Did Lions Live in Ancient Greece? And More Questions From Our Readers

You’ve got questions. We’ve got experts

Lion illo
Did lions once live in ancient Greece? Illustration by Geraldine Sy

Ancient Greek mythology and art depict lions. Did lions once live in Greece? Larry Rideout | Boston

Yes! Lions have a huge historic range. Evidence has been found that as far back as the Neolithic period lions used to exist throughout Africa, Southwest Asia, the Middle East and Southeast Europe (including present-day Greece). Of course today that range has been drastically reduced to fragmented populations throughout Africa and a very small extant population in India (around the area of the Gir Forest). —Craig Saffoe, curator of large carnivores, National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute

Could an astronaut ever be struck by anything during a spacewalk? Steven Clark | Arlington, Texas

Astronauts can be struck by debris at any time. Large debris can be monitored from Earth, so astronauts can prepare. But small items—even as tiny as a speck of paint—that break off larger pieces of space junk can be dangerous and cannot be tracked. That’s why the outer layers of spacesuits are made from very tough, durable material. If something does hit the astronauts, it may only make a small hole in their suit, which can be repaired after the spacewalk. However, traveling at high speeds, even small debris can cause problems. Engineers say an object less than one-half inch in diameter could cause major damage, which makes space a pretty dangerous place to live and work. —Jennifer Levasseur, curator of space history, National Air and Space Museum

Please explain why melting icebergs will raise sea levels. When ice melts in a glass, it doesn’t affect the level of water in a glass. Hilary Langston | Broomfield, Colorado

Melting ice is an important cause of sea level rise, but not all melting ice contributes to sea level. The analogy of ice floating in a glass is a good one for floating sea ice. The height of the water in the oceans, as in the glass, does not change much whether the water is in solid or liquid form. The melting ice from glaciers that contributes to sea level rise does not float but rather rests on land. This situation is analogous to setting a large ice cube on the rim of a glass; as it melts into the glass, the water rises. —Patrick Megonigal, associate director for research, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

I often hear the phrase “height of the Cold War.” Is there indeed an officially designated paramount event of the Cold War? James Waigand | Portland, Oregon

“Height of the Cold War” is a colloquialism used to describe a period of unspecified length. But when I think of the tensest moments, I think of two big phases. The first was a time of rising animosity during the 1950s and mid-1960s. It began with the Berlin Blockade of 1948, increased heavily during the Korean War, and reached a peak after the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 and the first few years of the Vietnam War. Things seemed to calm down in the 1970s, with Nixon exploiting the Sino-Soviet split, the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks and the détente with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. There was a second period of high tension during the early 1980s, although that cooled more quickly. —Michael Hankins, curator of post-World War II military aviation, National Air and Space Museum

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This article is a selection from the June 2023 issue of Smithsonian magazine

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