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Just the Facts: Monkeys, Online Girlfriends, and Groundhogs?

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Welcome to another edition of Just the Facts. This column is where the Roundup looks at the news of today and gives you the facts; the whole facts and nothing but the facts. We’re doing this in 5… 4…3… 2… 1…

BLAST OFF, were the words presumably announced in Iran on January 28th, when a rocket, Pishgam, was launched into space. The rocket ascended to a height of 150 km, 100m above the Karman Line, which divides the Earth from outer space. But what separated this Iranian rocket launch from others was that this one contained a Rhesus Monkey. And it lived! This is a great achievement for the Iranian space program, which has a history of animal launches. First, there was the February 2010 launch of a Kavoshgar-3 rocket, containing worms, turtles, and a rat.  All animals returned to Earth safely. Their next rocket was sent up around September 15, 2011. It was called the Kavosgar-5, and it also contained a Rhesus Monkey. Unfortunately this launch ended in failure, and the Rhesus Monkey perished. Launching monkeys is generally seen as a milestone in space program progress because a monkey is quite similar to a human from a physiological perspective.

Space monkey business aside, what you really have to worry about is people pretending to be your online girlfriend. You don’t think that this a real issue? Well, try telling that to Manti Te’O, who in the last couple of weeks saw himself embroiled in a major scandal. Manti Te’O is a football player who on September 11, 2012, while playing for Notre Dame, announced that his grandmother and girlfriend, Lennay Keuka, who had been suffering from leukemia, both died in a six-hour span. Inspiringly, Te’O went on to have an amazing season. However, after investigating an anonymous tip, the sports blogger Deadspin published an article claiming that the girlfriend of Manti Te’O did not die. In fact, the article stated that she did not even exist. Deadspin also accused Ronaiah Tuiasosopo of being involved in the hoax. There was a significant media blitz with major sports news networks, like ESPN, inundating people with new information. Many speculated that Te’O himself may have been involved in the hoax. Te’O, in an effort to clear his name, participated in many interviews explaining what happened. The story is now that Te’O had met Lennay online, and never in person. He lied to his parents about meeting her, as he felt that the idea of having an online girlfriend would seem crazy to them. He believed she died, but on December 6th he received a call from Lennay stating that she was alive. Te’O said that the caller had a woman’s voice, but later found out that it was the voice was of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo’s cousin.  Tuiasosopo admitted to Te’O on January 16th that he was behind the hoax; yet, there is still continuing debate as to whether this is true or not. But even this outrageous hoax cannot compare in magnitude to arguably the most important news event of the year.

The groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, has predicted an early spring. Phil, native to Punxsutawney, is allegedly able to predict the duration of winter based on a mysterious method of information gathering using its’ shadow. Supposedly if this groundhog sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If the groundhog does not, spring will arrive early. Legend says that this ground-based hog has been doing this for 127 years. But what are the facts? Well, in reality, Punxsutawney Phil is just a regular groundhog. Groundhogs typically have a lifespan of ten years in captivity, so there have probably been around 13 Phils throughout history. And his weather prediction skills are nothing to write home about either: he’s right about 39% of the time. Interestingly enough, though he does not have access to television, his predictions are only a little worse than your local weatherman. A study from Kansas conducted over 220 days found that TV weathermen were right about the weather only 50% of the time.

Join Just the Facts next time for a fact-venture in news!