Why Some People Thought the World Might End on March 10, 1982

chloe effron / istock
chloe effron / istock

On March 10, 1982, a certain facet of people were bracing for a series of global disasters—earthquakes, tidal waves, and violent storms—that they believed would be caused by an alignment of all nine planets. The alignment was real, but the fear of a natural disaster takeover wasn’t coming from NASA or world governments. It had all come from 1974 bestseller called The Jupiter Effect.

Penned by British astrophysicist and science writer John Gribbin along with astronomer Stephen Plagemann, The Jupiter Effect predicted utter devastation. Astronomers had long known about the rare planetary alignment set to occur around that date, but the event wasn’t expected to have much of an effect on Earth. After all, the same thing had occurred every 179 years (and would continue to do so) and no catastrophic events had happened in the past. Still, Gribbin and Plagemann asserted that when all the planets lined up on one side of the Sun (“lined up” being a generous phrasing; the planets would be within a 95 degree arc from the Sun), the gravitational pull would trigger sunspots, solar winds, and an increase in Earth’s rotation that would lead to natural catastrophes, the most ruinous of which would be a Los Angeles-leveling earthquake along the San Andreas fault.

While The Jupiter Effect was widely covered in the media, the scientific community largely dismissed the theory. Edward Upton of the Griffith Observatory reportedly called it the "Great Earthquake Hoax" and wrote in Redlands Daily Facts: “The combined chain, as a basis for predicting earthquakes, has the same credibility as a reading of tea leaves." Days ahead of the supposed event, Nigel Henbest of New Scientist wrote: “Like Frankenstein’s monster, the Jupiter Effect has escaped the control of its creators, and now stalks the Earth terrorising the innocent and the illiterate.” Henbest went on to debunk the entire thing, citing a number of scientific holes in the theory. And the night before the alleged worldwide disasters were to occur, a “Planets of Doom” show at the Fiske Planetarium in Boulder, Colorado presented proof that the conjecture was a bunch of hooey.

By then, even Gribbin and Plagemann had walked their theory back, releasing The Jupiter Effect Reconsidered, which didn’t exactly admit defeat but rather revised the terms to make it seem like they’d sort of gotten it right. Because the events were supposed to occur within a five-year window, Gribbin and Plagemann said the event had actually already happened—in 1980—and was to blame for the eruption of Mount St. Helens.

Needless to say, March 10 came and went without any destruction or even much of a storm. While the tides were indeed a bit higher that day, no natural disasters occurred. But it’s easy, in some ways, to see how The Jupiter Effect took hold: nothing can propel a doomsday scenario like the promise of scientific proof provided by legitimate astronomers. Looking back, it’s hard to say how much the pair believed in their own estimations at the time, but by 1999 Gribbin himself had renounced the theory. In his The Little Book of Science, he wrote: “I’m sorry I ever had anything to do with it.”

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Florence’s Plague-Era Wine Windows Are Back in Business

A wine window in Florence's Via Santo Spirito.
A wine window in Florence's Via Santo Spirito.

Many bars and restaurants have started selling takeout cocktails and other alcoholic beverages to stay in business—and keep customers safe—during the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, 17th-century Florentines are surely applauding from their front-row seats in the afterlife.

As Insider reports, a number of buildings in Florence had been constructed with small “wine windows,” or buchette del vino, through which vendors sold wine directly to less affluent customers. When the city suffered an outbreak of plague in the 1630s, business owners recognized the value of these windows as a way to serve people without spreading germs. They even exchanged money on a metal tray that was sanitized with vinegar.

Wine not?sailko, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Things eventually went back to normal, and the windows slowly fell out of fashion altogether as commerce laws evolved. This year, however, they’ve made a comeback. According to Food & Wine, there are currently at least four in operation around Florence. Osteria delle Brache in Piazza Peruzzi is using its window to deliver wine and cocktails, for example, and the Vivoli ice cream shop, a go-to dessert spot since 1929, is handing out sweet scoops and coffee through its formerly dormant aperture.

Apart from the recent resurgence of interest, the wine windows often go unnoticed by tourists drawn to the grandeur of attractions like the Uffizi Gallery and the Florence Cathedral. So in 2015, locals Matteo Faglia, Diletta Corsini, and Mary Christine Forrest established the Wine Window Association to generate some buzz. In addition to researching the history of the windows, they also keep a running list of all the ones they know of. Florence has roughly 150, and there are another 100 or so in other parts of Tuscany.

They’re hoping to affix a plaque near each window to promote their stories and discourage people from defacing them. And if you want to support their work, you can even become a member of the organization for €25 (about $29).

[h/t Insider]