Category Archives: Trivia

What is the Most Asked Question on Google?

alex atkins bookshelf triviaEver wonder what is the most pressing question on people’s minds? Since almost everyone turns to the same expert — Google (or its handmaiden, Siri) — we can simply look at the search data to find the answer. The curious folks at Mondovo (an SEO marketing company based in Bangalore, India) distilled the data and broke it down into different categories of questions: why, can, who, when, where, what, and which. But the most revealing list is composed of the most frequently asked question in each of these lists. One thing is clear: most people were not paying attention during math class and didn’t retain volume conversions (remember those? How many ounces in a pound? How many ounces in a gallon?, etc.) Back in elementary school you thought you would never need them again. Surprise — you did; and thanks to Google, the answers to those pesky volume conversions are now at your fingertips! Interestingly, those math questions are in 7-way tie with the timing of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. The question that raises an eyebrow is: how to get pregnant? Really? We’re people also sleeping through health/sex education class? So without further ado, here are the top 20 most frequently asked questions on Google within the last few months of 2019 (followed by monthly global search volume):

What is my ip? (3.35 million)

What time is it? (1.83 million)

How to register to vote? (1.22 million)

How to tie a tie? (673,000)

Can you run it? (550,000)

What song is this? (550,000)

How to lose weight? (550,000)

How many ounces in a cup? (450,000)

When is Mother’s day? (450,000)

How many ounces in a pound (450,000)

How many ounces in a gallon? (450,000)

How many weeks in a year? (450,000)

When is Father’s day? (450,000)

What is my ip address? (450,000)

Can I run it? (368,000)

How to get pregnant? (368,000)

How to download Youtube videos? (368,000)

How to screenshot on a Mac? (301,000)

How old is Donald Trump? (301,000)

How to lose weight fast? (301,000)

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Read related posts: The Founding Father that Vandalized Shakespeare’s Chair
What are the Most Common Words Used in Songs?
What is the Word for Two Bad Choices?
Why is it Called the Golden Gate? 

Jefferson and Adams Die on Same Day
How Fast is the Earth Moving?
What is the Oldest Object in the World?
What is the World’s Biggest Problem?

Famous People Who Died on the Same Day

For further reading:

The Most Asked Questions on Google



How Bands Got Their Names: 5

atkins-bookshelf-musicSome band names are very clever, and some are just plain odd. Regardless of how they sound, all were inspired by some random or carefully-considered connection. For this set of band names the inspiration came from a magazine article or ad, toy, nickname, or book title. Below are a few interesting band names and their origins:

Dishwalla: The name comes from a word they saw in a Wired magazine article. Dishwalla is an Indian term for a cable satellite pirate.

Goo Goo Dolls: Originally named the Sex Maggots. Because a newspaper would not print that name, the band had to change their name for a gig one night. While looking through an issue of True Detective magazine, they came across an ad for a toy called the “Goo Goo Doll” and they ran with it. Guitarist Johnny Rzeznik said in an interview: “We were young and we were a garage band not trying to get a deal. We had a gig that night and needed a name. It’s the best we came up with, and for some reason it stuck. If I had five more minutes, I definitely would have picked a better name.”

Hoobastank: The brother of the singer lives in Germany, close to a street Hooba Street. Hoobastank is simply a phonetic variation of that name, that has no particular meaning. In an interview, Chris Hesse elaborated, “When we were looking for band names it’s almost impossible to find a band name that hasn’t been taken. Anything remotely normal has been taken already. I don’t remember how it came up but someone said it and we were like yeah.”

Hootie and the Blowfish: The name comes from nicknames of the singer’s two friends, who used to sing together in choir: “Hootie” had a round, owlish face; “Blowfish” had large, puffy cheeks.

Imagine Dragons: The band is an anagram from different words that all members of the band agreed on. Exactly which words may never be known, since the band decided to keep them a secret.

Limp Bizkit: The name came from a roadie who once observed that his brain felt like a “limp biscuit.”

