Strange Science 5 social

Think we’ve covered everything that is scientific and strange yet? Nope! As the rest of our series has shown, our little world still has many little-known facts to uncover. Some are enormous. Some are microscopic. Some are adorable. Some are terrifying. But all of them are crazy cool as far as we’re concerned, so we’ve generated another collection to try and suss out where this strange science comes from.

For newcomers, the rules are straightforward: Each page features a mystery image, without context, leaving you with the opportunity of guessing where it came from. Get enough of them right, and you can feel satisfied with the knowledge that you’re a trivia expert extraordinaire. But if you can’t figure one out (which is likely), you can expand your horizons with new knowledge of this amazing world of ours.

Up for the challenge? Here’s your first image:

Every now and then, this guessing game presents an object that we suspect is some kind of Lovecraftian space jelly. Funnily enough, this could be one of the cases where that feeling turns out to be completely right.

Well, maybe not the Lovecraftian part, and maybe not even the space thing. But this is actually called star jelly, a gelatinous material that mythology says was deposited on Earth by meteorites. But according to science the truth…. might as well be meteorites for all we know. The substance is notoriously hard to study, in no small part because it sometimes dissolves at the slightest provocation. In one bizarre case, four policeman encountered a star jelly dome six feet in diameter that broke apart when touched. The incident went on to inspire The Blob, where events turned out a little differently.

Of course, the fact that we don’t know for sure where this come from means theories are all over the map. Star jelly is believed to be everything from mold, to bird vomit, to frog remains, to industrial byproducts, to outright paranormal substances. It’s even possible star jelly is used to describe objects with different origins. This specific image is believed to be regurgitated amphibian oviducts (except for the blackberries in the corner… I hope) but there’s still not much consistency on the subject.

In the meantime, I’ll just stick with my Lovecraft theory and we’ll see what happens.

Has science found proof that turtles melt when left in the sun too long? Not exactly; this is the Cantor giant soft-shelled turtle, a rare species that lives in Northern Cambodia. Well, rare from our perspective; when they hit headlines back in 2007, the turtles were a common enough sight that many locals had no idea they were endangered at all. But endangered they are, since the small strip of the Mekong River is one of the few areas the Cantor turtle is known to reside.

Even though this turtle looks like a giant pancake (in fact, another name for softshelled turtles is “pancake turtles”), they do tend to have a layer of solid bone in their shells. The difference is that the carapace tends to be leathery, and doesn’t have scales. As for the Cantor turtle specifically, another reason you might not have seen them is because they spend 95% of their lives motionless, buried up to their heads with sand sand waiting for food to come to them. Which is pretty impressive when you consider that Cantor turtles can grow up to 6 feet long.

Not that the Cantor turtle doesn’t come out eventually. It usually emerges from the sand twice a day to breathe, or to lay about 20-28 eggs during February and March. They’re still an endangered species (and a rather big one at that), be careful if you encounter them in the wild.

A beautiful piece of artwork, rendered using nothing but dark colors? Not exactly. That’s Glenlivet 162, a type of whiskey that happens to be quite beautiful when you let it dry and stick it under a microscope. I’m not entirely convinced even whiskey drinkers would describe whiskey as beautiful, but that’s exactly what we’ve found ourselves with here.

It also turns out there’s quite a bit of science happening behind the scenes. It all starts when researchers place one or two drops of whiskey in the bottle of a glass, then give it time to dry. Since whiskey is basically a combination of ethanol and water, the ethanol evaporates first. But since whiskey has a fairly high ethanol concentration, the mobility of its receeding contact line is also high. In ordinary human speak, that means whiskey tends to pick up groups of particles that will be left behind after it dries. For example, barrel aged whiskey will pick up traces of wood from its barrel that will be deposited into the drying pattern.

To the average person, this creates really cool images and explains those unique patterns seen at the bottom of beer and wine glasses after they’ve dried (this can happen with any alcoholic drink after all). But what’s more is that there are practical applications as well, specifically for industries who make thin films of particles with very specific patterns. Yes, there’s an impressive amount of science in your whiskey, both before and after you finish the glass.

This landscape combining lakes and Dali paintings comes from Dallol, Ethiopia, which holds the current record for highest temperature on Earth. Most of its distinctive features spring from the nearby volcano, or rather a collapsed volcano turned crater, combined with a hot desert climate heat that prevents Dallol from being a frequent tourist destination. Case in point: That yellow substance around the lakes? That’s what beaches look like when your water is filled with ludicrous amounts of sulfur.

On top of the many things in Dallol that can kill you (like the record temperatures and “fire wind” sandstorms) are sulfur spouts and geysers spitting up unhealthy amounts of acid. This ends up collecting in the water over time, giving Dallol its distinctive look while prompting locals to call it “the gateway to hell”. Outside of that, you can also expect over 150 earthquakes a month, not to mention periodic volcanic eruptions creating new fissures.

And all the while video games keep teaching us that apocalyptic wastelands are grey and brown. Color me surprised (with sulfur).

Most of the time, scientists are perfectly right when dismissing an outlandish claim as pseudoscientific nonsense. But every now and then, researchers have to eat their words. Such was the case with ball lightning, spherical bundles of electricity that showed up during thunderstorms, and occasionally caused significant property damage. For a long time, ball lightning was of the same scientific category as alien sightings or Bigfoot, but by the 1960s the claims were impossible to ignore.

The problem is that ball lightning is rare, short lived, and almost impossible to predict, so you can’t just point a camera at at a thunderstorm and expect to spot one. But scientists have been able to create lab-based versions of ball lightning using a variety of methods, including the pictured version produced at the US Air Force Academy. “Plasma fireballs” can be formed using microwave oscillators, while others reportedy produced ball lightning by discharging a capacitor within a water tank.

While these objects are certainly impressive, our picture of natural ball lightning is still incomplete. Chinese scientists first caught a picture of ball lightning in 2012 (by accident, I should add) while our first optical spectrum of the phenomenon was published in Jan. 2014. While our knowledge is improving, we still have a long way to go before ball lightning is as well understood as regular lightning. How long that will take is anyone’s guess.

Which ones did you get right? Which ones did you get wrong? Go ahead and discuss in the comments, and if you have any suggestions for future images, you can message or tweet me about them!

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