Twitter Weird Science Facts, Volume 13

Been a crazy few weeks for me, and I’ve barely had time to sit down, much less blog! But at last I’m going to catch up on compiling my Twitter #weirdscifacts!  Read below to find out what this tiny crab looks like it’s cheering on its favorite football team.


219. (August 7). Himalayan balsam, the plant that spreads its seeds via “explosions.”  Plants have so many clever ways of spreading their seeds; this is perhaps the most spectacular.

220. (August 8). While I’m thinking of mean plants… allelopathy, plants poisoning other plants!  Like the seed post preceding, this shows how evolution has made plants quite active, in their own way, despite their typically inanimate nature.

221. (August 9). Olympic science: Why bronze medalists are happier than silver winners!  A bit of Olympic psychology, posted while the Olympics were going on.

222. (August 10). A 1958 landslide in Lituya Bay, Alaska, produced a megatsunami initially 1722 feet in height.  Megatsunamis can be much, much larger than ordinary tsunamis, as the preceding number suggests.  They are caused by fast-moving landslides that can displace a much larger volume of water than the volume of the rock itself.  The Lituya Bay landslide was actually witnessed, an extreme rarity.

223. (August 11). This skeleton is the oldest known Olympic athlete. Another Olympic post — it is remarkable that we have archaeological remains from the original series of Olympics.

224. (August 12). The early 1800s surgery that had 300% mortality.  Before anesthesia, surgeries were brutal, chaotic affairs. In this case, the fatalities were the patient, an assistant who got cut in the surgery and got an infection, and a spectator who died of shock.

225. (August 13). The sharks that live to 400, and probably say, “Well, in *my* day…” a lot.  A post worth reading in its entirety, particularly for the process by which the age was determined.

226. (August 14).  Via ‘s excellent book, I now know that “rockoons” exist.  A rocket launched from a balloon!

227. (August 15). Some landslides are apparently induced by changes in atmospheric pressure (atmospheric tides).  It’s natural to think of landslides as huge, catastrophic events that are caused by, at the very least, overt events, not subtle things like a change in the atmosphere.

228. (August 16). Enrico Fermi made an estimate of the size of the Trinity nuclear blast by watching how far pieces of paper were blown.  Fermi got a reasonable estimate for the blast by, counter-intuitively, making a lot of assumptions and approximations!    The trick is that one will often overestimate some numbers, underestimate others, and the errors will tend to cancel out, giving a reasonable approximation to the answer. Problems of this nature are now known as “Fermi problems.”

229. (August 17). Daguerre’s photographic process was made “free to the world” – w/ exception of Great Britain.  Politics and science, unfortunately, are more entwined than scientists want.

230. (August 18). The Arowana fish will jump up to 6 ft out of the water to eat insects on low tree branches.  It’s a bit creepy to think of fish preying upon things out of the water, but it is more common than you think. There are also a group of catfish that hunt pigeons on land.

231. (August 19). The Bay of Fundy has a tidal range (difference in high/low tide) of 55 feet.  In other words: the water level at high tide is 55 feet higher than the level at low tide.

232. (August 20). Mercury is a liquid so dense that cannonballs will float in it.

233. (August 21). The Casimir effect: in which quantum fluctuations in vacuum exert a pressure!  We think of vacuum as empty, but even a “perfect” vacuum is not completely empty: there are fluctuations of quantum fields, including electromagnetic fields, in that “empty” space.  When two metal plates are brought extremely close together, it restricts the possible electromagnetic fluctuations in between them.  This means that there are less fluctuations inside and outside, and the result is a net inward pressure, just like an evacuated sealed glass feels atmospheric pressure from outside. I really should blog about this myself sometime.

234. (August 22). The 1927 Mississippi River flood: at some points, the river was 70 *miles* wide.  A terrifying testament to the power of water.

235. (August 23). Zebra finch call prepares their eggs for climate change?  New research suggests that the eggs actually listen to the calls of their parents, and adjust their growth based on them.

236. (August 24). In 1990, father/son physicists R.S. Knox and W.H.Knox published an April 1 article with fictional authors Hoose & Zare.  April Fools’ issues of scientific journals are an old tradition, though not necessarily a good one. However, the author list by Knox and Knox is quite funny; you can see the abstract at the link.

237. (August 25). Volta, developer of modern battery, developed a “pistol” c. 1776 that was fired by electricity sent 30 miles by wire.  There were many such, well, useless demonstrations of electricity back in the day.  Benjamin Franklin once lamented how useless electricity was and proposed an “electrical feast” that included a trick similar to the pistol.

238. (August 26). Bound systems of elementary particles have less mass than sum of parts!  This is a direct consequence of Einstein’s famous E = mc² equation: energy bound into a material system adds to the mass of the system.  For a stable system of particles, energy is released when the particles come together, which means that the total mass is then less than the sum of the parts separately.

239. (August 27). Leo Szilard was inspired to discover the nuclear chain reaction in part by reading H.G. Wells.  I’ve blogged about Wells’ 1914 novel The World Set Free, which got many things wrong about nuclear power but foresaw its development before others were convinced it was feasible.

240. (August 28). Giant bladder kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) can grow up to *2 ft* per day.  At 1 inch per hour, one could in principle actually see this kelp grow in real time with your own eyes.

241. (August 29). Amazing trip of Isabel Godin des Odonais c. 1769 through the Amazon in search of her husband!  It is quite an amazing story and worth reading in full.

242. (August 30). These female salamanders are mating, skipping sex entirely and just stealing DNA from males.  Honestly, we males kinda deserve it.

243. (August 31). The Frey effect: when working with radar makes you hear things.  What’s weird is that this effect can be used to wirelessly transmit voice communications directly into people’s ears.

244. (September 1). Pom-Pom crabs carry sea anemonies to catch food.  They work both as defensive weapons as well as a way to grab food.  Obviously, this is what was pictured at the beginning of this post.

245. (September 2). The monkey slug caterpillar.  Is it supposed to look like a leaf? That’s my best guess.

Tune in soon for more weird science facts!


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