Maroon 5: The band started out playing pop songs under the name Kara’s Flowers, after a high school girl that all the band members had a crush on. How adorable. The band even recorded a few albums under that name. Naturally, when they switched labels and genres, management asked them to change their name. For whatever reason, the band has not been forthcoming about how they came up with the name. Perhaps they have been hanging out with members of Imagine Dragons. One likely explanation is that the band is named for an alma mater and its official color. Two band members, Levine and Carmichael, both briefly attended Five Towns College, a private college focused on the creative arts located in Long Island, New York. The “five” also ties in nicely to the number of members in the band. And guess what is the college’s official color? You guessed it — maroon. So until one of them writes a biography, or gets drunk and inadvertently address this, we’ll have to go with the “academic” theory.

Mott the Hoople: Named after the title of a book, Mott the Hoople by Willard Manus about a man who works in a circus freak show.

Porno for Pyros: The band was named after an ad for fireworks in a porn magazine.

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Read related posts: Origins of the Beatles Name
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How Rock Bands Got Their Names 2
How Rock Bands Got Their Names 3
How Rock Bands Got Their Names 4

For further reading: Rock Names: From Abba to ZZ Top by Adam Dolgins, Citadel Press (1998)

The Founding Father that Vandalized Shakespeare’s Chair

alex atkins bookshelf triviaFew know that one of the Founding Fathers was a museum vandal. Say what!? Historical sacrilege! First let’s identify the Founding Father. Here’s a hint — he wrote the introduction to one of the most important documents in American history: “When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” That, of course, is the opening sentence to the Declaration of Independence. Its author? Thomas Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson, who served as the third President of the United States, was a polymath driven by an insatiable curiosity and had a tremendous capacity for wonder. He was a voracious reader and over the years, Jefferson built a private library of about 6,500 books in the six languages that he read: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Latin, and Greek. When the British burned down the Capitol in 1814, he sold his entire collection to the library of Congress for $23,950 (imagine the great deal that the library received: priceless books for only $3.70 each!). As a student of classical literature, grammar, and rhetoric, Jefferson was a passionate admirer of the work of William Shakespeare, also a student of classical education, and of course, acknowledged as the greatest writer in the English language. “Shakespeare,” he wrote to a friend, “must be singled out by one who wishes to learn the full powers of the English language.” When asked by a friend, what books he should read, Jefferson advocated that “a lively and lasting sense of filial duty is more effectually impressed on the mind of a son or daughter by reading King Lear, than by all the dry volumes of ethics, and divinity that were ever written.” Jefferson not only read and studied Shakespeare, he often attended the Bard’s plays that were performed in the playhouses of Williamsburg, Virginia. He also had the opportunity to see several plays performed in the theaters of London.

A biographer reports that in 1786, John Adams and Jefferson made a trip to England to visit Shakespeare’s childhood home at Stratford-upon-Avon. Unlike the heavily guarded and monitored tours of today, museum docents and staff took a rather cavalier attitude toward protecting Shakespeare’s valuable possessions. During the late 1700s, museum visitors would surreptitiously cut a souvenir piece of wood from one of Shakespeare’s chairs. Jefferson, being such an aficionado of the Bard, could not resist. With Adams as his lookout, he cut off a small piece of wood and hid it to take it back to his home in Monticello, where it would be cherished. Who knew Jefferson could be such a rascal? Curators of Jefferon’s estate found the piece of wood and placed it on exhibit in 2006 with a note from Jefferson: “A chip cut from an armed chair in the chimney corner in Shakespeare’s house at Stratford on Avon said to be the identical chair in which he usually sat. If true, like the relics of the saints, it must miraculously reproduce itself.”

We can now add one additional item to Jefferson’s long list of accomplishments: lawyer, statesman, diplomat, architect, inventor, Founding Father, third President of the United States — and vandal. 

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Jefferson and Adams Die on Same Day
Thomas Jefferson the Inventor
Famous People Who Died on the Same Day
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For further reading:

Alcatraz by the Numbers

alex atkins bookshelf triviaIf I asked you to name the most popular landmark in the United States, what would you say? The Statue of Liberty? The Lincoln Memorial? The Washington Monument? Nope. According to a survey by TripAdvisor, the number one tourist spot in the United States is Alcatraz, (affectionately known as “The Rock”) an abandoned federal penitentiary, located in the San Francisco Bay, just a few miles from the number two tourist spot: the Golden Gate Bridge. Each year, Alcatraz Island draws more than 1.7 visitors.

