Strange Science 650

For some reason, science has a reputation for being a little stuffy and boring, which is why Hollywood keeps making up stuff that doesn’t make any sense. But maybe the film industry just had the wrong science teacher, because there are some amazing, insane, and just plain odd things that science is discovering every day. And best of all, we can take pictures of them.

So in the tradition of our previous science guessing games, here’s a third gallery of some of the strangest things we’re capable of observing. The rules are the same as before: Each page will feature an image without context, giving you the chance to guess what it might be. Once you’ve had enough, click ahead to the next page to see if you were right!


Let’s get started:

Wait… has science just proved that Sauron exists? Does that mean Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye need to form a new fellowship to destroy the One Ring at Mount Doom?

Well, I don’t know about that (although it would be awesome) but the more rational answer is that this is a sunspot. It’s a fairly common phenomenon where magnetic forces inhibit convection of a specific surface area on the sun. That drives down the temperature of the sunspot by 1000 to 3000 degrees Fahrenheit, and sometimes makes them so large (up to 100,000 miles) that you can spot them from Earth without a telescope. What’s even more impressive is that since sunspots are powered by magnetism, you’ll usually find a second one sitting on the other side of the sun like it’s growing a new set of black magnetic poles.

But the really cool thing? Sunspots aren’t actually black. They might look like that from Earth, but that’s because the rest of the sun is so much brighter by comparison. If you were to (carefully) remove a sunspot from the surface of the Sun, you’d realize it was brighter than the moon in our night sky. Then you’d be vaporized because you touched a sunspot. You should’ve just taken our word on it.

Oh, and to anyone needing the reminder: Please do not look directly into sunspots. You might as well put the ring on and alert Sauron to your presence while you’re at it. At least that way you wouldn’t go blind.

Mars

This one is admittedly a little tricky at first just because it’s hard to tell whether you’re looking at an extreme close-up or an extreme zoom-out. So let’s just give you a hint (it’s zoomed wayyy out) and see if that helps. Any ideas?

That’s the surface of Mars.

Specifically, this is an enhanced color close-up of dunes located in Abalos Undae. Even though we haven’t really spent much time on the surface of Mars, we’ve spent all kinds of time training telescopes on the surface to see what we can find out. In this case, the blue sections indicate a basaltic composition in the dunes. Meanwhile, those lighter areas are probably covered in dust.

The fact that you can see ripples on the dunes suggests they formed much the same way our sand dunes do: Because of wind patterns on the planet’s surface. That suggests that even if Mars is a cold, dry, world, it’s still a very active one, which will be very important if we ever get around to settling a colony over there.

Congratulations! You’ve discovered the elusive Yeti!

Yeti crab, that is. This crustacean was first discovered by the scientific community in 2005, where it prompted the name thanks to lengthy hair on its legs, back, and claws. Except that’s not actually hair. It’s a silky blond setae (bristles, basically) used for farming its favorite food source: Delicious bacteria.

Yeti crabs, a term referring to two subspecies (kiwa hirsuta and kiwa puravida), live a thousand feet underwater in the South Pacific Ocean – which explains why we’ve only learned about them recently. It turns out there are quite a few methane and sulfide vents down there, which the yeti crab waves its claws over to fertilize bacteria on its arms. This bacteria appears to be a food source for the crab, and may actually play a vital role in detoxifying the clearly poisonous substances that emerge from the vent.

Not that its diet consists solely of bacteria; scientists spotted the Yeti fighting with two other crabs for a piece of shrimp, implying that it may also be carnivorous. Regardless, it has a fascinating role in the Pacific Ocean’s depths, so science will likely uncover more in the coming years.

A protracter or measuring device of some sort? Perhaps in a sense. But think bigger: This is the Uunartoq disc, discovered in 1948, which researchers strongly suspect was a Viking compass.

The magnetic compasses we’re familiar with today were used in China around 200 BC, but didn’t make an appearance in Europe until roughly the 12th century. So how does this one work if it doesn’t use magnets? Apparently, the Viking version worked the same way as your average sundial, which used a now-lost central pivot to signify directions. But the really cool bit is that researchers suspect a few tweaks may even have allowed the Vikings to navigate after sunset, when there was barely any light to work with.

You see, ancient Viking lore refers to crystals (dubbed “sunstones”) which aided in navigation. When a pair of crystals are held up, the light patterns they display could pinpoint the position of the sun, even once it’s below the horizon. At that point, a specially designed wooded slab on the compass would point to where that shadow would form if the sun was in the sky.

If true, that certainly explains how the Vikings were able to navigate the ocean when magnetic compasses weren’t common at all. Not that the rest of Europe was especially impressed once the Vikings got there.

So my first thought was that someone made the uncomfortable realization that shoelaces are best attached to shoes, not your feet. Sadly, the truth is a little more terrifying: That’s a worm that grows up to three-feet long inside your body. Specifically, the Guinea Worm, known scientifically as “Dracunculus medinensis”.

Anytime a “Dracula”-sounding word makes its way into scientific terminology, we assume it’s going to be bad news. But it turns out dracunculus actually means “affliction with little dragons” and… Science, you are not making this easier for us.

This is what happens when someone takes a drink from the wrong water hole, specifically one containing water fleas infected with worm larvae. At first, everything seems fine and you go about your business. But a year later, the larvae grows into a little worm, works its way to your foot, then tears its way out through a blister over the course of a few weeks. And since a natural reaction to this is to wash your feet, the worm can dump new eggs into the water and the cycle begins all over again. And the circle of life continues.

Guinea worms are actually incredibly common, to the point that science thinks they’ve existed for millions of years. They’ve certainly appeared throughout recorded history, especially in regions suffering from poor water conditions. That said, the United Nations suspects that modern water treatment might just eradicate the guinea worm for good. While it’s unusual to actively want a species driven to extinction, I strongly suspect few people are going to speak up in this case.

Did you check out this image and think you were looking at an arcade? Don’t be silly; arcades don’t exist anymore. Although, technically you’re half right: This one comes to use via virtual reality.

This is the New Retro Arcade, designed by Digital Cybercherries for the Oculus Rift. Built on the Unreal Engine 4, its goal is to recreate the experience of exploring classic arcades with a few modern twists. The demo comes complete with working machines, bowling alleys, dartboards, and even working “handheld” consoles that you can play at your leisure. Digital Cybercherries even has cassette tapes for the music player, which can be picked up and moved to whatever location suits you.

The downside is that New Retro Arcade does include “games-within-a-game” that absolutely fall into copyright infringement territory. (Unless Nintendo authorized the use of an emulated The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for us in-game.) But the fact that this exists at all is ingenious, and a great case of untapped potential for our incoming VR headsets.


And that’s it for this week! Please discuss what you got right (or wrong!) in the comments. And if you have any suggestions for future guessing games, feel free to message or tweet me about them!

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