Sir Isaac Newton gave us gravity.
In the 17th Century, Newton famously saw an apple fall from a tree and wondered why objects always fall down, never up or sideways or diagonally. Although many regard the apple incident as apocryphal, there are written accounts that seem to confirm that it really happened; the apple did not, however, hit him on the head.
He used the Latin word gravitas, or weight, to describe the force that draws fallen items to the lowest possible point. From there, we got the word “gravity.”
Newton was a scientist of wide-ranging interests, but he is best known for the apple and for his three universal laws of motion. Simply stated, they are:
– An object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.
– Force applied to an object equals the rate of change of its momentum over time.
– For every action there is an equal but opposite reaction.
But despite Newton’s brilliance and understanding of earthly and celestial gravity, he could not calculate the precise path of a projectile under gravity and subject to air resistance.
No one could. Not with absolute precision (although computers have come darn close).
Shouryya Ray, 16, an Indian-born student now living in Germany, has cracked Newton’s riddle, according to Fox News. As if that wasn’t enough, he solved another dynamics problem, as well, this one dating back to the 19th Century.
Ray and his family moved to Germany when he was 12. By then, he’d already mastered calculus; his father had taught him that when Shouryya was only 6.
When Ray heard about the unsolvable problems, he told reporters, he thought to himself, “There’s no harm in trying.”
So he did. He worked on the problems as part of a school project and came up with solutions.
He didn’t get much respect, though: Even though he solved issues that generations of mathematicians had failed to do, his paper on his findings only took second place “in the math and informatics category of Germany’s Jugend Forscht student science competition” earlier this month, according to MSNBC.
To be fair, not everyone believes Ray’s solutions are accurate.
“This story seems rather suspicious,” Richard Fitzpatrick, a physicist at the University of Texas, told MSNBC. ”None of the news reports give any details of the calculation. None of the people who hailed Shouryya Ray as a genius are scientists, and none of them give the impression that they have seen the calculation in question. It is impossible to gauge the scientific merit of the calculation until it is made public.”
Simon Catterall, a Syracuse University physicist, also downplayed Ray’s efforts, telling MSNBC that being able to plot trajectories of falling objects isn’t that important.
“The background given in the article seems genuine enough,” he said, “so it may indeed be true, but I haven’t heard anything about a new solution to a Newtonian problem on the grapevine.”
Last year, an undergraduate student named Sean Murphy was working on an experiment. Part of it involved looking at photographs of human heads. He aligned them so that their eyes were on the same level.
As he flipped through them, he noticed something weird.
The faces, even those of attractive people, were transforming. Looking at each photograph individually, everyone looked normal. But when he fixed his gaze on the space between each set of photos and flipped through them quickly, the faces turned grotesque, misshapen and horrifying.
It worked with celebrities, too. In general, celebs are some of the most attractive people on the planet, but subjected to the same technique Murphy had used on everyday faces, the celebs looked hideous.
He and his colleagues named the visual illusion the “Flashed Face Distortion Effect.”
“The effect seems to depend on processing each face in light of the others,” according to this website. “By aligning the faces at the eyes and presenting them quickly, it becomes much easier to compare them, so the differences between the faces are more extreme. If someone has a large jaw, it looks almost ogre-like. If they have an especially large forehead, then it looks particularly bulbous.”
In effect, our brains turn pretty people ugly.
See for yourself.
Is Bigfoot real?
That’s what researchers at Oxford University in England and the Lausanne Museum of Zoology in Switzerland hope to find out.
The Oxford-Lausanne Collateral Hominid Project is taking a scientific approach to the Yeti myth, trying to “entice people and institutions with collections of cryptozoological material to submit it for analysis,” according to wired.co.uk. “Anyone with a sample of organic remains can submit details of where and when it was collected, among other data.”
