MySci Round-Up, August 27: Vanquished by an Eclipse

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On this date in 413 BC, an Athenian force commanded by 
Nicias, the son of Niceratus, was poised to withdraw from a botched siege of the fortified city of Syracuse in Sicily, when they were startled and unnerved by a lunar eclipse. They should have known better; Greek astronomers had been studied eclipses extensively, and knew that they were a benign phenomenon. The Greek astronomer Aristachus of Samos (310-230 BC) had even figured out how to use eclipses to measure the moon’s distance. As Patrick Moore recounts in his book The Wandering Astronomer, Nicias consulted his astrologers, who told him: “Stay where you are for thrice nine days.” It turned out to be supremely bad advice. By the time Nicias was set to depart in his ships, the Athenians’ bitter enemies, the Spartans, were in position to assist the Syracuseans and block his escape. The Athenian ships tried to break out of the harbor, but were defeated in a naval battle. Nicias’ army had no hope at this point, but they played one last desperate card, and marched toward Catalana, to the North. But they were intercepted and had no choice but to surrender. The Athenian soldiers were enslaved, except for Nicias and his fellow general Demosthenes, who were executed by their captors. We’re guessing that Nicias went to his death wishing that he would have paid more attention in science class. And with that, here are the science stories of the day.

Kepler space probe detects possible Earth-sized planet. NASA says the orbiting telescope may have found a planet 1.5 times the size of Earth, orbiting around a star 2,000 light years away.

Tobacco plants outsmart hungry caterpillars. When attacked, the plants give off chemicals that attract predators to eat the caterpillars.

British scientists create liver cells from patients’ skin. The breakthrough may save the lives of thousands of people suffering from liver diseases.

Bottled teas contain fewer antioxidants than home-brewed tea. The junk calories from added sugar make them even less healthy.

5,300-year-old Alps iceman was ceremonially buried. Archaeologists had thought that the iceman had been killed in a fight in the mountains, but it’s now been determined that he died closer to sea level, and was buried in the mountains to honor him.

Canadian doctors want to ban MMA fights. They think the risk of severe head injuries is too great, even though proponents say the sport is far safer than boxing.