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Science and Technology Library Newsletter: Holiday 2000 Edition.

Sci-Tech Library Newsletter


This is a special holiday edition of the Sci-Tech Library Newsletter. I have dusted this off from last year, repaired the links, and added a few. Enjoy!

There are lots of holiday sites on the WWW, but you’ll find more than just Santa here. These sites sites were chosen for your enjoyment and are of special interest to the sciences and social sciences, but still, I hope, reflect some of the joys of the season!

  1. Northern Lights Ablaze on Your Computer

    For gorgeous photographs of this phenomenon, from both the earth and from space, and for a quick-time movie showing the shimmer, check this site from San Francisco’s famous Exploratorium Museum.

    Additional discussion of this extraordinary phenomena can be found at the Aurora Explained.

    If you are lucky enough to live where you can see the Lights, check out hints on photographing the Aurora.

    Do Santa’s reindeer use the lights as their pathway?

  2. The North Pole

    The North Pole isn’t just important because Santa Claus lives there. It is a region worth study for purely scientific and for economic reasons as well. Find out why at the NOAA Arctic Theme Page.

    The Houghton Mars Project isn’t quite at the North Pole, but it’s pretty close … The project is set up to test the equipment and technology (habitation, transportation, life support, recycling, etc.), that may be deployed during a human mission to Mars.

    Of course, other planets have north poles, too. Check the photographs of the dust storm at the Martian North Pole. What do you suppose the Martian Santa Claus looks like?

    Or check the discussions of the various exploration expeditions of the Arctic and introductions to the indigenous peoples of the Arctic around the world on the Arctic Circle page.

    Greenland is close enough to the North Pole to count as possible Santa-land in my book! You can get a fabulous free Yupik Mask Screensaver.

  3. Reindeer and Their Cousins

    What would the holiday be without reindeer? Or at least their close cousins, the caribou. The 160,000 animals that make up the Porcupine Caribou Herd range throughout the Northern Yukon and neighbouring Alaska and Northwest Territories. What are the effects of global climate change on the herd? How do they distribute themselves within their range? What is the influence of snow density, wind, and insect harrassment on them? Such knowledge is essential in building computer models to predict the impact of climate change in the caribou population. Enjoy the gorgeous Slide Show.

    More photo galleries are linked from

    What are the differences between the two species? Find out at the Science Forum page or the page.

    For more information on these lovely animals, go to the Rangifer tarandus page.

  4. Yule Cat

    Of course there are other animals associated with the holiday season as well, bound by myths and folktales and cultural traditions. For instance, “from Iceland comes the legend of the sinister and gargantuan Yule Cat (Jolakottur), who, it seems, is ready to eat lazy humans. Those who did not help their village to finish all work on the autumn wool by Yule time got a double whammy — they missed out on the Yule reward of a new article of clothing, and they were threatened with becoming sacrifices for the dreaded Yule Cat”. Read about the the origins of Yule, Saturnalia, and Solstice celebrations. or about winter festivals from around the world to get an understanding of the ways different societies have celebrated these holidays.

  5. The Holly and the Ivy (and the Mistletoe)

    What would the season be without wreaths and garlands? This site at Texas A&M has gorgeous botanical images — full plant, leaves, flowers, etc. Do a search on Ilex, Hedera, or Loranthaceae.

    The Mistletoe Center provides an annotated, searchable bibliography of information written about every aspect of this plant, including folklore, medicine, biology and more. Mistletoe is useful for more than just fun. Find out about folklore and contemporary possible medicinal uses.

    Read more about the botany of Christmas, brought to you by

  6. The Star of Bethlehem

    Many planetariums present shows on the Star of Bethlehem at this season, but no matter how hard you try to be careful and well-researched, errors can creep into the presentation. Find out what some of the common errors are in the article by John Mosely, program director at the Griffith Observatory. Griffith Observatory also offers a good list of authoritative Star of Bethlehem web resources.

    You may not expect something as spectacular as the Star of Bethlehem this year, but to keep track of what you might see in the holiday night sky, check out the weekly report of the Star Gazer, whom you may have heard on various NPR stations. This year there will be a Christmas Day partial solar eclipse! Check the site to learn how to view it safely.

  7. For the Scrooges Among Us

    For a discussion of the scientific reasons Santa cannot possibly exist, try the “Science--Bah Humbug!” page by Bill Drennon.

    On the other hand, Fermi Lab’s FERMI NEWS has an interesting article entitled “Santa At Nearly the Speed of Light” that discusses quite cogently the speed at which Santa must travel to accomplish his tasks, and whether traveling at this speed helps enable him to slide down chimneys, as well as other related Santa physics phenomena. (Thanks to Hannah King)

    Besides, if there is no Santa, how can the sophisticated electronics at NORAD successfully track the sleigh progress each year?

    If you are still in doubt, you might try to test the hypothesis scientifically. Build a Santa Trap, for instance.

  8. Will There be a White Christmas this Year?

    The National Climatic Data Center brings you a region-by-region examination of the climatological chances for a white Christmas in the continental United States. (Only 13% chance for Washington, DC. Sigh.)

    What does snow really look like, anyway? Check out the fascinating electron microscope images of snow crystals or join the fun by making your own snowflake images (if you have a microscope handy) using these instructions.

    Caltech has a wonderful webpage that includes information about the physics of snow, photographs of snow flakes made to order (designer snow crystals), very detailed information about photographing snow, and more!

    More links to snow resources are available from the National Snow and Ice Data Center World Data Center.

  9. When is Winter, Anyway?

    For the exact time of the winter solstice for any year between 1992 and 2000, check the chart provided by Wolfram.

    The exact time of Solstice was very important to many ancient peoples, who built architectural structures and developed other sophisticated ways to measure it. Take a tour of Ireland’s Newgrange passage tomb. For more information on archaeoastronomy, visit the Archaeoastronomy Center at the University of Maryland.

  10. Holiday Fun for Linguists

    The Linguists among us will enjoy the various lexemes for the word “snow” found in one Inuit dialect.

    Of course, language is more than just vocal and written words. Learn to sign “Merry Christmas”.

    Or check out the Old English-style poem Hrodulf the Red-Nosed Reindeer and marvel at how language changes through time, and yet still follows discernable patterns. If you can’t provide your own translation, just look further down the page …

  11. The Chemistry of Christmas

    Ever wonder what the “smell of Christmas” might look like? Check out the “Swedish Christmas Chemistry” site. You will find chemical formulas for compounds and processes in spices, lutefisk (My older relatives tell me its yummy. The younger ones say nothing.), Christmas trees, candlelight, sparklers, and glogg (spiced wine).

    If you want more information on these chemical structures, check them out in CS Chemfinder. You can search by name or chemical structure (and more) to find detailed structure, melting points, boiling points, specific gravity, and more!

More Traditional Sites:

For fuller coverage of Internet sites on Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, and the other holidays we all enjoy, go to the Yahoo “Holidays” site or follow the Christmas and other holiday links at


Compiled by Stephanie Bianchi, 12/97. Revised 12/00.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this newsletter are those of the participants (authors), and do not necessarily represent the official views, opinions, or policy of the National Science Foundation.

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