Alcatraz Island was originally named La Isla de los Alcatraces (Spanish for “The Island of the Pelicans”) by Juan Manuel de Ayala, a Spanish naval officer who was the first to sail a ship, the San Carlos, into the San Francisco Bay in 1775. In 1846, Pio Pico, the last governor of Alta California, gave the island to his friend, Julian Workman, so that he would build a lighthouse on the island. Workman did not build the lighthouse, but conveyed the tile to Francis Temple, his son-in-law. Later that year, John Fremont, Military Governor of California, bought the island from Workman for $5,000 in the name of the U.S. government. Fremont recognized that the island was an ideal location for a lighthouse and a fort to protect harbor. The U.S. government did agree that Alcatraz, along with Fort Mason and Fort Lime (which was never built due to a land dispute) would form a formidable triangular defense. However the government did not believe that Fremont had the right to purchase the island. Many legal proceedings later, the U.S. government did take over title to the island without any compensation to Fremont or his heirs.

Beginning in 1853, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began fortifying the island, now called Fort Alcatraz, mounting 105 cannons around the island and building quarters for 200 soldiers. In 1954, the first operational lighthouse on America’s West Coast was built on the southern end of the island. (It was damaged in the 1906 earthquake and rebuilt in 1909.) As early as 1859, the fort, due to its remote location, began housing prisoners in the basement of the guardhouses. The first prisoners were 11 soldiers who committed crimes; then two years later, the fort was established as a military prison for prisoners of war, Union deserters, and Confederate sympathizers during the American Civil War. In 1867 a brick jailhouse was built to house military prisoners. By 1898, the prisoner population had grown from 26 to 450 inmates.

By 1915, Fort Alcatraz was officially designated as the Pacific Branch, U.S. Disciplinary Barracks. The iconic concrete cell block on the center of the island was built between 1909 and 1912 to house up to 320 prisoners. One of the unique features was that each inmate lived in his own cell, containing a sleeping cot, toilet, sink (cold water only) and small metal table (cell blocks B and C). Cell block D, known as “the hole” was used for solitary confinement; the space was larger than the typical cells but was completely dark and had not bed, table, sink, or toilet (just a hole in the floor). Two decades later, in 1933, the island officially became a federal prison, known as Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, to house some of the most recalcitrant criminals, predominantly murderers and bank robbers, in America. The mantra at Alcatraz was: “Break the rules and you go to prison, break the prison rules and you go to Alcatraz.” For the next 29 years, Alcatraz was home to about 250 men with a prison staff of about 155. About 300 civilians lived on the island. The guards and their families lived in nine apartment buildings located near the island’s harbor. The staff also had a recreation hall, post office, small convenience store, soda fountain shop, bowling alley, and beautiful gardens.

Due to the high cost of operation, saltwater’s deteriorating impact on buildings, and impact of the island residents’ sewage into the bay, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy ordered Alcatraz to close in early 1963. Since 1972, the island is maintained and operated by the National Park Service.

Let’s take a look at this fascinating island and prison by the numbers:

Size of island: 1,675 feet by 590 feet; total area is 22 acres

Distance from closest shore: 1.25 miles

Temperature water around Alcatraz: less than 60 degrees Fahrenheit

Speed of currents around Alcatraz: 6 to 8 mph

Size of prison cells: 5 x 9 feet

Number of cells: 336

Bedtime for inmates: 9:30 pm “lights out”

Height of lighthouse: 84 feet

Range of lighthouse: 22 nautical miles

Number of lighthouse keepers (1853-1940): 14

Number of prisoners: average: 260; maximum: 320

Number or inmates over 29 years: 1,576

Number of staff: 155

Number of families living on Alcatraz: 60

Cost of rent for apartment for a prison guard: $25

Number of children that grew up on Alcatraz: 100 (they are now members of the Alcatraz Alumni Association)

Number of attempted escapes: 36 (23 of those were captures; six killed; two drowned; five went missing)

Successful escape attempts: of the 36, only 3 might have escaped successfully: John Anglin, Clarence Anglin, and Frank Morris. The Anglin family provided cards and photos that show the prisoners many years after their escape; however, the FBI has ruled the evidence inconclusive. Thus the number of attempted escapes remains at 36, with the three aforementioned prisoners considered as part of the five missing.

