For many, the Christmas holidays are a time of celebration, gift giving, and overeating. For others, they can be a real downer. We are here to offer a modicum of assistance by presenting you with a list full of inspiring, positive, and amusing stories to help lift your spirits. If you are more entertained by the weird stuff, check out the offbeat list here.
This week, we are exploring a few delayed Christmas miracles: a remarkable escape, a few generous St. Nicks, and a standoff that ends with a song. Also, 2019 will be a historic year for space exploration if the current rate keeps going.
New Horizons communicated with NASA to confirm that it performed a successful flyby of Ultima Thule, the most distant space object that humanity has ever explored.
The probe made contact with Earth on January 1. It took the radio message six hours and eight minutes to traverse the approximately 43 astronomical units (AU) or 6.5 billion kilometers (4 billion mi) that separate our planet and the trans-Neptunian object located in the Kuiper Belt.
The communication contained mostly engineering information. There was also our first, extremely blurry image of Ultima Thule which made it look similar to a bowling pin. A more recent, better quality photo revealed the space object to actually be a “red snowman.” It consists of two round objects, one smaller than the other, which have been joined together, and it has a reddish hue due to irradiation in the Kuiper Belt.
There is still some trepidation among scientists as they are not sure yet if the camera on New Horizons was pointing perfectly at the space object when it took hi-res images. Given the snaillike transfer speed, we should have the first hi-res photo sometime in February. Scientists expect it will take until September 2020 to retrieve all the data gathered by New Horizons.
Researchers have found a new strain of bacteria in ancient Irish soil which is effective against some of the world’s top antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
An international team of scientists from Wales, Northern Ireland, Brazil, and Iraq based out of Swansea University Medical School analyzed soil long reputed to have medicinal properties. It came from the Boho Highlands in Northern Ireland.
One of the researchers, Dr. Gerry Quinn, grew up in that area and knew that the soil was used to treat various ailments. But he didn’t know the identity of the magical ingredient which gave it miraculous healing properties.
The research team found a new strain of bacteria that they named Streptomyces sp. myrophorea. More importantly, they concluded that the strain can inhibit the growth of four of the top six resistant pathogens identified by the World Health Organization as causes of healthcare-associated infections, including MRSA.
Antibiotic resistance has been a growing concern in recent years as traditional treatments are becoming increasingly ineffective against superbugs. At the moment, the team is still analyzing the bacteria, trying to see if they can pinpoint the exact component which is effective against pathogens.
A young boy had a miraculous escape after being caught in an avalanche and staying buried under snow for 40 minutes before being rescued.
Last week, an unidentified 12-year-old spent the Christmas holiday at the La Plagne ski resort in the town of Bourg Saint-Maurice in the French Alps. He went with a group of skiers off-piste and was swept up by a large section of snow which detached and fell down the mountain. The boy was the only one caught in the avalanche.
The skier was dragged over 100 meters (328 ft) by the snow, and his jacket was not equipped with an avalanche detector. Sniffer dogs were brought in, and they were able to find him after 40 minutes.
Rescuers considered his chances of survival after 15 minutes under the snow as minuscule. And yet, the boy was fine. He was still taken to a local hospital for a checkup, but there were no reported injuries. He was exceedingly lucky that the snow didn’t block his airways. Police Captain Patrice Ribes called the boy’s survival “another gift” a day after Christmas.
The year ended with a spot of good news for animal lovers. Whale watchers reported the first sighting of the season of a North Atlantic right whale calf following a season where there were no babies seen all year.
This species of whale is critically endangered with only about 410 specimens left, of which only 70 or so are breeding females. Therefore, when there were no reports of calves seen during the last birthing season, it was disappointing but not surprising.
The 2018–19 season promises to fare better. Observers with Coastwise Consulting aboard the Bayport dredge spotted a whale calf near the entrance to the St. Johns River in Florida. Its mother had been seen five days earlier off the coast of Georgia.
Another good sign is that this might not be the only calf of the season. Several other females were spotted in the same region in December, and five of them appeared to be pregnant.
A SWAT negotiator ended a standoff with an armed man by singing “White Christmas” to him.
Last week, 34-year-old Nathaniel Lewis barricaded himself in his home in East Vincent Township in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Police went to check up on him following a report from a family member that he was behaving erratically. Lewis had recently separated from his wife. When officers saw that he was armed, they called in SWAT.
What followed was a tense standoff that lasted over nine hours. At one point, Lewis started taking shots at police officers, and they returned fire. Fortunately, nobody was injured. The only things hit were the SWAT armored vehicle, a nearby house, and a parked car.
In the early hours of the morning, a SWAT negotiator finally convinced Lewis to surrender but not before Lewis made an odd request. The gunman wanted the officer to sing “White Christmas” to him.
The negotiator complied, and his rendition of the classic carol was good enough to bring the shooter out of his house. Later, the district attorney’s office was called to the scene and DA Tom Hogan brought Christmas cookies for all the police officers.
A woman has donated a kidney to her ex-husband whom she divorced almost 20 years ago.
