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The Spill: Olympics On Hold

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Olympic Games on Hold Due to COVID-19

The Coronavirus pandemic has affected much of the world and is now responsible for the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. The purpose of the games is to promote peace through sporting competition and has continued this tradition for more than a century. The first modern event was in 1896, and since then, the Olympics have only been canceled three times.

The first cancelation was in 1916 during World War I. The German Empire was supposed to host the games that year and had even built a 30,000-seat stadium in Berlin just for the event. But war broke out in 1914, and because so many nations were involved, there weren’t athletes available to compete.

In 1920, the Germans were banned from participating because many blamed the country for starting WWI. French officials then banned athletes from Germany from competing in both the 1920 and 1924 Olympics.

World War II saw the Olympics canceled twice, in 1940 and 1944. Japan was scheduled to host the 1940 Olympics, which was novel as it was the first non-Western country to join the event. However, in 1937, Japan went to war with China and lost its right to host the games. Although the event was rescheduled in Finland for the summer and Germany for the winter events, it ended up being canceled after Adolf Hitler invaded Poland in 1939. The 1944 summer Olympics were scheduled to be held in London but were canceled because of the ongoing war. Italy was to host the winter Olympics, but that event was also stopped.

Now, in 2020, a different type of war has resulted in the postponement of the Olympics. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he didn’t want to cancel the event entirely, and the games may simply be delayed until 2021. “Considering the current situation, in regards to the Tokyo Games, as the host nation, in order to ensure that athletes from all over the world are able to compete in their best condition, and also in order to ensure the utmost safety for the spectators, I have asked him [Thomas Bach, head of the International Olympic Committee] to consider postponing the games by about a year,” Abe said.

The Astronomical Start of Spring

If you’ve been stuck inside due to the Coronavirus, you may not have noticed the signs of spring. The weather is warming up, the sun is coming out, and daffodils are in full bloom.

The northern hemisphere celebrated the Spring Equinox on March 19 this year – marking the astronomical start of spring. There are two equinoxes each year – the spring (vernal) equinox and the autumnal equinox. These two days mark events when the center of the sun is directly above the equator, and therefore daytime and nighttime are of equal length everywhere on the planet.

The word “equinox” comes from the Latin word aequinoctium, from aequus (equal) and noctis (night) – meaning of equal day and night. On this occasion, the sun rises due east and sets due west for everyone, no matter where they are on Earth, and every location experiences approximately 12 hours of sunlight.

But wait, doesn’t Spring start on March 1? The first day of March signifies the meteorological beginning of the season based on dividing the year into four seasons, each of three months’ duration. However, the astronomical start of spring is marked by the position of the sun in relation to the Earth. This year’s vernal equinox is the earliest one that’s happened since 1896 – it normally occurs on March 20 or 21, but as our calendar isn’t perfectly aligned to the sun’s movements, the date can vary slightly.

The vernal equinox was traditionally celebrated with the symbols of spring rebirth – eggs, spring cleaning, bunnies, and flowers – that are still familiar today.

While us humans are hunkering down to escape the Coronavirus outbreak this spring, other species are coming out of hibernation. One Grizzly Bear, named Boo, was captured on video as he broke through the snow and emerged from his winter lair. Boo lives at a refuge in the Kicking Horse Mountain ski resort near the town of Golden, Canada, and he poked his head out of the snow a few days ago – as shared by the region’s tourism board:

According to his handler Nicole Gangnon, Boo could be heard scratching around his den for about 20 minutes before he managed to break through the snow.

An Evolutionary Discovery

Nearly 3.7 million years ago, an Australopithecus – an ancestor of humans that evolved in East Africa – named Little Foot fell around 30 feet into the shaft of a cave, and millions of years later her bones were discovered. Her nickname was given because of her small stature. It took nearly 20 years for archeologists to safely remove her skeleton from the sediment in the cave, and from her remains they were able to tell that she combined human and ape-like traits.

Ron Clarke spent two decades carefully removing Little Foot from her resting place. “She may not be perfect in formed body, with some bones missing, but Little Foot is our great-great aunt many times removed and she’s perfect to me,” he said in 2017.

The bones show that she stood a little over four feet tall and slept in trees to keep safe from predators such as saber-toothed cats. Although not enough testing has been done on her teeth to be sure, she was likely a vegetarian. She had strong hands and a special big toe that gave her the ability to climb much better than her modern human relatives.

Now, scientists at the University of the Witwatersrand have discovered that Little Foot could move her head in different directions than modern humans, probably because she spent a lot of her time in trees. Humans, however, have lost the ability to be such expert climbers, and do not need such a range of head movement. Scientists found that she still had her atlas, which is the topmost cervical vertebrae located between the neck and head. Her atlas is similar to that of chimpanzees, providing valuable information about the evolution of hominid species – otherwise known as the “great apes.”

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