Number of inmates who died at Alcatraz: 28 (15 from natural causes, 5 from suicide, 8 murdered by other inmates)

Number of books in prison library: 15,000

Number of magazine subscriptions: 75

Cost to house a prisoner at Alcatraz: $10 a day (the average at other prisons was $3)

Number of birds that the Birdman of Alcatraz kept there: 0 (the movie’s premise was a complete fiction; Rober Stroud was not allowed to keep any birds at Alcatraz)

Number of Native American activists that occupied Alcatraz (1969-71): approximately 100

Daily Activity Schedule at Alcatraz:
6:30 AM – Morning whistle. Prisoners wash and dress
7:00 AM – Prisoners enter mess hall to have breakfast
7:20 AM – Breakfast is over; prisoners report to recreation yard, work assignment, or cells
11:40 AM – Prisoners enter mess hall to have lunch
12:00 PM – Lunch is over; prisoner report to cells to be counted
12:30 PM – Prisoners assigned to work report to respective shops
4:15 PM – Workday is over
4:25 PM – Prisoners enter mass hall to have dinner
4:45 PM – Dinner is over, prisoners return to their cells
9:30 PM – Lights out

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Read related posts: The Golden Gate by the Numbers
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For further reading:

The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2019

catkins-bookshelf-literatureThe Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest (BLFC), established in 1982 by English Professor Scott Rice at San Jose State University, recognizes the worst opening sentence (also known as an “incipit”) for a novel. The name of the quasi-literary contest honors Edward George Bulwer Lytton, author of a very obscure 1830 Victorian novel, Paul Clifford, with a very famous opening sentence: “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” 

Each year, contest receives more than 10,000 entries from all over the world — proving that there is no shortage of wretched writers vying for acclaim. The contest now has several subcategories, including adventure, crime, romance, and detective fiction. The winner gets bragging rights for writing the worst sentence of the year and a modest financial award of $150 — presumably for writing lessons.

The winner of the 2018 BLFC was Maxwell Archer of Mt. Pleasant, Ontario:
Space Fleet Commander Brad Brad sat in silence, surrounded by a slowly dissipating cloud of smoke, maintaining the same forlorn frown that had been fixed upon his face since he’d accidentally destroyed the phenomenon known as time, thirteen inches ago.

The runner up was submitted by Robert Moore of North Falmouth, Massachusetts:
Emile Zola wondered the dank and soggy streets of a gloomy Parisian night, the injustice of the Dreyfus affair weighing on him like a thousand baguettes, dreaming of some massage or therapy to relieve the tension and pain in his aching shoulders and back, and then suddenly he thought of his Italian friends and their newly invented warm water bath with air jets and he rapturously exclaimed that oft misquoted declaration — “Jacuzzi!”

The winner in the category of Crime/Detective was Jeremy Das of Loughborough, England:
Realizing that his symptoms indicated a virtually undetectable, fast acting neurotoxin, CIA coroner Quinn Abner frantically wrote up the details, lay on the floor and, as a professional courtesy, did his best to draw a chalk outline of himself.

The winner in the category of Vile Puns was Bart King of Portland, Oregon:
After purchasing an oval Chinese frying pan at the diminutive British aristocrat’s yard sale, Nigel realized that he’d just taken a long wok off a short Peer.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: The Worst Sentence Ever Written
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For futher reading:
Dark and Stormy Rides Again by Scott Rice, Penguin Books (1996)

Nixon’s Eloquent Apollo 11 Speech that America Never Heard

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsIt is one of the most memorable days in American history — when Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969 on the Sea of Tranquility. The Apollo 11 mission, of course, was a complete success. Nixon became the first President to speak to two Americans on the moon. He spoke briefly to the astronauts, more than 240,000 miles away, via telephone patched to Mission Control in Houston, Texas. Nixon expressed tremendous national pride: “Hello, Neil and Buzz. I’m talking to you by telephone from the Oval Room at the White House. And this certainly has to be the most historic telephone call ever made. I just can’t tell you how proud we all are of what you’ve done. For every American, this has to be the proudest day of our lives. And for people all over the world, I am sure they too join with Americans in recognizing what an immense feat this is. Because of what you have done, the heavens have become a part of man’s world. And as you talk to us from the Sea of Tranquility, it inspires us to redouble our efforts to bring peace and tranquility to Earth. For one priceless moment in the whole history of man, all the people on this Earth are truly one: one in their pride in what you have done, and one in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth.”

