Science and Tech

You Won’t Guess Which of These Strange Science Pics Was Taken in Space

Strange Science 4 650

Even with three Strange Science Guessing Games under our belt, we’ve still barely scratched the surface when it comes to bizarre happenings around our world. Whether it’s an unusual creature, fascinating stellar phenomenon, or some kind of microscopic organism likely living on your body, we’re here to give you a close look and make a game out of it.

The rules are simple: each page introduces a mysterious image without context, giving you a chance to guess what it might be. Once you think you’ve guessed correctly, click ahead to see if you were completely right, close, or way off.

Ready, set, go:

This is the Black Seadevil, a type of anglerfish located about 600m below water level. Those are the kind of depths where humans don’t always know a great deal of what’s happening; in fact, this footage is considered the first time the creature was observed underwater. While important for science, I suspect there are still many people who would prefer we weren’t checking it out.

For example, see that little light? That’s a lure, meant to attract fish and squid that it inhales into a massive maw. While terrifying, that is not nearly as bizarre as the anglerfish reproduction method. The males of this species are far smaller than this female, and basically exist as over-sized sperm, living solely to bite a female’s skin and permanently fuse themselves with her body. They’re not really up for dinners and Valentine’s Day cards, is my point.

Still, it’s a fascinating deep sea creature, one that only deep sea divers were able to catch glimpses of in recent years.

If you’d never seen an okapi before, you might assume somebody pasted together a zebra and a gazelle like some kind of cartoon animal. But this very real Central African creature is actually a close relative to the giraffe, standing at up to 6.6 feet high at the shoulder with 6-8 feet long bodies. (The small one in the video is a young calf.) Like giraffes, okapis have long legs and tongues which help them reach and strip leaves from trees, although their necks are much shorter.

In the 19th Century, Europeans sometimes called this creature the “African unicorn,” since it was rarely seen but natives kept mentioning it. That’s partly because okapi are solitary animals, living in secluded areas and rarely seen bonding with other okapi outside of their children. It wasn’t until 1901, when okapi remains were sent to London, that this animal’s existence was confirmed, sparking a significant media event.

Sadly, the okapi are considered an endangered species due to poaching and habitat destruction. Their population is estimated to be approximately 10,000, although given their secluded nature, perhaps there’s a chance that others will be discovered.

dental plaque

Here’s a hint: This in your mouth right now.

Yes, that’s dental plaque, the reason you’ll need to brush your teeth two to three times a day for the rest of your life. It’s a biofilm generated by a multitude of bacteria that sit around on your mouth, helped along in no small part by remnants of the food you eat. This particular close-up is of a matrix of saliva and bacteria secretions (ie bacteria poop) that are a regular part of your eating habits every single day.

Here’s another fun fact for you: The teeth are the only part of the human body that doesn’t have a regulated shedding system. That means if you don’t brush, that plaque will keep growing and growing, quickly making your mouth home of the most diverse biofilm in the body. That said, there has been some speculation that plaque may be a defense mechanism, preventing deadly pathogens from getting access to your body.

However, that’s not an invitation to avoid cleaning your teeth, since not doing so usually means losing them altogether. Something to keep in mind before brushing and flossing.

In fact, take a look at the next picture while I step out to do that right now.

virus shell

As you may have picked up on from previous close-up shots we’ve covered, cameras can’t just view things at the microscopic level by increasing the zoom. In some cases, you have to piece together multiple images before you have an idea of what things look like beyond what human eyes can see.

In the case of this virus (or more specifically, the protein shell of a Ps V-F penicillin fungus-attacking virus), that meant the only way we can see it at all is through years of piecing together hundreds of x-ray photos. What we ended up with was the first high-resolution shot of five million atoms making up its protective shell. While this particular virus can’t infect humans, it’s very similar to those that can, which means this image helps immensely for developing future medical treatments like gene therapy and disease control.

As for those yellow and red ribbons, those are highlights intended to show how proteins connect to for the shell’s building blocks. The shell is basically a defense mechanism that protects the genetic payload before it infects a target.

It’s strange to imagine how many viruses affected us for thousands of years, yet it’s only recently that we started finding clear pictures of what they look like.

Science isn’t always about intelligent people conducting rationally thought out experiments. Every now and then, you find a study conducted by people who took an absolutely insane idea and ran with it simply because they could. Starfish Prime was one such case, where United States scientists set off a nuclear explosion in freaking space just to see what would happen.

The end result? As the test footage reveals, nuclear explosions in space are surprisingly colorful when viewed from Earth (skip ahead to 15:25 for the blast itself).

To the scientists’ credit, it was technically a great learning opportunity, helping enrich our understanding of nuclear effects. That said, some have argued the entire procedure was incredibly risky. The blast set off a massive EMP pulse that caused extensive electrical damage in Hawaii, taking down phone lines, disabling street lights, and even setting off burglar alarms. More worrying were the newly formed radiation belts around the Earth, which went on to cripple one-third of orbiting satellites. While the radiation eventually dissipated, it took over five years to do so, which is a lengthy side effect for any single scientific procedure.

Perhaps it’s the good thing the US decided to discontinue these tests. But not before launching another four.

That brings our Black Friday Guessing Game to a close! Go ahead and discuss what you got right (or wrong!) in the comments, and if you have any suggestions for future images, you can message or tweet me about them!


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