He was also blinded in one eye and his right leg was nearly severed, hanging on only by a tendon—a close call since that was the leg with the message attached.
The Lost Battalion was saved. So was Cher Ami, who was nursed back to health, minus most of his right leg. General John “Black Jack” Pershing, the commander of U.S. forces, paid him a visit and France awarded him the Croix de Guerre for his valor. Though English-bred, Cher Ami retired to Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, where he died a year later and began his second career as a Smithsonian exhibit.
But you can see him alive, if you prefer: he appeared as himself in a 1919 silent movie called The Lost Battalion. It’s on YouTube. That’s Cher Ami near the end, at 1:01:35, hopping around on his good left leg.
Bearing a Striking Resemblance
Sky’s the Limit
Basketball chose 14-year-old Zhang Ziyu as much as she chose it. With two parents who played the sport professionally—Ziyu’s mother, Yu Ying, is a former member of the Chinese national team—Ziyu has been shooting hoops for most of her life.
But recently, her profile and athletic ability has garnered international attention. Ziyu started trending on Chinese social media platform Weibo after she led her team to victory at the country’s U15 National Basketball League final, scoring 42 points, blocking six shots, and capturing 25 rebounds.
Ziyu’s performance in the game led social-media users to compare her to Yao Ming, the Chinese basketball player who earned international acclaim as a center for the Houston Rockets.
One Weibo user wrote, “The future of the Chinese women’s basketball counts on you.”
Ziyu has plenty of natural talent, but she also has the undisputed advantage of towering over her opponents. Ziyu was already five foot two when she began elementary school, and had grown to six foot nine within a few years.
Today, the teen from eastern China’s Shandong province stands at seven foot four, taller than both of her parents—her father and mother are seven feet and six foot five respectively.
What’s more, at not yet 15 years old, the young athlete likely hasn’t yet finished growing. The sky is, quite literally, the limit.