Twitter Weird Science Facts, Volume 15

It’s been a long delay since my last volume of twitter #weirdscifacts, so we’ve got a lot of catching up do to!  I was at the Frontiers in Optics meeting in Rochester all last week, which put me quite behind.

Click below the link to find out the deal with this freaky bird. (Gif via io9/Gizmodo.)

hummingbird

 

271. (September 28). Can you weigh a photon?  This is from my blog post a few weeks back! The short answer is “no,” but the longer answer is that energy, when confined, contributes to the mass of the confining object.

272. (September 29). Cows kill more people nationally every year than sharks do worldwide.  This is a reminder of how bad humans are at assessing risk, on the whole. We live in fear of sharks, but think nothing of cows.

273. (September 30). Think your appetite is big? The black swallower can eat fish up to 3x its size! Animal life can adapt to quite extreme circumstances that allows it some very strange behavior; this won’t be the only one we see even in this list.  The image below shows a swallower that ate a bit more than it should have (via the link).

black_swallower

274. (October 1). Robert Goddard, rocket pioneer, had his theories trashed in NY Times soon after publication!  Suffice to say: the NY Times was wrong.

275. (October 2). Fairy wasps shrink to the size of amoeba by sacrificing their neurons.  This is really mind-boggling: a multi-celled organism like a wasp can be about the same size as a single-celled amoeba! To do so, however, as the article states, requires some huge evolutionary sacrifices.

276. (October 3). A felt-tipped marker helped the Apollo 11 astronauts leave the moon & get home. This particular oddity is number 8 on the linked list.  It is kind of amazing that we made it to the moon and back in that era, with the technology at hand.

277. (October 4). Green, HI Finance Minister, proposed the shape of continents came from tetrahedral geometry. Politicians have occasionally been involved in scientific speculation. In this case, Green’s theory predated the continental drift theory, so he can be forgiven for what today sound like a very odd idea.

278. (October 5). Bad pine nuts leave behind a bitter taste for *weeks*.  Apparently most of the bad nuts come from China, though it is not entirely clear what is causing the “pine nuts syndrome.”

279. (October 6). Lightning bolts have temperatures of 50,000 F, some 5 times hotter than the Sun’s surface.  It is rather amazing that a terrestrial phenomenon can have temperatures so much hotter than the hottest thing that most of us can think of.

280. (October 7). Some bacteria can stand up and “walk.”  This behavior has evolved for bacteria that live in biofilms, i.e. on thin surfaces. The presence of the surface makes “walking” an evolutionary advantage for the bacteria.

281. (October 8). The hummingbird whose face looks like a mini purple Cthulhu.  Why, you ask? Well, like most colorful, freaky, displays in nature, it’s for courtship.  This is the animated gif I included in the beginning of the post.

282. (October 9). Nightmare fodder: giant slugs snack on baby birds?  Gaah I can hardly think about this one. There is something distinctly horrifying about reversals of the food chain in the animal kingdom. Birds are supposed to eat things like slugs, not the other way around!

283. (October 10). 8000 yrs ago, bursting ice dam released enough freshwater into oceans to trigger a mini Ice Age.  That bursting dam threw Europe into a second ice age that lasted for centuries. This is something to keep in mind when people argue that humans can’t cause global warming: more dramatic changes in climate have occurred due to relatively small events like this.

284. (October 11). How did a spider venom gene end up in a virus that lives inside bacteria that live inside the cells of insects?  That spider venom gene apparently helps the virus punch through cell walls to do its nefarious business.

285. (October 12). The four color theorem is the 1st major math theorem proven by computer.  This theorem states that any map can be colored without any two countries having identical colors with only four colors.  Proving it required testing 1,936 special case maps, and this was done via computer.  An image, via Wikipedia, of a four-colored map, is shown below.  You can see that no two adjacent regions have the same color.

300px-four_colour_map_example-svg

286. (October 13). Plant discovered that neither photosynthesizes nor blooms?  Since we tend to associate blooming and photosynthesis with plants, the existence of plants that do neither shows that we need to broaden our perspectives.

287. (October 14). You may have heard of the golden ratio, but how about the silver & copper ratio?  Follow the link for an interesting mathematical discussion!

288. (October 15). Video of the Melibe nudibranch eating is… disconcerting.  Be sure to click the link and watch the nudibranch eating. I’ve talked about nudibranchs before: these molluscs can be incredibly colorful and beautiful, but also extremely bizarre.  A still photo of a well-disguised species, Melibe viridis, is shown below (via Wikipedia).  Here you can also see its “oral hood.”

800px-melibe_mirifica

289. (October 16). Pieter Zeeman was fired for doing the work that he eventually won the Nobel Prize for!  There are many stories of researchers taking incredible risks, professionally as well as physically, in order to reap great scientific rewards in the end.

290. (October 17). Dog eats scientist’s labwork. Paper ensues.  There is an obvious “dog ate my homework” joke here.

291. (October 18). The mystery of the glow-in-the-dark Civil War soldiers.  It is doubly striking that this mystery turns out not to be a myth, and that it took some 150 years to solve.

292. (October 19). Curious case of astrophysicist Rodney Marks, who may have been murdered at south pole.  Scientists are human, and have been the victims and perpetrators of many crimes. Was Marks murdered? Nobody knows.

293. (October 20). Versailles fountains could not be pumped all at once; gardeners watched Louis XIV & ran ones near him as he strolled.  Interestingly, a few years ago on Jeopardy! a contestant told a modern version of this story.  The contestant and his friend managed to hide in the Versailles gardens and sleep there overnight; they were awakened in the morning to the spray of the sprinkler system, and the sprinklers mysteriously seemed to turn on wherever they ran!  Turns out the gardeners were having a little fun with the trespassers.

A fountain at Versailles. Pumping so much water through so many fountains was simply beyond the technological capabilities of even the royalty in that era. (Image via Wikipedia.)

A fountain at Versailles. Pumping so much water through so many fountains was simply beyond the technological capabilities of even the royalty in that era. (Image via Wikipedia.)

294. (October 21). 12-yr-old uses D&D to help dad w/ research, gets 1st-author paper in Roy. Soc. journal!  This feels like a personal vindication for me for all the D&D I played as a kid! In fact, I tend to credit my mathematical aptitude to all the tables I memorized and probabilities I calculated while playing games.

295. (October 22). Behold the Boötes void, the spookiest place in the cosmos!  What’s emptier than empty? The Boötes void is.

Whew! I think I’m mostly caught up for now! Tune in soon for more Twitter weird science facts!

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