Strange, Scary, and Spectacular – Can You Guess What These Science Pics Are?

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Science is still uncovering all kinds of fascinating phenomena that exist all around us, just out of sight. Some are from the ocean’s depths. Some are within the vastness of space. Some are within your own body. All of them are pretty amazing – although to be honest the ones in your body can be pretty gross sometimes too. No offense.

Once again we’ll peel back the curtain to test your knowledge of Strange Science. Here are the rules: Each page presents a picture with absolutely no context. Your job is to figure out what it is. Once you’ve got it or given up, click ahead to the next page to see if you got it right. If you manage to get all five correct, you’re either an incredibly well-read person or a liar who learned something new. Either way, everybody wins!

Ready, set, go:

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One of the coolest and most immediate sci-fi concepts was depicted in Deus Ex: Human Revolution – the ability to replace human body parts with cybernetics. It’s pretty cool and all, but when you think about it most people would probably just want something closer to their original organic limb back. But it’s not like you can build limbs as easy as machinery right?

Of course not. But you can grow them in a petri dish.

The technique is called decel/recel, and has already been used to grow organs like hearts, lungs, and kidneys. It involves taking an organ or limb and decelluarizing it until only a “scaffold” remains. New cells are then added to what’s left and nourished until until they grow into a new organ that’s easily attached to a new host.

That said, limbs and hands tend to be more complex than internal organs thanks to their various tissues and nerves. That’s why scientists are starting with animal limbs – in this case for a rat – to see if the process can work effectively. It will still be years before we’re ready for human trials, but in terms of pure limb regeneration, we’re already seeing impressive results.

Don’t worry: If you’re hoping for that Deus Ex future, I’m sure we can still stick blades in that arm for you.

This, my friends, is a kidney stone. Who would’ve thought something so small could cause so much pain in so many? Although this one is blissfully tiny – about 2mm – anything larger and it could’ve blocked urine flow and caused immense back and groin pain. They can have serious implications beyond pain as well – roughly 9 percent of Americans have them, and they caused 15,000 deaths globally in 2013.

Kidney stones, in case you’re lucky enough to have avoided them, are small solid chunks that form in your kidneys from minerals hanging out in your urine. If you happen to be overweight, not drinking enough fluids, or reacting to certain medications, these minerals can build up and form a blockage somewhere in the body where they proceed to generally wreck your day.

Not grossed out yet? Let’s fix that and talk about the biggest and strangest kidney stones ever. In Dec. 2003, an Australian man had an 11.86 cm stone removed from his kidney. Then there’s the heavy kidney stone, weighing approximately 2.5 pounds, found within a Hungarian man. One unlucky Canadian has the record for passing 5,704 stones naturally, well above the record of most removed via surgery of 728.

So. Want to avoid kidney stones at this point? Well, previous sufferers are encouraged to drink enough water to produce two liters of urine per day, flushing potential stones out before they get any bigger. You’re welcome.

We’ve established pretty clearly that the ocean is a prime source of all things strange and weird. But few things stand out quite like the cuttlefish. And not just the species which look like Cthulhu’s head had an adorable baby – this is Metasepia pfefferi, the flamboyant cuttlefish, one of the most wonderfully colorful sea creatures you’ll ever meet.

The flamboyant cuttlefish lives in waters off of Northern Australia, southern New Guinea, and various islands around the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. If you’re familiar with cuttlefish you’ll know other species can change colors remarkably fast to blend in with their surroundings. But the flamboyant cuttlefish has none of that, sticking with striking colors that get the attention of underwater neighbors.

Why have such attractive colors? The same reason as some colorful species of frog: flamboyant colorfish are ridiculously poisonous. Biting into one will unleash a comparable toxin to the blue-ringed octopus, which is lethal even to humans. For that reason you’ll never see it on any seafood restaurant menu, although some are kept in public and private aquariums.

A dust storm as viewed through a screen door? Well, I suppose it is dusty but otherwise you’re pretty far off – this is the surface of another planet viewed through a satellite. Specifically the planet Mars, giving us a Google Earth-esque view that shows dust devils passed through the area.

The photo was taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has orbited the planet since approximately 2006. While it’s not offering the same coverage as satellite networks can here, it’s been able to capture impressive images roughly 187 miles above the surface. In fact, the satellite is expected to transmit more data than all previous planetary missions combined, and will even serve as a relay for future space missions. From that perspective, this satellite is absolutely giving us its money’s worth.

One thing the MRO enlightened us on was details of Martian weather patterns. Even if it doesn’t have life, this “dead” planet still has seasons and wind patterns that alter the surface. This specific image presents trails left behind on sand dunes after dust devils came through. What scientists weren’t sure about was the dark streaks along the dune edges, one reason why NASA ended up crowdsourcing its research to the public. Despite being in our skies for all of human history, I guess there’s still countless mysteries about this nearby planet.

An injured animal? The remnants of some horrific forest crime scene? None of the above: This is a perfectly ordinary fungus that goes by the name Hydnellum peckii. Although, it’s unusual appearance has provided all kinds of nicknames, including bleeding tooth fungus, Devil’s tooth, and – for some reason – “strawberries and cream”.

While the liquid looks like blood, it’s actually a kind of sap that appears on the surface of young fungi. Later in life, the bleeding tooth fungus stops displaying the fluid and darkens to a grayish-brown color. Ironically, the substance actually contains a pigment with anticoagulant properties, pretty much the exact opposite of how blood normally functions.

Even though you may not have seen it in person, the bleeding tooth fungus is surprisingly common, reaching from Alaska to North Carolina. Humans use the plant for creating color dyes, but otherwise it tends not to have much use – but apparently that hasn’t stopped some people from trying to eat them for some reason. Let me spare you the trouble: They’re not poisonous, but remain inedible and very bitter tasting.

Because apparently “don’t eat it” needs to be explained when you see a bleeding plant in the woods.

That’s it for this week! How did you do? Feel free to post your answers and reactions in the comments!


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