But what if a disaster occurred and two or all three astronauts were left to perish in the cold, dark expanse of space? Although it was possible for Collins to have returned to the earth, NASA had a concern that Armstrong and Aldrin would not be able to lift off from the moon and rejoin Collins in the command module. That would mean that the two astronauts would be left stranded on the moon, eventually exhausting their oxygen. Therefore, William Safire, President Richard Nixon’s speechwriter, had been asked to prepare a speech in the event of such a tragedy. Fortunately, it was a speech that Nixon never had to deliver. The speech, entitled “In Event of Moon Disaster” was written by Safire on July 18, 1969. It was discovered in the late 1990s by journalist and author James Mann among the archives of the Nixon administration (then located in College Park, Maryland) while he was researching a book on America’s relationship with China. What the speech lacks in length (it is only 233 words on two typewritten pages), it makes up in stirring images and heartwarming eloquence. Mann writes: “The short text still brings tears to the eyes… What Safire wrote would have qualified as the most eloquent speech Nixon every gave — and one of the most poignant by any American president. Thankfully, it never had to be delivered.” The letter is now displayed at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.

In Event of Moon Disaster

Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.

In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.

In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.

Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.

For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts:
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For further reading:

The Black Hole and the Pale Blue Dot: the Humbling of Humanity

alex atkins bookshelf cultureOn April 10, 2019, the world was mesmerized by the spectacular first-ever photo of a black hole, providing the first visual evidence that black holes actually exist. The black hole is located at the center of the galaxy named Messier 87 (M87), about 55 million light-years from Earth. The black hole has a mass equal to 6.5 billion times that of the sun. The photo was the result of a ten-year collaboration of more than 200 researchers using a global network of eight radio telescopes, known as the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration (EHT), to combine all their observations and data (5,000 trillion bytes over two weeks) in a supercomputer to create the virtual image. Shepard Doeleman, director of the EHT, proudly proclaimed: “We have seen what we thought was unseeable.” This is truly a remarkable, monumental photo. But there is another stunning photo that we should not forget…

Five years ago, Avery Broderick, a theoretical astrophysicist and a fellow member of the EHT, remarked that the first picture of a black hole could be just as important as a photo known as the “Pale Blue Dot.” That photo, taken almost 30 years ago has slipped from the public’s collective memory. But it shouldn’t — because that photo is a truly remarkable technical and astronomical achievement. Let’s take a trip back into time, going back 42 years ago…

Way back on September 5, 1977, the Voyager 1 spacecraft was launched by NASA aboard a Titan IIIE rocket. The space probe was designed to study the outer solar system, flying by Jupiter, Saturn, and then flying through the heliosphere, and eventually into interstellar space. At a speed of about 38,027 mph, the intrepid Voyager 1 covered a distance of about 325 million miles per year. And remarkably — 37 years later — the spacecraft is still sending data to NASA (messages from more than 12 trillion miles away take about 17 hours to reach Earth). Back in 1990, astronomer Carl Sagan, who was a member of the Voyager’s imaging team, persuaded NASA to send commands to turn the spacecraft’s camera around to take one last photo of the Earth from the edge of the solar system (at a distance of about 3.7 billion miles away). The final image shows the Earth as a mere speck (less than 1 pixel) suspended in a brownish band of light, surrounded by the blackness of space.

The spectacular photo inspired Sagan to reflect eloquently on the significance of life on this tiny planet, a pale blue dot, dwarfed by the mind-boggling vastness of the cosmos: “From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

These two photos — the first-ever black hole of M87 and the Pale Blue Dot — could not be more different, occurring at such amazingly different chapters in the history of the world, but they are a singular and profound reminder of just how insignificant our existence is in the context of an infinite, ever-expanding cosmos. And as we ponder these photos, signifying our place in the universe, one cannot escape the overwhelming sense of humility that they elicit.

Read related posts: How Fast is the Earth Moving?
What is the Oldest Object in the World?
What is the World’s Biggest Problem?

For further reading: Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space by Carl Sagan, Ballantine Books (1997)
Cosmos by Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, and Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ballantine Books (2013)
Universe by Robert Dinwiddle, Philip Eales, David Hughes, and Iain Nicolson, DK (2012)


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