Continuing to post a #weirdscifacts a day on Twitter; here’s the latest summary since my last posting!
16. (January 16). Project A119, when the US almost nuked the Moon to boost domestic morale. The Cold War was a really scary time, when “mine’s bigger than yours” mentality was rampant, except on a national level with nuclear weapons. This won’t be the last time we’ll hear about Cold War nuclear insanity in these facts.
17. (January 17). The 1982 movie “Tron” inspired an important computer algorithm, Perlin noise. The movie itself was a bit of a flop, but it nevertheless resulted in a really important graphics algorithm. The connection between entertainment and science is stronger than most people realize!
18. (January 18). Glacial earthquakes, up to 5.1 magnitude quakes where glaciers move “fast.” These days, most people are aware that fracking can cause non-tectonic earthquakes, but relatively few are probably aware that glaciers can, too.
19. (January 19). Did you ever imagine a fish could use a tool? Well, the blackspot tuskfish can. I personally find it quite amazing that, when I was growing up, we were taught that humankind is above the animals because we can use tools. Now, tool use in the animal kingdom is so obvious that I’ve even seen it at the zoo. But even fish using tools? That is surprising. But, as Jason Goldman pointed out, even the tuskfish isn’t unique in this.
20. (January 20). Badgers and coyotes can work together and play together to catch prey. As long as I’m talking about scary smart animals, how about different species working together as a team to get food?
21. (January 21). The newest quantum puzzle: an impossible mixture of three pigeons in two holes? Many people have heard of the idea of Schrodinger’s cat by now: a cat, placed in a box in which the release of poison is tied to the decay of a single quantum particle, will seemingly end up in a quantum state in which it is simultaneously living and dead. In this new puzzle, the paradox is that three pigeons can be fit in two holes in a quantum way in which no two pigeons are in the same hole!
22. (January 22). Venus flytraps actually can count — in order to better trap their prey. By keeping track of the number of hairs touched by prey, the flytraps can eliminate “false positives,” in which a hair gets accidentally tripped but no prey is present.
23. (January 23). The deep-sea shrimp Acanthephyra purpurea spews bioluminescence at predators as a defense! Ever see a movie where the bad guys are using night vision goggles and the good guys take them out by suddenly switching on the lights? (For example: Patriot Games.) Well, this is what A. purpurea basically does. Evolution has resulted in an incredible number of defense — and offensive — strategies for living creatures.
24. (January 24). The mysterious elliptical Carolina Bays, whose origin is still not understood. A mystery right in my backyard, so to speak! There is still so much we don’t understand about our planet.
25. (January 25). The red-cockaded woodpecker keeps tree sap flowing in its nest as a sticky protection vs. snakes! Speaking of animal defenses — as well as tool use, of a sort — the woodpecker pecks at the tree to keep the sap flowing around the entrance to its nest, in order to block snakes.
26. (January 26). Smoke rings play a peculiar role in the history of atomic theory in the mid 1800s. The link here is to one of my old blog posts, in which I talk about how the stability of rings of smoke, and their interactions, caused a number of physicists to seriously consider a model of atoms as linked and knotted vortices.
27. (January 27). In 1504, Colombus used a lunar eclipse to frighten Jamaican natives and keep his crew fed. This story used to seem quite funny and clever; in hindsight, knowing how horribly Colombus treated native Americans, it now feels a bit cruel.
28. (January 28). Ancient Babylonians were further along the way to developing calculus than we ever thought! This is very new research, just published in Science, and it will be interesting to see if it holds up under further peer scrutiny. It is an intriguing possibility, however.
29. (January 29). In 1975, J.H. Hetherington co-authored a physics paper with his Siamese cat, F.D.C. Willard! As a huge cat-lover, I just adore this story! Be sure to read the whole article, which is a mix of the whimsical and absurd.
That’s all for this post! More to come in a couple of weeks!