How did we get the idea that the stork delivered babies?

The suggestion that storks delivered babies came from Scandinavia and was promoted by the writings of Hans Christian Andersen. Storks had a habit of nesting on warm chimneys and would often lift articles from clotheslines then stuff them into these nests, which to children looked like they were stuffing babies down the flue.

The stork is also very nurturing and protective of its young, which helped it become symbolic of good parenthood.

When did the first spacecraft go up into space?

The Soviet satellite Sputnik 1, which was launched into space on October 4, 1957, was the first spacecraft to go into orbit around Earth. It had no crew members or animals aboard, but instead contained machines that sent information back to Earth via radio.

The former Soviet Union’s (now Russia) launch of Sputnik prompted the United States to get its first satellite, Explorer 1, into orbit quickly, igniting the so-called space race. This was the two countries’ rivalry over being the “first” in many areas of space exploration. Explorer 1’s test run in December 1957 burned on the ground, but the satellite was successfully launched into orbit around Earth on January 31, 1958.

How does a cellular phone work?

Cellular, or cell, phones first became available to consumers in the early 1980s, but the technology that made them small and truly portable evolved gradually over the next 10 years or so. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, millions and millions of people in countries all over the world were using cell phones on a daily basis. And it isn’t just adults who enjoy the benefits of completely mobile phone capabilities: in the United States alone, more than 20 percent of teenagers have a cell phone. That translates to at least one in five American teens. The cellular system divides each city into many small cells (a large city can have hundreds). Each cell has its own tower (which contains an antenna as well as transmitters and receivers that send and receive signals). Each tower can handle numerous callers at a given time, and their small size and weaker signal (compared to the radio antennae) means that their signals don’t interfere with those of nearby towers. When you call someone using a cellular phone, your phone is sending and receiving signals via radio waves, invisible bands of energy that work like light rays. In other words, your cell phone is a fancy, high-tech radio. After you dial a friend’s number, your phone must find the closest tower by searching for the strongest signal. Once that signal is located, your phone transmits certain information—like your cell phone number and serial number—that help your service provider make sure you are one of their customers.

Then the mobile telephone switching office (MTSO) finds an available channel where your conversation can take place. The MTSO then completes the connection (all of this happening in a few short seconds) and you are chatting with your friend, without wires or cords to hold you down. If you are sitting in the back seat of the car while talking, and your mom is driving you from one end of town to the other, your call will be switched automatically from one cell tower to the next without any pause in your conversation.

Which planets experience the greenhouse effect?

The greenhouse effect describes a warming phenomenon. (In a greenhouse, closed glass windows cause heat to become trapped inside.) The greenhouse effect occurs when a planet’s atmosphere allows heat from the Sun to enter, but refuses to let it leave. A good example of the greenhouse effect can be found on Venus.

There, solar radiation penetrates the atmosphere, reaches the surface, and is reflected back into the atmosphere. The re-radiated heat is trapped by carbon dioxide, which is abundant in Venus’s atmosphere. The result is that Venus has a scorching surface temperature of 900 degrees Fahrenheit (482 degrees Celsius). The greenhouse effect can also be found on Earth and in the upper atmospheres of the giant planets: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

Why do we say that someone with a hidden agenda has “an axe to grind”?

As a boy, Benjamin Franklin was sharpening tools in his father’s yard when a stranger carrying an axe came by and praised the boy on how good he was with the grindstone. He then asked Franklin if he would show him how it would work on his own axe. Once his axe was sharpened, the stranger simply laughed and walked away, giving young Franklin a valuable lesson about people with “an axe to grind.”

Why do we call wealthy members of society “the upper crust”?

In the days of feudalism, when noblemen gathered for a meal in the castle, those of higher rank sat at the head of a T-shaped table, and the rest sat in order of diminishing importance away from them.

For such occasions a yard-long loaf of bread was baked, and the honour of making the first cut belonged to the highest-ranking person at the head table, who would then pass the bread down in order of rank, but always keeping for himself the “upper crust.”