You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news.
$765,000 at auction
It’s Nobel Prize season; fresh prizes are being announced this week and next. The world also lost a former winner this week. Leon Lederman, who won his Nobel in physics for “the neutrino beam method” in 1988 and coined the phrase “God particle,” died on Wednesday at the age of 96. When he won the award, he used the prize money to buy a log cabin. In 2015, he sold his prize at auction for $765,000 to help pay his medical bills. [Associated Press]
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7 Russian military spies
The Justice Department indicted seven Russian military spies yesterday on charges related to hacking and the Olympics. Olympic athletes’ drug tests were allegedly hacked and leaked in apparent retaliation against exposés of Russian doping. [The Washington Post]
$5 billion in fundraising
The University of Michigan has just finished an enormous fundraising effort which raked in some $5 billion. The school calls it the most ever for a public school. But others, such as the state universities of Washington, Florida, North Carolina and Illinois, are close behind, raking in their own billions. Funding cuts have eroded universities’ abilities to rely mainly on taxpayer dollars and tuition. Which, given what I still owe in tuition, is bonkers. [The Wall Street Journal]
25 percent chance at the title
Alabama is once again the favorite to win the college football title. The (public) school has a 25 percent chance to take it all, according to our just-released college football predictions. Ohio State, Georgia, Clemson and Oklahoma round out our Top 5. Texas, my grad school alma mater, is deep down the list with a “<1%” chance. Hook ’em? [FiveThirtyEight]
21,000 pieces of trackable space debris
Unexpected side effect of climate change, No. 12,482: Carbon dioxide emissions increase the chance of satellite collisions. There are some 21,000 piece of trackable debris floating in a metal cloud around our planet. The buildup of carbon dioxide cools a specific layer of the upper atmosphere where satellites often orbit. This coolness preserves whatever’s floating there, which otherwise may have fallen into the lower atmosphere and burnt up. Take your protein pills and put your helmet on. [Scientific American]
550 to 793
Thanks to a very old board game called hnefatafl, aka Viking chess, researchers may have pinpointed the earliest known cases of whaling in Scandinavia. Members of a culture called Vendel, who lived just before the Vikings, around the years 550 to 793, loved the game. (In the game, one player’s pieces and king begin in the center, while the other player besets them from four sides.) In the sixth century, its pieces — which had earlier been stone, antler or reindeer bone — started to be made out of whale bone, the key piece of evidence for the scientists. [Smithsonian]
Love digits? Find even more in FiveThirtyEight’s new book of math and logic puzzles, “The Riddler.” It’s out on Oct. 9 and available for pre-order now — I hope you dig it.
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