Samples can include teeth, scat or body parts, but scientists are mainly interested in hair, according to the project website. That doesn’t mean you should grab that clump of hair you found in the woods last year and send it out via airmail. Instead, you should send the researchers your contact information, a physical description of what you’ve got, photographs if you have them, an explanation of how and where you obtained the material, your guess as to what it is and a statement saying that you’re authorized to share the material and they’re welcome to publish their results.
If they’re interested, they’ll send you a sampling kit. Don’t send remains without hearing from the team first; they won’t be tested, and they won’t be returned.
Materials will be accepted through September. After that, the most promising samples will be subjected to genetic testing.
The results will be published in a peer-reviewed science journal.
Many cultures have legends about giant beasts that walk upright and stalk the forests. Tales of Sasquatch and Bigfoot abound in North America, including variations such as the Skunk Ape (Florida) and the Ohio Grassman. In other countries, the creatures are known by such names as Orang Pendek (Southeast Asia), Yeren (China), Mande Barong (India) and Almas (Asia/Mongolia).
Bryan Sykes, a professor of human genetics from Oxford’s Wolfson College, told wired.co.uk: “Theories as to their species identification vary from surviving collateral hominid species, such as Homo neanderthalensis or Homo floresiensis, to large primates like Gigantopithecus widely thought to be extinct, to as yet unstudied primate species or local subspecies of black and brown bears. …
“Mainstream science remains unconvinced by these reports both through lack of testable evidence and the scope for fraudulent claims. However, recent advances in the techniques of genetic analysis of organic remains provide a mechanism for genus and species identification that is unbiased, unambiguous and impervious to falsification. It is possible that a scientific examination of these neglected specimens could tell us more about how Neanderthals and other early hominids interacted and spread around the world.”
If all goes as planned, James Doohan will be launched into space tomorrow (Tuesday, May 22).
Doohan, who played the perpetually overworked engineer Scotty on “Star Trek,” died in 2005. He was 85. Before his death, he requested that his body be cremated and his ashes sent into space.
So far, attempts to grant his wish have been unsuccessful.
In 2007, a space capsule containing his ashes reached suborbital space “for several minutes,” according to The Telegraph newspaper. However, the capsule fell back to Earth, and his ashes were lost in New Mexico for about three weeks.
SpaceX, the private space transport company, attempted to send some of his ashes into space in 2008. The rocket blew up and plunged into the Pacific Ocean.
Now SpaceX is ready to try again. The company has contracted with NASA to deliver a 1,000-pound payload of food and clothes to the International Space Station. The mission has encountered snags. Launch dates have come and gone; the current launch window is set for tomorrow.
If the mission succeeds, it will mark a new era in space travel. For the first time, a commercially owned space craft will dock with the space station, potentially leading to at least a partial shift from governmentally sponsored space flight to the privitization of space travel.
And if it succeeds, Scotty — as well as 307 others whose ashes are aboard the craft — will at last find his way into space. A capsule containing the ashes will be released from the rocket nine minutes into its flight. The capsule will circle the Earth for about a year before burning up in the atmosphere.
It’s a fitting end for a man whose work inspired generations of people to dream of a better future among the stars.
Move over, athletes. Nike is finally designing clothes for boffins.
The sportswear company is planning to release a line of products made from the same materials used in NASA space suits.
They look pretty cool, too.
The product line is built around the Mars Yard shoe, which is constructed of the “vectran fabric used for the Mars Excursion Rover airbags and detailing from the Lunar Overshoes used for the Apollo missions,” according to the Daily Mail. It isn’t cheap; the retail price is $385, and prices only go up from there.
A tote bag ($400) is made from a laminated polyethylene fabric called Cuben fiber; it includes 30 feet of paracord, a grappling hook and a pry bar.
A trench coat ($495) has the periodic table of elements printed on its lining, and the Mars Fly jacket ($475) offers adjustable sleeves, among other features.
Nike is smart enough to know its audience. The collection, called NikeCraft, is being marketed directly to the smart set.
