National Geographic : 1990 Dec
GEOGRPHIC ATIO EOGRA HICIP I llI IMIAGBIINE DECEB 1 A Miniature City Down in the Basement G eorge E. Slye used to be into con struction in a big way. He's still in construction but on a smaller scale- a much smaller scale. Slye, a developer, sold his New England firm in 1983 and began creat ing models of U. S . and Canadian sky scrapers in his basement. He made only intermittent progress until he saw the February 1989 GEOGRAPHIC article on skyscrapers. "That was very inspi rational," he says. Slye soon had more than a hundred miniatures of the best known buildings from 33 cities in North America. He now has six modelers around the U. S. working in balsa, basswood, and plastic at a scale of one inch to 200 feet. They turn out wonders like a nine-inch Sears Tower and a five-and-a-quarter-inch Chrysler Building-and a Golden Gate Bridge done in brass sheeting with the aid of a computer-directed laser. When Slye learns of a new sky scraper about to be built, he writes to the owner, asking for architects' draw ings, roof plans, anything that will help him duplicate it. The response is almost always positive: "They all want their building in my basement in Tufton boro, New Hampshire," he says with amazement. Now he is working out a way to take his eight-foot-by-eight foot show on the road. In many cases the models are fin ished before the real buildings. "I have no EPA requirements, and I haven't had any labor problems yet," says the 59-year-old Slye. A Rabbit, a Star, an Ancient Supernova «r rostrating myself before your maj "esty, I hereby report that a guest Star has appeared," wrote Chi nese royal astrologer Yang Wei-Te in A.D. 1054 of an exploding star that cre ated the Crab Nebula. University of Texas researchers now have found evi dence that the Mimbres people of southwestern New Mexico also saw the supernova. The Crab Nebula, 6,500 light-years UNIVERSITYOF MINNESOTAMUSEUM from earth in the constellation Taurus, is a glowing cluster of gaseous filaments and dust surrounding a pulsar, which is composed of superhot compressed star matter radiating enormous energy. R. Robert Robbins, an astronomy professor, and Russell Westmoreland, a student, were searching through a catalogue of Mimbres pottery from the University of Minnesota when they found a shallow bowl (bottom left) depicting a rabbit that seemed to be shaking a starlike object off its foot. To the Mimbres people, the rabbit is the man in the moon. The star emits 23 rays-the number of days the Chinese said the supernova was visible during daylight hours. The rabbit and star are in about the same relative position as the moon and supernova at the time the explosion was first seen. Archaeolo gists have dated the bowl to the 11th century. Many Indian groups in the Ameri cas regularly watched the sky (GEO GRAPHIC, March 1990). "The Mimbres people were better astronomers than we thought," says Robbins. "Maybe all the Indians were better astronomers than we thought." Fighting to Help Cranes in the Mekong Delta Americans have returned to Viet nam's Mekong Delta to study a flock of eastern sarus cranes, one of only a few flocks known to exist in the wild. Once widespread in Asia, the cranes have nearly disappeared because their wetlands habitat has largely been wiped out. In January 1986, during the dry season, a Vietnamese researcher spotted a flock of the birds feeding in an artificial water impoundment. The SHAWNG. HENRY, SABA impoundment was created to aid pro duction of a tree called melaleuca, which grows in water. For three years a group of Ameri cans and Vietnamese-sponsored by the International Crane Foundation, the National Wildlife Federation, the University of Wisconsin, and Earth watch-has been studying the flock, which numbers as many as a thousand TOM GRANGE birds and is reproducing well. The group soon will present local authori ties with a plan to help manage the area, part of which is already a local nature reserve. The problem, says George Archi bald, director of the Crane Founda tion, is that some residents of the desperately poor region want to drain the impoundment and turn it into rice fields. "For those on the edge of sur vival, the environment is not an imme diate concern," says Archibald. But, he adds, this is the only area where these cranes are known to feed: "If it's lost, they could be lost too."