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LA STAMPA

The Michelangelo Mystery Of The 33rd Tooth

An Italian art historian has pieced together a little-known element in the Renaissance master's portraits and sculptures that he believes may explain Michelangelo's deepest beliefs.

Michelangelo's "Sybil" in the Sistine Chapel (detail)
Michelangelo's "Sybil" in the Sistine Chapel (detail)
Alberto Mattioli

ROME — The sketch of The Damned Soul in Florence's Uffizi Gallery has it. The Grotesque Heads; Hercules and Antaeus in the British Museum have it too. There's also the "ugly Cleopatra" and the torturer raising the cross in The Crucifixion of St. Peter in the Vatican's Paolina Chapel, as well as many figures in the Sistine Chapel: Jonah, the Delphic Sybil, four Jews who inveigh against Moses and Yahweh in the Israelites and Bronze Serpent, the damned on Charon's boat, and a devil in The Last Judgment.

Renaissance art aficionados probably know by now that we're talking about Michelangelo, and some may even recognize the connection in this case — a small, strange characteristic that unites a certain type of character in his works: All these figures have a fifth incisor, or "mesiodens." This isn't something the artist invented, but an unusual anatomical feature.

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Ideas

Artificial Satellite Pollution, Perils For Biodiversity In Space And On Earth

Exploiting space resources and littering it with satellite and other anthropogenic objects is endangering the ecosystem of space, which also damages the earth and its creatures below.

Image of the small satellite NanoRacks-Remove Debris satellite deployed into space by the ISS

Thomas Lewton

Outer space isn’t what most people would think of as an ecosystem. Its barren and frigid void isn’t exactly akin to the verdant canopies of a rainforest or to the iridescent shoals that swim among coral cities. But if we are to become better stewards of the increasingly frenzied band of orbital space above our atmosphere, a shift to thinking of it as an ecosystem — as part of an interconnected system of living things interacting with their physical environment — may be just what we need.

Last month, in the journal Nature Astronomy, a collective of 11 astrophysicists and space scientists proposed we do just that, citing the proliferation of anthropogenic space objects. Thousands of satellites currently orbit the Earth, with commercial internet providers such as SpaceX’s Starlink launching new ones at a dizzying pace. Based on proposals for projects in the future, the authors note, the number could reach more than a hundred thousand within the decade. Artificial satellites, long a vital part of the space ecosystem, have arguably become an invasive species.

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