“These shoes are designed to support the bodies of the strongest minds in the aerospace industry,” according to a Nike product description quoted by the Daily Mail. The shoes will “thrive in the rugged terrain of the simulated Mars Yard in Pasadena, CA – as well as stealthily creeping the mission-funding hallways of headquarters in Washington, D.C.”
Paleontologists have uncovered the fossilized remains of a turtle about the size of a Mini Cooper.
The turtle was discovered in a Colombian coal mine where scientists previously discovered over-sized crocodiles and 40- to 50-foot-long snakes, according to the Charlotte Observer.
“Carbonemys cofrinii, or ‘coal turtle,’ was well over six feet long from nose to tail,” the Observer reported. “It represents a rapid increase in size from the largest known to have lived before it, which were about two feet long. That makes it an intriguing piece of the evolutionary puzzle. In part … that growth spurt may have been a Darwinian strategy to fight off the giant crocs by making the turtle simply too big for dinner.”
The turtle was so huge, a paleontologist told the paper, that it may have dined on crocodiles itself. Its shell bore bite marks from the mega crocs, but none of the bites were strong enough to penetrate it. The shell alone is about as big as a small car; Fred Flintstone could’ve used it for a bath. As for the turtle’s head … imagine a snapping turtle with a head 10 inches long.
Paleontologists working in the same mining pit where the turtle was found previously uncovered the fossilized remains of Titanoboa, a monstrous sort of boa constrictor that probably preyed on the giant crocs, coiling itself around them until they were dead. The snake weighed an estimated 2,500 pounds and was three feet in diameter, the paper reported.
The creatures lived about 60 million years ago, after the dinosaurs died off.
But what caused the burst of gigantism?
“A warmer climate is one possibility,” according to Wired magazine. “Perhaps Carbonemys, Titanoboa and the larger of their neighbors ballooned in size thanks to the equitable, hothouse world. Then again … the largest turtles of the group Carbonemys belongs to – called panpelomedusoids – are found in strata from cooler times. The reason for the gigantic nature of Carbonemys might be attributable to other ecological influences that we don’t yet understand. Whatever the reason for the turtle’s size, though, Carbonemys lived in a lush land of giants – a brief episode in time when reptiles again ruled.”
NASA has come up with its best estimate of the number of potentially hazardous asteroids in our solar system.
PHAs, as they’re known, are asteroids large enough to survive entry into Earth’s atmosphere. Impacts could cause regional damage or global catastrophes. All of the asteroids pass within 5 million miles of our planet.
How many are there?
More than a few.
The estimate was made based on observations by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). The asteroid-hunting portion of the explorer’s duties are called NEOWISE.
“The project samples 107 PHAs to make predictions about the entire population as a whole,” NASA posted today on its website. “Findings indicate there are roughly 4,700 PHAs, plus or minus 1,500, with diameters larger than 330 feet (about 100 meters). So far, an estimated 20 to 30 percent of these objects have been found.”
The website quotes Lindley Johnson, program executive for NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observation Program.
“The NEOWISE analysis shows us we’ve made a good start at finding those objects that truly represent an impact hazard to Earth,” he said. “But we’ve many more to find, and it will take a concerted effort during the next couple of decades to find all of them that could do serious damage or be a mission destination in the future.”
Twice as many asteroids as previously thought are in lower-inclination orbits, which could align closely with the Earth’s orbit. That could open the door for interception missions, landing people or robots on their surface.
For more, check out the NASA website.
Death is scary. Most of us hope it isn’t an end but a new beginning, preferably in a better world without death or pain or illness.
That may be why we’re so fascinated with accounts of near-death experiences, those instances in which people pulled back from the verge of death report seeing tunnels of light and their loved ones waiting for them on the other side. They offer hope for a life beyond death.
Last year, “Heaven Is for Real,” purportedly a young boy’s account of seeing into the afterlife, sold like crazy. The book was written by the boy’s father.
