Stonehenge, nuclear fusion, and pepperoni: It’s the news from Britain

In late July, researchers announced that they knew where fifty of Stonehenge’s fifty-two sarsen stones came from: a spot fifteen miles away. 

Probably. It’s a good match, but they still need to eliminate some more places.

Sarsen? It’s a kind of sandstone. According to one dictionary, the word might be a variant on the phrase Saracen stone, which comes from the (local) Wiltshire dialect.  No, I have no idea either. I think we’d have had to be there at the time for it to make any kind of sense. Besides, the origin’s not definite anyway.

According to another dictionary, the stuff is also called Druid stone. None of which should matter to us but hey, it’s your own fault for letting me lead the way. 

What you probably wanted to know is that we’re talking about Stonehenge’s uprights, which weigh something in the neighborhood of twenty tons, and that’s before breakfast. After a full English (that’s a serious breakfast, since we’re defining things), you can add an easy 10% to that.. 

We’re also talking about the lintels and a few of the other stones. Basically, everything except the bluestones, which came from Wales, parcel post and cash on delivery. Boy, was that expensive.

Why have the experts figured out the location now? Back in 1958, while a crew was setting up three stones that had fallen over a century or so before, they discovered that one of the stones was cracked, so they drilled out a core and pinned the stone back together with a bolt. Sort of like gluing the handle back on that mug you really like, but on a larger scale.

That left them with a neatly drilled core, and a guy named Robert Phillips, um, kind of took it home, because why not? If he hadn’t, odds are someone would’ve thrown it away. He kept it as a souvenir, and sixty-odd years later he decided to send it back where it belonged. But what’s sixty-odd years when you’re talking about something 2,500 years old?

These days, no one’s allowed to mess with the stones, even if they mean well and are trying to figure out something important, so the core–now called the Phillips core–came as a real gift. It has been x-rayed, analyzed, and diagnosed with PTSD, and all the resulting information has been compared with local stone, and that’s how they found a geochemical match. 

Two of the stones don’t match. The theory is that they may have been the work of other builders. 

How do they know that when they can’t take chips from any of them? I have no idea.

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Ten 15,000-year-old stone fragments have been found in Jersey and may be the earliest evidence of art in the British Isles. They were found near flint tools, hearthstones, and granite slabs. 

I have no idea what the granite slabs have to do with anything. I don’t keep any in my house, and I am of course typical of everybody in all ways, but life was different back then. Everyone kept granite slabs in their houses.

Dr. Silvia Bello of the Natural History Museum in London said it’s possible that the people who made the plaques weren’t particularly interested in the final product. 

“For us, art is something that we put on the wall, something that we can admire. For them it is more likely that the act of producing the engraving was the meaningful thing.”

That’s a way of saying that the art isn’t particularly pretty. To our eyes, anyway.

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So much for the past. We’ll skip over the present. It hasn’t been a great year, so let’s peer into the future and pretend it’s going to be wondrous.

It will. Really it will.

New technology makes it possible to turn the ordinary brick into a battery that stores enough energy to power a small LED light. 

Okay, the brick doesn’t actually become a battery, it becomes a supercapacitor. The trick is to fill the brick’s cavities with conductive plastic nanofibers.

No, I didn’t understand a word of that either. Except for brick. I understand bricks. But forget the quibbly stuff. If this works, you could have solar panels or a wind turbine and store the power in your wall. 

The bricks don’t have the same power density as a lithium-ion battery, but the researchers are hoping they can increase it. If they can, it will be cheaper than batteries. And, as far as I can tell, less destructive.

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A collaboration involving the European Union, the UK, China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the US is building a nuclear fusion reactor in France. It’s not a commercial project. The idea is to demonstrate that it’s possible to contain temperatures of, oh, say 150 degrees Centigrade, with magnets. One of the magnets would be strong enough to lift an aircraft carrier. 

Look out for your belt buckle.

Okay, I left some countries off the list. Thirty-five are involved. 

If the process works, it could produce carbon-free energy from small amounts of seawater, with no possibility of meltdown and far less nuclear waste than fission reactors.

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Okay, two news items from the present, because you can’t count on me to play fair. One isn’t even from Britain. 

First, a cycle cafe in Wales was refused planning permission.

Why is this news? Because the refusal was based on it not having enough parking spaces. For cars. On top of which, it’s not on a cycle route, and what’s a bike doing out in the real world anyway?

The owner says she’ll appeal.

Second, the U.S. is facing a pepperoni shortage

And you thought life could go on as usual, didn’t you?