Mary Ziegler from St. Cloud, Minnesota, has shown us that there is such a thing as an amicable divorce. She married Bill Henrichs when she was 18. The two were together for 24 years and had two children.
However, they split up 20 years ago and Henrichs remarried a woman named Linda. After a breakup, many couples claim they will still be friends. But few actually manage it without at least a bit of resentment for each other.
This seems to be a rare exception. Ziegler said that she never thought her ex-husband left her family. Even when Henrichs got remarried, she said it felt more like his new wife “joined it.”
Therefore, when Ziegler found out that her ex needed a new kidney and that she was a match, she considered the donation no more trouble than being asked to come over and help rake the leaves. Mary Ziegler hopes that her actions will help other people reconsider their own attitudes toward their former partners.
US soldiers stationed in Germany received a belated Christmas gift as they are allowed to cuddle and give each other lap dances again.
On December 17, American troops stationed at the Grafenwoehr Training Area (GTA) in Bavaria received a memo which prohibited them from engaging in sexual intercourse. The edict served to remind them that they were there to clean and repair vehicles and equipment to be sent back to Fort Hood, Texas.
The memo was posted online and went viral not only due to its monk-like restrictions but also thanks to its detail in outlining the forbidden acts. The message not only banned sexual intercourse but also anything else which could be done “with the intent to sexually gratify any person in the Grafenwoehr Training Area.”
It went on to specify what it considered sexual intercourse. It included but was not limited to genital to genital, oral to genital, anal to genital, and oral to anal intercourse. Other prohibited acts included kissing, humping, rubbing, grinding, cuddling, and lap dancing.
Curiously, the memo was directed at a specific battalion whose name was redacted, so who knows what kind of hanky-panky they got up to. However, the edict was finally rescinded nine days later so people at GTA are allowed to gratify each other sexually once again.
A man given a terminal prognosis decided to spend whatever time he has left donating and refurbishing bicycles for underprivileged children.
Bob Charland used to work as a bouncer in Springfield, Massachusetts. He was beaten several times in nightclub brawls and sustained brain damage. Last year, doctors found a cyst and a tumor in his brain. They said that his 45-year-old brain looked like that of someone double his age. The deterioration was unstoppable, and eventually, it would prove fatal.
Afterward, Bob thought about contacting an assisted suicide organization. However, around the same time, a counselor from an impoverished school called to inquire if he had any old bicycles he could donate. As it happened, Bob did have a few extra bikes and it made him realize he could use his remaining time to help others.
In about a year and a half, Charland has spent $10,000 of his own money on old bikes. He then repairs them, makes them look good as new, and gives them away to children in need. He donated around 1,000 bikes through his nonprofit organization, Pedal Thru Youth.
Bob also works as an on-call deputy with the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department. Many of the children who received new bikes live in high-crime areas. He spends extra time with them to try to improve relations between impoverished neighborhoods and local law enforcement.
Thursday was a landmark day for space exploration as the Chinese Chang’e 4 spacecraft became the first to land on the far side of the Moon.
Many of the details concerning the mission were initially kept quiet. But the lander made a successful touchdown and has already sent back its first images. Twelve hours later, the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) deployed the Jade Rabbit 2 rover to explore the Moon’s surface and collect samples.
China’s state news agency, Xinhua, also claims that the probe is carrying cotton, rapeseed, potato, yeast, fruit fly, and an Arabidopsis plant (thale cress) to form a mini-biosphere which will produce the first flower on the Moon.
The far side of the Moon is more commonly referred to as the “dark side,” although this isn’t correct in a strict sense. The Moon is tidally locked with Earth so that one side is permanently out of our view. But it is still exposed to the Sun and undergoes the same stages of illumination.
Landing on the far side posed a number of challenges. The spacecraft and CNSA could not communicate directly and instead relied on a satellite named Queqiao (“Magpie Bridge”) to relay messages. There were certain times when Chang’e 4 could not be controlled remotely and it had to operate on its own. The lander touched down in the South Pole–Aitken basin, one of the largest-known impact craters in the solar system.
About a year ago, social worker Alan Naiman died and left almost all his money to charity. He was well-known for his frugality, but people were still shocked when they learned that he had amassed a fortune of $11 million.
Naiman took thriftiness to the extreme and saw it more as a game or a challenge. He bought his clothes at the grocery store. He ate at cheap restaurants and even wore shoes held together with duct tape. His one indulgence was a Scion FR-S sports car, but even that was a cheap toy compared to what he could have afforded. Instead, Alan chose to live a simple, frugal life and give his money to charities which would put it to good use.
Admittedly, a sizable chunk of Naiman’s fortune came from an inheritance. There was a time when Alan considered using his money to travel or buy a nicer house, but a cancer diagnosis put a stop to all those plans. After that, he spent a lot of time researching charities to see which ones he should leave his money to.
Some of the groups that received donations included the Pediatric Interim Care Center, Childhaven, Make-A-Wish, and Treehouse. Alan had donated to all of them while he was alive but kept the bulk of his wealth in his will. According to a friend, Naiman got excited when he thought about all the good his money would do “when the time came.”