It’s described like this on Amazon.com:
The book “is the true story of the four-year-old son of a small town Nebraska pastor who during emergency surgery slips from consciousness and enters heaven. He survives and begins talking about being able to look down and see the doctor operating and his dad praying in the waiting room. The family didn’t know what to believe but soon the evidence was clear. Colton (the boy) said he met his miscarried sister, whom no one had told him about, and his great grandfather who died 30 years before Colton was born, then shared impossible-to-know details about each. He describes the horse that only Jesus could ride, about how ‘reaaally big’ God and His chair are and how the Holy Spirit ‘shoots down power’ from heaven to help us. Told by the father, but often in Colton’s own words, the disarmingly simple message is heaven is a real place, Jesus really loves children, and be ready, there is a coming last battle.”
All of that may be true.
In many cases, though, near-death experiences aren’t what we think they are, at least according to British researchers. Last year, psychologists from Scotland’s Edinburgh University and the Medical Research Council in Cambridge, England, published their research into the phenomenon, saying that near-death experiences are byproducts of malfunctioning brains.
Those tunnels of light? They could be caused by poor blood and oxygen supply to the brain, according to the BBC.
Out of body experiences, like Colton experienced when he was looking down on himself in the operating room? “Such experiences could be artificially induced by stimulating the right temporoparietal junction in the brain that plays a role in perception and awareness,” the BBC reported.
Seeing loved ones? Feeling at peace? Those could be attributed to “noradrenaline, a hormone released by the mid-brain, (which) can evoke positive emotions, hallucinations and other features of the near-death experience,” the BBC said.
In fact, the researchers found, some people reporting near-death experiences were not in danger of dying — although most thought they were.
The psychologists’ verdict was spelled out in a scientific journal, Trends in Cognitive Science. “Taken together,” they wrote, “the scientific experience suggests that all aspects of near-death experience have a neuro-physiological or psychological basis.”
What do you think?
Everyone feared the worst when a contractor found human bones in January while installing a pool in the backyard of a Florida home.
It seemed even more like murder when two skulls were recovered. One belonged to an adult male, the other to a 10- or 11-year-old boy. The child’s skull bore remnants of flesh, suggesting a recent kill. Pottery and textiles were found with the bones, as well as a scrap of newspaper dating to 1978.
What no one suspected, though, was that the remains had an origin much more mysterious than murder.
“When x-rayed by the medical examiner’s office, it was clear that the bones were hundreds of years old, and that the human tissue on the cheek of the skull had been mummified,” according to an ABC News story. “The skulls featured an ‘Inca bone,’ a telltale sign of a human from the Incan culture of Peru.”
The bones date back to somewhere between 1200 and 1400 A.D.
How they ended up in Florida is anybody’s guess.
It’s possible that someone brought the mummies back from Peru as a souvenir or a keepsake of home.
“Back in the 1030s or 1940s, people would go on vacation and buy things like that, and maybe they buried them when they didn’t want them anymore,” Jan Garavaglia, a Florida medical examiner, told ABC. ”Another possibility is that it used to be a migrant farm worker camp, and some cultures will bring part of their heritage with them when they leave. It could be that they were moving on and decided to bury it there.”
Don’t get any ideas. Transporting body parts as macabre souvenirs is now illegal.
Welcome to the Oddities blog, where we’ll discuss everything from the Loch Ness monster to quantum physics.
This NewsOK blog will focus on weird-but-real science, folklore, UFO sightings, archeology, speculative technology, astronomy, strange theories, medical advancements, the oceans, “Ancient Aliens” and more. Hopefully we’ll still be around when the Mayan calendar ends.
If you enjoy learning more about the world and cosmos around you, or if you just like to read about the bizarre and unusual, bookmark this site and check back regularly. We plan to keep going until Earth collides with Nibiru/Planet X.
Hope you enjoy it.